Outta the way, KDE4

A comic panel from Mary Worth showing the Central Park Shover
The Central Park shover gives a bad example.
KDE4 has been rudely moved aside on FreeBSD. It still installs (use x11/kde4) and should update without a problem, but this is another step towards adding modern KDE (Plasma 5 and Applications) to the official FreeBSD Ports tree.

This has taken a long time mostly for administrative reasons, getting all the bits lined up so that people sticking with KDE4 (which, right now, would be everyone using KDE from official ports and packages on FreeBSD) don’t end up with a broken desktop. We don’t want that. But now that everything Qt4 and kdelibs4-based has been moved aside by suffixing it with -kde4, we have the unsuffixed names free to indicate the latest-and-greatest from upstream.

KDE4 users will see a lot of packages moving around and being renamed, but no functional changes. Curiously, the KDE4 desktop depends on Qt5 and KDE Frameworks 5 — and it has for quite some time already, because the Oxygen icons are shared with KDE Frameworks, but primarily because FileLight was updated to the modern KDE Applications version some time ago (the KDE4 version had some serious bugs, although I can not remember what they were). Now that the names are cleaned up, we could consider giving KDE4 users the buggy version back.

From here on, we’ve got the following things lined up:

  • Qt 5.10 is being worked on, except for WebEngine (it would slow down an update way too much), because Plasma is going to want Qt 5.10 soon.
  • CMake 3.11 is in the -rc stage, so that is being lined up.
  • The kde5-import branch in KDE-FreeBSD’s copy of the FreeBSD ports tree (e.g. Area51) is being prepped and polished for a few big SVN commits that will add all the new bits.

So we’ve been saying Real Soon Now ™ for years, but things are Realer Sooner Nower ™ now.

(The image is from Mary Worth, november 19th 2013, via Mary Worth and Me; this character is known as the Central Park Shover, and he, um .. shoves people out of the way. The Shover does not manage to steal her purse.)

Event Notes

From a KDE event somewhere in 2017 I found this note in the KDE-booth-crate that I keep at home:

1. thin, sour, 4/10 2. slap in the face, gummi bears, fotlcs 5/10 3. citrussy note 6/10 4. aardberg, smokey x3 8/10 5. nothing happens, competent

I can reconstruct that this particular event had some whiskey, but except for the Ardberg I would have no idea what any of them were. There are no alcoholic notes from FOSDEM, except that we ordered a beer because it was described as “trés désalterante” and we decided after tasting that that was French for “pretty gross”. It certainly quenched our thirst for more.

But if you’re thirsting for more KDE events, there’s the list of KDE Sprints which is where you will find the small, focused, fairly short events for hacking on a well-defined project. Some are open for visitors, and if there’s something you want to hack on with a group of KDE contributors, get organising! (Like, seriously, getting a hacking weekend together is just a few phone calls to reserve a rental house somewhere nice and to arrange for transportation — if you can get the people together, which is usually the biggest problem).

And of course there’s Akademy 2018 in Vienna — I suppose tasting notes will be of terrible coffee and that horrible Mozart liqueur — which is the two-litre stein of KDE interaction each year. The call for presentations is open, so you can pour your wisdom, wit, or vinegar on the audience this summer.

A Day on Krypton

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a shiny stable-yet-bleeding-edge KDE Plasma distro!

Since Calamares has to run all over the place, and is used in derivatives of all of the “Big Five” Linux distributions, I regularly switch distro’s as a development platform. Also because I inevitably blow up the VM while running Calamares, or because an update renders the system useless. At FOSDEM I had the pleasure of chatting with the folks from the SUSE stand about OpenQA and OBS.

(Note, when I originally wrote this I was going to just fiddle around a bit and then return to my Manjaro dev VM; instead it’s turned into a week and Krypton is likely to stay lodged on my VMs and spare machines for the foreseeable future.)

