Back from Akademy 2018. What an event!

A few days back I wrote about Akademy 2018 and my expectations and duties at the event. This is a report based on that previous post.

Akademy 2018 in Vienna, Austria, has been the best one in I’ve attended to in recent years. We event got a record number of sponsors, Codethink among them, and some of them for the very first time, which is always a good sign. The organization went smooth, the location was comfortable and several talks were very good. As a point to improve, I would mention the location of the Sunday party (sorry, social event), which was small for so many people.

Codethink as sponsor

This Akademy there were more first timers than in previous editions. Most of them knew nothing about Codethink. So being a sponsor allowed me to talk for 3-4 minutes to the audience, right before the closure, about what Codethink does, specially about the FOSS projects freedesktop-sdk and BuildStream. I will write more about them in the near future.

Representing Codethink also allowed me to attend to the sponsors dinner. I have attended to several of them before, either as a KDE eV Board Member, as the local organiser or as a sponsor representative (SUSE and now Codethink). This one worked very well. I was sit by the openSUSE Leap release manager Ludwig Nussel, former colleague of mine, Chris Lamb, Debian Lead and Alan Pope from Canonical, which allowed us to have interesting conversations about topics like reproducible builds, telemetry in distros, automotive systems, upstream events, etc. I also had the opportunity to introduce BuildStream to them.

Flatpak – Snap BoF

As part of my duties at the event I participated in the Flatpak – Snap workshop to introduce briefly the work Codethink is sponsoring on freedesktop-sdk and BuildStream:

  • freedesktop SDK 1.8 was just released before Akademy. flatpak-gnome and kde runtimes are based on it.
  • freedesktop SDK uses BuildStream as build tool. The integration team at GNOME too. So it was about time to talk about the project among KDE people. When it comes to build tools, the key selling point for BuildStream within KDE community is the advantage of creating a single set of definitions (recipes) and get different outputs like flatpaks, rpm-deb packages and hopefully in the future, snaps. Outputs depend on plugins that can be developed and maintained by contributors to BuildStream if they are not already available.
  • I am happy with the response BuildStream got and hopefully after the coming v1.2 release the project will support some KDE contributors in trying out the tool. It will be interesting also to support the KDE community in building the flatpak-kde runtime.

BuildStream

I introduced BuildStream to several developers. In general, very few knew anything about it which is not surprising since, except among the GNOME community, we have barely made any noise about the project. The coming release will help us to start mitigating this issue. The KDE community produces flatpaks, snaps, .deb and .rpm packages, has Yocto recipes… . A tool set that provides you all these outputs by maintaining a single sets of definitions, being simple to install, update and maintain, becomes attractive at first sight. The challenge is major, but a nice one to face.

Third edition of the Freedesktop Summit?

Several years ago, driven by Alison Lortie and sponsored by openSUSE, I organised the first freedesktop event ever. The following year I participated in the organization of the second one, that also took place in Nürnberg, Germany. During Akademy I talked to some people that might be interested in participating in a new edition. I did have some conversations around this topic at GUADEC too so, although it is still nothing but an idea, I will invest a few cycle to mature it. Who knows, maybe we can organise a third edition of the event next year.

KDE for automotive

As you know, I have been advocating at KDE for putting effort to showcase our software in automotive R&D and pre-production environments, knowing that Qt is the default graphic toolkit in the industry. Last year I provided a lightning talk about it which, together with the improvements in Plasma Mobile, triggered the interest of some developers at KDE, which are professionally involved in Qt companies working in embedded/automotive already. We had a BoF back then and we created a roadmap to shorten the gap between what we had and what would be interesting to show in such environments.

Andreas Cord-Landwehr and Volker Krause has managed to create two Yocto recipes together with the infrastructure to update them regularly. Both had a talk at Akademy. Andreas introduced the audience to Yocto and talked about the created recipes while Volker showed during a lightning talk the plasma mobile shell working on a RPi3 with the Raspberry 7″ touchscreen.

At the BoF we evaluated the technical, coordination and promo actions taken as well as the coming ones. The ultimate goal for the coming year is to showcase at different events KDE apps on top of Plasma mobile on automotive dev as well as to increase the attention of more KDE developers on embedded as a potential target market for KDE software.

I am excited about this progress. I believe putting some effort to move towards embedded can bring more attention and new energy to KDE.

KDE E.V. AGM

I participated at the annual KDE eV AGM (general assembly) on Monday August 13th. As you know the KDE eV AGM is a close doors one, so private. It was a good move to provide room during the event for the working groups to summarise the work they have done. These reports used to be done during the assembly. As consequence, the AGM was shorter.

