Monthly Archives: October 2007

PackageKit: new backends and discussed at Ubuntu conference

PackageKit gains more and more attention these days: with Pisi and Smart two new backends have been added and PackageKit was discussed at an Ubuntu conference as a possible default package manager.

Richard Hugehes’ PackageKit – a tool for unified package and software management on Linux regardless of the distribution’s backend – was first introduced around July/August this year. Since that it gained an unbelievable development speed and was improved on an almost daily rhythm.

New Backends

Two weeks ago PackageKit released 0.1 version and marked the API as stable. More and more distributions now realize that PackageKit can indeed become what everyone hoped for and start implementing support for the various backends. The last two added backends add support for Smart and Pardus’ PiSi.
The backend matrix currently looks like this:

PackageKit features and backends matrix
conary yum apt box alpm Smart PiSi
resolve X X X X
refresh-cache X X X X X X
get-updates X X X X X
update-system X X X X X
search-name X X X X X X X
search-details X X X
search-file X X
install-package X X X X X X
install-file X X X
remove-package X X X X X X
update-package X X X X X X
get-depends X X X
get-requires X X X
get-description X X X X X X
get-repo-list X X X X X
repo-enable X X X
repo-set-data X
cancel-transaction X

Keep in mind that PackageKit was first development for yum and apt. Nowadays other backends are even better supported than yum. In a far future this might even lead to a situation where the backend is developed with the needs and possiblities of PackageKit in the mind. I doubt that any backend developer would like to have the least supported backend if PackageKit gets really wide spread.

PackageKit at Ubuntu conference

PackageKit was also discussed at a recent Ubuntu conference:

The result of this general enthusiasm is that Canonical will likely move forward with the adoption of PackageKit in the near future, although they will need some time to make some adjustments to their own packages first. For example, PackageKit does not permit interactive questions (like agreeing to licenses) during the installation process; dpkg does. As a result, the few remaining .deb’s that still require interactive feedback during install will have to be adjusted to be non-interactive.

The same report also mentions that PackageKit is now widely accepted by rPath distributions. Congrats, PackageKit.

But this discussion also shows the problem between powerful backends and the real world: while it is an interesting feature to have a package/software manager with an interactive mode it is just a feature which is usable by real power users. Normal users cannot answer interactive questions of any kind (maybe licence questions, but that’s it) and therefore distributions which have regular users in their mind should not offer that possibility.
For the same reason PackageKit should not include support for it – it would spoil the entire idea of making the package management easy.

At the moment it looks like PackageKit is the new shining star in the Linux world when it comes to package management. At the moments there are only three things missing to have world domination for it: a zypper backend for OpenSuse, an urpmi backend for Mandriva and a KDE GUI.

Apple’s Leopard understands ODF

Apple released the newest incarnation of it’s operating system, Leopard. While many news sites cover the shiny improvements most of them fail to mention that Apple made a small but important step towards open standards: Leopard will be able to read OASIS’ ODF.

For unknown reasons Apple is battling at two fronts at the same time: while it tries to get some market share from Windows it at the same time does everything to hold down open standards of any form. This includes network protocols, audio and video formats, document file formats and so on. Apple’s programs all have their own formats and only support some other really wide spread de-facto-standards – if at all. In this behaviour – which sometimes even take a ridiculous form – Apple is worse than Microsoft.

However, Apple made now a first, tiny step towards Open Standards in the document format area: with Leopard Apple will be able to at least view ODF files:

UNIX® Certification
Mac OS X is now a fully certified UNIX operating system, conforming to both the Single UNIX Specification (SUSv3) and POSIX 1003.1. Deploy Leopard in environments that demand full UNIX conformance and enjoy expanded support for open standards popular in the UNIX community such as the OASIS Open Document Format (ODF) or ECMA’s Office XML.

The fact however that Apple mentions ECMA’s Office XML as a UNIX standard is a bit confusing. I wonder if that is on purpose or if someone at Apple’s just wasn’t sure what he/she was talking about. Anyway, it is an improvement and it shows that even Apple cannot stand the pressure.

Of course, Apple could for once try to actually work together with the open parts of the world and drop their strange behaviour, but that is as unlikely as Microsoft dropping their XML format.
But still, this small step shows that even Apple actually *can* grow up in parts. Maybe one of the next versions of Apple’s office suite will come along with a plugin for ODF export or import. The pressure on Microsoft is tough, and if Apple wants to hold it’s share in the education sector it has to change it’s rather childish strategy.

