Laptop update

Thanks to the KDE community, I’ve finally chosen and ordered a new laptop: a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga. People heavily recommended the X1 Carbon, which is essentially the same computer except less touch-focused. That led me to the Yoga which seems to fit the bill perfectly: in addition to the necessary touchscreen, according to reviews it has otherwise excellent screen characteristics, a perfect keyboard, great speakers, and a great trackpad. I also like the look and probable durability of the aluminum case. Though it’s not a Ryzen 4000-series laptop, CPU performance is still three times better than my current laptop, so I’m not complaining. Mine arrives in three weeks. Thanks again everyone!

“Why don’t you just fix [thing] already?”

The title of this post is a somewhat common gripe among users. Its obvious answer is that resources are limited and people were working on other things.

Duh! Not very helpful.

We need to dig deeper and find the implicit question, which is “Why wasn’t [thing that I care about] prioritized over other things?” This is a more accurate and useful question, so we can arrive at a more accurate and useful answer: because other things were deemed either more important or more feasible to fix by the people doing the work.

Why would other things be deemed more important? For bugs, it’s because they affect everyone and are trivially reproducible. The ones that get overlooked tend to be more exotic issues that are not easily reproducible, or only affect niche use cases or hardware. Put bluntly, it’s appropriate that such issues are de-prioritized; it should be obvious that issues which affect everyone and are trivially reproducible are more important to fix.

Let’s step back a moment: in my experience, this is exactly the same as in closed-source software companies. Every piece of closed-source software has multi-generational bugs, baffling mis-features, and things that make you wonder, “jeez, why didn’t they fix this years ago?” Anybody who uses Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS can rattle off half a dozen examples instantly. So it’s not like FOSS is especially bad here.

Still, it’s still not a very satisfying answer if you have an exotic use case or hardware that exposes you to an annoying issue.

However, it leads to one of the beautiful advantages of open-source: you can actually dig into the code and fix the issue yourself, then submit the fix! If you lack those kinds of technical skills, you can learn them, or maybe cajole a technically savvy friend into doing it. Or you can sponsor a developer to fix it, paying them directly. You can write a polite blog post about the issue to draw attention it. You have options.

These are all options you don’t have in the closed-source world, where your only option is to live with the issue until it happens to come to the attention of an executive, manager, or other decision maker who experiences it, or when user feedback indicates that it’s not as exotic as originally believed. However this is totally random; you have no control over the process. Also, once this happens, engineers are pulled off other tasks and asked to fix the issue. So while it does eventually get fixed, no new engineers are ever hired specifically to fix little issues, so as a result the pace of development for everything else slows down a tiny bit.

The open-source world has a real advantage here, in my opinion. There are many more ways for users to get involved in fixing the problems that affect them.

So what a great time it is to fix some of the little annoying issues you’ve been living with forever! If you’re strapped for ideas, you can find some lists of bugs here. We make it really easy to compile KDE code from source, so you can get hacking. Check out https://community.kde.org/Get_Involved/development

So what are you waiting for? GET TO DA CODE!

DO IT NOW!!!!!!

Why the animations in your Plasma 5.18 feel slow now, and when it will be fixed

KDE Frameworks 5.70 was just released and should be trickling out to users of rolling release distros at any time. Various Arch users who have already received the update have been complaining about slow animations in Plasma, and I wanted to write a blog post to explain what’s going on here. It is a bit technical so let me start with the TL;DR version: “releasing software is complicated and this will be fixed once Plasma 5.19 comes out next month.”

For the longer version, allow me to explain:

This is caused by an unfortunate timing problem stemming from the different Plasma and Frameworks release schedules.

Plasma and Kirigami-based apps use standard duration values for animations (e.g. units.shortDuration, units.longDuration, etc.) to keep animation timings relatively consistent. These duration values are set in the respective Frameworks: plasma-framework and kirigami.

I recently discovered that Plasma units were far shorter than Kirigami units. For example a Kirigami units.longDuration unit is 250ms, while a Plasma units.longDuration unit was 120ms–over two times faster. A Kirigami units.shortDuration unit was 150ms, while a Plasma units.shortDuration unit was 24ms–almost too fast to see. In practice the Plasma units.shortDuration value was useless and always had to be multiplied by something. Even most of the longDuration values were being multiplied by random numbers too. So we wound with animated transitions throughout Plasma having timings like units.shortDuration * 4 or units.longDuration * 3. It was a classic problem of badly-chosen library constants that force apps to work around them and munge them this way and that, totally defeating defeated the purpose of using standardized values in the library in the first place. There was not actually any standardization at all!

I needed to fix this as a part of my introduction of a new animation-using component, the ExpandableListItem (which I keep meaning to blog about): https://phabricator.kde.org/D28033

I fixed the Plasma units to be the same as the Kirigami units in https://cgit.kde.org/plasma-framework.git/commit/?id=0739113a4477e1eb25bf13b0040af5a502d3ef0a, and then fixed Plasma itself to no longer multiply the units in a series of other commits. However this presented an issue: Plasma and Frameworks have different release schedules! So people will not get both aspects of the change at the same time! This means that for a time, some people would have animations that were undesirably slower or faster. How should this be handled?

Unfortunately there is no easy way to do conditionals depending on a frameworks version in QML code as we can in C++ code, so that easy option was not available. Probably something to look into implementing.

So we had a few options. One was to avoid solving the problem until Plasma 6, several years in the future, at which point we could do everything at once. This was not deemed satisfactory, as the issue was blocking the ExpandableListItem patch which was needed for a task targeted for Plasma 5.19. Another option was to leave the existing units alone for Plasma 5, and add new units with different names now, and have Plasma 5.19 use those new differently-named units. This would have avoided the issues you’re all experiencing, but would have resulted in terribly confusing code. In the end we decided to spare ourselves the potential for new bugs stemming from that.

