In a perfectly orchestrated marketing campaign for a 100% free-libre tablet called Spark that will run KDE Plasma Active, Aaron Seigo writes today about the problems they are facing with GPL-violations.

Apparently, every Chinese manufacturer is breaking the GPLv2 by not releasing the sources for their modified Linux kernel. Conversations and conversations with Zenithink (designers of the Spark), Synrgic (designers of the Dreambook W7), etc have arrived nowhere. To the point that CordiaTab, another similar effort using Gnome instead of KDE, has been cancelled.

I have to say I am very surprised at the lack of the kernel sources. What is the Free Software Foundation doing? Why don’t we seek ban of all imports of tablets whose manufacturers don’t release the full GPL source?

Apple got the Samsung GalaxyTab imports blocked in Germany and Australia for something as ethereal as patents covering the external frame design. We are talking about license infringement, which is easier to demonstrate in court.

China may ignore intellectual property but they cannot ignore business, and no imports means no business. Let’s get all GPL-infringing tablet imports banned and we will get more source in two weeks than we can digest in two years. Heck, I’m surprised Apple is not trying this in court to block Android!

Apparently HTML5 applications are the best thing after sliced bread.

HTML5 is the first platform any mobile vendor supports: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Symbian. All of them.

Windows 8 is said to promote HTML5 as the preferred application development solution.

I used to look kindly at that. But about a month ago I started to get worried: is HTML5 good for everything?

Long-lived applications

In military, industrial, warehouse management, medical, etc is not rare that bespoke applications are developed and stay in use for many years (and I really mean many: 10, 20 or even more!) with barely an update. It’s not rare that those applications only receive very small updates once very 5 years. Those applications, not Angry Birds, are what keeps the world running: troops know what supplies they can count on, iPhones are manufactured, FedEx is able to deliver your package and your doctor is able to check your health.

But now that everybody seems to be moving to HTML5 webapps, what happens when my warehouse management application is a webapp and the additions in the newest browsers make the webapp no longer work?

Are vain upgrades the future?

Say my webapp is released in 2014 and it works fine with Firefox 14.0 and Chrome 26.0, the newest browsers when I release the application in 2014. Fast-forward to 2020 and Firefox 14.0 and Chrome 26.0 do not even install on Windows 10 computer! What’s the solution?

Should the customer pay for a huge update and redesign to make it work with Firefox 27.1 and Chrome 41.0 in 2020?

A virtual machine with Windows 8 and Firefox 14.0? A portable Mozilla Firefox 14.0 on Windows 10 in 2020 to be able to use that line-of-business application that only requires a small update once or twice every 5 years? How are the virtual machine and/or Portable Firefox 14.0 different from or better than a fat client? What’s the advantage? I’d say none!

Native applications usually do not have that kind of problems because APIs are much more stable. You can still run Win16 applications on Windows 7!

You don’t believe me? We may soon be developing for 76 browsers!

While HTML5 may be fine for applications which are updated very often, it makes me feel very uneasy to see it used in environments where applications will be rarely updated, such as SCADAs, warehouse management, control system, medical records, etc.

A solution is needed

It looks like that choice of technology is going to make those applications much more expensive in the medium and long term, paying for “adaptations to new browsers” (sorry, I resist to call “update” or “upgrade” to something that adds zero value other than being able to run on a newer browser).

Or maybe it’s about time to define actual “HTML5 profiles”. ACID3 seems to be too weak of a profile: two very different browsers may pass ACID3 yet a webapp would work with one browser and fail with the other due to bugs, missing features/added features, etc.

Something needs to be done.

Yup, one more year I’m attending FOSDEM

I'm going to FOSDEM, the Free and Open Source Software Developers' European Meeting

If you are coming, feel free to add yourself to the KDE wiki page.

If you are coming to the beer event on Friday but you don’t know anybody, make sure you bring something that identifies you as a Qt/KDE hacker! In any case, a lot of us will be around the KDE booth in the K building.

I will also spend quite some time at the CrossDesktop DevRoom, which is being run by Christophe Fergeau and myself this year.

FOSDEM is one of the largest gatherings of Free Software contributors in the world and happens each February in Brussels (Belgium). One of the developer rooms will be the CrossDesktop DevRoom, which will host Desktop-related talks.

