The LXer Interview: Sebastian Kügler of KDE
If you ever want a glimpse of how much Sebastian Kügler does around KDE just subscribe to the kde-promo e-mail list which is as busy as it is effective, and that is just one of the many tasks that he is charged with. In his time with KDE, Sebastian has witnessed and helped facilitate some of the most sweeping changes the organization has ever seen. In our Interview we talk about those changes and more.
Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself, when your interest in computers and software started?
I started programming at the age of 9, finding the games for the Commodore 64 that I owned at that time boring. The machine was sold with a manual for Commodore 64 BASIC. I started exploring it, wrote small games together with a friend of mine. Eventually, I ran into errors I wasn't able to understand (probably, I ran out of memory). For about 10 years, I did pretty much ignore computers apart from playing a game once in a while and returned back to them when I started studying in 1998. I quickly took up programming again, got a job as webmaster at the university and was introduced to Linux. "We want this website to run on Linux, can you install that?" So I tried, and got hooked.
How did you become involved with KDE?
I sent an email to Simon Edwards, asking him for the source code of the Guidance tools. While it was still in Alpha state, I played around with it a bit, ported it to Debian and fixed various bugs. After some time, we started using a shared SVN repo which I hosted on my server at home. At aKademy 2005 in Malaga, it was suggested that I imported Guidance into KDE SVN. My non-coding career in KDE also started in Malaga, when Matthias Ettrich approached me with the question if I had ideas on improved marketing for KDE. I organized a BoF, got some people together and we started the KDE Marketing Working Group. I was proposed as a new member to the KDE e.V. and got accepted short after aKademy.
During aKademy 2006, I got elected as member of the Board of Directors of the KDE e.V.. I am working on developing the Supporting Membership Programme, a programme that offers companies (and at a later point also individuals) a unique way of ensuring the health of the KDE community by contributing some money. My current efforts also concentrate on a Corporate Partnership Programme for KDE. Such a program aims at a collaborative approach to marketing, building a network of companies to jointly market and KDE desktop and software. I'm also still coordinating parts of the work of the Marketing Team. I also try to help out where it's necessary. When I find time, I enjoy writing code, although that is probably not the most important contribution to KDE, given my limited skills.
With all that I have read it seems that KDE has begun a complete transformation as an organization. What facilitated this change in philosophy and the need for KDE to "reinvent" itself?
Starting roughly three years ago, some people within KDE realized that software developers alone cannot bring the Free Desktop to its full potential. Since then, KDE has shifted from a pure Free Software community to a Free Culture community. The core values of Freedom and Community are still the same, of course, but we are actively reaching out to other communities with the same values. Creative Commons, Wikipedia organization such as OpenStreetmap are one part of this puzzle. Another part is on the inside. We need experts in all different areas in order to push KDE and the Free Desktop in the mainstream market. This shift can be seen in sub-communities that are integrated under the KDE umbrella.
Usability engineering has become integral part of our development process, we have a team of excellent artists currently working on the visual appearance of what's to become KDE4. But there's a lot of other people in the community that are filling in gaps in our project, think documentation teams, translators, people organizing event attendance and showing KDE to the world at fairs, people that spend endless hours helping out users and communicating a friendly and helpful attitude to the users. Our aim is to show that KDE is a Free Culture community that is appealing to people with various areas of interest, and to make it attractive for people to become part of the KDE community, either as user or as contributor.
How far along in the process are you, or is this something that will never really stop?
The process is coming along quite well. The diversity of teams within KDE shows this. Currently, we need to work on sustainability of those teams. Sometimes we are dependent on two or three people being available, but having a constant influx of new people is very important to not have those efforts die out.
I have been trying to keep up with everything going on with KDE4. You have really set the bar high for this next release, how is it going and what is your biggest worry?
It's going really well. We took quite a risk with KDE4, not simply porting all of our software to Qt4, but fixing a lot of structural problems and providing efficient and integrated ways of solving problems such as multimedia and hardware integration, and much more. A lot of people were afraid of drying out the community by a very long release cycle and indeed, it has been quite a challenge. Software developers might run away if they know that their work won't be released for another 2 years, making the release cycle even longer.
A big challenge was when our coolo, our release manager said that he was probably not able to keep being release manager for the 4.x cycle. We had to invent new ways of governance. First, we created the Technical Working Group, a group of core developers in our community to deal with release management and as a group who solves conflicts within the community. Due to time constraints of those people (the people in this group were also the busiest people in other areas), this didn't work out. At the end of 2006, KDE lacked direction in that respect and we asked the community to step up and solve this problem.
A group of people feeling responsible stepped up, and without much formality, the Release Team formed. Quickly, a release schedule was worked out, and this team has done an excellent piece of work in listening to the contributors and making decisions based on their findings. Now KDE has a more sustainable structure, is not dependent on two people anymore and there is a clear way to address various technical issues.
Now we've released the first Alphas of KDE4.0, the situation is quite different. Last week's aKademy showed that we're doing extremely well. KDE has a constant inflow of new, excellent and enthusiast contributors. Having a shared vision for KDE4 is extremely important in that respect. Developers are excited about what's possible in KDE4 and value the freedom they have when implementing it. The diversity in the community makes for innovative, usable and beautiful software, different teams are working together really well. Part of this is caused by the excitement we were able to create within the community about our new technologies.
Letting the world (inside and outside of KDE) know what we're doing is extremely important, both to grow our user base and our contributor community. KDE4 is being developed at a tremendous speed right now, and it will, in itself grow our community and its diversity even further. Approaches such as the one Plasma takes (making it easy to extend KDE for artists, programmers and other creative minds) will have great effect on what the user will actually be able to do with the desktop. While KDE 4.0 will not be the perfect desktop, it will provide all the possibilities to make it a huge success, and to fully utilize the creative potential within a growing community.
What do you see for KDE in the future?
For the future, I don't worry too much. We have a huge potential, and if we keep doing our job well, we have a good chance to actually change the world, to make Free Software ubiquitous. An important milestone will be when the Free Desktop reaches 10% market share. This is the point where most vendors can't ignore us anymore. Hardware vendors will make sure their drivers work equally well on Linux and other Free Software platforms, software and service vendors will support our software in the same way, taking away the last hurdles for wide-spread adoption. If we're not able to change the world, then I really don't know who is.
My answer to you Sebastian, KDE is changing the world. KDE has taken on a important role in the Open Source Community and its success ripples out in all directions. They have essentially re-written the book on how to manage a large Open Source project and come out on top. KDE has embraced change and I believe it will flourish for a long time to come because of it.
There are many Open Source projects that could learn from what KDE is doing. How KDE is organized and how well it is run is as innovative as the software they create. With things starting to ramp up for the KDE4 release, I want to Thank Sebastian for taking the time out of his schedule to talk with me.
Take notice everyone because KDE is trying to change the world, and its working.
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