KDE 4 Beta Videos

Jos Poortvliet has produced a set of videos showing some features fo the upcoming KDE 4. Until now the featured applications are some games, KTouch, Kalzium and Gwenview.

The Videos

Jos Poortvliet produced these videos running KDE 4 apps inside of a KDE 3 session. The KDE 4 session is a recent SVN checkout and therefore has some additional features compared to the rencetly released KDE 4 Beta 3.

The videos themselves are of average quality due to the flash-based hosting but still give a good impression of the feature richness and quality of the new KDE 4. And videos are just better than static images.

At the moment there are 7 new videos at Jos’ youtube page but chances are that he will upload more of them in the near future. Four of the videos show the KDE 4 games KMines, KMajongg, KAtomic and KSudoku:

Two other videos present the development in the educational areay, KTouch and Kalzium:

The last video presents the new features of Gwenview, KDE 4’s default image viewer. Compared to the KDE 3.x version Gwenview is now able to also crop images and has a subtle but clear way to inform the user that there are still unsaved changes.

Thanks to Jos for uploading these short videos and the permission to publish them here, it is a great way to show how KDE 4 shapes up.

Why so many Games and Educational Apps?

Some people might wonder why the focus is on educational apps and games while KDE 4 will have so much more to offer. There are several reasons:
First, other stuff like Plasma was already covered several times by others. There is no need to cover it yet again as long as there are no new features because everyone already knows it.
Second, many of the new features of KDE 4 are behind the scenes – Solid, Phonon, Qt4 are difficult to show because these improvements are about design and capabilites, not actual features.

And third, and that is connected to second, to show what KDE 4 can be capable of the best is to show the applications which use these new capabilities and implement new features using them. And as in real world this is best done with games because these are the applications which take frameworks and APIs (and often hardware, btw.) to their edges and beyond.
In a file manager it would be too distrcting if it would use all the blink which is possible now – in a game that is exactly what the users want to see.

Browser Wars – Reloaded

The dispute over WebKit and KHTML reached a new peak today. With Harri Porten yesterday a KHTML supporter already pubslished his position on the subject and today Zack Rusin, a WebKit supporter, answered.

The Background

WebKit was originally forked from KHTML by Apple (more details at WebKit’s Wikipedia entry). Today it the developmnet is still backed by Apple but supported by other groups as well: Nokia, Adobe, Trolltech, some Gnome guys – and several KDE developers.
Soon after WebKit went public it was questioned if the resources of WebKit and KHTML could not be bundled to benefit both. This didn’t work out totally. Some KDE developers decided to help WebKit, some stayed with KHTML.
In the meantime WebKit became more and more famous and spread: Adobe adopted it, Nokia adopted it, Trolltech will adopt it, it is the standard browser on recent Mac OS releases and was as such even ported to Windows. Therefore WebKit became even recognized by web designers and developers.

So nowadays there is the quite open WebKit development project which is not controlled by KDE at all (but up to a certain degree by Apple) but has a nice set of features. On the other hand there is the KHTML project which is fully controlled by KDE, works nice, but still lacks several features. Especially stuff like missing support for WYSIWIG rich text editors in web applications (WordPress editor, CMS systems, etc.) is a pressing issue for several users.

As a result many users still ask what the situation around WebKit and KHTML is.


The KHTML supporters team never bothered with marketing. In fact there are not even many blog posts or anything else at all about KHTML from their point of view. This became a problem recently when the KHTML supporters realized that they had no voice for the users outside of the community and that they had no way to answer many of the existing questions.
As a reaction Harri Porten published a “KHTML FAQ” yesterday on behalf of the KHTML supporters. The FAQ picks up the most important points of the discussion and highlights the stand of the KHTML fraction.
In short it can be said that they would like to work together with the WebKit project – if they get certain rights. This is understandable since the KDE project has its own needs and wishes and the KHTML team wishes to work according to these just as it did in the past.

However, the FAQ fails to explain what the WebKit project actually responded to these wishes and needs. Since the WebKit project often highlighted that they welcome other developers the question is what the outcome of current discussions and talks which issues are blocking what.

