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Category: me (Page 1 of 3)

My 2020 with KWin Wayland

Over the last few years and especially since the Wayland goal vote, the Plasma team, we have been focusing on having our Plasma Wayland experience work at least as good as our traditional Plasma X11 experience does. Today I’d like to wrap up my experience on this front for 2020.

Despite having been working on KDE and even Plasma projects for a long while, I’d never gotten much deep into working on KWin internally. I dipped my toes in it in 2019 when working on the key states feature (that plasmoid that says if caps lock is pressed or not, which we needed because the KDE Slimbook didn’t have an LED for the Caps Lock). Here I’ll discuss a bit how it evolved over time.

Features

Tablet support

It’s probably been my first big feature contribution to KWin. From 5.19 you’ve been able to use your tablets to draw things, all features should work fine and life should work. In the beginning, I was mostly interested in getting the 2-in-1 tablet with a pen work, hence implementing this one first.
The rest of the spec implementation is pending review here and hopefully should make it into 5.21: https://invent.kde.org/plasma/kwin/-/merge_requests/559

Screen casting support

This is something I’ve worked on mostly with my Blue Systems hat on, but still is something very important for our daily usage of Wayland, especially nowadays where working remotely is more important than ever and sharing our screens and windows is something that we need to do on a daily basis.

KWin used to support already sharing screens, or rather xdg-desktop-portal-kde could, now we centralised the implementation in KWin and made sure it’s as performant as possible. It was admittedly rather complex to put together, but allowed me to understand how the system works and helped me have a better insight of the architecture.

Input Methods

Plasma Mobile is becoming a palpable reality and input is very important on any touch device. In Plasma Mobile we’d been relying on having Qt’s embedded virtual keyboard since the beginning and while it worked reasonably well, we needed to make it possible for us to offer more and better solutions. This time, we implemented the unstable input-method protocol which allowed us to use keyboards implemented in a separate process, hence making it possible to integrate the Maliit keyboard transparent, as well as the weston keyboard if minimalism is your thing.

Maliit keyboard

This, of course, opens the possibility of much more development on top in terms of other better virtual keyboards, improving the current ones or the integration of more esoteric kinds of input methods (e.g. ibus, fcitx, emoji keyboard or even spell checkers and the likes).

Developing comfortably

Something that was clear to me as soon as the Wayland Goal was shaping up was that we had to find ways to free ourselves a bit from the ABI limitations. From the beginning, Wayland interfaces started to be developed in KWayland under KDE Frameworks 5. This meant that server-side implementations had to stay backwards compatible to certain versions of KF5 and that we couldn’t do certain things. We moved KWayland Server components into a separate component here, that is released with Plasma and we can develop as we see fit: https://invent.kde.org/plasma/kwayland-server/. Note that KWayland Client classes stay there where they always were.

This has allowed us in turn to adopt the usage of qtwaylandscanner, which is a tool that generates certain boilerplate C++ code for us from the xml spec, allowing us to focus on the parts we care about in the implementation. This makes Wayland protocol implementation a bit more straightforward while removing some code. You can see the MRs Adrien and Vlad made doing this if you’re curious about the changes it conveys. Our first protocol implementation to use qtwaylandscanner was the keystate protocol I mentioned earlier.

Talks

As it’s important to explain what we do so people are aware of it, I decided to take some time this year to explain the different aspects of our Wayland initiative and overall why Wayland makes sense. You can see it explained here, I wouldn’t recommend you to look at them all, but it could be useful for you to look at the one that fits your perspective better.

KWin and Wayland

Wayland for Product creators

Wayland for App Developers

Plasma Wayland: donde estamos y como ayudar (in Spanish)

Future

I know there’s a lot of really exciting stuff coming up from the team. If you’re interested, stay tuned. We will be having a sprint early January to discuss different topics from major roadblocks to a light and comfortable experience.

Consider joining us either at the sprint or at the Wayland goal forums and work with us towards a better experience using Free Software and Plasma.

