That Time of the Cycle

With Plasma 5.6 long out the door, it’s time for the traditional changing of the wallpapers! Or at least, showing what the next wallpaper will be.

With Plasma 5.7 we won’t be venturing too far from where we are in 5.6. As I mentioned in a previous post about wallpapers we have been paying attention to the feedback, trying to find something that hit the right balance. The 5.6 the wallpaper seemed to hit that mark, so you’ll see fewer dramatic swings in the wallpaper direction; we’re goanna stick with what works for a while.

Here’s the 5.7 wallpaper, “Skylight”;

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(Download 2560×1600)

I’m keeping very close to the formula of the current wallpaper, and generally this is what people should expect for a few wallpapers for the next few releases of Plasma. I’ll vary the ‘material’ and positions a bit in the future, but I didn’t want to do that too much during our transition to perspective this release… Perspective was the one thing I meant to do with the current wallpaper, but for various reasons it didn’t happen.

One thing that also came up was assembling the old wallpapers somewhere for the people who preferred a previous release. I’d like some opinions and feedback on a few questions if we decide to do this;

  1. Where would you want all the wallpapers stored? A ‘legacy wallpapers’ package, the current additional wallpapers package, OpenDesktop?
  2. Would you want me to “George Lucas” some of the wallpapers, and tweak/improve the lower-quality ones for re-release? Or should we just drop some of the really early ones?

So, what do you think we should do with the older wallpapers? Comment below, let us know!

Plasma 5.5 Review

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For those who haven’t seen it already, I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve been working with Michael Larabel over at Phoronix to post an in-depth review of Plasma 5.5.

You can read it here:
KDE Plasma 5.5: The Quintessential 2016 Review

I gotta hand it to every KDE contributor; I call this review comprehensive but there’s an incredible amount of information I could not cover in a sane article, and it could have easily been twice that length while still failing to hit every feature.

From me to everyone; you’ve all been knocking it out of the park, great work, and thank you. I’m looking forward to what the KDE community brings in 2016!

Spooky Scary Post-Halloween Monster Post

With Halloween settling down and children retreating back to their lairs so they can bathe in their sugary loot, it’s time to post an update, and not just any type of post – but a Spooky Scary Post-Halloween Monster Post!

Wallpapers

Before I get to show-and-tell I wanted to make a quick digression to something we noticed a few months ago after the 5.4 wallpaper was released…

There has always been some pretty harsh criticism against the wallpapers I’ve produced, some of this comes down to being bolder and more vibrant in our designs, and some of it some of it comes down to the fact that my early work was genuinely bad. We listen to comments wherever they come from (even if we don’t specifically reply), be it a forum on a news site, Reddit, or imageboards. Until Plasma 5.3 though the criticism lacked constructiveness and was mostly just mud-slinging. The Plasma 5.4 wallpaper though must have crossed a threshold at some point, because the entire VDG very specifically noticed an uptick in constructive criticism, and a it had a heavy influence on the 5.5 wallpaper.

What this all comes down to and what I really want to say is this; do be critical of our work! But be critical in a constructive way, so we can build on your comments. Calling a wallpaper “dogshit” doesn’t give us much to work with, but pointing out the Dutch Angle of the last wallpaper as being too extreme – that we can work with and improve the next wallpaper. Since we had the feedback, I’ll go over the two main points we’ve heard.

#1: The Brightness / Saturation.
More often worded as “the author must have eaten his crayons before puking on the screen” this was a result of how I initially imitated the 5.1 wallpaper with the Breeze palette, and absolutely failed; so much in fact that I think it may have affected the perceived colours of later wallpapers.

While some people certainly enjoyed the lighter wallpapers the main comment was that the over-saturated wallpapers were too much. Interestingly, wallpapers on Plasma 5 have been trending towards darker tones, below being some swatches I quickly composed of our wallpaper history:

swatchesWhen I started making the wallpapers at 5.2 I had decided to stick with the official Breeze colour palette, which is geared towards icons. This meant that working at the same luminosity Nuno used for the 5.1 wallpaper would oversaturate mine, which is what happened. It’s worth noting that the 5.2 wallpaper was made purely for personal use, and it was only by a fluke that we used it in production. With 5.4 I think we approached the tipping-point of appropriate brightness/saturation, and I think we’re closer to the ‘right’ amount now considering out palette.