There used to be a time in which the KDE eV AGM was long and tedious. Over the years we have put effort in making it shorter and more dynamic. Mission accomplished.

openSUSE

It was great to meet all timers but also new openSUSE contributors. I could take some time to talk about points that require some attention in the distro, learn about the improvements on the delivery process that has been implemented on Leap 15, some of the actions in progress and future plans. Finally I did not update the Leap version in my working laptop (a Slimbook) because I had more work than expected during the event. I will update it during the coming weeks. Overall I am happy with Leap 15 in my personal laptop (a Lenovo) so far.

Slimbook

I was happy to see Slimbook booth at the event. As you know I am a Slimbook happy customer. I had the chance to talk to other customers at the event and I would highlight how happy we are with the post-sale service they provide.

Did I mention I would like to have a 11″ SlimNoteBook. I definitely did to them.

Free Qt Foundation

I cannot get tired of telling everybody within KDE and specially outside the community how important is the Free Qt Foundation, not just for KDE and the Qt ecosystem, but also for the entire Free Software movement. I never loose the chance when I am among automotive professionals to highlight the enormous impact that this entity has on their businesses. There is still a lot to do to provide The Free Qt Foundation the attention it deserves. By the way, it is always a pleasure for me to talk to KDE e.V. representatives there, Martin Konold and Olaf Schmidt-Wischhöfer.

What a great contribution they do.

Other topics

Did I mention how cool it is to have Mycroft integrated with KDE? All the demos I have seen are so promising… openSUSE Tumbleweed has packages to enjoy Mycroft on Plasma. The same applies to having KDE software on phones. It seems that we will have Qt6 in 2020 and that the transition from Qt5 is planned to be smooth. Breaking things when updating is never a good strategy in my opinion.

I love KDE Connect and I had the chance to learn about some coming new features, which is always a plus for coming to Akademy.

Sebas and Valorie got awards this year. Well deserved, as the rest of the winners. I like the fact that we as community, put some effort in recognising those who make significant contributions to the project.

I could have chats with people that I respect, new developers, key contributors… . As I said, a great event.

Thanks to the organisers

I will finish this Akademy 2018 report thanking the organization team who worked hard to make Akademy 2018 one of those hard to forget.

Thank you.

A weekend at Akademy-es in Valencia

This past weekend I travelled to Valencia, the third biggest city in Spain, located by the Mediterranean sea, to attend to Akademy-es, the annual meeting of the KDE community in Spain. At this event we also hold the KDE Spain annual assembly.

KDE España is the legal entity behind the KDE community in Spain and legally represents KDE in my country. We are about 30 members and it was founded in 2009 although Akademy-es started a few years earlier.

akademy_group_photo_2018-05-13_10-10-34

Event highlights

These are the points that called my attention the most at this edition:

  • Many new faces: although I do not have the official numbers yet, my guess is that we had around 75-80 participants among the three days, mostly locals which means a median of 35-40 people in most talks. Most were new faces. KDE Spain designs this event not so much targeting contributors but newcomers and potential future community members. So having many new faces is a very good sign.
  • Slimbook: this company from Valencia, sponsored the event and participated in its organization. At their booth, they showed some of their new products. I really liked the new Katana II and the new KDE Slimbook II. They are already selling outside Spain (EU) and they have a small response window when customers has issues with their laptops or owners require an upgrade, even faster than most multinational brands.
    • My Slimbook had a little issue with the fan. It was a little noisy and it did not work perfectly. I agreed with the support service to bring my laptop to Akademy-es so the fan could be replaced there as part of the guarantee. Isn’t that cool or what? I got my laptop back in 30 minutes and meanwhile they explained to me the components used, some design and technical decisions they took for my Pro2 laptop and the evolution suffered by the new version of the model, which they were showing at the booth.
  • KDE Vaults: what a nice surprise! This is a fairly recent KDE future that will be shipped in openSUSE Leap 15, I believe that I will use it on daily basis. It basically allow you to encrypt a folder with standard encryption technology and it is integrated with Plasma.
  • Mycroft integration in KDE: I was glad to see that a power user like I am will be able to easily install and configure Mycroft in openSUSE Leap 15 and interact with it using the KDE Plasma applet.
  • Catch up with friends: every member of any community would claim that this is a highlight of a every community event. It is absolutely true. It always amaze my how diverse this group is in some aspects but how our passion for changing the world with KDE holds us together.
  • Valencia: this is a city I haven’t been often enough, with enough time to enjoy it. I should come in Fallas, the local (and crazy) party week. Paella, party and mascletás, what more can a guy like me ask for?
    • Slimbook Paella. What a nice paella we had at the event.dav
  • Support from my KDE colleagues: as I mentioned, I am a power user. My technical skills are limited. I have a few minor issues with my openSUSE Leap 43.2 that I am unable to fix them myself. Akademy-es is always an opportunity for me to get support from the experts and fix some of them, or at least get an explanation about why I have that issue, if it is fixed already in new versions or if I have to use a workaround.

