On Wallpapers

TL;DR, I’ll be switching to releasing new wallpapers every second Plasma release, on even-numbered versions.

This is just a post to refer to for those who have asked me about Plasma 5.15 and a new wallpaper. Since I started working on Plasma 5 wallpapers, there has always been a number of factors determining how exactly I made them. After some agonising debate I’ve decided to slow the wallpaper release pace, because as time has gone on a number of things have changed since I started contributing them:

Bugs & Releases. One of the early goals for wallpapers was to have one for each release so developers could identify versions of Plasma in screenshots of bug reports. This has become far less important, as issues have gone from “the bug causing everyone’s machines to catch fire while eating kittens” to things like “maybe stealing your left sock from the dryer”. Back in the day most distros didn’t offer rolling release options, so users would be reporting the bugs and sharing screenshots of old buggy versions. That, too, has changed; not only are rolling release options more plentiful, but standard release distros are well passed the dark days of immature Plasma 5. All said and done, we just don’t need wallpapers for developers to identify problem releases anymore; the bugs are far less severe and people are more up-to-date.

LTS Plasma versions & quality. While it may seem irrelevant to wallpapers, LTS stands out to as the place where we really need to pour love and care into our designs. With each new wallpaper I’m pushing things a bit harder and a bit further which means taking more time to create them, and I’m realising that at the quality I want to drive out LTS wallpapers with, it might take 3 to 5 dedicated days to produce a final product. That’s not including post-reveal tweaks I do after receiving feedback, or the wallpapers I discard during the creation process (for each wallpaper released, it’s likely I got halfway through 2 other designs). In other words, it’s becoming less sustainable.

The wallpapers aren’t crap anymore. It’s no secret, my first wallpapers were rough. When a new wallpaper was finished there were real quality incentives for me to take the lessons learned and turn-around a better wallpaper. Nowadays though most new wallpapers are visually pleasing and people don’t mind if they stick around for a bit longer. I know a lot of people even go back to previous wallpapers. Adding to this, it’s gotten easy to get older wallpapers; OpenDesktop, GetHotNewStuff both serve as easy access, and we now have some of the most popular default wallpapers in the extended wallpapers package. While new wallpapers are always nice to have, it’s no longer bad to keep what we’ve got.

Between those big three points, it brings me to moving the wallpaper cycle to every second Plasma release. New wallpapers will fall on even-numbered Plasma releases, landing squarely on the LTS releases and a feature release directly between LTS’s. That being said I hope that future wallpapers will show quality reflecting what the additional time will afford me to do.

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Cluster Wallpaper – Community Feedback Update

After posting the Plasma 5.14 “Cluster” wallpaper and asking for feedback there was a huge response, and after a few days of big changes and finer adjustments I hope this will serve as a satisfactory wallpaper. I’d like to thank everyone who offered constructive feedback, pitched in ideas, and even offered examples, you’re amazing!

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Cluster and the source SVG file are now available on OpenDesktop and the KDE Store. For those seeking the Krita source file, please contact me directly and I will ensure it’s available somewhere.

Plasma 5.14 Wallpaper “Cluster”

The time for a new Plasma wallpaper is here, so for 5.14 I’m excited to offer up “Cluster”.

But first, please allow me to gush for a moment. In tandem with Inkscape, this is the first wallpaper for KDE produced using the ever excellent Krita. For graphic design my computer has a bit of beef to it, but when I work with Inkscape or GIMP things always chug just a bit more than I feel they should. Whenever I’ve had the distinct pleasure of opening Krita, even on my lesser powered laptop, it’s always been productive, rewarding, and performant. I’m looking forward to using Krita more in future wallpapers. *claps for Krita*

Now, with pixmaps there’s always a valid concern that higher-resolution monitors will suffer blurring because of low native resolutions. The master file for this slightly larger than 8k, so hopefully this will not be an issue. The only potential problem this causes is the large size of the master files. The Inkscape source will be published when the final wallpaper is released as per usual (just under 50MB), but the Krita-based assets are only going to be available on request. This is because the .kra is 135MB, and I have a feeling a few people might be angry if I load that onto the shared server. Unless they read this and tell me it’s fine. Who knows!

The wallpaper still has a polish pass, so rough edges or things that might feel awkward will be ironed out before it’s committed. If you have feedback you can comment here or over on the Reddit thread: https://www.reddit.com/r/kde/comments/90syno/plasma_514_wallpaper_cluster/

Here it is;

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Click here for 8K image

Plasma 5.11 Wallpaper Production – Part 1

Today I streamed the first half of the Plasma 5.11 wallpaper production, and it was an interesting experience. The video above is the abridged version sped up ~20x, heavily edited to the actual creation, and should be a fun watch for the interested.

