Category Archives: Conference

LGM 2012

This year I could only make it for a few days to LGM, but I am glad I came. First of all to meet friends and colleagues, to find out how they and their projects have been. I enjoyed getting hold of a fresh issue of Libre Graphics Magazine for example; The Physical, the Digital and the Designer is once again an excellent collection of articles, images and reviews so make sure you get your hands on it too!

SK1 reloaded: 'Printdesign', a new tool for office printing

I arrived just in time in Vienna to witness the birth of a Scribus GUI-team, something that has been in the making for a while now. Although the discussion at the meeting GUI of Scribus and effectiveness of work showed that developers and designers involved still are getting to grips with what this will mean for the project and it’s team-dynamics, it is a start.

Tom Lechner's demo of a future align+distribute tool

Unfortunately I did arrive too late for Tom Lechners’ talk Weird Layout. Using Inkscape-like align and distribute functionalities, his fresh approach to putting elements in relation to each other actually doesn’t seem that weird at all. If only it would deal with text as elegantly as it handles images?

The Auditorium. Photo: Nicu B., 2012 CC-BY-SA

This year’s venue for LGM was the University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien (a brand new auditorium, cantine and several classrooms at our disposal) and ran parallel to the Linuxwochen. It made for some lively inserts but also put the lean organising team and minimalist style of hosting under pressure even more. But participants happily found their way to other places like Metalab, a hackerspace not far from the glossy MuseumsQuartier. Metalab offered us comfortable spaces for working and discussing, and a broken power plug was successfully re-soldered and taped too.

Beautiful cusps with Powerstroke

New to LGM were exciting projects such as Powerstroke, the result of Johan Engelen’s work on multiple width strokes in Inkscape. The construction of smooth ‘calligraphic’ strokes (always in quotation marks!) clearly benefitted from his background in mathematics. Ricardo Lafuente compiled Inkscape with it and looked *very* happy.

HarfBuzz: A fast-moving target

The text-shaping engine HarfBuzz takes care of lay-out at an atomic level. Behdad Esfahbod explained in accessible terms how HarfBuzz tries to simplify and make legible the process of shaping even the most complex of text-lay-outs.

Keeping a promise: Joao delivers Brazilian chocolate for transport to Belgium

It was also interesting to see Máirín Duffy from the Fedora Designteam at work; with her colleague Emily Dirsh she toured us through several collaboration tools for interactive design that they were thinking about and developing. Their slides on Sparkleshare, Magic Mockup and Design Hub:

And, classified as #tehweird at lgm: SoundFumble; an audio player that takes GIMP image data as input. Without taking anything away from the GIMP-experience, your favourite digital image editor can be a soundmachine too.

I enjoyed introducing Marcos Garcia to LGM and vice versa. We did not present much of the LGRU-work in the end because we wanted to make sure that the Libre Graphics community felt as excited as we were ourselves about LGM in Madrid next year. So we used most of our time to tell some inspiring Medialab Prado stories and I think that was convincing.

Stefanie at Mz Balthazar's Laboratory

That evening I met with Stefanie from Mz Baltazars’ laboratory, a lab or hackerspace for women and trans. We discussed the various methods we were both using to create ‘fearless, accessible plattforms’. It was a nice and useful strategy-swap before I joined the party at Metalab.

Over lunch on Saturday, a discussion with Kate Price, Peter Sikking, Joao Bueno and Chris Lilley about being stuck with the page-metaphor and what that means for graphics traversing from web to print and vice versa. Kate agreed that relational placement made more sense: “Measure at the point where the relationship is“. Which prompted Chris: “The problem with intelligent tools is that you end up argueing with them“. Kate also made interesting connections to CAD-software and Peter referred to Theo Van Doesberg and his idea of designing from the smallest element outwards. Hopefully to be continued.

An invitation to Madrid at the closing session. Photo: Nicu B., 2012 CC-BY-SA

At the closing talk, our invitation to host LGM 2013 in Madrid was accepted with enthusiasm. It felt a bit strange that we were deciding on a second European meeting while being in Europe, but still I am glad to have an opportunity to connect LGM to LGRU and the Spanish-speaking free software community. Apparently the same team of people that invited LGM to Vietnam in 2011 is working on LGM-Asia in 2014 … wouldn’t that be great?

Degrees of playing nice: two days at the Desktop Summit

Photo: Michael Fötsch (CC BY-SA 2.0)

With only two out of three days of presentations and missing out on the BOF-sessions altogether I am still happy to have made it to the second Desktop Summit in Berlin.
The event operates on a scale that filters out the kind of experimental work you might come across at LGM or even at FOSDEM; with both KDE and GNOME targeting ‘normal users’, this event cares more about high-level work on community developed software and less about specific tools. As an anti-dote it would have been interesting to find projects outside the KDE/GNOME stratosphere such as the OpenBox window-manager, the Fedora design team or even to hear from Canonical’s Unity. That said, the overall atmosphere at the Desktop Summit was vigorous, frank and energetic. These are clearly interesting times, judging from the more than 700 people actively trying to get their heads around developments that continue to radically change the landscape of free software. It is great to see it so much alive and kicking.