Call for action

These are some points where I would like to call for action on them:

  • High resolution screens represent an issue when installing or booting most Linux distros, including openSUSE Leap. It is also a pain to configure multiscreen set-ups when the difference in resolutions between screens is high. The new openSUSE Leap version, Leap 15 represents a step forward to solve some of them but, from what I’ve heard there is still a way to go. There are several laptop models under $1000 out there already with these type of screens so I assume the priority to solve these issues for distro and desktop hackers will significantly increase. I have hope.
  • OEM installer: years ago I came to the conclusion that the reason why Linux desktops are not mainstream is because upstream mostly target those users who do not and will never install any operative system in their machines while Linux distros mostly target those who can install their own OS. Both would greatly benefit from targeting mainly the prescriptors, that is, those who install the operative systems of the users either in corporate or domestic environment. Let me put an example. Most Linux distros still do not have a OEM installer. I heard this demand again at Akademy-es, this time done by Alejandro López, Slimbook CEO, as a limiting factor to ship their laptops with some Linux distros pre-installed. I would like to see a OEM installer soon for openSUSE Leap.
  • Distro upgrade application: openSUSE Leap is a distro for users. Leap 15 is coming and it seems I will have to use YAST to change the repos in order to point to the new ones to upgrade my distro. Asking around, the situation is not better in most distros (they do not have YAST 🙂 ). Upgrading the distro through internet (network) is an awesome feature. Let’s make it affordable to everybody. I would like to see an application in openSUSE to manage this complex feature, making it suitable for any user not just power users. It could be a great opportunity too to inform those users about the benefits of the new version, including those apps that are available for the very first time, together with a simple path to install them.
  • Applications for Plasma Mobile: Plasma developers are achieving the long-awaited goal to get Plasma ready for mobiles. Now we need applications. Aleix Pol did a call for action on this regard and I fully support his cause. Without applications, it will way harder to make this effort shine.
  • Not enough women (diversity): although expected, we cannot stay conformist with the result at this event. Women need references to feel KDE as an even more inclusive and attractive place to learn and develop their skills. Maribel García, Directora de la Oficina de Software Libre de la Universidad de Granada (Director of the Free Software Office at the University of Granada), spoke about this, describing the activities this entity is doing to increase the interest among women about Free Software, pointing at an evidence, that KDE can and should do more to help. She also agreed, based on the ratio of women vs men studying Software Engineering at her University, that the root cause is at home and at the High School. She has published a study about this, she mentioned.
    • It is not the first time I hear this diagnosis. I know first hand that the KDE España board has made efforts to mitigate the lack of women speakers at this edition. The Board needs more help from the Membership and the wider KDE community. It is in everybody’s interest.

Overall, Akademy-es has been a good one. See you all at Akademy in summer or next year again at Akademy-es. Where? Who knows…

Introducing my new friend: a Slimbook

Probably most of you will understand me if I tell you I consider my laptop almost like a partner, like my father feels about his car, or kind of. I cannot help but feeling attached to a machine I use many hours a day. So when you have to change it, it is kind of a drama.

It is also a risky decision. I travel quite often and work from home. I have no workstation. This means that I need a powerful and lightweight machine, with high-resolution but also high autonomy, good keyboard and the right combination/amount of outputs… in summary, a good machine.

After a happy journey with Dell, I switched to Lenovo which has been my choice for some years. Not just my former working laptop was a Lenovo but my personal one and my tablet as well.

Why Slimbook

I have been following Slimbook for some time now. As you probably know, they ship a KDE laptop that is very cool, with KDE Neon pre-installed. They have attended to a couple of events I have attended to so I have been able to test their laptops, get feedback from buyers and ask them questions directly. The fact that they are a Spanish company was a beautiful surprise, We do not have that many hardware integrators and vendors in Spain.

But what definitely caught my attention was the fact that they pay a lot of attention to the software. They ship the laptops with Linux pre-installed. Ok, that is not new any more. But they do pre-install several different distros. Now, that’s uncommon. But news do not stop there.

