Category: Open Source

DWD: Protocol U-Turn

Since Martin posted his Wayland progress I’ve noticed an uptick in questions about CSD, so I figure now is a good time to upload this post I’ve had sitting around, as for the past month I’ve been closely examining the concept of “Dynamic Window Decorations”, or “DWDs” and how to better implement them.

When Last We Saw Our Heroes

For those who need a primer or reminder, DWD is the sister of “Client Side Decorations”, or “CSD”s. Both CSD and DWD are methods for placing widgets in the frame area of windows to save vertical space, look cleaner, and either make applications feel unique or more integrated.

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Indeed, DWDs would be themeable like traditional decorations, fully supporting transparency effects.

CSD charges the application with drawing the whole window including the frame, instructing the window manager to discard the provided frame. This is the method used on Windows, OSX, and GTK. DWD is aiming for the opposite approach; the window manager continues to draw the window frame, but the application can request certain widgets to replace the window title. Martin Gräßlin plans to keep as much as possible on the server-side as there are many important advantages including customisation, stability, trust, and integration.

DWD “1.0” Was Getting Complicated

One thing CSD will always have over DWD is customisation; when an application has free reign over the whole window it can literally do anything; it can make windows round if it wants to, it can invent crazy widgets and put em’ in the title area, and more. DWD isn’t suited to this, and while designing the first iteration of the protocol I tried to bang a square peg into the round hole by providing those many possibilities.

In my infinite wisdom I re-invented X, with a sprawling protocol that covered dozens of edge-cases which would likely never be used. Even with that, people still complained about the fact that many customisations would still impossible. People also didn’t like the KDE crew being the stewards of this protocol, as different environments want to do different things.

DWD, as originally envisioned, had to change – it was just too complicated and inflexible. Listening to the feedback it was clear the protocol had to be simple, flexible, and tractable. A large requirement was also making it able to grow outside of KDE with or without our ‘approval’.

DWDs New Approach

DWD, as I have drafted it, has been boiled down to a discovery service whose sole purpose is getting apps and window managers to figure out compatible protocols, and specify some standard UI controls which will use those protocols.

Here’s the quick overview on the current core “DWD Protocol”, again, as of my current draft (which could totally be rejected):

  • DWD will be organised into “extensions”. Extensions are just blueprints listing required D-Bus specifications, widgets/controls, and options.
  • Applications and the Window Manager handshake for compatible extensions.
  • Applications tell the Window Manager what controls from those extensions it should display, and how it wants them laid out.
  • Applications hide their native controls.
  • DWD is done and gets out of the way at this point. Control is handed to specifications like MPRIS2, and Window Managers (or Plasma) control the app through those protocols using the requested controls.

That’s it, DWD “2.0” in a nutshell.

KDE will need to create some reference extensions (plus some D-Bus specs) and hopefully everyone will be happy enough to standardise on the basics. From there any environment can create specialised extensions for DWD, we can work with extensions we like, and maybe standardise on the really useful ones (much like libinput has been folded into many environments). If someone makes an awesome extension that handles admin access requests, we could use it. If we make an extension that handles progress charts, someone else could adopt it. I’d like us to develop two reference extensions: a basic toolbar extension, and an MPRIS2 extension.

Advantages over “1.0”

Security is the biggest upside to offloading work on other protocols. DWD doesn’t care how the standards are implemented, so they can be as secure (or insecure) as they choose to be. Security issues or weaknesses in the protocol itself will be mitigated, as the protocol is much smaller. Patches for applications or changes to functional protocols can be made without breaking DWD.

Integration is also another bonus. Parts of the desktop can integrate the protocols extensions use, without DWD needing to explicitly support it. The best example is MPRIS2, which already exists and has amazing support everywhere. The idea behind DWD is that we create more MPRIS-type extensions as we need them.

Finally, core DWD is out of the hotpath for data passing. Window Managers don’t need to be “like X” and conform to complex drawing and customisation tasks. Hopefully as a de-stresser to Martin, this method of offering DWD will be much more easily implemented in a plugin architecture which can be gradually expanded upon. We won’t need to have the full protocol out-of gate, and environments can start with the bare basics and evolve as useful extensions are finalised. I don’t know how he might want to do it, but DWD extension plugins could be potentially be maintained entirely outside of Kwin (or other Window managers) if we play our cards right.

The Downsides

Nothing is perfect, so of course there are downsides;

Customisation.

The big elephant in the room. Going over more standard protocols (and not bloating the new specification) means applications will have no say over how content is styled in the window. I considered this for a while and ultimately decided that it’s O.K.

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We could still offer a few more standardised ways of doing common things we do today, such as passing a colour palette to sync with the window, but outside of the handshake I’ll push for an extension-over-integration policy.

 

The application doesn’t need to know how things are done, only that they’re getting done. The WM knows more about the environment it’s in than the application; functionality is what matters. The volume button on a computer might be shown as a slider, but on a touch-device it may be a larger button with a popout slider. Maybe a phone will simply use the hardware controls. It’s up to whatever is managing the control.

For people already seething with rage ready to point at me and say “Linux is about choice! Applications should choose what their UIs look like!” I will point out; applications can chose not to use DWD. They can choose to implement a CSD-based application. But lets be real here: when we find a need for speciality widgets, if they are really something useful, their host toolkits/environments can always add the extension.

Generally though, if an application is doing something really unique it’s probably doing it’s own thing anyway – like Chrome/Chromium – or breaking the local HIGs. If you absolutely need to save that 18px while also showing a one-of-a-kind rainbow-powered rocket-widget which must be in the frame… CSD is the price of needing to be that special.

Fragmentation.

With anyone able to create extensions, there’s a change we might have a situation where two environments create two similar offerings. For this, I believe it’s a chance for everyone to experiment, and then work together to standardise. The one thing this means is that applications created for another environment might take longer to get CSD-like functionality, though they should present their interfaces in their traditional application UI.