Are you interested in giving a talk about open source and Qt, KDE, Enlightenment, Gnome, XFCE, Windows, Mac OS X, general desktop matters, mobile development, applications that enhance desktops and/or web?

We have extended the deadline for a few more days, until January 8th. If you want to submit a talk proposal, hurry up!

I have to say I am very surprised to see very few Qt/KDE talk proposals. Is there nothing interesting the Qt and KDE world have to say to 5,000+ people?

There is more information in the Call for Talks we published a couple of months.

If you are interested in Qt/KDE, come visit us at the KDE booth. If you add yourself to the KDE FOSDEM 2012 wiki page, we will be able to better organize the usual dinner on Sunday and/or smaller meetings for “special interest groups”.

 

FOSDEM is one of the largest gatherings of Free Software contributors in the world and happens each February in Brussels (Belgium). One of the developer rooms will be the CrossDesktop DevRoom, which will host Desktop-related talks.

Are you interested in giving a talk about open source and Qt, KDE, Enlightenment, Gnome, XFCE, Windows, Mac OS X, general desktop matters, mobile development, applications that enhance desktops and/or web?

Hurry up and submit your proposal, deadline is December 20th!

There is more information in the Call for Talks we published one month ago.

If you are interested in Qt/KDE, come visit us at the KDE booth. If you add yourself to the KDE FOSDEM 2012 wiki page, we will be able to better organize the usual dinner on Sunday and/or smaller meetings for “special interest groups”.

 

Here I am, with 9 other people, at the KDAB office in Berlin. We are in the KDE eV sprint, talking about promo stuff, eV stuff, corportate membership, future, etc. Really interesting stuff.

Most of us (including our intern Inu) spent the morning trying to improve Join the Game, others went to define a policy for what to publish in the donors page, thank you page, etc

I’d say it has been very productive. Everybody came with very nice ideas; some of them we will finish here, others we will need ask for help from some community members (especially from artists!)

The sprint continues tomorrow.

 

FOSDEM is one of the largest gatherings of Free Software contributors in the world and happens each February in Brussels (Belgium). One of the developer rooms will be the CrossDesktop DevRoom, which will host Desktop-related talks.

We are now inviting proposals for talks about Free/Libre/Open-source Software on the topics of Desktop development, Desktop applications and interoperativity amongst Desktop Environments. This is a unique opportunity to show novel ideas and developments to a wide technical audience.

Topics accepted include, but are not limited to: Enlightenment, Gnome, KDE, XFCE, Windows, Mac OS X, general desktop matters, applications that enhance desktops and web (when related to desktop).

Talks can be very specific, such as developing mobile applications with Qt Quick; or as general as predictions for the fusion of Desktop and web in 5 years time. Topics that are of interest to the users and developers of all desktop environments are especially welcome. The FOSDEM 2011 schedule might give you some inspiration.

Please include the following information when submitting a proposal: your name, the title of your talk (please be descriptive, as titles will be listed with around 250 from other projects) and a short abstract of one or two paragraphs.

The deadline for submissions is December 20th 2011. FOSDEM will be held on the weekend of 4-5 February 2012. Please submit your proposals to crossdesktop-devroom@lists.fosdem.org

Also, if you are attending FOSDEM 2012, please add yourself to the KDE community wiki page so that we organize better. We need volunteers for the booth!

 

Red Hat‘s Matthew Garrett let the cat out of the bag about a month ago: when UEFI Secure Boot is adopted by mainboard manufacturers to satisfy Microsoft Windows 8 requirements, it may very well be the case that Linux and others (BSD, Haiku, Minix, OS/2, etc) will no longer boot.

Matthew has written about it extensively and seems to know very well what the issues are (part I, part II), the details about signing binaries and why Linux does not support Secure Boot yet.

The Free Software Foundation has also released a statement and started a campaign, which is, as usually, anti-Microsoft instead of pro-solutions.

Now let me express my opinion on this matter: this is not Microsoft’s fault.

Facts

Let’s see what are the facts in this controversy:

  • Secure Boot is here to stay. In my humble opinion, the idea is good and it will prevent and/or lessen malware effects, especially on Windows.
  • Binaries need to be signed with a certificate from the binaries’ vendor (Microsoft, Apple, Red Hat, etc)
  • The certificate that signs those binaries needs to be installed in the UEFI BIOS
  • Everybody wants their certificate bundled with the UEFI BIOS so that their operating system works “out of the box”
  • Given that there are many UEFI and mainboard manufacturers, getting your certificate included is not an easy task: it requires time, effort and money.