Developing KDE as Products

One thing that is special about KDE software is how it can mean different things depending on your perspective. This is very powerful from a technical perspective, but can make our work harder when we want to convey what our piece of software does and how it will affect its users’ life. How do we optimize our product development towards user acquisition and support?

At Akademy, I discussed shedding some light on the blurry lines that sometimes define our products, and did so based around the Marketing-Mix I was taught at university (so no, I’m not an expert!). I presented it first at a talk, then we had a subsequent BoF session to discuss it and see how it mapped to some projects (we did Plasma and Okular, as a test) to get acquainted with the concept.

What will evolving this process look like? For starters, having some people more knowledgeable on the topic involved. Some already told me they are interested in helping. Big thanks 😊. And then, let’s get our hands dirty.

Maybe more hands-on for each product? I can see ourselves sitting down and discussing how the status quo contrasts with the picture the Marketing Mix would suggest for our products. I have done it for some, and I have the feeling that there is a lot of unexplored potential.

Is your work available on the places you would like it available? Is the product you have in mind the same you’re promoting?

Now are you interested in helping with this process? Would you like to see how we can polish the product you are maintaining? Is there a product in KDE that you think could use this kind of help? Comment down below or send me an e-mail at aleixpol@kde.org and I’ll see to finding some time to sit down and working on it.

KDevelop runtimes: Docker and Flatpak integration

On my last blog post I discussed about how some assumptions such as the platform developed on can affect our development. We need to minimize it by empowering the developers with good tools so that they can develop properly. To that end, I introduced runtimes in our IDE to abstract platforms (much like on Gnome’s Builder or Qt Creator).

There are different platforms that we’ll be developing for and they need to be easily reachable when coding and testing. Both switching and interacting transparently with the different platforms.

To that end I implemented 4 approaches that integrate different runtimes:

  • Docker, allows you to develop directly against virtually any system. This is especially interesting because it enables to reproduce the environment our users are having: behavior on execution and project information (i.e. the imports are the ones from the target rather the ones on our local system). Docker is a wide-spread technology in the cloud, I hope many developers will see the value in integrating the deployed environment into the IDE while they are coding.
  • Flatpak, is a solution that targets specifically desktop Linux applications. We are talking about distributing bundled applications to users, there we have the opportunity to integrate the tooling specifically to that end: from fetching dependencies to testing on other devices (see videos below).
  • Android, as you know it’s something I’ve been pushing for years. Finally we are getting to a space where the IDE can help get some set up troubles out of the way.
  • The local host, i.e. what we have now.

And remember KDevelop is extensible. Do you want snapcraft?, vagrant?, mock? Contributions are very welcome!

If there’s something better than a list of technologies and buzzwords, that’s videos. Let’s see why this could change how you develop your software.

One development, any platform

We get to develop an application and switch back and forth the target platform we are developing for.

Here I put together a short video that tests Blinken on different platforms:

One development, any device

Using the right SDK is not enough proof that the application will work as expected on every device, especially those our users will be using. Being able to easily send our application to another device to test and play around with is something I had needed for longtime. Especially important when we need to test different form factors or input devices.

In this video we can see how we can easily test an application locally and when it works just switch to Android and send to the device for proper test on the smaller touch screen.

Here we can see how we can just test an application by executing it remotely on another device. This is done by creating a bundle of the application, sending it to the device where we want to test it and executing it there.

Hassle-free contributions

You can’t deny it. You’ve wanted to fix things in the past, but you couldn’t be bothered with setting up the development environment. Both Flatpak and Docker offer the possibility to maintainers to distribute recipes to set up development platforms that can and should be integrated so that we can dedicate this 1 hour in the week-end to fixing that bug that’s been annoying us rather than reading a couple of wikis and – oh, well, never mind, gotta make dinner.

We can do this either by providing the flatpak-builder json manifest (disclaimer: the video is quite slow).

Or a Dockerfile.

You can try this today by building kdevelop git master branch, feedback is welcome. Or wait for KDevelop 5.2 later this year. 🙂

Happy hacking!

KDE dinner in Berlin – 13th May

In a few days (May 13th-14th) the KDE e.V. board will be having an in-person board meeting in Berlin.