I think this is still better than CSD, as often a broken CSD is unusable vs a DWD which will simply not conserve space.

DWD

So, in the end, this is the direction DWD has gone. Keep it simple, let anyone decide how it should be used, and piggyback off of proven protocols.

MPRIS2 shows what a purpose-driven protocol can do, and already has lots of examples of “remote control” interfaces. Outside of MPRIS2 we would create missing D-Bus specifications which would hopefully make the wider applications library accessible in a similar manner. Specifications for things like progress management, search, sharing, and many others could be created which will benefit applications, and allow deeper desktop integration for everybody.

For those who saw the previous designs in my original DWD blog post, not much has actually changed visually. Everything I posted is still possible, but now we have a much more practical way to do it which I am much more confident we could reliably implement and share.

Spooky Scary Post-Halloween Monster Post

With Halloween settling down and children retreating back to their lairs so they can bathe in their sugary loot, it’s time to post an update, and not just any type of post – but a Spooky Scary Post-Halloween Monster Post!

Wallpapers

Before I get to show-and-tell I wanted to make a quick digression to something we noticed a few months ago after the 5.4 wallpaper was released…

There has always been some pretty harsh criticism against the wallpapers I’ve produced, some of this comes down to being bolder and more vibrant in our designs, and some of it some of it comes down to the fact that my early work was genuinely bad. We listen to comments wherever they come from (even if we don’t specifically reply), be it a forum on a news site, Reddit, or imageboards. Until Plasma 5.3 though the criticism lacked constructiveness and was mostly just mud-slinging. The Plasma 5.4 wallpaper though must have crossed a threshold at some point, because the entire VDG very specifically noticed an uptick in constructive criticism, and a it had a heavy influence on the 5.5 wallpaper.

What this all comes down to and what I really want to say is this; do be critical of our work! But be critical in a constructive way, so we can build on your comments. Calling a wallpaper “dogshit” doesn’t give us much to work with, but pointing out the Dutch Angle of the last wallpaper as being too extreme – that we can work with and improve the next wallpaper. Since we had the feedback, I’ll go over the two main points we’ve heard.

#1: The Brightness / Saturation.
More often worded as “the author must have eaten his crayons before puking on the screen” this was a result of how I initially imitated the 5.1 wallpaper with the Breeze palette, and absolutely failed; so much in fact that I think it may have affected the perceived colours of later wallpapers.

While some people certainly enjoyed the lighter wallpapers the main comment was that the over-saturated wallpapers were too much. Interestingly, wallpapers on Plasma 5 have been trending towards darker tones, below being some swatches I quickly composed of our wallpaper history:

swatchesWhen I started making the wallpapers at 5.2 I had decided to stick with the official Breeze colour palette, which is geared towards icons. This meant that working at the same luminosity Nuno used for the 5.1 wallpaper would oversaturate mine, which is what happened. It’s worth noting that the 5.2 wallpaper was made purely for personal use, and it was only by a fluke that we used it in production. With 5.4 I think we approached the tipping-point of appropriate brightness/saturation, and I think we’re closer to the ‘right’ amount now considering out palette.

#2: The Dutch Angle / Drug Induced Wallpaper
This is a simple fix: stop using intense angles. But! If everything is made flat it becomes visually uninteresting. As a matter of fact none of the KDE wallpapers have been perfectly level, except Nunos original wallpaper which had clear vertical orientation. I think this was just because 5.4 was so extreme, and also because there were no other mounting points a user could visually register.

With the ‘acid trip’ feel of the last wallpaper, I think it was (again) the dutch angle throwing users off a bit along with the fisheye lens of the horizon line. I do worry that such a perception may impact the professionalism of the desktop, so for future wallpapers I may attempt to better avoid this moreso – though this wallpaper does maintain a more organic shape, which I expect may get dinged on that score.

So, what’s in the pipe for 5.5?

I’m very excited to announce we will be shipping 3 wallpapers this upcoming release. The two below continue the evolution seen in previous wallpapers. They are “Event Night” and “Event Day”. Event Night will be the 5.5 default.

desktopWallpaper-event-1.0-kvermettedesktopWallpaper-event-light-1.0-kvermette
Lionel Chauvins’ “Pastel Hills” will also be available, which harkens back to Nunos original design using a lighter pastel palette. I also have the feeling this is the first wallpaper we have distributed made with Blender. I highly recommend checking out his new KDE-look account if you like the smooth jazz that is his wallpaper, hopefully he uploads his other works. 😉

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5.5 Wallpaper Contest
Finally, Andreas is continuing his wallpaper contest; the deadline is in roughly 9 days, so if you have a beautiful image you want to submit please jump in and submit your wallpaper!

KDE.org

KDE.org is undergoing a redesign which should one day present a more unified and consistent interface across the myriad of systems we currently use.

The most obvious issues with the current site are twofold; there’s no consistent navigation, and no two systems look alike. Because we have so many systems which are largely incompatible and/or on completely different hardware, we’re taking a unique approach to the new design so we can begin to unify the disparate designs.

We’re building the user-facing elements as a modular set of pieces which can be arbitrarily inserted onto any website, regardless of the technology or hardware they use, as long as they support even the most primitive skinning. These modular pieces are self-contained, and should be fairly easy to insert into existing systems until larger changes can be made.

I’ll have screenshots later (maybe a video) once I finish up a few more modules for feedback. Unfortunately I’ve had exceptionally busy weekends (when I get most of my work done) and haven’t been able to make the progress I had hoped for. I’ll post more on that later.

Fiber Browser

Because I have been swamped with smaller projects I’m temporarily going to put Fiber on hold to nail other things down, as I want to give more time to immediate smaller impacting projects across KDE as a whole, rather than constantly scrambling around several half-finished todos.