Zack Rusin’s response

One of the most famous WebKit supporters is Zack Rusin who worked for Trolltech for years. He got reviewer rights in the WebKit project quite some time ago. And he posted a response to the FAQ.
In short it can be said that Zack was pissed of by certain assumptions in the KHTML FAQ: Zack points out that many former KHTML developers simply switched over to WebKit and that they still can be seen as “KHTML developers”. He also highlights that even the founder of KHTML is a strong WebKit supporter, and that in general more KDE people contribute to WebKit than to KHTML.

However, he also does not address the real reason or problem why both projects simply do not work together. The question remains what the most blocking reasons are.

Future Development

The discussion boiled up now and will certainly stay on the radar for some time. After all, this is a discussion and an argument between software developers which are emotionally involved with their software.

There are now two solutions: one would be to let a third party step in to settle the conflict. The KDE e.V. comes to the mind: one of the tasks of the KDE e.V. is to settle major problems between developers and technology. The KDE e.V. is also “official” enough to start talks with Apple (if they want to listen). This would be the political solution.

The other solution is the more Open Source one: the one who codes decides. If there will be a WebKit kpart, then the distributions will include it. Then users will decide on their own which engine they use. In the end, the users will decide.
Or it could happen that a developer starts with a WebKit KDE browser on his/her own. If that one works well and is well integrated with KDE it might even happen that most people switch over to that one. As an example, the developer momesana has already developed an own WebKit browser:

Momesana Browser - Google main page

Momesana Browser - Overview

Momesana also published a video (Ogg, 8.8 MB) showing the “Momesana Browser” at work and performing quite nice.

Third Linux Desktop Survey Announced

The Linux Foundation has announced it’s third annual Linux Desktop Survey. The Linux Foundation asks Companies, Institutions and individuals to take part in this survey to pinpoint user needs to focus the development in the Linux ecosystem.

The Linux Desktop Survey has already taken part 2005 (PDF, 340 kb) and 2006 (PDF, 870 kb) and is this year again offered by the Linux Desktop Workgroup of the Linux Foundation.

The idea of the surveys is to pinpoint the user needs in the Linux ecosystem and top focus the development more according to the needs of the userbase. Jim Zemlin, executive director at The Linux Foundation, said:

Past Linux Desktop Surveys allow us to capture the pulse of user need, which we can then use to guide our efforts.
These surveys also provide useful feedback to developers and vendors who are working on improving the Linux desktop. We expect this survey to continue this progress and look forward to hearing from Linux desktop users everywhere.

The survey itself does only take a couple of minutes and is available in several languages. But although the announcement says the survey also targets at individuals the entire survey is designed to be answered by people working as IT people in a company. There are hardly any questions targetted at private persons or even at people who work in a company without a deeper knowledge of the background IT. It would have been more productive to split the survey into one for private people with answers about the private live and the workplace and into another for IT system administrators who have detailed knowledge about the needs of the company/department they are working for.
Nevertheless the survey is the right step to gather more information about the otherwise quite unknown Linux userbase.

KDE 4 Beta 3 – Screenshot Tour

Stephan Binner has released a new version of his KDE Four Live CD. This version uses a recent SVN snapshot and works quite well.

While I had some trouble testing the newest KDE 4 Beta release on my test machine, the KDE Four LiveCD works surprisingly well. According to Stephan the version used on this LiveCD is KDE 4 Beta 3 plus a set of recent patches.

The Desktop

The desktop looks nice – this is of course mostly due to the very beautiful wallpaper:

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Clean Desktop

The bottom shows the new panel, the new menu button and one type of the new clock. Plasma at work.
The menu is a KDE 4 port of OpenSuse’s new KDE menu and therefore comes with several tabs: Favorites, Applications, My Computer, Recently Used and Leave. While I’m not if I will grow used to this it definitely can help new users. It also supports search for application names or search for meta names (like “Browser”).

KDE 4 Beta 3 - MenuKDE 4 Beta 3 - Menu Browser search

The task bar is still very basic and does not support anything like right click or further configuration yet. But the rest of Plasma can be started easy: wenn the mouse hovers over the tool area at the upper right a small applet gives the possibility to start the Plasma widget browser. KDE 4.0 will ship with an entire set of prepared Plasma widgets, and several of them are allready included in the current SVN snapshot.

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Plasma At Work

Here you see the typical analog clock, an image dia show (the green area), the dictionary, a battery applet, a hardware monitor and an rss feed. While none of them is really new they just show that there are already many working and usable Plasma widgets.