Problem

The problem stems from the fact that most Linux vendors do not have the power to get their certificates in UEFI BIOS. Red Hat and Suse will for sure get their certificates bundled in server UEFI BIOS. Debian and Ubuntu? Maybe. NetBSD, OpenIndiana, Slackware, etc? No way.

This is, in my humble opinion, a serious defect in the standard. A huge omission. Apparently while developing the Secure Boot specification everybody was busy talking about signed binaries, yet nobody thought for a second how the certificates will get into the UEFI BIOS.

What should have been done

The UEFI secure boot standard should have defined an organization (a “Secure Boot Certification Authority”) that would issue and/or receive certificates from organizations/companies (Red Hat, Oracle, Ubuntu, Microsoft, Apple, etc) that want their binaries signed.

This SBCA would also be in charge of verifying the background of those organizations.

There is actually no need for a new organization: just use an existing one, such as Verisign, that carries on with this task for Microsoft for kernel-level binaries (AuthentiCode).

Given that there is no Secure Boot Certification Authority, Microsoft asked BIOS (UEFI) developers and manufacturers to include their certificates, which looks 100% logical to me. The fact that Linux distributions do not have such power is unfortunate, but it is not Microsoft’s fault at all.

What can we do?

Given its strong ties with Intel, AMD and others, maybe the Linux Foundation could start a task force and a “Temporary Secure Boot Certification Authority” to deal with UEFI BIOS manufacturers and developers.

This task force and TSBCA would act as a proxy for minorities such as Linux, BSD, etc distributions.

I am convinced this is our best chance to get something done in a reasonable amount of time.

Complaining will not get us anything. Screaming at Microsoft will not get us anything. We need to propose solutions.

Wait! Non-Microsoft certificates? Why?

In addition to the missing Secure Boot Certification Authority, there is a second problem apparently nobody is talking about: what is the advantage mainboard manufacturers get from including non-Microsoft certificates?

For instance: why would Gigabyte (or any other mainboard manufacturer) include the certificate for, say, Haiku?

The benefit for Gigabyte would be negligible and if someone with ill-intentions gets Haiku’s certificate, that piece of malware will be installable on all Gigabyte’s mainboards.This would lead to manufacturer-targetted malware, which would be fatal to Gigabyte: “oh, want to be immune to the-grandchild-of-Stuxnet? Buy (a computer with) an MSI mainboard, which does not include Haiku’s certificate”

Given that 99% of desktops and laptops only run Windows, the result of this (yet unresolved) problem would be that manufacturers will only install Microsoft certificates, therefore they would be immune to malware signed with a Slackware certificate in the wild.

If we are lucky, mainboard manufacturers will give us an utility to install more certificates under your own risk.

The solution to the first problem looks easy to me. The solution to the second looks much more worrying to me.

 

Interactive whiteboards, also known as “digital whiteboards”, seem to be the latest trend in education. At least from the teacher’s point of view.

Given that all my immediate family are teachers, and I have taught my mom how to use the digital whiteboard at her school, I feel like I can talk a bit about them.

A digital whiteboard is essentially a big touchscreen (100” or more). Usually the image is projected with a beamer and they use infrared, ultrasound, or some other cheap system to touch-enable the board.

From a hardware point of view, it is quite simple. You can even use a WiiMote to convert any surface into a digital whiteboard thanks to Uwe Schmidt’s WiiMode Whiteboard software.

The interesting part of digital whiteboards, at least for me, is software.

I have tried myself three software packages (TeamBoard, SMART Notebook and Promethean ActivInspire) but there are many more: DabbleBoard, NotateIt, Luidia eBeam, BoardWorks, etc

All of those can be used for education. Some of them are generic enough to be fit for business meetings (DabbleBoard, NotateIt, TeamBoard), while others are highly specialized (Interact, focused on music-teaching).

I consider ActivInspire very good, with SMART as a distant second.

Now, let’s cut the crap. Why am I talking about digital whiteboards and commercial software in Planet KDE?

