This is the second in a series of five daily blog entries covering the various tracks in the Plasma Active initiative. This entry covers the Contour project, which you can read more about on Eva's blog as well as Marco's. I recommend reading those entries in addition to this one.
In The Beginning...
The Plasma team has been working on the idea of "activities", which allows you to topically group related widgets, windows, documents, etc. essentially since the initial Platform 4.0 release. It is a unique feature that no other production desktop offering provides and for people who use their laptop or desktop for more than one specific thing, they can be a very compelling feature.
Sebastian Kügler explained the idea of activities in detail to Eva Brucherseifer, who is the CEO of Basyskom. She also served as President of KDE e.V. for a number of years, so she is no stranger to KDE. Eva thought about it and began to realize the potential for this idea if applied to mobile devices. She envisioned an alternative to the application centric device paradigm: a context centric interface. Activities would be the doorway through which your mobile life would be presented, organized and interacted with. Thus was born Contour.
Here's a preview of the current status of the project (and note that these are not mockups, but functioning implementations):
Our First "Active App"
The decision was made to implement this activity-centric interface using Nepomuk for storage and retrieval of data and Plasma for interaction with the results. After some initial interface and technical design work, a basic implementation was crafted to see if the concepts that looked so tantalizing on paper would transition clearly to the small screen. Thankfully for all of us, they did.
It was only natural that when we got together to start the Plasma Active initiative, Contour would become the first of what we would come to refer to as "Active Apps". These are applications which fit the goals of Plasma Active developed by teams of like-minded individuals. I'll be talking more about Active Apps and what defines them tomorrow.
Contour's role in Plasma Active is simple: it provides a unique and innovative aspect to the user experience, and will be part of the default tablet reference system. For more detailed information on the "how"s and "why"s of the design, check out Eva's and Marco's blog entries linked to in the foreword as well as this wiki page outlining the Contour vision.
One thing you may notice about the Contour track in the Plasma Active milestone map is that there are a lot of "stops" along the line. In fact, there is essentially one milestone scheduled for every two weeks. A scrum style development methodology is being applied to the development of Contour and a new (pre-)release will be offered at the end of each two week cycle.
The developers have mapped out their feature and stability goals for each of these cycles. This detailed road map will be published and managed in the open as a means to guide the project through a brisk six months of development.
This is exciting for a few reasons. Not many KDE projects use such a development methodology so it's an interesting experiment to see how it meshes with our culture. If it works, we may see it spread to other projects as well.
This approach will also offer users and potential Plasma Active developers the opportunity to try out a new revision of the software every two weeks. No longer will you have to choose between building it from sources yourself or waiting months between final releases. To find out how we'll be making this process as easy as can be for you, be sure to check in on Thursday's blog entry about the operating system track.
For those who just want to watch rather than try it out first hand, the development team will be posting a progress update blog entry with each cycle.
If you think the idea of a fresh interface for touch based devices that takes full advantage of Nepomuk and Plasma is a great one and you'd like to track or contribute to the Contour project, here's what to do:
- Get a device that suits Contour (I'll be making some recommendations in Thursday's blog entry) and be sure to download the bi-weekly preview releases (a how-to will appear in Thursday's blog)
- Read the content on the wiki pages for Contour
- Subscribe to the Plasma Active mailing list
- Join us on irc in #active on irc.freenode.net
- Put your imagination goggles on and buckle up! It's going to be a wild ride..
Finally, a word of "Thanks!" to Eva for the insight, commitment and support; to Sebastian Trüg for the Nepomuk ninja flips, Marco for wielding Plasma like a magician and Fania for her design expertise. They are a great bunch to spend time with and such a breath of fresh, positive air when working alongside them on a project like Contour.