The original plan was to have a version which would be “presentable” at Sprints so I could garner interest, but that will be dropped. One thing that has become clear is that other developers will want to work on it regardless of me ‘promoting’ it, so I’m comfortable in the thought that I could assemble a small team later on. Also, the main KDE devs are busy enough anyway.

Next, after (very careful) consideration I may temporarily drop CEF and pick up WebEngine when I seriously resume the project. Fiber is a one-man band, and to say CEF integration has been nothing short of a pain would be an understatement. I feel like the most important aspect of Fiber will be a rich, deep API and modular design – but with so much focus on getting CEF functional it simply sucks the life out of the entire project. Instead, I may shift to a CEF port as a “Fiber 2.0” feature (hopefully when other devs may maintain the APIs), which should help as by then Servo will be more mature and I can test it as the primary renderer.

Unofficially I may still chip away at it – but for now I’m more comfortable saying it’s on pause while I focus on my todo list. I will resume work on it once I’ve bumped off a few smaller things, and hopefully It’ll speed up development a bit by switching to WebEngine for the 1.0 release along with having fewer balls to juggle.

Polish Effort

Before I say anything else, hats off to Hugo for his work. I’m not going to lie: I threw him to the wolves on this one (unintentionally!), and he’s solo’d the real work going into Breeze polish. So, hats off to Hugo for being blazingly awesome!

On the design notes, one thing that became apparent somewhat quickly was the fact that the design I presented began to heavily diverge from the current Breeze design, so much as to be considered a different design entirely. I’m still debating how to handle this, as this is one area where I wanted to free up time so I could more properly contribute.

In terms of stuff getting done, we’ll have some pleasing adjustments to several visual elements such as menus and pixel-tweaks. We’ve also identified several issues such as misalignments in applications, dark-theme colour woes, and inconsistent spacing; I don’t believe we have fixes in for everything, but I’m confident in my ability at throwing Hugo to the wolves. ;P

DWD

There’s not much to report here, but a couple people have been wondering about this. For those not in the know, DWD will be a protocol-driven solution for widgets in the titlebar, similar to the CSD approach that is the Gnome headerbar.

Mainly I’ve been working on the specification, and it’s been pointed out that DWD as a technology will never be suited for insanely weird and creative widgets. To mitigate this I had written some crazy crap about all the special and unique ways a widgets might be customised, and I realised it was pointless to try matching the “creative potential” of CSDs with endless options. I did a thought experiment and swung the other direction;

What if instead of offering primitive widgets with crazy tweaks DWD focused on higher-level but rigid purpose-driven widgets? You don’t request a slider with a volume icon, you request a volume widget and feed it a few channels. Instead of a lineedit you’d just put up a search box… And this approach shaped up surprisingly well.

The general mindset is the idea that CSD eschews system integration in exchange for more radical customisation. DWD on the other hand is about integration though standards – and the initial spec didn’t play to that strength. The main downside to this new spec is the fact that we do sacrifice more creativity in the headerbar, but I looked at it, and in most screenshots of Gnome CSD widgets seem remarkably standardised as well. I’ll be doing a post later which gets into details and pretty pictures but this seems to be the direction to move towards.

That’s all, folks!

sluggerfly

Random Sluggerfly!

Fiber, X, Ad Blocking and Tracking

It’s been about a month since my last update? Maybe I should post something.

Fiber has been a bit slow moving, partly because I’ve just been slow and hitting other projects, but mostly from toying around with CEF. One prominent issue is the fact that the current crop of CEF examples and samples are using a mix of GTK and X. Many outdated questions and forums on the web bring up Qt and CEF, but with the relatively limited time I have to work on the project it has made things feel slightly more arduous than it needs to be when there’s no answer to the problem. Part of this is the fact that Qt has WebEngine/WebView, so CEF integration is a niche topic. It’s nothing insurmountable, but I might need to accept a temporary dependency on X. This annoys me, but the project needs to move forward and I can’t be stuck spinning my wheels. At the lowest level of the application I will need platform-specific code anyway, I simply wanted to see how long I could avoid it.

“Did you ever solve for X?”

(more…)

The Fiber Engine Poll, Updates, and Breeze

Some weeks ago I ran a poll to see what would be the preferred rendering engine for Fiber, and so I figure now is the time to post results. There was a surprising amount of misinformation/confusion running around about what each option potentially meant which I hope to clear up, but overall the results were so compelling I doubt stripping the misinformation and re-running the poll would return a different result.

Third Place: Port to CEF Later

“Porting to CEF later” was the lowest voted option at ~18% of the ballet, and in retrospect it makes sense since it’s just a poor solution. The only upside is that it gets an obsolete implementation out the door (if that’s an upside), but it makes things complicated during an important phase of the project by putting an engine change in motion while trying to flesh out deeply tied APIs. Not good.

Oddly some people wanted a WebEngine/CEF switch and took to this option as Fiber having such a switch. Considering CEF proper is based on Chromium/Blink (which is what WebEngine uses) it’s a bit like asking to take two paths to the same destination; there are differences in the road but in the end both ways lead to Blink. There will be no switch for Cef/WebEngine because adding one would bring down the API potential to the lowest common denominator while increasing complexity to the most advanced method.

Runner up: Use WebEngine

“Use WebEngine” was the runner-up at 24% of the vote. The main prospect behind this is that it would result in a shipping browser fastest, but it also works under the assumption that it may increase code compatibility between Qt-based browsers – but the architecture of Fiber I believe will be very alien compared to contemporary solutions. If there are chances to collaborate I will, but I don’t know how much of that will be possible.

There was also a segment that voted for WebEngine thinking CEFs was just a more complicated route to Chromium, being confused about the road to Servo.

