KDE roadmap for 2021

Just like last year, here are the things I expect will get done in 2021:

Leftovers from last year

We’ll finally finish up polkit-in-kio, which got closer in 2020 but didn’t quite make it. 2021 will be the year! We will probably also get power/session actions in the lock screen as this feature is necessary for Plasma Mobile, and making it work in the Plasma Desktop session as well will be fairly simple. Per-screen scaling on X11 seems unlikely given our renewed focus on Wayland, and on that subject…

Production-ready Plasma Wayland session

I’ll be honest: before 2020 the Plasma Wayland session felt like a mess to me. Nothing worked properly. But all of this changed in 2020: suddenly things started working properly. I expect the trend of serious, concentrated Wayland work to continue in 2021, and finally make Plasma Wayland session usable for an increasing number of people’s production workflows.

Fingerprint support throughout the stack

This is already in progress! It’s a lot of work because support needs to be added in SDDM, the lock screen, KAuth, Polkit… There are a lot of moving pieces to put together. I think 2021 will be the year that it finally happens!

Finish up Breeze Evolution

This work is in progress and about half of it has already been merged, to be released in Plasma 5.21. I expect the rest will land in Plasma 5.22 and possible 5.23 later in the year. At that point, the project will be complete and our apps will look super modern and awesome!

Kickoff replacement

A super-fantastic replacement for the venerable Kickoff application launcher has been in heavy development throughout 2020, according to the spec that VDG wrote in 2019. It’s almost done, and I expect it to be merged soon and be released in Plasma 5.21.

Reflowing text in Konsole

This is already in progress and very close to being done! 2021 will be the year that Konsole’s window finally re-flows the text when you resize it.


I feel like we’re getting really really close to the goal of having a mainstream-hardware-ready software stack. In some ways we’re already there, especially when you compare our stuff to some of the weaker offerings in the market. We need to keep plugging away, and start thinking about the next steps: more hardware partnerships, closer coordination with distros, and more engineering effort for our own Neon distro. 2021 is going to be a great year for KDE and KDE users! So what are you waiting for? Get involved! 🙂

How KDE can transcend the cycle of Geeks, Mops, and Sociopaths

A few years ago I read a fascinating article about the cycle of how subcultures grow, mature, and die. The whole thing is worth a read (as well as the whole site), but here’s the abridged version:

  1. Creators invent something new and cool, attracting fanatics who validate them and help spread it around. These people are the “Geeks.” I would guess that most current users of KDE software are in or near this group.
  2. The coolness attracts “Mops”–normal people who want to enjoy the cool thing with minimal effort or investment. They dilute the coolness by demanding that it be simplified, sanitized, and mainstreamed for them. In KDE terms, these people would be our non-technical friends and relatives.
  3. At this point, the Geeks may start to quit because the coolness has been destroyed by the Mops. However sometimes the Geeks realize that Mops are key to expanding the cool thing even further.
  4. At this point Sociopaths will appear–people who participate in a system for the money or power games. They figure out how to monetize the Mops, allowing some Geeks to go pro and create the cool thing full time.
  5. Sociopaths increasingly exploit both the Geeks and the Mops, because they’re in it for the money and social power.
  6. The Geeks increasingly burn out because they’re spending their time unpleasantly interacting with exploitative Sociopaths and compromising their original vision to placate demanding Mops who provide their income.

I’m old enough that I’ve started to notice this cycle play out in various hobbies, subcultures, and even commercial companies I’ve been involved with: they start out small and cool, but along the way, mainstreaming and commercialization seem to corrupt everything.

I’ve also noticed that many FOSS projects seem to avoid this cycle and the dark fate at the end. Not all do, but some seem to. Why? How?

How FOSS helps

In the FOSS world, Mops are not easily monetized. The product is given away for free, after all! Only mildly Geeky Mops will be attracted, and the more entitled mainstream Mops can be told to pound sand when they start to demand more. They didn’t pay anything, so they’re not entitled to anything.

As a result, many FOSS projects are able to preserve their stable niche status because they explicitly reject a strong Mop appeal, limiting the attractiveness for Sociopaths. To tie this fairly theoretical discussion back to the software world a bit, Arch Linux is a good example: not having an installer acts as a gate to keep out low-investment Mops, ensuring that the project remains safely in the hands of the Geeks.