However, this is Beta and therefore has still some bugs. The menu is infact a window and acts as one: it has its own window title bar with close button, is shown in the window task bar and does not disappear just because you click somewhere else.
Also, the button at the upper right is not shown properly on my 1280×800 system:

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Broken Plasma Button

The System

The system tools are also in quite a good shape. Probably best known due to its Nepomuk integration is Doplhin

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Dolphin

Notable is also Konsole which saw a lot of improvements. One of my favorites is the ability to easily and user friendly search the current output:

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Konsole Search

Also, the configuration dialog was improved. Especially if the user wants to change the defined colours the Konsole window shows live previews. Additionally, if some fancy graphics are not supported it is stated.

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Konsole Configuration

Another important tool is Konqueror, KDE’s web browser. The interface looks less clutered and it works without crashing (as it did during several Alpha and Beta releases).

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Konqueror

Also, the configuration dialog was cleaned up and improved:

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Konqueror Configuration

The good news is that Konqueror works flawlessly with WordPress (which is not the case with KDE 3.5.7, I hope KDE 3.5.8 has the fix integrated). The bad news is that there are still some other bugs: the buttons are screwed up, and the input line for example in Google looks too small and generally weird:

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Konqueror WordPress BugKDE 4 Beta 3 - Konqueror Line Bug

Speaking about Konqueror reminds me that I haven’t heard anything about WebKit and KDE recently. I wonder if the cooperation between both has improved somehow, or if there will be a working kpart for WebKit (there once was one developed, but more as a technical demo).

Another KDE system application is kwrite, an editor. Compared to it’s KDE 3 version an outstanding improvement is the search tool similar to Konsole’s.

KDE 4 Beta 3 - KWrite SearchKDE 4 Beta 3 - KWrite Search And Replace

Btw., the search tool is one of the biggest wishes in KDE bugzilla. All developers should think about integrating it instead of the old, dumb search dialog.

With Kwrite at my hadn I also checked the new shortcut dialog. The idea is that you can alter the shortcut in a field which opens as soon as you click at it. That is more intuitive than the old way.

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Shortcuts

It looks nicer than the old one, however the blue ribbon must go around the entire dialog because it looks broken otherwise! But a nice improvement nevertheless.

Systemsettings, the replacement for the old kcontrol interface, was also freshed up and now looks good:

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Systemsettings

As you can see in next example, many of the embedded system configuration parts have an extra headline to introduce themselves. This additional explanation is again just the tiny bit of userfriendliness which can be necessary to convince the user of KDE.

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Systemsettings Style

The Applications

KDE is an ecosystem providing a desktop environment experience. Therefore it comes along with a wealth of prepared and tightly integrated applications.

And out of these applications there are two areas where KDE really stands out: Education and Games. With KDE 4 both areas will show what they are capable of – and at the same time what KDE 4 is capable of.

For example, most of the applications now use SVG. This allows the apps to easily adopt new themes. Check for example the Mahjong game with the themes “Traditional”, “Imperial” and “Alphabet”.

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Mahjongg Traditional

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Mahjongg Imperial

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Mahjongg Alphabet

Such things are possible with most of the other games. Here are some impressions:

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Bovo

KDE 4 Beta 3 - KMines

KDE 4 Beta 3 - KSudoku

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Patience

KDE 4 Beta 3 - SameGame

The educational applications are most often represented with Marble (which unfortunately crashed for me), Kalzium which I already covered elsewhere and Parley, the “new” vocabulary tester:

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Parley Main

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Parley Check

There are many others, and the only reason why I don’t upload screenshots here is that I’m running out of space here on So make sure you test them when you have your look at KDE 4!

Other KDE packages include the graphics set. I would’ve loved to test Gwenview because that program is just a nice and well working image viewer – however, it crashed for me. FOrtunately I already had a look at it some weeks ago.

Another application which I checked for the first time was Okular, KDE’s new viewer for everything.

KDE 4 Beta 3 - Okular

The screenshot shows a PDF file and some of the new features Okular now provides: a text marker (therefore parts of the text is highlighted yellow), a marking pen (the green line) and a stamp tool (I have no idea what that is for).

Other apps

If you search for an adjective to describe KDE, one of your first choices might be “rich”. Rich in applications, rich in features. And this wealth makes it almmost impossible to generate screenshots for all pieces of KDE 4.0 and beyond. Therefore I appologize for all the missing pieces (the PIM suite, several EDU apps, the multimedia and network parts, etc.) but I will try to have a look at them in the next screenshot tour.