Winner by a mile: Go Exclusively CEF

It’s no surprise that in the end “Use CEF” trounced the remainder of the poll at 59% of respondents voting in favour of it – more than both other options combined or any individual option doubled. From the comments around the internet one of the biggest reasons for the vote is Servo as a major differentiating factor between other browsers, and also because it would help mitigate the Webkit/Blink monopoly forming on non-mozilla browsers for Linux.

This excites me as a web developer, and I’m likely to try pushing Servo as the default engine as it will likely be plenty good by the time Fiber is released. Sadly, I believe there were a few votes placed thinking that Fiber would ultimately usher in a “QCef” or “KCef” framework; and I don’t think this will be the case.

On making a Frameworks 5 API I considered it as a super-interesting Frameworks addition, but after careful consideration I realised there just aren’t too many projects which would benefit from what would be a substantial amount of work. Another issue is that I think the QWebEngine is appropriate for most projects, and that anything more is needless complication. The Qt developers have done a good job picking the right APIs to expose which suits common needs, and I imagine the additional complexity would only hurt projects adopting such a library; it’s killing a mosquito with a cannon. Plus, QWebEngine will evolve in good time to fill any common needs that pop up.

What will Fiber do?

Fiber is going to go exclusively CEF. I’m in the process of fiddling CEF into the browser – but CEF is a bit of a beast and about 3/4 of my time is simply reading CEF documentation, examples, and reading the source code of open projects using the utility. My main concern is properly including CEF without requiring X11; it’s possible, but the Linux example code isn’t using Aura, and the implementation examples are GTK-based as well. Qt and KF5 have solutions, but I’m reseaching the best route to take.

In terms of what engine Fiber is using (Servo vs Blink) I’m going the generic route; you can drop in simple config files pointing to CEF-compatible executables, and when configuring profiles you can pick which engine you would like to use based on those files. This engine switch is already present on the command line and in the “Tuning” section of the profiles manager. This means you can have different profiles running different engines if you choose. There’s a second command-line option which will launch a new instance of Fiber with the engine of your choice running one-time for testing purposes. For the purposes of the default, I’ll probably push Servo.

CEF will not drive UI

Indirectly using CEF means QML may become the exclusive language of UI extensions, popups, and config dialogs. Mainly this is because of the additional abstraction and effort required to offer CEF in several contexts, but it also puts a much cleaner separation between browser and content and will likely make securing the system easier. Extensions will be required to offer pages in HTML.

If you’re using QML, your writing chrome. If you’re using HTML you’re writing a page.

This is also more in-line with the Plasma Mobile guidelines, and though I severely doubt you’ll see Fiber become a mobile browser any time soon this keeps the door open for the far future. In two years I’d rather not break a significant number of extensions for mobile inclusion; I’d rather just have things work, maybe with some minor layout tweaks.

There are real pros and cons to QML as the only way to extend the browser UI, and probably one of the largest I worry about is the fact that QML has a significantly smaller developer base than HTML. On the plus side QML is able adapt to platforms, meaning we might not need to divide extensions between desktop and mobile – that would simply boil down to layout tweaks. All this means is instead of having many extensions of questionable quality, we will aim to offer fewer but higher-quality extensions.

On Progress

Progress is steady. Probably an hour to two of work a night goes into the project, and extra time on weekends as freedom allows. It drives people nuts that I’m taking my dear sweet time on this, but when the groundwork is done there will be a solid base for others to help quickly build on.

I’ve introduced threading into some parts of Fibers management tools, and made significant improvements with how Fiber manages internal data caching for profile data. This all got started when I noticed a split-second of lag on a slider, and realised the long-term implications. Threading was introduced so when the database models are working they do not lag the main thread, and the layer which talks to the model now caches the data and only communicates with the model when one is out of sync. The next step will be to add some internal very coarse timers and event tools which will delay hard data saves until they can be batched efficiently or must be written, and possibly a check to prevent the saving of idenitcal data.

While this may not matter as much for the management tools I’ll be applying these techniques on an extension-wide bases; this will save power, keep Fiber highly responsive, make it CPU wake friendly, and avoid hard drives wakeups – even when bad extensions might behave in “thrashing” behaviours. Ironically this first performance exercise has made me confident that even with many “slow” javascript-driven features, Fiber may become a highly performant browser by virtue of having extremely fine-tuned APIs which give blanket improvements.

One of the most annoying but necessary changes was porting Fiber from QMake to CMake. Originally I had the intention to prototype using QMake, switching to CMake later for the “real” work. As things would have it the prototype had simply evolved and I realised it would just be easier to port it. As I’m not terribly familiar with CMake this started off painfully, but once I realised what CMake was trying to encourage I fell in love and things just clicked.

During the CMake port I also took the opportunity to strip out vestigial or prototypical code and do some housekeeping, which certainly cleaned things up as I not only removed files but also disposed of bits of code too. I also removed all traces of WebEngine which I had used during the earliest prototype phase; the next time Google pops up, it’ll be with CEF.

I’ve also started incorporating the first KF5 libraries into the project. The libraries are very well organised, and also well documented. Finally, I need to compliment Qt and state how amazing the toolkit is. Really. Some of the most notable changes were trivial by Qt making smart use of its internal structure, and even though I’m hardly a veteran developer Qt and it’s extremely good documentation has allowed me to make smart, informed decisions. Really guys, good job.

On other projects

Moving away from Fiber, right now we’re doing a lot of work on refining the Breeze theme for Plasma 5.5 in this thread, where we’re running down paper-cuts on the design and building the next iteration of the style. Ideally, we’d like to see a much more consistent and well-defined visual structure. Later on we will start to address things like alignment issues, and start targeted papercut topics which will address specific visual issues. If you’re interested, please read the entire thread as there is lots of design discussion and contribute your thoughts.

Remember, constructive feedback is the easiest contribution anyone can make to an open-source project!