However this kind of gatekeeping–intentional or not–has a drawback: if the gate is too strong, the project may shrink over time as the original Geeks get bored or driven away by internal politics. Because the pool of Geeks is fairly limited, Geek-only growth largely involves poaching from other Geek projects; it’s a zero sum game.


What to do? Is it really a matter of keeping out the Mops and staying small, or letting them in and burning out after growing huge? And how am I able to reconcile knowledge of this cycle with my stated goal to get KDE Plasma onto every computing device on planet Earth? Earthlings are mostly Mops, after all.

How KDE can do it

Well first of all, I acknowledge that my goal is more aspirational than realistic. 🙂 Better to shoot for the moon and fall short, I think. I’d be pretty happy if we get Plasma to 15% global market share. That’s enough to be a major player with a direct and ongoing positive impact on human civilization.

Anyway, here’s how I think KDE can avoid the cycle, and grow powerful without being corrupted:

Attract all the Geeks

You may notice how many sysadmins, software devs, and general nerds have Apple computers outside of the FOSS world. In the early 2000s, Apple attracted a huge number of Geeks by pairing support for power-user workflows with an attractive user interface and high reliability. This was the “It Just Works” factor, for people who were doing work. It allowed Apple’s ecosystem to maintain a favorable Geek-to-Mop ratio, at least until the iPhone took off. KDE can realistically follow this path as well. I myself am a former Apple nerd. We can convert them. And the more Geeks KDE has, the more engineering talent it will accumulate, and the more Mops it can safely support.

Minimize the project’s reliance on Mop money

This avoids creating a financial incentive to dilute the product, and it reduces the project’s appeal to Sociopaths (at least, the ones who are attracted to money). KDE already has this pretty well covered, because we don’t sell products directly to consumers for money–with the exception of Krita on the Windows store (to my knowledge), and even then there are simple ways to get Krita for free if you want. The existence of a free version is a pressure valve.

Preserve the KDE community’s gravitational center for development

Today KDE benefits from outside companies paying people to work on KDE who are benevolent: Blue Systems (my employer), Enioka Haute Couture, KDAB, SUSE, the city of Munich, and various others. But it won’t always be this way as KDE rises in importance.

Large companies with little exposure to the FOSS world, but who use or sell products with KDE software, will want to hire their own engineers to contribute to KDE so they don’t feel like they’re shut out of the development of a product that significantly affects them. If enough of this happens outside of KDE itself, we run the risk of the project being taken over by sheer weight of outside contributions by large companies.

This is why I feel so strongly that the KDE e.V. should start hiring community members for technical roles. With the KDE community itself clearly in charge of the gravitational center of paid engineering, these outside companies would find it more convenient to simply pay money to the e.V. to strengthen those development efforts, join a sort of technical advisory board, or pay for priority access to engineering resources to fix bugs affecting them (not features, only bugs). These could give those companies the the “seat at the table” that they’re looking for while keeping technical decision-making firmly in the hands of the community. The project would be able to remain independent more easily.

It’s not a problem we urgently need to solve right now, but it will be in the future if we’re as successful as I want us to be. I think it behooves us to do it now rather than later.

Hire Geeks, not Mops

Whenever someone is paid to work on KDE stuff–either by the KDE e.V. or anyone else–always prioritize hiring KDE community members over outsiders. There’s always the risk that the outsider is a Mop who just wants a paycheck rather that someone who truly believes in KDE. Those with the privilege of being paid to work on KDE stuff should be people who go above and beyond because they love it.

Foster a culture of resistance to Sociopathy

KDE will probably never be an institution where you can get rich quick, and I see this as a good thing. But not all Sociopaths are in it for the money; some crave power. An important project like KDE will still hold appeal for the type of Sociopath who wants to push everyone around as the king of a little digital fiefdom. We need to keep these people out.

Unfortunately, while Geeks are generally good at noticing when Sociopaths show up, they are generally terrible at kicking them out. Geeks can be conflict-averse, or believe that the Sociopaths can be reasoned with, reformed, or safely tolerated because they do some good work. They cannot be.