#2: The Dutch Angle / Drug Induced Wallpaper
This is a simple fix: stop using intense angles. But! If everything is made flat it becomes visually uninteresting. As a matter of fact none of the KDE wallpapers have been perfectly level, except Nunos original wallpaper which had clear vertical orientation. I think this was just because 5.4 was so extreme, and also because there were no other mounting points a user could visually register.

With the ‘acid trip’ feel of the last wallpaper, I think it was (again) the dutch angle throwing users off a bit along with the fisheye lens of the horizon line. I do worry that such a perception may impact the professionalism of the desktop, so for future wallpapers I may attempt to better avoid this moreso – though this wallpaper does maintain a more organic shape, which I expect may get dinged on that score.

So, what’s in the pipe for 5.5?

I’m very excited to announce we will be shipping 3 wallpapers this upcoming release. The two below continue the evolution seen in previous wallpapers. They are “Event Night” and “Event Day”. Event Night will be the 5.5 default.

desktopWallpaper-event-1.0-kvermettedesktopWallpaper-event-light-1.0-kvermette
Lionel Chauvins’ “Pastel Hills” will also be available, which harkens back to Nunos original design using a lighter pastel palette. I also have the feeling this is the first wallpaper we have distributed made with Blender. I highly recommend checking out his new KDE-look account if you like the smooth jazz that is his wallpaper, hopefully he uploads his other works. 😉

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5.5 Wallpaper Contest
Finally, Andreas is continuing his wallpaper contest; the deadline is in roughly 9 days, so if you have a beautiful image you want to submit please jump in and submit your wallpaper!

KDE.org

KDE.org is undergoing a redesign which should one day present a more unified and consistent interface across the myriad of systems we currently use.

The most obvious issues with the current site are twofold; there’s no consistent navigation, and no two systems look alike. Because we have so many systems which are largely incompatible and/or on completely different hardware, we’re taking a unique approach to the new design so we can begin to unify the disparate designs.

We’re building the user-facing elements as a modular set of pieces which can be arbitrarily inserted onto any website, regardless of the technology or hardware they use, as long as they support even the most primitive skinning. These modular pieces are self-contained, and should be fairly easy to insert into existing systems until larger changes can be made.

I’ll have screenshots later (maybe a video) once I finish up a few more modules for feedback. Unfortunately I’ve had exceptionally busy weekends (when I get most of my work done) and haven’t been able to make the progress I had hoped for. I’ll post more on that later.

Fiber Browser

Because I have been swamped with smaller projects I’m temporarily going to put Fiber on hold to nail other things down, as I want to give more time to immediate smaller impacting projects across KDE as a whole, rather than constantly scrambling around several half-finished todos.

The original plan was to have a version which would be “presentable” at Sprints so I could garner interest, but that will be dropped. One thing that has become clear is that other developers will want to work on it regardless of me ‘promoting’ it, so I’m comfortable in the thought that I could assemble a small team later on. Also, the main KDE devs are busy enough anyway.

Next, after (very careful) consideration I may temporarily drop CEF and pick up WebEngine when I seriously resume the project. Fiber is a one-man band, and to say CEF integration has been nothing short of a pain would be an understatement. I feel like the most important aspect of Fiber will be a rich, deep API and modular design – but with so much focus on getting CEF functional it simply sucks the life out of the entire project. Instead, I may shift to a CEF port as a “Fiber 2.0” feature (hopefully when other devs may maintain the APIs), which should help as by then Servo will be more mature and I can test it as the primary renderer.

Unofficially I may still chip away at it – but for now I’m more comfortable saying it’s on pause while I focus on my todo list. I will resume work on it once I’ve bumped off a few smaller things, and hopefully It’ll speed up development a bit by switching to WebEngine for the 1.0 release along with having fewer balls to juggle.

Polish Effort

Before I say anything else, hats off to Hugo for his work. I’m not going to lie: I threw him to the wolves on this one (unintentionally!), and he’s solo’d the real work going into Breeze polish. So, hats off to Hugo for being blazingly awesome!

On the design notes, one thing that became apparent somewhat quickly was the fact that the design I presented began to heavily diverge from the current Breeze design, so much as to be considered a different design entirely. I’m still debating how to handle this, as this is one area where I wanted to free up time so I could more properly contribute.

In terms of stuff getting done, we’ll have some pleasing adjustments to several visual elements such as menus and pixel-tweaks. We’ve also identified several issues such as misalignments in applications, dark-theme colour woes, and inconsistent spacing; I don’t believe we have fixes in for everything, but I’m confident in my ability at throwing Hugo to the wolves. ;P

DWD

There’s not much to report here, but a couple people have been wondering about this. For those not in the know, DWD will be a protocol-driven solution for widgets in the titlebar, similar to the CSD approach that is the Gnome headerbar.