Fiber Update; WebEngine vs CEF

Fiber has seen some active development, and over the course of a long 3-day weekend full of hacking I’m glad to say that exactly 0 progress has been made! Of course that would be a bit of a fib, I’ve spent the weekend re-factoring all of the profiles code and organising the codebase structure.

I also spent a good chunk of my time reading Qt and KDE coding guidelines and documentation on how files and classes should be structured, and then I applied that information to Fiber. The result now is well commented code, and consistent naming conventions in-line with other Qt/KDE projects.

But re-factoring code isn’t what I’m really interested in talking about…

WebEngine vs CEF

When I started Fiber I worked under the assumption that WebEngine would be the engine for this browser; it’s an official Qt extension, being actively developed, and isn’t going anywhere. After Fiber kind of came into the light I had a comments and emails pointing me to CEF, the “Chromium Embedded Framework” as an alternative to WebEngine.

After doing research it’s severely divided my thoughts on what to use.

What is it?

CEF started as a Chromium-based project meant to create a stable API relative to the rapidly changing engine, something non-qt applications could use as easily and reliably as Qt applications do with WebView . While it started off as just an implementation CEF has a defined stable enough API that it turned into a sort of pseudo-standard. Servo, Mozillas new wonder engine is actually building itself to be a native CEF implementation, meaning that future Firefox will actually be a CEF-based browser.

CEF, despite being not so well-known, is actually used by some very high-profile companies which lends credence to the longevity of the project. Adobe, Valve, Blizzard, Amazon, and other big names have thrown their chips behind CEF. Valve in-particular bases their Steam client on the thing.

Pros and Cons

Cons

Not everything is rosy and bright in the world of CEF; there are always downsides. The first and biggest downside is the fact that CEF doesn’t have a Qt library. The Qt guys didn’t decide on this arbitrarily as they have a different goal for the WebEngine API. At minimum CEF means more complicated work than using an established Qt API.

CEF and having multiple engine options also means that we may see two entirely different sets of bugs coming in, depending on whether or not a person is running Fiber-Chromium or Fiber-Servo in the future. This doesn’t even include potential future CEF implementations; who knows what might show up in 5 years.

I would also like Fiber to be extremely portable, which makes CEF more of a concern; WebEngine currently supports mobile, but CEF will only have Android support ‘in the future’. Since Plasma Mobile includes a more malleable stack I have less doubts that Fiber will run fine on that, but I would like to see Fiber eventually run on Android.

Finally, CEF will add a lot of weight to the browser as an external dependency, to the tune of at least 40MB at minimum. This is more due to WebEngine being part of Qt and already being on the system – but CEF isn’t, and so the rendering engine is a separate binary to distribute. If a distro ever eyes Fiber as a default browser it means there’s over 40 extra reasons to consider a slimmer browser which makes use of more common libraries. Granted, just about every major browser is packing pretty big binaries anyway – but it’s still wasted space.

Pros

One thing that’s kind-of well-known is that WebEngine doesn’t have a particularly deep API (yet). For most applications this is fine as the utility is just used to display some content and hook a few things in so the app can talk to the page in an efficient manner. Fine for the use-case that Qt envisions. For a full-on browser though WebEngine lacks a lot of important interaction points, and though I Initially doubt Fiber will be able to make use of deeper integration in a meaningful way, as time goes on it’s a serious advantage to lose, especially since I don’t know the roadmap for WebEngine and what they plan to add.

WebEngine and WebView also have bad security reputations – I don’t know the specific issues, I just know those issues are prominent enough to see Fedora choose not to ship it. CEF doesn’t seem to have this perception as far as I know. That being said I’m not a guru-level C++ programmer so I’m not disillusioned to the fact that I’ll inject my own security shortcomings; though I won’t have the worry of breaking downstream applications in the quest to fix those issues.

There’s concern in the web development community of a WebKit/Blink monoculture. Outside of Gecko, there’s no longer any rendering engine variety for the Linux community. While I doubt Blink will ever “slack off”, the fact is Blink has undue weight over the web because of its sheer dominance. With more variety it means Blink has to keep in-line with the wider browser community rather than driving it. Gecko, Trident, Edge, and Servo all push Webkit/Blink harder in the same way many desktop environments push KDE to be better.

But the absolute biggest advantage in my opinion is the fact that CEF will offer Servo in the future as well as Blink. It means that we will be highly portable in our choice of rendering engines, able to swap out quickly. If we tightly integrate with Webengine it means Fiber won’t have mobility in the future, but through CEF if one of the engines gains a significant technical lead we can change the engine easily.

The Poll

We have three options for Fibers engine of choice, and I’d like the people who may ultimately use the browser to decide, as I’m really truly torn!

  1. Stick with WebEngine. It’s simple, easy, fast, supported. Fiber already has WebEngine running.
  2. Start with WebEngine and just get the browser up-and-running, later make the transition to CEF. It would be fast at first, but it will complicate things later on as we make the transition, especially if there’s several extension APIs connected with WebEngine.
  3. Write Fiber to use CEF natively. This will probably result in a more performant browser, and will allow deep integration; though it would still be slower to develop than just using WebEngine.

[polldaddy poll=9012714]

(Don’t see the poll? Click here!)

Finally, if you have comments, please post them below and elaborate on what drove your decision.

KDE.org Redesign

KDE Frameworks, Plasma desktop, and our community have a rich history of nearly twenty years in creating great open-source software, making us a truly historic organisation of passionate developers; and along with that history some of our online infrastructure has begun to show its age. The KDE.org website and its various sections are the front door to the KDE ecosystem, it is how people new to KDE will judge us and it’s where our developers, translators, artists, and community members know their hard work will be presented to the world.

Recently there’s been a minor movement in the KDE community hive-mind stirring about our web network, and it’s increasing need for a significant update. Some of this has been separate, some in groups, some know about the others but not vice-versa. There was a BOF at Akademy which also focused on a new website and goals.