We’d like to take this opportunity to meet and talk to other people in Berlin besides ourselves, so we’re organizing a dinner on Saturday 13th around 19:00 (location still undecided, suggestions accepted).

So if you are interested in talking about KDE, KDE e.V., Free Software, Open Source, or any other random talk and want to have a good time let me know that you’re coming as soon as possible, space is limited.

Suggesting new ways: Kamoso 3.0 Technology Preview

The world changes, and with it, we change too. For this new version of Kamoso we wanted to iterate what we’re presenting.

The Camera

Since we’re using GStreamer, we could take advantage of newer technology available there. Now we’re using camerabin for the video capture (in contrast to using v4l2src directly).
This will offer a better experience, with less tweaks on our side, that will definitely improve the end-user experience.

User Interaction

The whole application wasn’t rewritten, but all the UI was. We have a re-designed interface that integrates some really lean and meaningful animations and sorts the components so that we can get a simple, dialog-free UI.

Sharing

Sharing is probably the most important feature in Kamoso besides video capture, and we took special care of it. We adopted the new Purpose technology that is seeing its light for the first time with this Technology Preview. We want to make sure that we can offer the best solution by making sure it integrates properly on our UI and it can also be integrated on other parts of KDE. This way we’ll be able to come up with an adequate set of plugins and enjoy them all in community. For now, we have: KDE Connect, Imgur for images and YouTube for videos.

Where to find it?

I put together this little list, so everyone can find the tarballs and packages (on the distributions that managed to package it):
https://userbase.kde.org/Kamoso/3.0#Alpha

We need you!

We need special help with:

  • Testing, on more cameras, more hardware.
  • Artwork, especially icons.
  • Coding, especially Purpose sharing plugins (Facebook? Twitter? ownCloud?)

But anything else is welcome, as always. Please get in touch!

Hacking Free Software, a different point of view

I joined KDE to hack. I wanted to create new thriving technologies for the world, to create tools, to learn, and, in general, to add some pragmatics into my perception of technology.

The one thing I didn’t really expect to do is all the rest.

I starting actively contributing to KDE in 2007 and I started contributing to both KDE Edu and KDevelop almost at the same time, I’ve talked largely about this aspect already so I won’t expand. I want to explain the rest.

The Community

My first Akademy, in Glasgow. felt spectacular to me, I made good friends and I remember having very deep experiences. With Albert, Anne-Marie, Rafael, Alexander, I loved the feeling that working together we could do great things and also that I could learn a lot over here. Those who know me know that despite being quite an introvert I tend to start talking a lot when I get engaged, and I remember talking a lot over there.

Foreign country, people, language, nothing mattered, the only important thing was to learn and to hack. I remember partying lots and hacking lots just as well over there. I’m explaining this because there needs to be an explanation, why someone who just wanted to hack ended up founding KDE Spain or joining the KDE eV board?

KDE Spain

Later in 2007 we organized the Akademy-es in Zaragoza. Different setting, different people and different perspective. There you did’t talk to people who want to work with you, they wanted to be convinced about KDE, about Free Softwre. I enjoyed it, it was healthy to put in perspective everything I was doing. Thinking about how to motivate others helps a lot to redirect oneself, to keep with the feet on the ground.

Later on, we decided to start KDE Spain, which was basically the intention to keep doing that in the future. Reaching out to local people, those who you won’t find on our mailing lists, at least not before you get there. KDE Spain has been to the day one of the projects I’ve invested myself the most.

KDE eV

I joined the KDE eV late in 2008. I was by then convinced that without infrastructure all good to be done in the project is in vain. We’ve all had this feeling when you see another project offering something that you have had for years unnoticed. It requires work, many pieces coming together.

Community software development (or any development for that matter) is much more complex than one would want. It needs organization and expertise in crafts one wouldn’t think before. That is one of the main reasons to push for KDE to me: having people from different fields coming together to make wonderful things happen. (Community as a Service, CaaS. Have we coined that yet?)

