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Plasma Netbook 4.5

So, it was pretty a long time since the last time I blogged about the KDE Plasma Netbook project... what's going on on that? you wanna videos?, you'll get videos :)

This doesn't mean it's stopped. Au contraire my friends, since 4.4, many of its parts were rethought and redesigned. Some of those changes are quite visible at a UI level, some other are more under the hood, but contribute to give to it a more "finished" look and feel to it.

Alongside KDE SC 4.4 the first version of the Netbook Shell was released, and while it was a really big achievement for us it was still at a really early stage: it had to be released (early and often, they say :)) but now things begin to really get serious.

We made a step back and looked at it, asked ourselves where we want it to go and what purpose it will have to serve (in brief: developer sprints are very, very useful :p)

When we started the project Netbooks were a certain defined thing: underpowered device (low price, weight and power consumption), compact size (high portability) and a very targeted use case: they are mostly Internet devices, or a platform to run very simple applications, so more of a secondary machine for casual use rather that a proper laptop.

In the meantime they have changed, they are more near to a laptop, with bigger (but not actually big) screens and almost normal hard drives.

So, they really have changed so much? yes and no. We can't afford for this reason to be "less careful" to issues like screen size or power consumption, because despite how it could look, they still continue to be quite different beasts compared to laptops.

Computing power issues aren't going to go away anytime soon, and even if tomorrow morning netbooks will have a resolution of 1920x1080 or 3 times more, 10 inches are going to remain 10 inches: your eyes don't zoom.

So, what we will see in this area in the future?

  • More diversification: bigger screen with Atom and smaller screens with ARM (will it actually happen? I hope so)
  • More original devices: clamshell notebook-like as usual, opposed to tablet form factors: so two totally different types of user interfaces will be needed, right? Well, the world could be more complex (and interesting) that that.
  • So, there will be more kinds of devices, some of them will be addressed by Plasma Netbook, some of them by Plasma Mobile.

So, after thinking about it for a moment the natural process is to pass from the tough that this was not as different of our every day computing as we thought to the certainly that the challenges that will be faced will be way more than ever thought.

So, let's not be so far-fetched and let's see what are the new shiny things that will ship in KDE Plasma Netbook Shell 4.5.

Faster. Several optimizations have been done on the shell itself and on the Search and Launch activity, (alongside the continuous optimization work it is being done in Qt, especially on the QGraphicsView features we put on a pretty tough stress test:)) Now the general usage and feeling should be a lot snappier and responsive.

Search and Launch. It uses a different way to fetch the data used in the menus, so they should be a lot more accurate now.

Moreover, extensive drag and drop support has been added. This makes it more intuitive to use and more friendly on a touch screen device. On the video below you can see it used on a normal netbook, on the usual 800MHz little tablet with Moblin and on a bigger tablet with an 1GHz Via processor (note here the video driver is the plain old vesa but it's running pretty decently anyways). 3 completely different devices, same UI, of which some elements are starting to translate very well across all three, some of them still not, and here is where the extremely modular architecture of Plasma comes to its full power. just replace the little elements that interaction wise are device specific.

Last but not least you can see there also that many of the layout and behavior rough edges that were previously in the icon view have been solved.

OGG version

Newspaper. The main information hub of Plasma-netbook, shown in the video below. As all the Plasma "flickable" scroll areas, uses brand new code (by our very best graphics ninja, actually ;) to handle the touch and the flicking in a much better way.

Now,to improve both the looks and the usability of it, the widgets appear perfectly aligned in a 2x2 grid (it's still possible to have as many columns and rows as we want by the way). By interacting on a widget, it will expand to take up to the whole screen height, so offering a "maximized" view of it, that reflects the concept that now your attention is on that particular one (so, trascuring for a while the other ones, albeit still reachable)

the page can behave like this or all the widgets can be "maximized" like before, eliminating all the internal scrolling areas leaving only the big external one. this will probably be the preferred behavior on touch screens.

OGG version

Other than that, there is the quite important addition of javascript support I talked about in the last entry: it will make personalization (by distributors and in the future directly by users as well) very very easy.

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