We’ve opened up a new community forum with the dedicated task of modernising our legacy infrastructure to create a unified effort. Everyone wanting to participate will have the goal of revitalising the KDE.org website for our 20th anniversary, giving us a strong infrastructure to celebrate a stronger foundation for the next 20 years of KDE, community, and open-source.

The WWW team, Promo Team, and VDG have all expressed desire to build a better KDE.org, and we’d all like to see the wider KDE community to contribute! You don’t need to be a web developer or server administrator to chip in; even if it’s a few minutes of feedback or a single idea, we would like to see you participate! We plan to build this website on a foundation of respect and openness – everybody and all constructive input will be welcomed.

There’s no specific goal to have the whole network completed; there’s a huge number of assets and each one is unique, but I believe it’s reasonable to have many of our most prominent pages and sections converted in time for our 20th anniversary – October of next year, roughly. Beyond that, we’ll work section-by-section page-by-page to ensure KDE.org is as amazing as it can be.

Click here to go to the forum

New artwork coming in 5.4 & the tale of a troublesome wallpaper

For the past month I’ve been slightly more active than usual, and I’m excited for this release and some of the art I’ve managed to throw into the pipe;

Icons, Icons!

I would like to make a special mention that not all of these icons have been greenlit, and several of them are pending approval and may be dropped/require changes. Some were literally finished minutes ago while others have already been integrated into projects. \o/

image10430After “harmlessly” throwing in a couple monochrome icons from my personal projects, I found myself reading a few of the icon requests and one thing lead to another… Now I’ve pushed in somewhere around 25 new icons, mostly towards apps with the goal of filling in gaps of common applications. These new icons will hopefully bring a much more cohesive launcher menu, with more core and popular applications having Breezy icons.

Some of these may be shunted to an extended repo; 3rd parties get antsy when they see their logos get “breezified”, so “branded” icons need to occasionally be separated from the main repository to avoid troubles and takedown requests.

Lastly but not least; Uri and Andreas have been nothing short of awesome in helping me get these out, thanks guys!

The tale of an annoying, terrible, awful wallpaper, and How I Made it.

I’d like to say that I’m less a man and more a force of nature – one able to sweep my hand and make art bloom at will… But this would be a lie, and occasionally getting art out there makes the only force I can muster feel like a fart in the wind. The new wallpaper for 5.4 just did not want to be made, and took days on and off trying to figure out what to do. I nearly just suggested we ship a backup wallpaper I had on the sidelines.

Eventually ideas got figured out, and after an unstructured failure (again, making me look at “the backup”) I started taking screenshots while using a more structured approach. I imagine I wanted all reading this to feel my pain. Either that or laugh. One of the two. Either way, the new wallpaper was one of the more involved processes used for a Plasma 5 wallpaper, and here are the steps for how it came together;

(more…)

Fiber UI Experiments – Conclusion?

It’s been one heckuva road, but I think the dust is starting to settle on the UI design for Fiber, a new web browser which I’m developing for KDE. After some back-and fourth from previous revisions, there are some exciting new ideas in this iteration! Please note that this post is about design experiments – the development status of the browser is still very low-level and won’t reach the UI stage for some time. These experiments are being done now so I can better understand the structure of the browser as I program around a heavily extension-based UI, so when I do solidify the APIs it we have a rock-solid foundation.

Just as an aside before I get started; just about any time I mention “QML”, there is the possible chance that whatever is being driven could also alternatively use HTML. I’m looking into this, but make no guarantees.

As a recap to previous experiments, one of the biggest things that became very clear from feedback was that the address bar isn’t going away and I’m not going to hide it. I was a sad panda, but there are important things the address bar provides which I just couldn’t work around. Luckily, I found some ways to improve upon the existing address bar ideology via aggressive use of extensions, and slightly different usage compared to how contemporary browsers embed extensions into the input field – so lets take a look at the current designs;

tabsOnSide tabsOnBottom
By default, Fiber will have either “Tabs on Side” or “Tabs on Bottom”; this hasn’t been decided yet, but there will also have a “Tabs on Top” option (which I have decided will not be default for a few reasons). Gone is the search box as it was in previous attempts – replaced with a proper address bar which I’m calling “Multitool” – and here’s more about it why I’m a little excited;

Multitool

Fiber is going to be an extensions-based browser. Almost everything will be an extension, from basic navigational elements (back, forward), to the bookmarks system – and all will either disable-able or replaceable. This means every button, every option, every utility will be configurable. I’ve studied how other browsers embed extensions in the address bar, and none of them really integrate with it in a meaningful and clearly defined way. Multitool is instead getting a well-defined interface for extensions which make use of the bar;

Extensions which have searchable or traversable content will be candidates for extending into the Multitool, which includes URL entry, search, history, bookmarks, downloads, and other things. Since these are extensions with a well-defined API you will be able to ruthlessly configure what you want or don’t want to show up, and only the URL entry will be set in stone. Multitool extensions will have 3 modes which you can pick from: background, button, and separate.

Background extensions will simply provide additional results when typing into the address bar. By default, this will be the behaviours of things like current tabs, history, and shortcut-enabled search. Button extensions in mutitool will provide a clickable option which will take over the Multitool when clicked, offering a focused text input and an optional QML-based “home popout”. Lastly, “separateextensions will split the text input offering something similar to a separate text widget – only integrated into the address bar.

The modes and buttons will be easily configurable, and so you can choose to have extensions simply be active in the background, or you could turn on the buttons, or disable them entirely. Think of this as applying KRunner logic to a browser address bar, only with the additional ability to perform “focused searches”.bookmarkshome

Shown on the right side of the Multitool are the two extensions with dedicated buttons; bookmarks and search, which will be the default rollout. When you click on those embedded buttons they will take over the address bar and you may begin your search. These tools will also be able to specify an optional QML file for their “home” popout. For example the Bookmarks home popout could be a speed-dial UI, History could be a time-machine-esque scrollthrough. Seen above is a speed dial popout. With Bookmarks and Search being in button mode by default, just about everything else that performs local searches will be in “background mode”, except keyword-based searches which will be enabled – but will require configuration. Generally, the address portion of Multitool will NOT out-of-box beam what you type to a 3rd party, but the search extension will. I have not selected search providers.