Mainly I’ve been working on the specification, and it’s been pointed out that DWD as a technology will never be suited for insanely weird and creative widgets. To mitigate this I had written some crazy crap about all the special and unique ways a widgets might be customised, and I realised it was pointless to try matching the “creative potential” of CSDs with endless options. I did a thought experiment and swung the other direction;

What if instead of offering primitive widgets with crazy tweaks DWD focused on higher-level but rigid purpose-driven widgets? You don’t request a slider with a volume icon, you request a volume widget and feed it a few channels. Instead of a lineedit you’d just put up a search box… And this approach shaped up surprisingly well.

The general mindset is the idea that CSD eschews system integration in exchange for more radical customisation. DWD on the other hand is about integration though standards – and the initial spec didn’t play to that strength. The main downside to this new spec is the fact that we do sacrifice more creativity in the headerbar, but I looked at it, and in most screenshots of Gnome CSD widgets seem remarkably standardised as well. I’ll be doing a post later which gets into details and pretty pictures but this seems to be the direction to move towards.

That’s all, folks!

sluggerfly

Random Sluggerfly!

The Fiber Engine Poll, Updates, and Breeze

Some weeks ago I ran a poll to see what would be the preferred rendering engine for Fiber, and so I figure now is the time to post results. There was a surprising amount of misinformation/confusion running around about what each option potentially meant which I hope to clear up, but overall the results were so compelling I doubt stripping the misinformation and re-running the poll would return a different result.

Third Place: Port to CEF Later

“Porting to CEF later” was the lowest voted option at ~18% of the ballet, and in retrospect it makes sense since it’s just a poor solution. The only upside is that it gets an obsolete implementation out the door (if that’s an upside), but it makes things complicated during an important phase of the project by putting an engine change in motion while trying to flesh out deeply tied APIs. Not good.

Oddly some people wanted a WebEngine/CEF switch and took to this option as Fiber having such a switch. Considering CEF proper is based on Chromium/Blink (which is what WebEngine uses) it’s a bit like asking to take two paths to the same destination; there are differences in the road but in the end both ways lead to Blink. There will be no switch for Cef/WebEngine because adding one would bring down the API potential to the lowest common denominator while increasing complexity to the most advanced method.

Runner up: Use WebEngine

“Use WebEngine” was the runner-up at 24% of the vote. The main prospect behind this is that it would result in a shipping browser fastest, but it also works under the assumption that it may increase code compatibility between Qt-based browsers – but the architecture of Fiber I believe will be very alien compared to contemporary solutions. If there are chances to collaborate I will, but I don’t know how much of that will be possible.

There was also a segment that voted for WebEngine thinking CEFs was just a more complicated route to Chromium, being confused about the road to Servo.

Winner by a mile: Go Exclusively CEF

It’s no surprise that in the end “Use CEF” trounced the remainder of the poll at 59% of respondents voting in favour of it – more than both other options combined or any individual option doubled. From the comments around the internet one of the biggest reasons for the vote is Servo as a major differentiating factor between other browsers, and also because it would help mitigate the Webkit/Blink monopoly forming on non-mozilla browsers for Linux.

This excites me as a web developer, and I’m likely to try pushing Servo as the default engine as it will likely be plenty good by the time Fiber is released. Sadly, I believe there were a few votes placed thinking that Fiber would ultimately usher in a “QCef” or “KCef” framework; and I don’t think this will be the case.

On making a Frameworks 5 API I considered it as a super-interesting Frameworks addition, but after careful consideration I realised there just aren’t too many projects which would benefit from what would be a substantial amount of work. Another issue is that I think the QWebEngine is appropriate for most projects, and that anything more is needless complication. The Qt developers have done a good job picking the right APIs to expose which suits common needs, and I imagine the additional complexity would only hurt projects adopting such a library; it’s killing a mosquito with a cannon. Plus, QWebEngine will evolve in good time to fill any common needs that pop up.

What will Fiber do?

Fiber is going to go exclusively CEF. I’m in the process of fiddling CEF into the browser – but CEF is a bit of a beast and about 3/4 of my time is simply reading CEF documentation, examples, and reading the source code of open projects using the utility. My main concern is properly including CEF without requiring X11; it’s possible, but the Linux example code isn’t using Aura, and the implementation examples are GTK-based as well. Qt and KF5 have solutions, but I’m reseaching the best route to take.