Last week I spent the day with openSUSE Krypton, which is a almost-bleeding-edge KDE Plasma desktop (today’s version has Plasma 5.11.5) on top of openSUSE’s rolling-release, Tumbleweed. Most of my Linux systems (e.g. the kids gaming boxes) run openSUSE of some sort, as did all my work systems at my previous job, but I have not yet used it as a development platform for Calamares. Here’s some usage notes.

Day 1 First day with a distro is usually roughly the same: install it, copy some stuff over, install tools, checkout and build Calamares. With Krypton, it’s no different.

  1. Installation looks a little wonky here and there. The installer could use a careful go-over by a designer to smooth out lines, reduce drawing glitches, etc. It may have been an artifact of installing in an 800×600 VirtualBox window, but it didn’t seem very polished, even if the installer procedure was.
  2. Install basic development tools: zypper in git cmake make gcc gcc-c++. Huh, kdevelop is already installed, that’s a good sign (except it seems like it’s broken, and can’t find the plugin KDevWelcomePage, but see below). Shame Linux systems are otherwise so poorly prepared for being development systems.
  3. Run deploycala.py on the installed system (there’s big fat warnings saying never to do that, but I’m the developer and this is a fresh VM, so nyah nyah). Fall over backwards when it turns out that apt-get exists on this system (and invokes zypper via aptitude) so that the deploy script thinks it’s on Debian and is going to do all of the wrong things. Debug the script. Figure out dependency names (e.g. it’s gcc-c++ on openSUSE, g++ on Debian and just gcc on Arch).
  4. Find there’s no PythonQt packaged; while this is a strictly optional dependency, I would like to find a distro that actually ships something usable for PythonQt (seems Arch does, and KaOS).
  5. Build Calamares.
  6. Profit!

So where does that last, profit, step come in? Well, openSUSE has Secure Boot support, while distro’s using Calamares generally don’t — for the simple reason that Calamares doesn’t support it yet. So I’ll be peeking at what, and how, openSUSE does it and massaging that into Calamares.

Day 2 Ran an update, hoping that KDevelop would be fixed by now. That’s a nice thing about rolling- and bleeding-edge distro’s, stuff gets fixed and/or broken on a daily basis. With Krypton, the underlying rolling base is touted as stable while the KDE bits are bleeding-edge. It wasn’t, but a quick question in the right IRC channel (#opensuse-kde for Krypton) got me sorted and a fix scheduled for the next build. Well done, Kryptonites.

Spent the day hacking on Calamares, mostly fiddling with other bits-and-pieces rather than doing what I intended to do, which was examine secure boot.

Day 3 Still stable. Today’s bleeding-edge update is 112MB, as KDE Plasma is updated to 5.12. I decide to do some ARM development today as well. This is obviously not ideal, since I’m then cross-compiling to aarch64 in a Linux VM running on FreeBSD, but hey. After installing cross-aarch64-gcc7 and adjusting some build instructions that assume Debian naming (e.g. CROSS_COMPILE=aarch64-suse-linux- instead of CROSS_COMPILE=aarch64-linux-gnu-), spent a thoroughly frustrating morning building U-Boot and watching it panic. That’s the downside to using very new hardware which isn’t supported by anything yet except the OEM’s binary-blob package.

Day 4 (after the weekend) A total of 733 package updates today, 810MB to download. They’re not kidding about bleeding-edge and up-to-date. In the meantime I’ve learned that my deploycala script could be much simplified by using the package-manager. Since Calamares is packaged for openSUSE, I could have done zypper mr --enable repo-source ; zypper source-install -d calamares to get the build dependencies for it.

Anyway, after a week I’ve I have not yet broken the system, it’s fast and up-to-date. I’ll be keeping this one around. (And if I was looking for something between Krypton and Leap, I’d probably go for GeckoLinux, which uses Calamares — a bit of dogfooding, as it were).