We also get a two-for-one deal for fast filtering, since the user is already aware they have clicked on a text entry. Once you pick a selection from a focused search or cancel, the bar will snap back into address mode. If you hit “enter” while doing a focused search, it will simply open a tab with the results of that search.

Aside from buttons, all the protocol and security information relevant to the page (the highlighted areas on the left) will also be extension-driven. Ideally, this will let you highly customise what warnings you get, and will also let extensions tie any content-altering behaviour into proper warnings. For example, the ad-blocker may broadcast the number of zapped ads. When clicked the extensions will us QML-driven popouts.

Finally, the address itself (and any focused extension searches) will have extension-driven syntax highlighting. Right now I’m thinking of using a monospace font so we can drive things like bold fonts without offsetting text.

Tabs

Tab placement was a big deal to people; some loved the single-row approach, others wanted a more traditional layout. The solution to the commotion was the fact that there isn’t a single solution. Tabs will have previews and simple information (as seen in the previous round of designs), so by default tabs will be on the bottom or side so the previews don’t obstruct unnecessary amounts of UI.

tabsontop

Fiber will have 3 tabbing options; Tabs on top, tabs on bottom, and tabs on side. When tabs are “on side” it will reduce the UI to one toolbar and place the tabs on the same row as the Multitool, and should also trigger a “compressed” layout for Multitool as well.

There will be the usual “app tab” support of pinning tabs, but not shown here will be tab-extensions. Tab extensions will behave like either app tabs or traditional tabs, and will be QML-powered pages from extensions. These special tabs will also be home-screen or new-tab options, and that is, largely, their purpose; but clever developers may find a use in having extension-based pages.

Tabs can also embed simple toggle-buttons, as usual, powered by extensions. Main candidates for these will be mute buttons or reader-mode buttons. There won’t be much to these buttons, but they will be content-sensitive and extensions will be required to provide the logic for when these buttons should be shown. For example, “reader mode” won’t be shown on pages without articles, and “mute” won’t be shown on pages without sound.

Current Progress

The current focus in Fiber is Profiles, Manifest files, and startup. Profiles will be the same as Firefox profiles, where you can have separate profiles with separate configurations. When in an activities-enabled environment, Fiber Profiles will attempt to keep in sync with the current activity – otherwise they will fall back to having users open a profile tool.

The manifest files are a big deal, since they define how extensions will interact with the browser. Fiber manifest files were origionally based on a slimmed down Chrome manifest with more “Qt-ish” syntax (like CamelCase); but with the more extensive extension plans and placement options there’s more going on with interaction points. There’s a decent manifest class, and it provides a reliable interface to read from, including things like providing missing defaults and offering some debugging info which will be used in Fibers extension development tools.I’m using DBus for Fiber to check a few things on startup; Fiber will be a “kind of” single-instance application, but individual profiles will be separate processes. DBus is being used to speak with running instances to figure out what it should do. The idea behind this setup is to keep instances on separate activities from spiking eachother, but to still allow the easier communication between windows of a single instance – this should help things like tab dragging between windows immensely. It also gives the benefit that you could run “unstable” extensions in a separate instance, which will be good for development purposes.I wish I could say development is going quickly, but right now my time is a bit crunched; either way things are going smoothly, and I’d rather be slow and steady than fast and sloppy.Development builds will be released in the future (still a long ways away) which I’ll be calling “Copper” builds. Copper builds will mostly be a rough and dirty way for me to test UI, and will not be stable or robust browsers. Mostly, it’ll be for the purpose of identifying annoying UI patterns and nipping them before they get written into extensions.

Be just as suspicious of your news providers as you are about your software providers

As a human who occasionally gets a giggle out of some news articles, I riff on Phoronix sometimes for the ‘sensationalist’ journalism on my G+ feed. While the news site can occasionally get excited for mundane developments, one important detail is that Phoronix doesn’t intentionally misrepresent issues. I may riff on Phoronix, but I genuinely trust their news as the baseline for reliable information, and if Larabel notices an inconsistency he’s quick to update his articles.

I can’t say the same for Rick Falkvinge and his “Privacy News Online” website.

I got linked to an article from OSNews and was absolutely disgusted by the amount of distortion in the article, which goes beyond sensationalism and straight into damaging and slanderous territory. I may titter at Phoronix once in a blue moon, but “PNO” actively made me sick.

So, what’s the article about?

Google provides a service binary for its “O.K. Google” voice search functionality, this package is downloaded by Chrome as a post-installation package. Open-source Chromium builds download the module the same manner. The function of the voice search module is to listen for a key phrase and transmit voice snippets to Google for interpretation, ultimately so the user may use a reliable voice-search mechanism. Despite being downloaded voice search is not activated by default.

The Pirate Party founder behind the article took offence that an open-source Chromium browser will download the binary blob which provides the service, and I imagine mouth-still-frothing decided the only way to solve this problem was to slam the Googley browsers through a litany of litigation-worthy libel.

Paraphrased, or rewritten? Rewritten.

The most egregious part of the article is a portion which “obviously paraphrases” a Google rep, and it offends me as a thinking person. The paraphrased content makes Google out like a villain ready to tie people to train tracks, wilfully rewriting the statements from a bug report to make it as draconian as possible.