It looks like there’s another full work-day that needs to go into the wallpaper still, and while I think I’ll also record the second half I don’t think I’ll livestream it; while I’m very appreciative of the viewers I had, it was quite a bit of extra work and quite difficult to carry on a one-man conversation for 8 hours, while working, for at most a few people. Like I said, I will still record the second half of the wallpaper for posterity, I simply don’t think I’ll be streaming it. I do think I’ll keep streaming the odd icon batch, as those are about as long as I want, so they can be kept to a digestible hour.

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The wallpaper as it is is based on an image of a reef along with a recent trip to the beach during the Blue Systems sprint. There’s still a long way to go, and I can easily see another 8 hours going into this before it’s completed; there’s water effects, tides, doing the rocks, and taking a second pass at the foam – among other things – especially before I hit the level of KDE polish I’d like meet.

Looking at it, I may also make a reversed image with only the shoreline components for dual-screen aficionados.

Within the next week or so I’ll post the next timelapse after I complete the wallpaper. 😀

DWD: Protocol U-Turn

Since Martin posted his Wayland progress I’ve noticed an uptick in questions about CSD, so I figure now is a good time to upload this post I’ve had sitting around, as for the past month I’ve been closely examining the concept of “Dynamic Window Decorations”, or “DWDs” and how to better implement them.

When Last We Saw Our Heroes

For those who need a primer or reminder, DWD is the sister of “Client Side Decorations”, or “CSD”s. Both CSD and DWD are methods for placing widgets in the frame area of windows to save vertical space, look cleaner, and either make applications feel unique or more integrated.

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Indeed, DWDs would be themeable like traditional decorations, fully supporting transparency effects.

CSD charges the application with drawing the whole window including the frame, instructing the window manager to discard the provided frame. This is the method used on Windows, OSX, and GTK. DWD is aiming for the opposite approach; the window manager continues to draw the window frame, but the application can request certain widgets to replace the window title. Martin Gräßlin plans to keep as much as possible on the server-side as there are many important advantages including customisation, stability, trust, and integration.

DWD “1.0” Was Getting Complicated

One thing CSD will always have over DWD is customisation; when an application has free reign over the whole window it can literally do anything; it can make windows round if it wants to, it can invent crazy widgets and put em’ in the title area, and more. DWD isn’t suited to this, and while designing the first iteration of the protocol I tried to bang a square peg into the round hole by providing those many possibilities.

In my infinite wisdom I re-invented X, with a sprawling protocol that covered dozens of edge-cases which would likely never be used. Even with that, people still complained about the fact that many customisations would still impossible. People also didn’t like the KDE crew being the stewards of this protocol, as different environments want to do different things.

DWD, as originally envisioned, had to change – it was just too complicated and inflexible. Listening to the feedback it was clear the protocol had to be simple, flexible, and tractable. A large requirement was also making it able to grow outside of KDE with or without our ‘approval’.

DWDs New Approach

DWD, as I have drafted it, has been boiled down to a discovery service whose sole purpose is getting apps and window managers to figure out compatible protocols, and specify some standard UI controls which will use those protocols.

Here’s the quick overview on the current core “DWD Protocol”, again, as of my current draft (which could totally be rejected):

  • DWD will be organised into “extensions”. Extensions are just blueprints listing required D-Bus specifications, widgets/controls, and options.
  • Applications and the Window Manager handshake for compatible extensions.
  • Applications tell the Window Manager what controls from those extensions it should display, and how it wants them laid out.
  • Applications hide their native controls.
  • DWD is done and gets out of the way at this point. Control is handed to specifications like MPRIS2, and Window Managers (or Plasma) control the app through those protocols using the requested controls.

That’s it, DWD “2.0” in a nutshell.

KDE will need to create some reference extensions (plus some D-Bus specs) and hopefully everyone will be happy enough to standardise on the basics. From there any environment can create specialised extensions for DWD, we can work with extensions we like, and maybe standardise on the really useful ones (much like libinput has been folded into many environments). If someone makes an awesome extension that handles admin access requests, we could use it. If we make an extension that handles progress charts, someone else could adopt it. I’d like us to develop two reference extensions: a basic toolbar extension, and an MPRIS2 extension.

Advantages over “1.0”

Security is the biggest upside to offloading work on other protocols. DWD doesn’t care how the standards are implemented, so they can be as secure (or insecure) as they choose to be. Security issues or weaknesses in the protocol itself will be mitigated, as the protocol is much smaller. Patches for applications or changes to functional protocols can be made without breaking DWD.

Integration is also another bonus. Parts of the desktop can integrate the protocols extensions use, without DWD needing to explicitly support it. The best example is MPRIS2, which already exists and has amazing support everywhere. The idea behind DWD is that we create more MPRIS-type extensions as we need them.