Barcelona Free Software

Life is all about balance. From generic to specific, from big to flexible. Life artifices made it so that my city, Barcelona, has become a focus of the KDE development and we had to take advantage of the opportunity. This time we went full local, we started to gather many people knowledgeable about KDE around and instead of creating yet another KDE thing, we created a group concerning Free Software in Barcelona.

With the huge help of Martín, we’ve built an open group to meet and discuss about Free Software in a nice and relaxed setting. It was a piece I always missed in the puzzle.

Barcelona Free Software logo, thanks to Jens Reuterberg

  • How to make the world use Free Software?
  • For example, people around me. Are we offering what they need? What do they use?
  • How come I don’t even know them? What do they create?

Porting Muon Discover to KF5

Muon has been a project that I’ve been very eager to port and iterate for a longtime. I’m happy with the 2.0 series, lots of changes were made and it has served us well. More importantly though, we have a solid technology to keep pushing our work on.

Porting

Now the first change has been the port to Qt5 and KF5 and adoption of QtQuick 2. This has been one of the few projects that have suffered from it, especially because we did a couple of hacks so that Muon Discover would integrate with the rest of applications’ look and feel. In any case, it’s sorted out now, we adopted the new QtQuick Controls and it works quite good, only problem being the usage of QQuickWidget, but that will be solved eventually, when we have everything we need in place to take the next step towards better integration between KXmlGui and QtQuick.

What to expect?

The most important news is that it will be as good and fresh as it used to be, integrated with the newer look and feel themes, capable of offering different sorts of data, such as applications, wallpapers and plasmoids.

Furthermore, some new features will be introduced with the forthcoming Muon 3.0 that will change how we integrate Muon on our systems. First of all, Appstream is being adopted for good. Now it will be possible to get a useful PackageKit backend, which has been adopted recently.

  • Additionally, for the ArchLinux fans, I did some fixing on the PackageKit libalpm backend so now it can be used again. 😀 Still, work on the Appstream set up is needed and help is very welcome.
  • Since I wanted to use a good PackageKit reference implementation, I looked into Fedora. I’ve been trying to get it working, but haven’t succeeded that much yet. I expected Appstream to be a first class citizen there, and things keep falling apart. We’ll have to work more in this area.
  • Kubuntu will remain using QApt for now. It seems to be working properly and there’s no intentions to change. Debian has also been ported to use use the same backend, we are pending though on some decisions to be taken with regards of metadata sources, that is, Appstream again.

**shrug** Looks like we’ll have to give a good push to Appstream!

Future

I would like to see different Plasma-oriented distributions embracing Muon as a resource management front-end. So far, resource management hasn’t been part of our user experience, with the exception of KNewStuff.

Additionally, there’s a forum thread where a new graphical design is being worked on so it doesn’t look all that clunky (especially managing to make QtQuick Controls applications look good).

All this is already available on our Git repositories. A final version will be released early 2015 together with Plasma 5.2, although I’d like to roll a stable version first, so distributions can start adopting it.

Mathematics that you can touch

These last months have been intense, so intense I needed a bit of a distraction. I’ve always felt some kind of curiosity for the world of 3D printing and, as I’ve said in different occasions, I always push KAlgebra to the limit when I have the occasion.

I had been researching, I’ve never had a 3D printer and I probably won’t have one in years, but I still wanted to figure out how to get do something there. First, I went through many 3D printing services and looked through the different supported formats. To be honest, I implemented the one that looked the simplest, it happened to work quite similar to how OpenGL works internally, so it seemed like a safe bet.

