KDE Comes to a Commercial Laptop

Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Jan 27, 2017 GMT
Bruce Byfield

The newly announced KDE Slimbook is not free hardware. All the same, it is an important step in bringing Linux and related technologies to a commercial audience. Unlike last year's Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition, the KDE Slimbook is a high end machine, with a mature desktop environment – KDE Plasma – that should show off free software to full advantage. Recently, I talked with Aleix Pol, the Vice President of KDE e.V, the governing body for the popular desktop environment, about how the project came about.

According to Pol, the venture  began in Madrid in April 2016 at Akademy-es, a Spanish gathering for KDE. "one of the presenters, Pol recalls, was Alejandro López, the founder of Slimbook, who discussed the hardware he was selling. "Then Baltasar Ortega, the kdeblog.com editor, asked if it would be possible to have the device shipped with KDE Neon, as they do with many other GNU/Linux distributions already like OpenSuse, Kubuntu, or Fedora. We started discussing the idea with Alejandro and Baltasar, and we soon realized that it would be really cool to push the scope a bit further." However, "it wasn't until I started talking about the project  with Jen Reuterberg of the KDE Visual Group and Harald Sitter of KDE Neon that the project started to take shape; I didn't feel I could push it on my own. We have been working on it since Akademy 2016 in Berlin."

Pols regards the new laptop as a unique chance "to reach out to the user, to feel how we're responsible for the experience. I fear that in the Linux and Free Software world we tend to keep blaming each other for problems. This is an opportunity for KDE to see what we're delivering and that whenever there's something off, we will know we have to address it."

The KDE Slimbook is not the first attempt to bring KDE to a commercial machine. In 2012-14, attempts were made to produce the Vivaldi tablet, but ultimately failed over production problems. Neither Pols nor anyone else involved with the KDE Slimbook were involved directly with Vivaldi, but Pols points out that a major difference "is that this time we are relying on an organization, Slimbook, who has the infrastructure for getting the hardware from the vendors and getting it to people's hands. That's very good for us, because most of us know very little about that part of the business, but when it comes to software, we have much more experience. In this regard we complement Slimbook fairly well."

Pols continues,"What we're doing with the Slimbook, in fact, is very similar to the devices we're used to. I use a laptop daily and I've been for over 12 years at least, and I don't see myself living without one. Then again, I'm a good old hacker and I too think Thinkpads are pretty cool, which is not all that common I hear."

The project is a first for KDE -- and, while a number of different distributions have been pre-installed on computers, the KDE Slimbook may well be the first commercial machine to emphasize the KDE desktop environment. Almost always in the past, manufacturers have opted for GNOME, or, with Ubuntu pre-installs, Unity by default. "None," Pols comments, "have approached KDE and said, 'Let's do something together. It's all been third parties doing their own thing, for good reasons, but we never had our chance. And we feel like we deserve one."

Asked what he hopes will emerge from the project, Pols says:

"For me the most important part of the project is that if somebody tells me what they need to use, if they want to use the software we make, instead of telling them: 'hey, yes, you buy one of these nice laptops, you scratch everything they have and install a linux distribution with Plasma in it,' I get to tell them: "you can go to kde.slimbook.es and see if you like this, they have it with other distributions too if you don't like Neon". Simple and clear.

Now I would be thrilled to see people picking up and having hundreds of them shipped, and I really don't see a reason why it shouldn't be like that, it's good hardware and I'm not really impartial about the software.

Either way, none of the work we have done for the Slimbook will be in vain. Most of the promotion material we have worked on is for Plasma, and it has helped a lot the ones we're on the project to understand what we want and how to talk to the outside. For Slimbook it's more extra devices they are going to sell and a good story to tell the customers."

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