I used to have a silk dress shirt. It was a rich blue color, a bit loose fitting and just great for the hot and humid semi-tropical climate of Hawaii where I was living at the time. That isn't the kind of silk this blog entry is about, however. Rather it's going to be about KDE Silk which is a project which aims to deeply integrate online content and communication into the user experience.
To quote the KDE Silk wiki page: "The goal of Project Silk is deep coupling of the web with the user experience while overcoming limitations of the browser. "Freeing the Web From the Browser", so to say. Project Silk takes the opposite direction of Google's Chrome OS, instead of making the browser the Operating System, we integrate the content and the communication deeply into the desktop and application "
I don't think we will, or even should try to, ultimately get rid of the web browser and online services can be insanely terrific for many different kinds of needs. What's unfortunate is that the online services world has (to speak in slightly broad generalities) artificially restricted itself to a world where the web browser is the only container while on the other hand non-web-browser software has traditionally watched the online services train come down the tracks with that deer-in-the-headlights look.
Nobody is winning from these non-strategies. I call them "non-strategies" because they aren't the result of someone(s) really sitting down and saying, "You know what, I think that's the best possible set of answers, all things considered." They are the result of people attacking the problem from the assumption that we only have what's directly in front of us to work from. There is very little "step outside the box" thinking and so instead we get people writing excessive amounts of code to get native assembler to run in a web browser window. Seriously?
When it comes to KDE specifically, we can do better and, in fact, we already do in some cases. Things like the KIPI Plugins used in Digikam, Gwenview, KPhotoAlbum and elsewhere that have integration with online services, Amarok's pervasive online service integration or Marble's usage of OpenStreetMap and Wikipedia are good examples. These certainly aren't going to improve the web development world's obsession with the web browser, but they will give people who use KDE software improved ways of working with the great services created by the web development world. At the very least, it will keep our software from becoming needlessly irrelevant just because web services take off. At best, it may provide a template for others to consider. Somewhere in between we manage to bring smiles to the faces of our users.
In my opinion, KDE software needs to take advantage of the rising tide of features and capabilities available through online services (where applicable, anyways) to remain interesting and relevant in the long term. We need to consider that software is becoming increasingly social in usage for people and that things like pervasive availability of data and collaboration with others are becoming things computer users are starting to take for granted as "must have features". We also have a responsibility to the world at large to not aid in the creation of a situation where the only online services that are viable and interesting are vendor lock in traps; the Free web needs allies and it is hard to imagine a better candidate for such an ally than Free software communities like KDE.
I've actually written about all of the above in previous blog entries in the past, but I believe now that with Silk, the ever-growing trend of online services and the tools that have become available to us in the last year or so that 2010 may well be an inflection point for KDE and online service integration.
(This article is part of the "Key Quests for KDE in 2010" series)