A while ago, Justin and I received an email from Dr Tony Young who recently wrote for LXer about his experiences moving from KDE 3.5 to a Plasma Desktop and our Platform 4 apps. If you want to understand some of the frustrations people have experienced in making the switch, then those articles are well worth a read.
However, Tony’s email was prompted by a discussion on LXer about why KDE does not listen to its users (that was the point of view of many of the people making comments, you can make your own judgement about whether or not that is a fair criticism). On the suggestion of an LXer reader, Tony brought his concerns to us. We in turn discussed them with some members of KDE’s marketing team and Tony and I had an exchange of emails, now published by LXer.
What is KDE?
Now, Tony is an experienced user of free software as well as a scientist and – from his emails – clearly an intelligent and inquisitive man. So it was a real surprise to me that he and other LXer readers were so ignorant about how KDE works. I do not mean ‘ignorant’ in any kind of offensive sense here, merely that both Tony and the other LXer readers really did not seem to understand how KDE operates or who we are. Here are a few questions (paraphrased) that really took my by surprise:
- Who controls KDE?
- Who funds KDE?
- Can we contact KDE?
These show a few things to me. First, some (many?) people think of us as having a hierarchy like a company, as if we have a leader or set of leaders who tell everyone else what to do. Maybe these are the people who pay us and if it is possible to get in contact with those leaders then they might be persuaded to redirect the efforts of all the code monkeys.
Of course, KDE is not like that. We don’t have leaders. We have prominent community members, but they tend to operate within their own areas of expertise. I would not tell Aaron how to develop Plasma, or Frank how to design ownCloud and neither would they tell me how to set the editorial direction of the Dot. Even within teams, those who do the work tend to decide or a consensus is reached. If you wanted to change our software significantly then you would have to contact key people in every team and convince them of your vision. Then, when some of them got busy and new contributors came in, you would have to contact them and convince them too.
Challenges in talking to ‘KDE’
This of course raises some interesting questions. How do we keep things consistent? Well, to some extent we do not. Our applications can look different and handle things in different ways, but thanks to building everything on the KDE Platform, which provides easy ways of coding common tasks such as open and save dialogues, there is a strong degree of consistency in KDE software.
There’s also the question of who you need to talk to if, as an outsider, you need a particular feature or want to discuss something. Tony came to Justin and I more or less by chance, probably because we are mentioned on the MWG page. He could just have easily have contacted the KDE Promo team, but sometimes people prefer a named contact and keeping discussions small can lead to quicker results and a more personal feel to the communication.
It is probably similar for a company wanting to work with KDE. Say you want to use some of our software in your device, who do you contact? Strictly, you do not need to talk to anyone as long as you respect the free license terms of the software, but talking – particularly if you can identify or offer improvements – is good. Probably our press contacts and the e.V. board are often points of contact in this case. Perhaps we should think about having more – so that for example there is an ‘external contact’ for each large team in KDE.
For people unhappy with Plasma and Platform 4 software in general, the way to influence things is to engage. Turn up in mailing lists and offer assistance. Or even just get stuck in and code things your way – that is how things like Rekonq came about. Write the code and see if people agree with your way of doing things.
Weird is Good
KDE and free software communities in general are quite odd things. Lots of volunteers working mostly on things because they interest them, but still managing to communicate enough to create something that is consistent and better than most of the big budget proprietary competition.
KDE is a frustrating, infuriating, remarkable inspiring mass of individuals that find enough of a common goal and philosophy to unite them to create wonderful things. It shouldn’t work, but time and again, it does.
And, if the current set of KDE software doesn’t work for you, in the worst case you are free to do your own thing.