Some more bugs discovered

The current version is a Beta version, and therefore comes along with some bugs. I already mentioned some above, here are some more:

One of the probably most disturbung bugs I found was that the shortcut Ctrl+Del does not delete the word next right to the cursor but indeed kills the next window I click at with my mouse. I am used to get such a “killer” cursor by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Esc, not Ctrl+Del . However, I’m not really sure if that is a configuration done by the OpenSuse folks or by the KDE 4 team. But whoever is responsible for it, please change it because that is just stupid.
Also, it seems that Pos1 brings me to the first line of the entire text instead of the first char of the line. Very disturbing indeed…

Besides, the save dialog has a couple of issues: when I hover over existing images I can see a little preview in the left upper corner although there should be no preview at all:

KDE 4 Beta 3 - KSnapshot bug

Also, when I click save I expect the file name line to be activated by default so that I can immediately start typing without first clicking on it. But in this KDE 4 version I first had to click at the file name line every time.

Another thing which I find odd is that my system is detected as not capable of fancy graphics. But I have a Radeon 9600 which has free 3D drivers. All the other fancy stuff (Compiz, Beryl and so on) works pretty well.

A last word about Bugs and the Beta state: there was much discussion if KDE is already in Beta state or not.
The problem here is that Beta is not a fixed term – while some projects only call software Beta when there are no crashes and no visible bugs anymore, other projects start using the term Beta earlier. As an example, flickr changed the entire interface together with the background technology during the Beta process…

However, several people mentioned huge performance problems. Although several other people couldn’t verify that at all the KDE team should have a close look at such reports. KDE will, in the end, run on millions of different computers, and the KDE team should be very careful if there are some performance bugs hidden somewhere due to some odd reasons (like the fact that my perfectly 3D capable card wasn’t detected as such).

Last words

As a result I must say that I’m very impressed. There is still a lot of stuff missing and some bugs and missing features will have to wait for KDE 4.1, unfortunately. Nevertheless the current snapshot shows that KDE 4.0 is shaping up nicely and will lay out the foundations for impressive future releases.

KDE 4 Beta 3 released

KDE 4 Beta 3, codename Cicker, was released some days ago. This release features a new panel and of course various bug fixes.

The Beta 3 release is the last release which introduced larger new features to the still in development KDE 4.0. With this release the new Plasma based panel was finally integrated and a new Menu is also almost ready.

Other notable improvements happened in the KDE EDU field: Parley, the vocabulary trainer and Marble, the desktop globe are shaping up more and more to become impressive educational programs. Together with the already introduced Step and the existing but massively improved programs like Kalzium, KStars and kmplot KDE EDU might become a real blockbuster itself.

It is interesting how KDE EDU shapes up: with its impressive collection of really helpful programs it will draw quite a lot of attention to KDE 4.0. On the other hand it already played an important role in designing the KDE 4.0 APIs and smoothing out the rough edges during the development since the KDE EDU apps (and the KDE Games, btw.) are naturally early adopters of the new KDE technologies. They are probably also the most demanding apps, btw.

Besides the improvements and new technologies the last abandoned bits of the KDE 3 era have also been removed: say good bye to kicker. It has been removed.

However, the current release is still in Beta state – and for this KDE release this means you should definitely not try to run it in a productive environment. Especially the workspace needs still quite some polishing and bug fixing. As an example, I wasn’t able to run a proper KDE 4.0 Beta 3 session on a spare (but also quite old) Kubuntu machine I have although there are packages provided. Therefore this article doesn’t contain any fancy screenshots :/
But as already said, this is Beta. And while there is no fixed definition for Alpha or Beta – a ktorrent Beta is usually ready to release while Flickr changed the entire interface from Flash to Ajax in their switch from Beta to Gamma – you should keep in mind that there is still a lot of bugfixing going on. After all, there is still quite some time until Christmas.

A last word about the name of the new version, Cicker:
It sounds like “kicker”, so it could be a tribute to the now dead kicker. But in German it also sounds like the male form of “Zicke” which means she-goat but is also used as the colloquial term for bitch or drama queen. And that can be a tribute to almost everything: from the recent trolls in the dot to the difficulties some people have to get the KDE 4 development version up and running.

I’m looking forward to the next release – there is still a polished and fully flexed menu missing in this release.