KDE needs to maintain and expand a culture of resistance to Sociopathy by teaching its members to harden themselves against Sociopaths and and use some of their own tactics against them when they show up. Nobody should be the king of KDE. KDE should not have a king! Central leadership is a risk factor, as I blogged about earlier.

What it all looks like

KDE will attract as many Geeks as possible through our continued commitment to technical excellence and supporting power user workflows in our software. We minimize the risk of demanding Mops burning everyone out by not selling anything to them directly and maintaining a favorable Geek:Mop ratio through our attraction of lots of Geeks. We start paying for engineering talent, but we hire insider Geeks, not outsider Mops. And we do it within KDE itself. Then we remain vigilant for Sociopaths craving power, and we kick them out so that KDE can remain a safe place for the Geeks.

So who’s ready to take over the world with love and positivity and user-empowering high quality software?

Inside KDE: leadership and long-term planning

Based on my post about KDE’s anarchic organization and the micro-not-macro nature of my This Week in KDE series, you would be forgiven for having the impression that KDE is directionless and has no leadership or long-term planning capabilities. In fact the opposite is true, and I’d like to talk a bit about that today, since this information may not be obvious to users and the wider community.

Now, since KDE is so vast, I can only provide my personal perspective based on the projects I’m most heavily involved in: the VDG, Plasma, and a few apps.

Overall direction

First of all, you might be surprised to hear that the KDE e.V. board of directors does not act as a technical or strategic leadership body. This is in fact by design; their role is to support the individual project teams (which provide their own leadership) with infrastructural, financial, and legal support. Instead, there are two sources of cross-project planning and leadership in KDE:

  • We democratize long-term planning by allowing the community itself to vote every two years on three goals to prioritize. Members of the kde-community and various developer mailing lists are eligible to vote, so sign up for the kde-community mailing list if you’re not already a subscriber! The current set of long-term goals are Consistency, Wayland, and Apps, following the last set which were Onboarding, Usability & Productivity, and Privacy. These are cross-project goals. There’s no formal mandate to follow them, but project leaders are expected to take them into account. The idea is basically to understand which things are most important to the KDE community as a whole. We’ve done two rounds of this now and I think it’s been quite successful.
  • Additional coordination and strategic planning is provided by members of the KDE Gardening Team, which is essentially our version of upper and middle management. Anyone who cares about the global state of all KDE software and KDE as a community is welcome to join or participate.

On a personal level, I’m a member of the Gardening Team, and my overarching goal is to help KDE get our software shipped by default on hardware all over the world. I have given two Akademy presentations on the subject–one in 2018 and one in 2020–detailing the process I think we can follow to get there. Everything I work on is designed to further this strategic goal.

Small or narrowly scoped projects

Some individual KDE projects use the maintainer model (sometimes known as the “benevolent dictator for life” model). Leadership and planning are easy: the maintainer does it all. This generally works fine for small or focused projects like apps. Many of KDE’s apps follow this model with great success–such as Krita, Kdenlive, Dolphin, Konsole, and so on. A wise maintainer listens to the input of others and changes his or her mind when presented with reasonable alternative perspectives, but ultimately that person makes the call. If you don’t like the call, tough. It’s their project, not yours.

Broadly scoped projects

Projects that touch everything, either from the top (UI side) or the bottom (technical infrastructure side) tend to have a lot of interested parties and stakeholders because of how their activity affects others. Some examples within KDE would be Frameworks, Plasma, KWin, and the VDG.

The maintainer model is often not used for these projects. Instead, an alternative model commonly arises, which I’ll call the “council of elders”: 3-5 of the most active and respected contributors who have strong viewpoints or leadership tendencies will organically emerge to govern the project.

A project’s council of elders is collectively responsible for its long-term priorities and technical direction. Decisions are made on the consensus model, with agreement required from all elders before any kind of potentially controversial action is taken. Sometimes this can take a long time! Discussions are generally public and take the form of status and sync-up meetings, ongoing discussions in the relevant chat channels, Phabricator tasks, and mailing lists. However some of these discussions do take place behind closed doors. For example, when my employer Blue Systems is sponsoring some bit of work and the people working on it are a part of some project’s council of elders, the initial planning for it often takes place inside Blue Systems-specific venues. However it typically moves upstream as soon as practical, once the work is suitable for initial public consumption. And I think the best development and planning happen in the open.

