This post is part of a series about the KDE Manifesto
So the cat is finally out of the bag... The KDE Manifesto has been officially announced. It probably came as a surprise to some of you, and since I got a unique perspective in its birth I thought it'd would be a good idea to blog about it to give some background information.
So why this unexpected party and the sudden release of this document? Well, like most unexpected events, it is the realization of an unnoticed process set in motion a long while ago. I think I would have a hard time to pin point exactly when the need to have such a document appeared in the subconscious of the community... My opinion is that it should probably have been done a few of years ago. I'm sure of one thing though, it became necessary because our community evolved in a way that its creators didn't expect.
Now, let's jump back to October 14th 1996, a student named Matthias Ettrich sent an email announcing a new project. If we examine this announcement today, what is immediately obvious? Let's see... It was an energic call to arms. It was very developer centric. It laid down some of the main technical choices. It was limited in scope by providing a list of the components a desktop needs. Also, at the same time it pointed out that more than what was listed might be needed, claiming it's a very open project.
After this announcement, people started to join and to happily work on KDE. They clearly delivered, release after release, KDE was getting bigger and better. Nobody really thought about the community which formed, it was all about the technical artifacts (which is totally fine, I'm not judging). This trend continued for years, pushing KDE (the desktop) toward its popular success, while the community making KDE was growing.
It's time to fast track to the year 2006! The community behind KDE is busier than ever (the first KDE 4.0 alpha will be released the following year), and all this activity shows how big and complex this community became. Teams formed, not every team progressed at the same speed or had the exact same vision of the whole. Clearly something happened in our community which changed it.
That same year we had Akademy in Dublin, probably one of my favorite Akademies. And remembering that particular edition two things struck me:
The first one is Aaron Seigo's keynote which was subtitled "The Quest for Project Identity and Definition"... Interesting, in retrospect, isn't it? But lots of people probably attended it, I won't spend more time on it, you probably got the idea from the title.
The second one got probably unnoticed to most. It is one of those tiny details which are really precious because the event passes quickly... and somehow I remember it vividly, it touched something in me and stayed in my memory. During that Akademy, Matthias Welwarsky was chairing the community track of the conference. During one of the introductions, and probably in reaction of the keynote mentionned above, he said that to him "KDE is not a project anymore, because a project has an end, it has become an on-going process".
And here it is... I think that in one sentence, Matthias Welwarsky has put the biggest change which happened to KDE in plain sight. The event which was unforseen by the creators of our community, at some point between 1996 and 2006, KDE became an "on-going process". And that's right, if you look at the original announcement of KDE, all of the goals set there were reached in 2006...
KDE was still operating, but in the unknown, what is this "on-going process" trying to solve? Nobody could provide an answer to that question anymore. Somehow we created something self-sustaining which was delivering more and more software.
It took a few more years before someone really tried to visit what was going on and to characterize what KDE meant... At that point it was clear it wasn't simply about KDE the desktop anymore, the community was doing much more than that. That's why in 2009, our marketing team took the lead and announced the repositioning of the KDE brand. KDE wasn't a product brand anymore, so not a single KDE the desktop anymore, but it was a vendor brand. It meant that from now on KDE the community was producing (among other things) a desktop. The new word on the street was "KDE released KDE Platform 4.5", "KDE released Kontact 4.7" and so on... Quite a change of perspective!
I know some people didn't really like the marketing team taking the lead on that... I don't have a strong opinion about the exact content of the repositioning, but it clearly was the tip of the iceberg of the mutation of KDE. It had the merit of making it explicit at last!
At the same time, despite such a brand repositioning being welcome, it was not enough to address the changes in our community. It emerged because we kept going after reaching the goals set in 1996. It emerged because we were creating more and more diverse products: development platforms, workspaces, desktop applications, mobile applications, even server applications (Kolab was born in our ranks, ownCloud would appear in 2010). But, it didn't allow to answer "what is a KDE project?".
And that's pretty much the situation we were at in early 2012. "KDE" is the name of the community, and this community makes products. So we're in a situation where "a project is a KDE project because it has been created by people in the KDE community". It's not exactly satisfying though... What if someone from the community creates a database system? is it a KDE project? (hint: the answer depends on who you ask) What if someone outside the community creates a mobile application? can it join the KDE community? under which conditions?
I'm not making this up. Those are real questions which arose over the years... and we never had a tool to help us devise a proper answer. We dealt with that in an ad hoc manner, and it was a growing pain. I'll go as far as saying it had potential to hurt the cohesion of the community.
That's what we're trying to fix, and we'll see how in the next post of this series. :-)