Tea. It was Cranberry-Sanguinello Orange tea.

The British, for all their reputation for being a nation of tea-lovers, do produce some truly awful beverages under that moniker. Although I must admit that I’d sent Paul away for an order of “raging hippy tea” which is somewhat under-specified. Plain hippy tea, of course, is just camomile or nettle. For good food in England you need to turn to the cheese – Ribblesdale goat cheese FTW.

Linux Live Expo London was a mixed bag. The food stands did good business serving raging hippy tea and bleak sandwiches. The dot org pavilion was mostly full; GNOME got a stand when the Open Rights Group pulled out at the last moment due to illness. Debian had the biggest selection of T-shirts and Drupal had the most gimmicks to attract visitors. It’s kind of odd being at a Free Software fair co-located with a Mac and “creatives” fair. The other side of the fence had a wide selection of amazingly expensive gadgets on display. We didn’t try out KDE4 on the 62” monitor – perhaps we should have. There were several photo-shoots a day which combined camera, video processing and post-production correction technologies. So the other side of the fence had models wrapped in bunting writhing for the cameras while the 24 TB disk arrays hummed away. It seemed like a weird juxtaposition, but maybe I just need to get out more.

After the show closed we went out for drinks with the GNOMEs, which was crowded and noisy and a lot of fun. Adan (?) asked a few pointed questions, excusing himself that he didn’t want to be argumentative or to re-hash issues that had already been blogged to death. “Why isn’t Phonon just a thin wrapper around GStreamer?” That’s a good question, and those of us there at the table couldn’t come up with a really good reason to explain the added complexity of the pluggable backends. Yes, API stability, release schedule independence, coding style, 80/20 functional division .. but we couldn’t name a platform M where GStreamer on M wasn’t a suitable (tested only at the in-a-pub-thought-experiment level) backend for Phonon. Follow that up with “What’s this semantic desktop all about?” and the evening is full and the pint glasses are empty. Good stuff.

The show itself was slow. I didn’t keep any tallies for the days, but I’d guess we had 10-20 visitors a day, each day. Here a visitor is defined as “someone stopped at the stand and started a conversation about KDE4”. We didn’t go rushing into the aisles to grab people to look at our wares. The other Free Software projects that were there behaved similarly and had similar visiting rates. The upside of this was that the people that did stop by had our full attention. So we could talk at length about how air-traffic control systems work and what the interesting technical challenges are in that field. Could thin-clients work there? How does fiber optics work? How is PIM development today? We had only one or two of the rather discouraging “KDE4 sucks and I’ll never use it” entries; I’ve now realized that “KDE4 sucks and I’ll never use it because …” type comments are far, far more useful (even if still a bit discouraging) since the because part is usually an obscure niche issue that nobody cares [*] about. And in spite of nobody caring about it, we can usually find out how it works in KDE4, and we sent a few people off more satisfied than before because we could point to the KDE4 solution to an ingrained KDE3-to-KDE4-transition problem.

One fellow stopped by with questions to me about Chinese language entry (not exactly a niche problem) .. umm, that’s not a problem I can talk about in any meaningful way, but fortunately George G. was at the stand as well and he does know about Chinese entry. So the two of them slouched into a corner for an hour and a half to hack at it; the results were pretty good, although the issue wasn’t fully resolved.

We didn’t have network available to fiddle around with the weather plasmoid, which was another reason for not using KDE4 ever until it was available.

The point here is that it seems like some people are hung up on tiny details of polishing the KDE4 experience; that’s something that is difficult to express electronically and is much easier dealt with “live”. You can sit down together and show what the problem is and what the solutions are. That is a great value of a fair like this, where you can meet folk in person. [*] I write “nobody cares” because I think it’s common to respond to grumbling about minutiae with indifference – while the importance of those minutiae can be made clear much better face-to-face.

So in spite of the slow show and the few visitors to the KDE stand, it was useful and productive. Showing off the way KDE works and the way we can respond is a good thing; the visit was worth it. I also ported and packages Marble for Solaris, as a means of showing someone-working-on-a-KDE4-desktop.