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Jonathan Riddell: exclusive interview for AT

Today I publish this exclusive interview with Jonathan Riddell, one of the KDE project’s members, formerly of Kubuntu, and currently of KDE Neon. Besides, Riddell works in the company Blue Systems, as you will know very linked to KDE. He also acts as a consultant on Linux, etc. If you want to know more about him, I invite you to read the whole interview…

ArchiTecnologia: I always start all interviews with this question: Who is Jonathan Riddell? (Describe yourself, please)

Jonathan Riddell: Hola, I’m a computer programmer from Scotland.  I’ve lived in Guadeloupe and Barcelona too.  I’ve succeeded in reaching the age of 38 and I’m planning on getting married to my lovely girlfriend Nim next year.  I’m a canoeist (piraguista), you might have read one of my books, White Water Guide Scotland, Kayak De Estilo Libre which I translated to English and I’m currently working on Paddle Scotland guidebook.

AT: When and how did you become passionate about technology?

JR:I was fortunate to always have a PC at home and rather than my friends who played on Sega Megadrives I played with DOS and GW Basic.  At university I installed SuSE Linux and have never looked back.

AT: Do you have a reference? Has anyone inspired you?

JR: I’m a Quaker, a religion based on living your life to testimonies of peace, truth, simplicity and equality.  Back in the 2000s I got together with other nerdy Quakers and we explored Linux and free software together.  I was attracted to the values of community and sharing your work for mutual learning and cooperation.

AT: When did you start in the world of free software?

JR: At university I was taught how to put a button on a screen and other simple tasks but I could never quite understand how a full program was coded.  The only way to find out was to look at the code and that ment using open source.

AT: What interested you about the KDE project?

JR: KDE made most of the programs I could see infront of my on my desktop computer so that was the obvious place to look at when I wanted to learn how to make full apps.  One I looked at the apps I found bugs that I could fix and once I’d managed that I was suckered in for life.  For my university final year dissertation I took over the project Umbrello UML Modeller which gave me a first class degree and I won an award too.

After university my Quaker geek network were discussing the Super Secret Debian Startup by an African spaceman and it sounded like something KDE should get involved in so I put out a call to get involved.  But nobody did so I started packaging KDE apps for this new project which shortly was announced as Ubuntu and that became Kubuntu.

AT: In many interviews he asks what is the best of Linux, what do you like the most, etc. But in this one we are going to do it “Linux Sucks” style hahaha what do you like least (something you would change)?

JR: There’s loads of reasons why community based projects like KDE haven’t taken over the desktop computers of the world and missed out on new opportunities like smartphones.  One if the separation between us in KDE making the software and other organisations like Ubuntu distributing the software.  That’s not done on any other platform and it just adds bureaucracy and time delay.  With new packaging formats like Snaps and Flatpak that’s no longer an issue but communities like ours have been slow to embrace them.  That’s why I started the KDE is All About the Apps Goal to try to change the culture in KDE to embrace shipping our software directly.  We want to ship every app as Snaps and Flatpaks and also on non-Linux platforms like the Microsoft Store or Google Play.  It’s slowly changing but there’s still lots of work to be done.

AT: You work at Blue Systems, former Kubuntu developer, and then you created KDE neon. What is your exact work within this latest project?

JR: We were sitting on Venice beach in Los Angeles after a surf lesson in 2015 looking at the waves and discussing how tricky it was to start up on a surf board with the moving waves.  It would be easier to stop the waves and stand up and start again.  Easier, but inelegant and not realistic.  But this is what Linux distros tries to do, stop the upstreams every 6 months and make a release.  It would be much more realistic to keep the software flowing and it should be the job of distros to work with upstream releases whenever they come out.  So we made a project which was not separated from KDE but part of KDE and which automated as much as possible building and releasing new software.  This is how the rest of the software industry works these days, there’s no reason why Linux distros should be any different.  So we have a continuous build and deploy system that scans for new releases and QAs them and makes them available to users quickly.  It’s so much more efficient that how we did it with separated distro organisations.  And to help the developers we build from Git branches directly so people can test the latest code.  It’s all available as installable images or Docker builds so you don’t need to wipe your computer.

AT: KDE Plasma has «lost weight» a lot. It has gone from being a heavy desktop to being incredibly light in terms of resource consumption. What is the secret? What caused that change to occur?

JR: Plasma is our flagship desktop and 5.20 is coming out on 13 October.  Like most stuff in KDE it’s built on the lovely Qt libraries (pronounced Cute) which are very well engineered, easy to code in and have the QtQuick tech to create modern sliding swiping interfaces that we are used to now.  So once reason why Plasma has improved a lot in recently years to be lightweight and responsive is that Qt developers have put a lot of work into making Qt lightweight and responsive.  They do a lot of business with car manufacturers and other embedded users so it’s important to them that apps made in Qt can be smooth.

Another reason is because we wanted to target Pinebook laptops, great cheap ARM based laptops.  We also wanted to target phones as well with Plasma Mobile.  So there’s been lots of optimisation work gone on there to remove blockages in the code.  It means we have a snappy lightweight desktop great on low end and high end hardware.

AT: How do you imagine the future of the desktop in GNU / Linux? Any major changes that you think will take place in the next few years?

JR:It’s always dangerous to predict the future, I’ve certainly never got it right before.  I expect we’ll have higher definition displays become the norm.  There will probably be less different to users between operating systems if Windows is able to run graphical Linux apps soon and KDE can put our apps on the Microsoft store.  So far I’ve never met anyone who runs a Google Chromebook but I know they are popular so there’s a platform we’re missing in KDE.  DDD

AT: Opinion on MAUI Project?

JR: It’s my failure that I’ve not looked closely at it yet but it’s on my To Do list for adding into neon.

AT: And finally … Canonical long ago entered the race for that long-awaited convergence. But the truth is that no one talks about him now. Why? Not interested anymore? What has changed?

JR: Well it turns out that people don’t care too much that their laptop and phone run the same OS as each other, they just want it to run the same OS as their previous model so all their apps and data can carry over.  That makes it very hard to break into a given market and means that first mover advantage is pretty huge.  We’ve been very poor at working with hardware manufacturers in KDE and other open communities so we’re yet to get large traction with manufacturers or the general public.  Hopefully with KDE we can spot the next big change before it happens and we can get in there but in the mean time we’ll carry on spreading freedom and love to everyone who wants it.


Apasionado de la computación y la tecnología en general. Siempre intentando desaprender para apreHender.

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