Plasma 5.12 on FreeBSD

“Of course it runs FreeBSD, too” is something I said a lot in the past week (regarding the Pine64, mostly, but also about my Slimbook). I also said “Of course it runs on FreeBSD, too” a lot. Naturally area51, the unofficial KDE-FreeBSD ports tree, contains the latest in released KDE software. Plasma 5.12 and KDE Frameworks 5.42, with Qt 5.9.4. We just bumped Qt to pick up a patch from KDE’s Eike Hein to fix some weird hover behavior. So we’re all up-to-date on the KDE front, and I’ve been running it as my main desktop since the build finished in poudriere.

On the official ports front, Qt 5.9.4 and KDE Frameworks 5.42 are what we’ve got. There’s a big move coming up of KDE4 ports, which is to make room (in a sense) for KDE Applications and the Plasma Desktop ports. If you’re using KDE4 from ports, then expect package bumps and renames over the weekend (no functional change, just a lot of ports will get a -kde4 name to distinguish them from the currently-maintained, up-to-date un-suffixed ports which will land afterwards.

Who, wha, FOSDEM?

Last week, Roman wrote about going to FOSDEM. Huh, so did I. And then, in a flash and a whirlwind, 8000 Free Software supporters descend on Brussels and leave again. After picking up the pieces and catching up on some sleep, here are my post-event impressions:

Photo of laptops
KDE Slimbook, Konqui Pinebook
The cutest thing I brought back from FOSDEM is probably this Konqui Pinebook. The Pinebook is a low-cost ARM-based laptop, which runs KDE Plasma from an SD card I brought along. But a pure-white, totally blank laptop just cries out for some decoration! Timothée Giet was kind enough to use the permanent markers I’d brought for the booth, to create a one-of-a-kind Konqui Pinebook.

Underneath the Konqui Pinebook is my KDE Slimbook. Someone was handing out Nopetopus stickers; I wish I had gotten more. My Slimbook is starting to look a little beat-up — which is good, from a Hitch-Hikers-Guide-to-the-Galaxy point of view, since it’s been baked under the suns of Kakrafoon^WAlmeria, shivered in the snows of Allosymanius Syneca^W^WBrussels. At the KDE booth we were also could show a second-generation machine: the KDE Slimbook II (in Spanish, their English site doesn’t mention it yet). A faster, brighter version of the Free-Software friendly laptop with Linux and KDE Plasma pre-installed. This generation is a little more angled / chunky than the previous generation. It might get fewer “why do you guys have Macbooks .. oh, hey” comments. So an aluminum but not-quite-clamshell look might be more distinctive.

Photo of booth
Early morning booth setup
Early in the morning (as in, 8am on a Sunday) while setting up the KDE stand, things are calm. We had time to set out the ARM64 machines and FHD screen for the live Plasma demo on low-power hardware. Jos ran his Rust-Qt clock as well; full-screen it was rather laggy, but windowed it ran nicely while we experiemented with Firefox and KDevelop. Lots of people were mystified by the Sun type 5 keyboard, but by golly, that’s where Ctrl belongs (next to the A). Speaking of keyboards, we got some heated comments, even from people looking for tall enter keys.

As always in building K, we were next to the GNOME stand, with whom we did a little trading game: they used our power bricks, we used their scissors. Big thanks to the guy in the purple GNOME jumper who helped me sort out firmware for the wireless dongle attached to the Pine64 board.

Building K ground floor has some venerable Free Software projects, the giant Free Software Foundation Europe stand, Operating Systems (the big three, Debian, Fedora, openSUSE, plus Gentoo, FreeBSD and Illumos) and also has a filesystems corner. I’ve since learned of the existence of LizardFS and MooseFS .. oh my.

Photo of booth
Booth hidden behind people
Once people start showing up, then the KDE booth is well-hidden. Here’s Neófytos smiling through the crowds. We’re not allowed to stick stuff to the windows behind the booth, so it can be hard to tell that there’s a booth there. Something to solve next year.