The paraphrased content is a copy->paste away from landing in the article as-is, and when you read the original texts it’s all quite reasonable – my paraphrasing of it goes;

There’s a binary voice-search module which will be downloaded, but it’s not enabled by default, and you can specifically tell Chromium not to download it. We think voice is pretty important, so we give it to you by default and treat it as part of the core browser, but you need to enable it yourself for privacy reasons.

But the “paraphrased” cartoon-villain version of the same text from “Privacy News Online” would make the NSA blush. Below is snippets copied-and-pasted from the article, cropped for brevity. Though I added exclamation marks because I feel it’s more appropriate punctuation for the ridiculousness;

Yes! We’re downloading and installing a wiretapping black-box to your computer! We did take advantage of our position as trusted upstream to stealth-insert code into open-source software that installed this black box onto millions of computers! Yes, Chromium is bypassing the entire source code auditing process by downloading a pre-built black box onto people’s computers. But that’s not something we care about, really! Yes, we deliberately hid this listening module from the users! We don’t want to show all modules that we install ourselves!
MUAHAHAHA!

(I also added the “Muahahaha”, sorry. It’s too ridiculous)

We must defend ourselves against features!

The article goes on to say that, because companies force these terrible optional binary features on us, that we need to start getting all kinds of tin-foil-hat crazy with our electronics.

Fun fact: I used to work in a call-centre troubleshooting mobile phones. My favourite call ever was from an individual who wrapped is battery in tin-foil so “the government couldn’t listen”

His first point is that people will “downplay the alarm”; Oh, you bet. He questions how it knows ‘OK Google” was spoken, implying that everything you say is always transmitted. There’s two problems with this point; he skipped the part where you need to enable it, and simple math dictates that even the great Google can’t beam millions of simultaneous voice-streams to their servers perpetually.

His next point is that it is a big deal for the same reasons as point #1; that Google is slurping up physically impossible amounts of bandwidth listening to millions of people across the world. He adds that maybe there’s keywords embedded in the software which Google is listening for, so every time you mention artichoke, broccoli, cauliflower, or dates Google will secretly log your love of vegetables or hot singles looking for a night out. One of the two.

Then he questions why it’s “opt-out”. Protip: when something isn’t enabled by default, it’s opt-in. But I get it! He wants all binary things in Chromium to be opt-in, not wanting binary components near his open-source sauce; but that’s a build issue, and if someone is building Chromium it puts that person in an entirely different league than someone who just wants their browser to work.

Lastly, he says the inverse of the previous argument which I just said; he states it’s opt-in except for having the binary component, but then implies “we don’t really know that for sure! It could still be running! Google could be downloading different spyware!”. This argument annoys me because that’s not how computers work; you can have the most malicious executable on your hard-drive, but it’s inert until you run it. I could have “babyeater.o” sitting on my computer right now, but until I choose to run it, it’s nothing. His entire argument here hinges on the idea that “Google put a binary service onto my computer, and they could secretly run it on my computer!”; but they aren’t. Google isn’t stupid. If they tried that Google would stand to lose billions of dollars in an international class-action lawsuit. If they say it’s “opt-in” it’s going to be opt-in, and just because it isn’t obvious doesn’t mean it’s hidden. Chrome and Chromium have a multitude of features, and for obvious reasons Google isn’t going to add a 12-part setup wizard to Chromium so every user can make decisions about highly technical aspects of a web-browser.

Finally, the cherry on the top is the article advocating all computer peripherals should have physical on/off switches. But! Companies are EVIL! DANGEROUS! WILLING TO DO THINGS WHICH WOULD GET THEM SUED! What if these evil companies put out webcams and microphones which simply had dummy on/off switches? Clearly, hardware manufacturers are above snooping. At his level of paranoia, there’s a much easier solution than making the hardware industry include physical switches for everything: unplug the damn devices. I mean, it’s common knowledge that many computer systems are vulnerable to remote tapping – and they don’t even turn on the “recording” LED on webcams. If you’re going to be paranoid, at least be paranoid *all the way*.

Should you don the tinfoil headgear?

I advocate crazy people. Crazy people let us know we’re all still sane, and sometimes crazy people find out crazy things or point out issues which should have been crazy obvious. People like Richard Stallman who are clearly insane are necessary, because they pull the whole baseline in a focused direction. They’ll more readily call out things which are on the verge of becoming dangerous. I enjoy people who are constructively crazy. Richard Stallman brought us wonderful ideal open-source licences, putting his brand of crazy in the “awesome” end of the spectrum.

But then you get people like Rick Falkvinge. Rick is being crazy too, but he’s not being constructive. I don’t like Rick. His article could have been incredibly informative; he could have taught us how Chromium works, what it’s doing, why it’s doing it, and how to make an informed choice.

Freedom is fake if your choices are based on lies. Choices aren’t real when you’re not informed. Decisions aren’t your own when someone scares you into them. It’s manipulation.

When I read article like “Google Chrome Listening In To Your Room Shows The Importance Of Privacy Defense In Depth” I get angry because of how it portrays the issue; it’s doing a disservice to his readers because they will not have an informed choice. The article is manipulating its users into thinking voice search is an evil scheme by a faceless behemoth.

I like Google – but while I’m cautious about my Google intake – they still provide high quality services and set a reasonable expectation about how they use my data. What if a handicapped user read his article? Or a friend of a handicapped person? What if that person who could have benefited from voice search thought it was malicious spyware, instead of knowing what it was really all about? I may never use voice search, but I think it’s a very reasonable inclusion provided in a way that minimises hoops for interested users.

In the end, I guess this all goes to say that we also need to look into our news sources; Rick Falkvinge doesn’t seem to be making any effort to provide valuable information, instead preferring to force klaxxon onto readers based on pre-conceived notions. So when you open up an article, keep in mind that authors can be biased just as much as software can be dangerous.

Now that you’ve finished my article on it, please, ponder what I’ve said and question what biases I have. Do some research on the topic – Google it. Come to a clear understanding, and make a real choice.