They have created a community of customers that help each other to ensure that you get help beyond their contract responsibilities. They pay attention to this point which makes the pre-sales decision easier, by the way. They also sell peripherals that work on the chosen distro and they welcome tests and reports about them from customers who has installed Linux distributions they do not pre-install.

On the hardware side, Slimbooks are powerful, with a modern look and many cool features.

Based on the above in addition to my KDE colleagues feedback, I decided in October 2017 to go for one. I bought a PRO2 with customised high end components. A machine to work with the coming years.

You need to consider that Slimbook is not a big corporation so they do not have much stock. If you want something special, it will take them some days to ensemble it, test the hardware, install and configure the chosen distro and deliver it.

Evaluation… so far.

Let me start by saying I have no commercial relation with them. I write this post as a way to support the effort Slimbook and some of my colleagues are doing to bring KDE to the hands of Slimbook customers.

The purchase process in my case required some back and forth because I wanted to install openSUSE and it was not by then in the list of officially supported distros. They were kind enough to take the opportunity to install it for me and check that everything worked fine. It did. A different story was the dock station available in their store, which I bought. They reported me they could not make it work at 100% with openSUSE Leap 42.2 before sending it so I ended up not buying it.

So as outcome of this process, Slimbook now supports openSUSE Leap and they do not recommend this dock station to buyers that request the camaleon pre-installed. This was a a huge time saver for me. Also, I was travelling during the arrival date of the laptop. They managed to ship it so it arrived when I was at home, in between trips, the day I requested.

Slimbook demonstrated they understand what customer service really means.

Sadly I completely forgot to mention to them I needed the hard disk encrypted so I had to reinstall the OS again. This time I went directly for openSUSE Leap 42.3. Everything worked out of the box or was trivial to fix:

  • As usual, the high-resolution of the screen provides some headaches when booting the KDE desktop for the very first time (everything is tiny) which is a plus for having the distro pre-installed.
  • I had to go to Yast to finish the configuration of the sound card. Another reason for buying a machine with the distro pre-installed.

On a side note, I will highlight how painful it is to manage resolutions and font dpi when working with a dual screen configuration with a big resolution difference between screens (laptop vs monitor). This is the first time I have a laptop with a very high-resolution screen so it was like going back to the bad old days when Linux users had to manually configure screens, projectors… This has nothing to do with Slimbook though.

As usual, configuring a working machine takes quite a long time. There are so many things to install and configure… I am still discovering small pain points and highlights of my PRO2 in working conditions.

I have written to Slimbook a couple of times with suggestions to consider for their store and future high-end models. Nothing really important except maybe the battery capacity, which I consider short for heavy travellers (not for occasional ones).

This point was  not a surprise for me though. Based on the info provided by Slimbook on their website, I could research about it up front. tlp is something you might consider to install and learn how to manage in order to significantly increase the working time with your laptop while on battery.

I get very pity with the location and number of outputs in every laptop I’ve ever had. I must say they are not too bad on this PRO2. Or maybe it is just that I am usually so annoyed that not being too disappointed this time seems like a good sign.

The laptop has so many highlights that I will not go over them. Take it as a good sign.

Veredict

Do I recommend you the PRO2 with my configuration?

No. My needs might not be yours. You have to get what you need/want. Slimbook allows you to customise your machine which in my case it is a good thing. I considered other laptops from Lenovo or Dell, by the way. I even considered a MacBook.

Do I recommend you Slimbook?

The purchase of a laptop has to be evaluated after a couple of years to be absolutely fair. I am confident about this purchase though based on the customer support I have already received, which is more than what I can say in other cases with well established vendors.

So if you require a good-looking and powerful laptop, you have many options. If you also want to customise it with different components, then the options get reduced. If on top of that, you are looking for a machine with a Linux distro pre-installed, the number of possibilities are small and, depending on the distro you want, close to none.

If on top of all the above, you want a healthy community of consumers that help each other, well supported by the vendor itself, then Slimbook becomes a good option. An if in addition, you want to work with people that understands how important it is your laptop for a professional, the machine you work with everyday, which necessarily means the vendor must provide a good customer support, then I recommend you to talk to these guys. You will find them, for instance, in most major Open Source events that take place in Spain.

As I have said before, the times for hardware/electronic vendors to “fire & forget” are over, or will be shortly. Updating the software and providing maintenance and support to your consumers, way beyond the law obligations, is not just a differentiation factor any more, but a must.

Based on my experience so far, Slimbook gets it.