We had people coming up to the booth with comments like “I love KDE! And activities, those are soooo useful”, as well as “I love KDE! But I don’t understand activities”. Also “yeah, but I use xfce”. There’s room for all kinds of choices — I don’t use activities myself, but for some kinds of workflow they’re really nice.

Speaking of activities, we had the pleasure of showing a painting activity. That’s part of KDE’s application story, and a few artists stopped by to show off Krita in particular.

Photo of artist at work
Using Krita to draw Kiki
Here we see Wolthera hard at work at her tablet. She’s not using either of the Slimbooks, but her own laptop hidden behind the table. The monitor is hooked up to the laptop, so it was a live painting demo. I wish my camera’s autofocus worked better to do this justice.

In the early morning, it was charcoal sketching, which before lunch turned into full-color Konqui and Kiki as Paladins battling the forces of Evil. In this shot, Kiki is being lightly colored in (I’m a kolourpaint guy, I don’t know what this stuff is called — if it’s not flood fill, it’s too complicated). Because Wolthera was hidden behind the monitor, some people thought it was a recorded screencast, not a live demo. In the foreground on the booth table, you can see a few adorable knitted Konqui plushes, which come from la Fabrica de Miritich. I’m happy to report that all of the Konquis were adopted by FOSDEM attendees (including one attendee who was wielding a big rubber T-Rex — I was told it was a friendly Rex and of course Konqui is a dragon and can hold their own).

So, until next year in Brussels (or sooner, at Akademy or elsewhere).

Virtual Machines with ZFS Volumes

My main workstation runs FreeBSD; my work on Calamares is all Linux, so I use a lot of virtual machines and do a lot of disk-swapping. My tool of choice is VirtualBox, which is really darn useful for running complete desktop environments.

But I’ve just added a new item to my toolbox. It’s called vzvol.

A very recent addition to the official ports collection, vzvol is a script that helps with, and automates, creating ZFS volumes. I saw the commit adding vzvol to the ports tree, and immediately thought “hey, that’s really nifty.” And it ticks an awful lot of boxes for me in my regular workflow.

A ZFS volume is just a reservation in a zpool (which is a storage pool, composed of one or more disks; zpools have their own administration layer) which is treated as a block device by the host OS. It’s like an image file — except it’s not a file, and the blocks in the reserved space are addressable just like any other block device. For a volume called kde-neon-dev in the pool zdata, the corresponding block device is /dev/zvol/zdata/kde-neon, and you can treat it like any other disk. For instance, you can dd(1) zeroes into it, and then run fdisk(8), or gpart(8), and experiment with disk utilities.

That’s quite different from disk images as files, where you need to loopback-mount or memory-disk-wrangle them; worse still are disk images created by VirtualBox, which are hard to manipulate from the host side with regular tools.

VirtualBox can use “write-through” devices, though — it’s a bit fiddly, but you can create a VMDK that points to a block device. Any block device, including ZFS volumes! All of a sudden, the disk blocks used by my VM are also easily manipulable from the host OS. For my day-to-day disk-wrangling, this makes a huge difference.

vzvol makes manipulating and maintaining these ZFS volumes a snap, and it’s saved me tons of time in just the past two weeks. Hey, let’s try the latest Manjaro:

vzvol -s 20G -t virtualbox -p zdata -v manjaro-test

after the test, vzvol --delete cleans it up. (And vzvol runs on Linux, too, if you have ZFS there).

Events: Akademy 2018

Not nearly as close as FOSDEM, but still coming up on the KDE Community calendar: Akademy 2018. It’s in Vienna. I vaguely remember visiting Vienna once, long ago — possibly an FSFE function. So it’s high time to head out that way again to visit the local KDE team and to see what 2017-2018 has brought (and will bring) the KDE community.

Of course, to hear from the community, the community needs to speak! The call for participation is open, so send something in to the programme committee. Check out the list of potential topics — a lot of stuff can fit.