Maintainer vs council of elders

An advantage of the maintainer model is that one person is clearly in charge and has the final say, avoiding endless debate and allowing high speed of decision-making. However even if a project has a humble maintainer with good collaboration skills (such a person is worth their weight in gold), they’re still only one person. People can lose interest, burn out, or die–the notorious “bus factor” of a project. Or the maintainer can simply take the software in a direction that you don’t like. Relying on software steered by a single individual requires trust that none of these things will happen.

The council of elders model solves these problems with its power sharing arrangement. In so doing, it gains the ability to survive the loss of any given elder and provides stability and continuity for 3rd parties who would rely on it. The project does gives up a measure of speed and decisiveness in decision-making as a consequence. However there’s no reason why a council of elders has to fall prey to squabbling. In my experience it only happens if any of the elders in the council disagree with the others but take a “my way or the highway” approach rather than reaching for compromise or admitting that they may simply be wrong.

It’s natural for people–including any of the elders themselves!–to sometimes feel frustrated with the council’s lower speed of decision-making compared to a sole maintainer. But everyone appreciates the immortality that the council provides to the project and its resistance to the problems of a tyrannical or negligent maintainer. For these reasons, there’s but slow but natural drift from the maintainer model to the council of elders model as projects mature over time, especially for software used as a base for other software.

Does it work?

KDE doesn’t lack for strategic long-term goals and direction, so I think that part can be pretty solidly marked as a success. As for tactical leadership and direction within and between individual projects, I also think things are pretty rosy overall. KDE’s maintainer-led projects generally have excellent maintainers. The variety of KDE apps using this model model is a testament to how successful it can be with a high-quality maintainer–especially our professional-class apps like Krita. And in my opinion, KDE’s council of elders projects also have very good leadership today. I think you can see this in the successful roll-out or ongoing progress of various multi-year initiatives:

I could go on; there are tons of long-term projects being worked on behind the scenes. My blog posts may actually be hiding this, because I tend to blog only about the user-visible elements once they’re finally merged. In reality, large projects are often started months or years before the final UI piece of the puzzle is fitted into place. If people are interested, I can try to blog more about the foundational stuff too–or at least encourage others to do so, as this is not my area of expertise. 🙂

Now, has everything been perfectly smooth? No. Are there problems? Yes. Have some things moved too slowly? Certainly. Such is life! And I’ll talk about those things in a future post, because I do think that we can improve upon the way we do things in various ways. But overall, I think KDE’s long-term planning abilities are pretty impressive, especially for a mostly volunteer community!

The structure of KDE, or how anarchy sometimes works

KDE is a funny beast. In a lot of ways, it’s an anarchic society that actually works!

Engineers and designers work on KDE software and websites, but none of them are paid by KDE itself. Most are volunteers but some (myself included) are paid by 3rd-party companies. These people work on what they want or what they are sponsored by their company to work on, not what anyone in KDE tells them to work on.

KDE has a board of directors, but they are elected by KDE’s membership rather than stockholders (there is no stock lol), and they do not control KDE’s strategic direction as in a corporation. Rather, they mostly take care of financial and legal matters, sort out copyright claims, help to organize the yearly Akademy conference, and so on.

There is no formal “upper management” or even “middle management” layer. We have the “gardening team” whose members are in essence volunteer managers, but we mostly do things like triaging bugs, following up on stuck merge requests, performing QA on unreleased software, and so on. We support the people doing the work, rather than telling them what to do.


So how does anything get done around here?!

Well, just because KDE is an anarchy, does not mean that there is no organization and coordination! It’s just all done on a voluntary basis, with slightly unusual motivation techniques. Anarchy is not the absence of governance and decision-making, it’s just different from how it’s typically done.

In a corporation, managers motivate their employees by offering them them money, benefits, bonuses, promotions, and internal social perks. Bad work or bad behavior is punished by reprimands, demotion, or being fired.

But in KDE, most people are unpaid volunteers, so KDE has no financial leverage over them. Those who are paid are hired by 3rd-parties rather than KDE itself. Neither the carrot nor the stick will work!

Instead, motivation within KDE uses the currency of excitement. When a project is cool and its contributors publicly demonstrate its coolness and their enthusiasm for it, other people want to join in and help out! This turns out to be a very effective way to motivate free people to work on something: you make them feel like they want to be a part of something big and special, and you organize the discussion in a way that makes them feel like they can be included.