Once I had a working export algorithm, I chose an extremely good looking plot (thanks Percy ;-)) and then I uploaded it over to one of those 3D printing services. The website showed me a preview, it seemed like their software understood the format, so it looked like my job was done. I fiddled with it to get it printed in a reasonable size and submitted it to print and send. For the curious, here’s the formula I used:


piecewise { x^2+y^2+z^2<35 ? 2-(cos(x+(1+5^0.5)/2*y)+cos(x-(1+5^0.5)/2*y)+cos(y+(1+5^0.5)/2*z)+cos(y-(1+5^0.5)/2*z)+cos(z-(1+5^0.5)/2*x)+cos(z+(1+5^0.5)/2*x)), ? 1 } = 0

A couple of weeks later a box arrived to our office. To be honest, it was a bit weird. I was very excited, but then nobody else was when I showed it. Because it's math I guess, and it's boring. I felt a bit like when I used to spend my nights hacking KAlgebra around then show it around. Anyway, I'll say it. A 3D plot, in my hands, to play with them. How cool is that? :D

** crickets **

 

Now I'm sure you're excited and willing to try it. It will be available in the next version of KAlgebra, that will be released in the KDE Applications 2014.12, which by the way will be the first KAlgebra release based on Qt5 and KF5, and will be featuring many other new features.
And of course, it's free software developed in an open community! If you're feeling adventurous or you just know how to build KDE software, feel free to pull analitza and kalgebra repositories and give it a try! :)

Taking advantage of OpenGL from Plasma

I’m excited, and I hope you’ll be too.

David Edmundson and I have been working hard the last weeks. It’s not that we don’t usually work hard, but this time I’m really excited about it.

A bit of context: in Plasma an important part of the system drawing is painting frames (others are icons, images and the like). Those are in general the elements that are specified in the Plasma themes. These will be buttons, dialog backgrounds, line edit decorations, etc.

So far, to paint those we were assembling the full image in the CPU and then sending it over to OpenGL as a full texture, then we would do the composing of all the different frames, according to the information provided by QtQuick, through the Qt Scene Graph. There are 2 main problems in the current approach.

  1. We were maintaining huge textures in memory. Every frame was completely stored in memory and gpu memory. Which means that the bigger the dialogs are, the more memory we consume, even though the texture is flat.
  2. Every time we resize the frame, we have to re-assemble the frame in CPU memory and upload it again.

First: The 9-patch approach

First we made it possible to have the frames to be rendered by each different parts and assembled by the GPU. This wasn’t possible, because Plasma themes are quite complex, so now we have 2 different paths. If the theme element can take advantage of the optimization, it will use the new code, otherwise it will stay working beautifully on the former, thorough implementation [1].

Therefore, instead of rendering all the frame now we’ll be uploading 9 textures to the GPU, and let it either tile or stretch depending on the settings in the theme. This way:

  1. we are uploading 9 tiny textures rather than a big texture.
  2. when the frame is resized, we tell the nodes to resize and the GPU does the job [2].

Second: Caching the textures

Now everything was in place, we’d have many times the small 9 elements but we kept uploading them to the GPU over and over. It’s little textures, but it’s still better if we get to re-use what we already have. To do so, we’ve placed a little hash table that keeps track of the already created textures to re-use them. This way, we get to tell the Qt Scene Graph to use a texture that has already been uploaded rather than a new one. We’ve run some tests, here’s the result:

  • In PlasmaShell we get 342 miss and 126 hits, so roughly 25% of bandwidth and memory improvement
  • In KRunner we get 108 miss and 369 hits, so roughly 350% improvement on memory and bandwidth improvement.

Future, further work

Sadly enough, raw memory usage is still quite high, when running plasma shell on massif, we are still reported as most of the memory usage being in the GPU graphics card (or rather i965_dri.so), so we’ll have to dig it [3]. We’ve found some ways to improve this, for example by enforcing OpenGLES 2, but this requires Qt 5.4 which is due October. I implemented it nevertheless, and it works fine.

Being more precise, a big offender is using a wallpaper image. We’ve looked into it, the code looks fine, but then it makes a big difference, so big that I still don’t understand how it can be. A good suggestion if you’re testing Plasma 5 on a system low on memory, is to run it with the plain color wallpaper. We can save up to 30% of memory consumption, no kidding (it actually depends on who you ask, either massif, htop or ksysguard; but they all agree it’s a big deal). We’ve investigated a bit and found ways to improve the situation there, but if you are interested, feel free to join!

Finally, another problem with regards to memory consumption is QML. We make heavy usage of it and it shows memory-wise. We should see if we can adopt any optimization to stream-line our usage, but admittedly it’s much better than one would have expected.