In terms of what engine Fiber is using (Servo vs Blink) I’m going the generic route; you can drop in simple config files pointing to CEF-compatible executables, and when configuring profiles you can pick which engine you would like to use based on those files. This engine switch is already present on the command line and in the “Tuning” section of the profiles manager. This means you can have different profiles running different engines if you choose. There’s a second command-line option which will launch a new instance of Fiber with the engine of your choice running one-time for testing purposes. For the purposes of the default, I’ll probably push Servo.

CEF will not drive UI

Indirectly using CEF means QML may become the exclusive language of UI extensions, popups, and config dialogs. Mainly this is because of the additional abstraction and effort required to offer CEF in several contexts, but it also puts a much cleaner separation between browser and content and will likely make securing the system easier. Extensions will be required to offer pages in HTML.

If you’re using QML, your writing chrome. If you’re using HTML you’re writing a page.

This is also more in-line with the Plasma Mobile guidelines, and though I severely doubt you’ll see Fiber become a mobile browser any time soon this keeps the door open for the far future. In two years I’d rather not break a significant number of extensions for mobile inclusion; I’d rather just have things work, maybe with some minor layout tweaks.

There are real pros and cons to QML as the only way to extend the browser UI, and probably one of the largest I worry about is the fact that QML has a significantly smaller developer base than HTML. On the plus side QML is able adapt to platforms, meaning we might not need to divide extensions between desktop and mobile – that would simply boil down to layout tweaks. All this means is instead of having many extensions of questionable quality, we will aim to offer fewer but higher-quality extensions.

On Progress

Progress is steady. Probably an hour to two of work a night goes into the project, and extra time on weekends as freedom allows. It drives people nuts that I’m taking my dear sweet time on this, but when the groundwork is done there will be a solid base for others to help quickly build on.

I’ve introduced threading into some parts of Fibers management tools, and made significant improvements with how Fiber manages internal data caching for profile data. This all got started when I noticed a split-second of lag on a slider, and realised the long-term implications. Threading was introduced so when the database models are working they do not lag the main thread, and the layer which talks to the model now caches the data and only communicates with the model when one is out of sync. The next step will be to add some internal very coarse timers and event tools which will delay hard data saves until they can be batched efficiently or must be written, and possibly a check to prevent the saving of idenitcal data.

While this may not matter as much for the management tools I’ll be applying these techniques on an extension-wide bases; this will save power, keep Fiber highly responsive, make it CPU wake friendly, and avoid hard drives wakeups – even when bad extensions might behave in “thrashing” behaviours. Ironically this first performance exercise has made me confident that even with many “slow” javascript-driven features, Fiber may become a highly performant browser by virtue of having extremely fine-tuned APIs which give blanket improvements.

One of the most annoying but necessary changes was porting Fiber from QMake to CMake. Originally I had the intention to prototype using QMake, switching to CMake later for the “real” work. As things would have it the prototype had simply evolved and I realised it would just be easier to port it. As I’m not terribly familiar with CMake this started off painfully, but once I realised what CMake was trying to encourage I fell in love and things just clicked.

During the CMake port I also took the opportunity to strip out vestigial or prototypical code and do some housekeeping, which certainly cleaned things up as I not only removed files but also disposed of bits of code too. I also removed all traces of WebEngine which I had used during the earliest prototype phase; the next time Google pops up, it’ll be with CEF.

I’ve also started incorporating the first KF5 libraries into the project. The libraries are very well organised, and also well documented. Finally, I need to compliment Qt and state how amazing the toolkit is. Really. Some of the most notable changes were trivial by Qt making smart use of its internal structure, and even though I’m hardly a veteran developer Qt and it’s extremely good documentation has allowed me to make smart, informed decisions. Really guys, good job.

On other projects

Moving away from Fiber, right now we’re doing a lot of work on refining the Breeze theme for Plasma 5.5 in this thread, where we’re running down paper-cuts on the design and building the next iteration of the style. Ideally, we’d like to see a much more consistent and well-defined visual structure. Later on we will start to address things like alignment issues, and start targeted papercut topics which will address specific visual issues. If you’re interested, please read the entire thread as there is lots of design discussion and contribute your thoughts.

Remember, constructive feedback is the easiest contribution anyone can make to an open-source project!