The final option was to wait to make the Frameworks change in a Frameworks release that lines up as closely as possible with the Plasma 5.19 release. Plasma 5.19 depends on Frameworks 5.70, but always releases about a month later, at which point Frameworks 5.71 will be out. This option therefore presented two sub-options: put the units change in Frameworks 5.70 or 5.71?

If we did it in 5.70, there would be a one-month period in which people using rolling release distros suffer from slow animations, because they have Frameworks 5.70 but not Plasma 5.19 yet.

If we did it in 5.71, the period of time in which people suffered from this issue would still exist, but it would potentially be shorter. However depending on distro release schedules, if a distro released Plasma 5.19 *before* Frameworks 5.71, then animations would become too fast to see! Furthermore, any discrete release distro in the future that shipped Plasma 5.19 with the 5.70 Frameworks version it depends on rather than a newer one would then have all of its users suffer from the bug forever (or at least until its packagers backported the plasma-framework commit).

So shipping the units change in Frameworks 5.71 did not seem to be a realistic option. In the end I shipped the units change in Frameworks 5.70 knowing that rolling release distro users (myself included) would suffer from slow animations for one month. Sorry. 😦 It will all be fixed in Plasma 5.19.

Software is complicated!

This week in KDE

See, I told you I’d continue to blog about the cool things that have happened in KDE-land. 🙂

On that subject… Kate is now available for free on the Microsoft Store! So far the ratings are quite good. 🙂 KDE has always aspired to make our apps available to as many users as possible, and getting them on today’s distribution platforms continues that.

For those of you who switched from Windows or macOS, think back to how helpful it was that a bunch of your favorite apps (Firefox, Chrome, VLC, LibreOffice, Inkscape, Blender, Krita, etc) were already available on Linux and you already knew how to use them. Getting more of our apps on other platforms is a key part of easing the transition for future generations of switchers. 🙂

Beyond that, it’s been a somewhat light week because everybody was off at Akademy planning the future. A lot of really great things got discussed and decided, the results of which should start to trickle into subsequent weeks’ blog posts. 🙂 So stay tuned!

New Features

Bugfixes & Performance Improvements

User Interface Improvements

How You Can Help

This is a new section I’m adding to these weekly blog posts, highlighting a new way to get involved every week!

Do you have any web design experience? KDE community members are currently working on redoing the ancient and inconsistent assortment of websites hosted on kde.org, and help is needed! If this sounds like your cup of tea, join the kde-www mailing list and check out the tasks on the Phabricator Workboard.

You can also check out https://community.kde.org/Get_Involved, and find out other ways to help be a part of something that really matters. You don’t have to already be a programmer. I wasn’t when I got started. Try it, you’ll like it! We don’t bite!

Finally, consider making a tax-deductible donation to the KDE e.V. foundation.

KDE Usability & Productivity: Week 87

This is the last week in KDE’s Usability & Productivity initiative (next week the blog posts will continue, but under a new name). The voting results are in for KDE’s new goals and the community-selected winners are full Wayland support, consistency throughout the KDE ecosystem and software, and a renewed focus on KDE apps. Read all about it here!

But meanwhile, there’s a ton of stuff to announce right now, so let’s jump right in.

Serendipitously enough, something big landed this week that’s relevant to the first new goal: fractional scaling on Wayland!!!

Check out the complicated dependency tree of patches that were required to make this happen:

Veteran KWin developers Roman Gilg and David Edmundson have been working on this for ages, and all of their hard work–which will land in Plasma 5.17–is much appreciated. But wait, there’s more!

New Features

Bugfixes & Performance Improvements

User Interface Improvements

Next week, your name could be in this list! Not sure how? Just ask! I’ve helped mentor a number of new contributors recently and I’d love to help you, too! You can also check out https://community.kde.org/Get_Involved, and find out how you can help be a part of something that really matters. You don’t have to already be a programmer. I wasn’t when I got started. Try it, you’ll like it! We don’t bite!

If you find KDE software useful, consider making a tax-deductible donation to the KDE e.V. foundation.

KDE Usability & Productivity: Week 86

Here’s week 86 in KDE’s Usability & Productivity initiative! There are lots and lots of cool changes, which is especially impressive as the KDE community prepares for Akademy, which kicks off next weekend. Sadly I cannot attend this year–there was an unavoidable scheduling conflict with my best friend’s wedding–but I will be there in spirit! In the meantime, check out the progress:

New Features

Bugfixes & Performance Improvements

User Interface Improvements

Next week, your name could be in this list! Not sure how? Just ask! I’ve helped mentor a number of new contributors recently and I’d love to help you, too! You can also check out https://community.kde.org/Get_Involved, and find out how you can help be a part of something that really matters. You don’t have to already be a programmer. I wasn’t when I got started. Try it, you’ll like it! We don’t bite!

If you find KDE software useful, consider making a tax-deductible donation to the KDE e.V. foundation.

KDE Usability & Productivity: Week 85

I’m not dead yet! KDE’s new goal proposals have been announced, and the voting has started. But in the meantime, the Usability & Productivity initiative continues, and we’re onto week 85! We’ve got some nice stuff, so have a look:

New Features

Bugfixes & Performance Improvements

User Interface Improvements

Next week, your name could be in this list! Not sure how? Just ask! I’ve helped mentor a number of new contributors recently and I’d love to help you, too! You can also check out https://community.kde.org/Get_Involved, and find out how you can help be a part of something that really matters. You don’t have to already be a programmer. I wasn’t when I got started. Try it, you’ll like it! We don’t bite!

If you find KDE software useful, consider making a tax-deductible donation to the KDE e.V. foundation.