Testing

If you want to give it a try, you can already find most of this in master, and it will be available from the next KDE Frameworks 5.1 release which will be available by the second week of August.

Hope you liked it, it was a great exercise to investigate all this! I learned a lot and gained quite some respect for the Qt Scene Graph and QML development teams. Keep rocking!

[1] More precisely, at the day, when there’s no hint-compose-over-border or mask-*-overlay elements

[2] an exception for it being (hint-stretch-borders and hint-tile-center hints, where we’ll have to re-render on resize it).

[3] David, Vishesh and I we all have Intel drivers, but I guess it’s a good card to test-case on, given how mainstream it is, currently.

Plasma Next: All for one, and one for all

I haven’t been directly involved in Plasma development in the past a lot, only since very recently, because of my job at BlueSystems. Ever since I started working on the Plasma Desktop Shell, I’ve had 2 important concepts in mind that I’ve tried to follow:

  • The desktop is the place people go when they want to be performant.
  • Let the user focus by offering simple concepts that just work.

So far it’s looking good, I’ve been using it on my system daily and I haven’t had many important problems. Interestingly enough, one of the things I like about Plasma 5 is how it doesn’t try to get you in a spaceship. It does what you expect a shell to do, we’ve focused on making sure this is done properly and that all the tools to extend it are there, in case you want to go crazy. But the Plasma Shell, Plasma is solid.

Going crazyEnhancing Plasma UX

I think we need to, we want to. We thrive on it. The reason we’re developing software is to blow your minds, our mind. On the other hand it’s harmful, it’s much easier to go crazy than to provide a meaningful set of polished features. And we want polished.

But we want features, I want to take advantage of our frameworks and integrate the technologies that drive our lives, everyday, more and more. That’s why I think we want to start working on the services and applications that will complete that Plasma experience that, in the end, will be slightly different for many of us. Because we’re not all the same.

Now let me list some technologies that I’d like to see grow and hopefully help push in the following months.

KPeople

If you think about it, the ways we communicate over the Internet today and the ways we did 10 or even 15 years ago are essentially the same: we still chat through test, audio and video; we still send e-mails and we still exchange files in unreasonably broken ways. On the other hand it feels different, I think mostly because of using many devices with different sizes.
We want our software to understand these concepts. Different people and even groups of people offer us very rich and colorful semantics we want to be able to embrace both from Plasma and applications.

Having the people around us easily accessible is very important to be performant while still remaining as a simple concept we all understand, we don’t talk to an e-mail account, we talk to a person; only in many different ways.

KDE Connect

If talking to others is important, talking to us is even more important. Everybody I know, works with his phone on the desk and some of them with a tablet in the bag. I don’t think it’s easy getting to be performant if we have to keep checking what’s up on different devices. Furthermore, there’s no technical reason for that, we have KDE Connect. It needs polishing, it needs love but it has huge potential.
One of the things I like the most about KDE Connect is that it’s really easy to adopt. You have it available today on Android (and therefore BBX, Jolla, Ubuntu Phone and a couple others that support android apps), it’s in the way to be on iOS and we have a library you can re-use to take it to your favorite platform, that is obviously supported by Qt 5.

There’s lots of barriers to break there, we want a cloud-based client so you don’t need to have all devices in the same room; we want to break the barrier and see it developed in those new platforms we would never expect to find them. Also we want you to explore with us and find the synchronization nirvana.

My Conclusion

Finding a balance between making something simple and solid, KISS style, and going creative doesn’t go well together, on the other hand Qt and Plasma offers us lots of flexibility, so we have ways to do so.

I decided to go with this Musketeers (or I thought) slogan because it depicts quite well how I see myself using my laptop in some time. Every time less about those little windows and more about aggregating my people and my self, through the different gadgets I carry.

Corollary

Last, but not least, as usual I’d like to remind you that want to help ensure all this happens in the best of the conditions, you can consider donating to the Randa fundraiser, where KDE will gather and come up with many tools that will render this possible, in the best of the conditions.

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