For starters, because there is no open source alternative. The only open source package I have found is Open Whiteboard and it has not been updated in four years.

Then there is the Linux issue. SMART works on Linux but that’s about it. And it’s not even the full package, some features are missing.

And of course, in KDE we happen to have the wonderful KDE Edu project!

Back in December I thought about this: would it be possible to develop a digital whiteboard software based on KDE? That’s actually why I started working on KSnapshot: screen capturing was one of the missing features in SMART.

The answer to the question is “of course”. However interested I am, currently my spare time is all taken by another project I am working on. I do have a clear picture of what needs to be done, though, and I’d love to mentor if someone is interested in taking over:

  1. Dissect ActivInspire, SMART, TeamBoard, eBeam, etc. They all have nice features and huge failures. Give me one day and I’d hand you a long list.
  2. Start small: use KParts and DBUS and take advantage of KolourPaint, KSnapshot, Flake, etc
  3. The first application would be a simple single-page, vector graphics, Paint-like program: draw lines, figures, insert text boxes (with formatting), pictures, hyperlinks, etc. Add snapshotting (via a call to kbackgroundsnapshot).
  4. Then, extend that application to allow multipage “notebooks”, some screen effects (like Calligra Stage‘s), template pages (useful for exercise sheets, “blank” pages which include date, time and letterhead), hiding the solutions, record and reply, etc
  5. Going a bit further, we could have a special “personality” of Plasma Active for education. Let’s give some actual use to those iPads kids are receiving. Anyone involved in an educational Linux distribution knows the kind of customization I am talking about.
  6. And of course let’s not forget about “apps”: let’s develop a framework for “educapplets”. Educapplets is the name I give to small edutainment games, applications (Mathematical, Geography, etc). Kind of what you can do these days with JClic, but based on Javascript + KDE Edu QML components + something like Windows Runtime but for KDE. (This is big enough to be split in two projects apart from the whiteboard project: one for the KDE RT, another for the educapplet framework).
  7. Your ideas?

I think this project could be developed as a collaboration between KDE Edu and “KDE Business” (a hypothetical extension of KDE PIM). Being unique (open source, multiplatform, powerful), it would have a lot of potential to carve in those markets.

On the other hand, this is actually an application, something built outside KDE SC, which means it might fit better as one of the projects in that hypothetical Apache-like KDE eV I talked about a few weeks ago.

Oh, by the way: some schools seem to be adopting whiteboards for children of all ages. I am strongly against it. In my humble opinion, and that’s what my experience says, computers should only be involved in the classroom after the students have mastered how to do things manually. Disagree? OK: what would you say if when you were a student, you would have been told to use a typewriter and a solar calculator instead of a notebook and a pencil? Ridiculous, isn’t it? My point, exactly.

Volunteers, please comment and/or contact me.

I was at the beach today and somehow this came to my mind.

When the Apache Software Foundation was born back in 1999, its sole purpose was to support the development of the Apache HTTP server. One foundation, one project, more or less like the KDE eV and KDE until very recently.

Over the years, many more projects have been born inside the ASF (Tomcat, Xerces) , or have been “adopted” by the ASF (Subversion, OpenOffice).

For many years, KDE eV has been focused only on KDE.

Recently, Necessitas, the port of Qt and the Qt SDK to Android, joined under the umbrella of the KDE eV: mailing list, git repositories, announcements, etc.

Today I had this vision: should KDE eV go further and become “the Apache Software Foundation of the Qt-related world”?

A few projects that in my humble opinion would fit very well under this new umbrella:

  • MeeGo
  • The community ports of Qt to iPhone, webOS, Haiku, etc
  • PySide (the Python Qt bindings that nearly killed PyQt are being killed by Nokia, what an irony)
  • A Qt “target” that compiles to an HTTP server that generates AJAX, like Wt does but implemented in terms of Qt (yes, I know about QtWui, creole, etc — all dead)
  • … others you propose?

I think that would also make the Akademy’s more interesting, because we would have a lot of conferences on many totally different topics. Lately, when I see the program of Akademy, I feel like “same, again” (maybe because I’m subscribed to many mailing lists and I keep an eye on everything? I don’t know).

What do you think? Should the KDE eV widen its scope and accept other Qt-related projects, even if they are not directly related to KDE?