Finally, core DWD is out of the hotpath for data passing. Window Managers don’t need to be “like X” and conform to complex drawing and customisation tasks. Hopefully as a de-stresser to Martin, this method of offering DWD will be much more easily implemented in a plugin architecture which can be gradually expanded upon. We won’t need to have the full protocol out-of gate, and environments can start with the bare basics and evolve as useful extensions are finalised. I don’t know how he might want to do it, but DWD extension plugins could be potentially be maintained entirely outside of Kwin (or other Window managers) if we play our cards right.

The Downsides

Nothing is perfect, so of course there are downsides;

Customisation.

The big elephant in the room. Going over more standard protocols (and not bloating the new specification) means applications will have no say over how content is styled in the window. I considered this for a while and ultimately decided that it’s O.K.

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We could still offer a few more standardised ways of doing common things we do today, such as passing a colour palette to sync with the window, but outside of the handshake I’ll push for an extension-over-integration policy.

 

The application doesn’t need to know how things are done, only that they’re getting done. The WM knows more about the environment it’s in than the application; functionality is what matters. The volume button on a computer might be shown as a slider, but on a touch-device it may be a larger button with a popout slider. Maybe a phone will simply use the hardware controls. It’s up to whatever is managing the control.

For people already seething with rage ready to point at me and say “Linux is about choice! Applications should choose what their UIs look like!” I will point out; applications can chose not to use DWD. They can choose to implement a CSD-based application. But lets be real here: when we find a need for speciality widgets, if they are really something useful, their host toolkits/environments can always add the extension.

Generally though, if an application is doing something really unique it’s probably doing it’s own thing anyway – like Chrome/Chromium – or breaking the local HIGs. If you absolutely need to save that 18px while also showing a one-of-a-kind rainbow-powered rocket-widget which must be in the frame… CSD is the price of needing to be that special.

Fragmentation.

With anyone able to create extensions, there’s a change we might have a situation where two environments create two similar offerings. For this, I believe it’s a chance for everyone to experiment, and then work together to standardise. The one thing this means is that applications created for another environment might take longer to get CSD-like functionality, though they should present their interfaces in their traditional application UI.

I think this is still better than CSD, as often a broken CSD is unusable vs a DWD which will simply not conserve space.

DWD

So, in the end, this is the direction DWD has gone. Keep it simple, let anyone decide how it should be used, and piggyback off of proven protocols.

MPRIS2 shows what a purpose-driven protocol can do, and already has lots of examples of “remote control” interfaces. Outside of MPRIS2 we would create missing D-Bus specifications which would hopefully make the wider applications library accessible in a similar manner. Specifications for things like progress management, search, sharing, and many others could be created which will benefit applications, and allow deeper desktop integration for everybody.

For those who saw the previous designs in my original DWD blog post, not much has actually changed visually. Everything I posted is still possible, but now we have a much more practical way to do it which I am much more confident we could reliably implement and share.

New artwork coming in 5.4 & the tale of a troublesome wallpaper

For the past month I’ve been slightly more active than usual, and I’m excited for this release and some of the art I’ve managed to throw into the pipe;

Icons, Icons!

I would like to make a special mention that not all of these icons have been greenlit, and several of them are pending approval and may be dropped/require changes. Some were literally finished minutes ago while others have already been integrated into projects. \o/

image10430After “harmlessly” throwing in a couple monochrome icons from my personal projects, I found myself reading a few of the icon requests and one thing lead to another… Now I’ve pushed in somewhere around 25 new icons, mostly towards apps with the goal of filling in gaps of common applications. These new icons will hopefully bring a much more cohesive launcher menu, with more core and popular applications having Breezy icons.

Some of these may be shunted to an extended repo; 3rd parties get antsy when they see their logos get “breezified”, so “branded” icons need to occasionally be separated from the main repository to avoid troubles and takedown requests.

Lastly but not least; Uri and Andreas have been nothing short of awesome in helping me get these out, thanks guys!

The tale of an annoying, terrible, awful wallpaper, and How I Made it.

I’d like to say that I’m less a man and more a force of nature – one able to sweep my hand and make art bloom at will… But this would be a lie, and occasionally getting art out there makes the only force I can muster feel like a fart in the wind. The new wallpaper for 5.4 just did not want to be made, and took days on and off trying to figure out what to do. I nearly just suggested we ship a backup wallpaper I had on the sidelines.

Eventually ideas got figured out, and after an unstructured failure (again, making me look at “the backup”) I started taking screenshots while using a more structured approach. I imagine I wanted all reading this to feel my pain. Either that or laugh. One of the two. Either way, the new wallpaper was one of the more involved processes used for a Plasma 5 wallpaper, and here are the steps for how it came together;

Continue reading “New artwork coming in 5.4 & the tale of a troublesome wallpaper”