KDE’s design team (the VDG group) does a lot of this, constantly churning out astonishingly beautiful mockups and organizing discussions about important topics. People gravitate to the VDG’s proposals because they seem cool and there’s buzz and excitement surrounding it. The promo team works to generate that buzz and excitement. Other teams do similar things. You have to keep people excited and happy or else they will drift away.


This leads to an important point: you have to minimize negativity! For most people, conflict destroys energy and motivation. Internal arguments and politics need to be minimized and driven towards a consensus rather than simmering forever. Even if you have to bend a bit and give up some of what you want, that’s a better option than getting nothing because everyone is burned out by endless arguing. And new contributors in particular must be treated with kindness, given the benefit of the doubt, and made to feel welcome.

Similarly, if you’re a user who’s frustrated with the lack of progress on something you care about, insulting the developers or KDE itself in the bug report is the worst thing you could do: it will damage the motivation of the people in a position to do the work, reducing the chance that you will get what you want. Gently pinging people without negativity is the way to go–or even better, work on it yourself! Like all FOSS projects, KDE encourages self service. 🙂

In essence, KDE’s little anarchic digital utopia works because we all voluntarily agree to treat each other with respect and kindness and become stakeholders in the project, and this greases the wheels of all the work we do. Somehow, it all manages to work!

2020 KDE roadmap: mid-year update

Here’s a mid-year update on the 2020 roadmap I proposed six months ago:

FUSE mounts to better support accessing remote locations in non-KDE apps: DONE

kio-fuse was released in beta form early this year and is already packaged in many distros. It’s working great! The final release will happen later this year.


Privilege escalation in KIO and Dolphin: AT RISK

It turned out that there was more work remaining here than I had anticipated. Unfortunately nobody seems to have the critical combination of domain knowledge, interest in working on it, and time to do so. Assistance on https://phabricator.kde.org/D7563 would be appreciated to help make it happen this year.


Improved Samba share discovery in Dolphin: DONE

This was implemented for Dolphin 20.04. By all accounts, it’s working quite well!


Auto-rotation for tablets, convertibles, and other hardware with rotation sensors: DONE

This was implemented for Plasma 5.18 and works on Wayland (getting it working on X11 is a lost cause, apparently). If it isn’t working for you on Wayland, it’s likely that you don’t have the iio-sensor-proxy package installed, or your hardware isn’t supported by the kernel yet.


Implement more of the proposed visual design changes to the Breeze style and KDE apps: ON TRACK

Work is proceeding at a good pace. The new System Tray design was shipped with Plasma 5.19. We’re targeting 5.20 for the new application appearance and patches are landing. Things are on track.


Better wallpapers in the extra wallpapers repo: AT RISK

This is blocked on implementing a wallpaper cache. I took a stab at it for Plasma 5.18 but it turned out to be more complicated than I had anticipated and I kind of got demoralized and dropped it. Need to resume the work.


Per-screen scale factors on X11: UNLIKELY

Focus has shifted toward Wayland in a big way, and for the past few months, veteran KDE developers have been smashing Wayland problems left and right. They’ve gotten clipboard support working with Klipper and going between Wayland and XWayland windows; made Spectacle work properly; fixed a number of drag-and-drop issues, and are very close to finishing task manager thumbnails, screencasting, and more! Given the progress and momentum, there’s a strong desire to make Wayland finally usable rather than hack things into X11 that it was never designed to support and are unlikely to ever work properly.


Inertial scrolling throughout Plasma and QML apps: UNLIKELY

No work has happened here. A lot of the issue are in Qt itself and are very challenging to resolve, especially on X11. There may be more hope for getting it done on Wayland.


Power/session controls on the lock screen: AT RISK

I started implementing this and got it kinda-sorta working but then lost motivation and forgot about it. Sorry about that. I need to get back into it.


Well there you have it! Of course this is just a tiny fraction of the stuff actually going on, it’s just what’s relevant to the proposed roadmap I outlined earlier.

As always, if you want to see these things happen faster, please feel free to help out! The code is public and the people are friendly. 🙂 What do you have to lose!? Nothing, that’s what!