Personally, I’d like to give a talk on Calamares — which isn’t a KDE project, but which is used by various distro’s that ship KDE versions (e.g. Manjaro, Netrunner, KDE Neon dev, KaOS, Kannolo). Not really sure which parts of Calamares to present, but something will fit. And as a packager, I’d really like to see a panel-ish thing with OpenSUSE, KDE Neon, FreeBSD and other distro’s on stage talking about the KDE packaging process in the traditional sense. After that, Flatpak can take over 🙂

But for everyone in the KDE community: what have you done, what are you doing, and where are you going? Share it with us and with the world at Akademy 2018.

Events: FOSDEM 2018

The annual FOSDEM event is really close now. It’s a kind of geek valhalla, with carousing and quaffing and a whole lot of technology things. There’s a KDE stand where you can see some of the latest KDE bits and pieces, including Plasma 5 running on low-power hardware. 2GB ought to be enough for everyone, right? We might have a phone available running the existing Plasma Mobile code, since hardware continues to be tricky to come by (Nexus5X is fine).

Come by and chat about Plasma, Kirigami, artwork, Krita, databases, graphics on low-power ARM devices, KDE on FreeBSD, Konversation, Discover (Nate Graham gives really good overviews of what’s happening), translation and more. See you soon!

Debugging Tools

Today I had to repair my most important debugging tool. Here’s the result:

That’s three strands (red, white, black) from a USB-to-serial converter, soldered on to a 3-pole screw-tightened connector. Clamped into that are the serial lines (red, green and blue) which were originally crimped straight to the lines. After a few months of use, the crimping failed and the red cable (RX) broke off.

So I had to fix it, and in the process decided to make it more sturdy, more ugly, but also easier to use.

The three grey wires clamped into the connector are part of a 10-pin flat cable which I scavenged out of a 9-pin serial connector I had left in the box-of-old-parts.

The flatcable, and especially the 10-pin connector at the end, is nice and sturdy for connecting to the headers on single-board-computers, like here:

That’s why I need a serial cable for debugging. The frontmost board is a Pine64+. It runs FreeBSD and Linux; in Linux it will drive a full Plasma 5 desktop at FHD and acceptable responsiveness; FreeBSD is limited to serial console and ssh access. I use this board to test aarch64 support in FreeBSD and to test our KDE-FreeBSD packages on yet-more-unusual platforms. This turns up occasional issues in KDE code.

(The other two boards are a switch I had left over, and there’s an Odroid C2 at the back; together they form my little ARM rack, along with two planks they’re screwed on to and a power supply. Did you know the Palm m500 used the same size barrel jack for power as the Odroid C2? Yet another reason to keep old parts lying around.)

A Fistful of Ports Updates

Here’s a list of KDE-related stuff (mostly official FreeBSD ports) the KDE-FreeBSD team handled recently. You could call it “a week in the life of some packagers”, packagers who are also otherwise busy with $work-work.

  • Updated otter-browser (a Qt webengine-based browser) to latest version 0.9.94
  • Added a GTK QPA
  • Updated latte-dock to latest released version 0.7.3
  • Clang6 fixes to older KDE and Qt software (out favorite #define nullptr NULL)
  • Reworked packaging of Qt 5.9 to fix a broken (generated) qconfig.h

And in area51, the unofficial ports tree where we do preparatory work (use the branch kde5-import, which supercedes the plasma5 branch; this one contains the current plan for adding Plasma5 to the ports tree and updating all the KDE Applications), we’ve also got:

  • Updated digikam to 5.8
  • Updated KDE Frameworks to 5.42 (this is waiting on an exp-run to move to official ports)
  • Improved powerdevil backend, thanks to Henry Hu
  • Added plasma5-browser-integration
  • Support Qt4 on aarch64, thanks to Fedora

As usual: you can run a full modern KDE desktop system with Plasma 5 and KDE Applications, from the area51 repository, from the kde5-import branch; official ports have the latest Qt and KDE Frameworks, but not the desktop.