The Desktop Summit brings two largish communities together: KDE and GNOME. Both are in essence window-managing projects for the free desktop, and ‘fight for the same mindshare’ as someone expressed it. But their interest in comparing notes seemed genuinely more important than the need to organise two meetings in parallel. The diplomatic agenda of the summit was apparent from the choice of keynotes that carefully bridged interests (hence stayed rather superficial?) and the decision to schedule talks like Stuart Javis’ Why Are We Here, about the future of KDE or GNOME Shell: Iteration’s what you need as single-track. In this way, the only option was to hear each other out.
Many talks were related to toolkits: QT for KDE and Clutter and GTK for GNOME. For me it was interesting to find out more about these collections of widgets, mixing properties of applications, frameworks and standards.
The Summit clearly functioned as an occasion to scope out overlaps, divide territories and articulate differences. It created an atmosphere of reflection and discussion rather than the usual tribal energy that is all about community-affirmation.
The Summit organisation omitted (on purpose or not) to put projects on the conference-badges, and this must have boosted the sales of T-shirts significantly. But if you were like me, not wearing anything that clarified affiliation, people simply came up asking: So, what do you think about GNOME3?

‘Design’ was present in many of the presentations. Essential, lacking, desirable, impossible, hard to manage, needed, hard to scale, wanted, hated and loved: the success of the free desktop is measured by design. Applications for interface-prototyping were discussed at some point, and Boudewijn Rempt showed off Krita but mainly talks tried to make sense of how design-practice could interface with software development; how to design functionalities that are ‘discoverable’ by users.
The much-debated development of GNOME3 (Gnome Shell) seems to finally have broken the Apple-spell and I enjoyed many interesting and self-confident talks about how to integrate User-Interface-design into development cycles, possible relations between software design patterns and … design patterns, the problems and affordances of doing designing in a community. The discussion went far beyond the fear of ‘design by commission’ and in that respect it was important to hear some serious thought being put into the idea that developers might need to learn how to design. “Some people decided to stop writing software so they could develop ‘a pure design mind’. I think that’s not a good thing. We need people that can wear different hats1

Repeat after me: Design Thinking for developers (Clemens N. Buss)

As a way to start such a learning, more and less digested flavors of ‘design thinking’2 were tested out. This method is probably a sensible choice since it seems to have (superficial?) overlaps with software development: iteration, testing etc. It is also rather post-it note-dependent and I wonder how it helps teams to deal with the hard question: what would a free desktop look like?
Donald Norman suggests that users need a ‘coherent mental model’3 to comfortably navigate digital services spread over multiple devices, and participants at the Desktop Summit seemed to be in agreement about the need for such a thing. How might they differ from a proprietary model? What ideas of inter-usability (Claire Rowland) could you imagine to come out of the principles of free software? The GNOME Shell Design Principles offer a modest start, but there were other interesting ideas around as well. Federico Mena Quintero proposed to think of well-designed free software as having the same ‘qualities without name’ that make organically grown cities comfortable for example. His anti-urbanist approach could do with some nuancing, especially if connected to design-learning as an “informal apprenticeships, like craftsmen teaching skills to each other” but I guess we’ll hear more from him about this one day.

A less positivist explanation of their ‘readiness to behave’ is maybe the apparent awareness of why and how business interests cross paths with free desktop development.
Besides the glib contributions of Canonical’s Mark Shuttleworth in the panel on copyright assignment, there was very little outright commercial speak, and no hysterical trying-to-please-business whatsoever. Many presenters spoke from a clear understanding of the dependency on and deep relations with business interests and the free desktop. As Dirk Hohndel said in his keynote: About 90% of the people actively developing free software are also employed by software companies.
The perversity of the roller-coaster relation with companies such as Google (Android) and Nokia (Symbion, Troltech) was clearly brought out during the Panel on Copyright Assignment. The pressure on free software developers to double-license their code is a result of businesses interest in free software fitting their system. The question is of course, if that is in the interest of free software itself.

The excitement felt at the Desktop Summit seems largely fueled by the explosion of smart devices and I am not sure what role the free desktop is actually plotting out for itself. To me it seems back to a depressing lack of standards, working with very expensive devices who’s architecture is kept secret, consuming tons of developers energy before being replaced by yet other devices. This all at a pace that not many people can afford to code for without remuneration.
In a nice session about connecting the desktop to the web, Xan Lopez quoted Alan Kay saying that “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware4. Unfortunately, besides a rather gratuitous lightning talk by Michael Meeks about the RepRap project, hardware wasn’t really on the table. Judging from the quality of the discussions, no doubt it will be there at a next iteration of the summit.

  1. Comment by Pippin in the session Features follow function – design-driven development of GNOME Shell
  3. “A mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. It is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person’s intuitive perception about their own acts and their consequences. Our mental models help shape our behaviour and define our approach to solving problems (akin to a personal algorithm) and carrying out tasks.” In his book The Design of Every Day Things, Donald Norman argues that in a well designed object, the mental model of the design should match the mental model of the user.

Desktop Summit (Day 1)

Karl Marx shines his light on the Desktop Summit (at the Humboldt University Berlin): “Die Philosophen haben nur die Welt verschieden interpretiert. Es kommt aber dar auf an die Welt zu verändern” (Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point however, is to change it)

Desktop Summit (Day 0)

August 5, 2011 Berlin, Conference, desktop, gnome, LGRU, Report

I have found an empty seat with a working AC-power outlet; they are scarce in the ICE that takes me from Cologne to Berlin. Someone obviously looking for the same thing sits down across and I signal that I am OK to share. He produces a four-socket extension-cord from the depths of his bag and […]