Boudewijn Rempt

A Short Intro

The Interview

In what ways do you make a contribution to KDE?

I'm the maintainer of Krita and the release dude for KOffice 1.5.

When did you first hear of KDE?

Frankly, I've forgotten. It's too long ago. It wasn't the original email by Matthias, but I remember that the first time I tried KDE I dismissed it because it didn't fit into the 8 megabytes of RAM of my 486.

Besides, I was very happy with the fvwm desktop I had carefully crafted and constructed over the years, so I hadn't any strong urge to switch. I remember the excitement attendant on the 1.2 release, though, so I guess the first KDE I used was 1.1, in 1999. I had gotten a new computer, with 64 MB of ram, and I never went back to fvwm.

How and when did you get involved in KDE?

My very first hack was fixing the System window decoration to include vertical-only maximization. That was a few years ago. I also tried to make Konqueror remember the sort order per directory at that time, but I failed horribly. And it sounded so easy when David told me what I needed to do! In October 2003 I started working on Krita, and I never stopped doing that.

Are you being paid to work on KDE?

Alas, no...

How much time do you usually spend on KDE?

Let's see... Three or four hours a day -- maybe most of most Saturdays, the occasional Sunday afternoon, that makes between twenty and thirty hours a week. Sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. It helps that we don't have a television set. It's amazing how many hours become available once you decide that you don't have to watch the 8 o'clock news and everything that follows. Friday night we generally watch a DVD on my or Irina's laptop with the whole family, so we're not completely cut off from modern popular culture.

Which section of KDE is underrated and could get more publicity?

KOffice. If even KDE people like Mirko Boehm can say that we've proved by now that the one thing KDE cannot do is create an office suite, then KOffice has a problem... Because actually, we've shown that we can do it! KOffice 1.5 is going to be so great -- from little changes like the new guides in KPresenter and Kivio to big changes in Krita. Even KWord, which had languished for a long time, has received a lot of work and is now much, much more robust.

What do you think is still badly missing in KDE?

A pervasive scripting framework. It's easy enough to write new KDE applications in a scripting language, but scripting existing applications is very hard. DCOP is quite hard to use from a scripting language as soon as you've got object references in the DCOP API -- besides, the integration in the applications itself is missing. We should have something like AppleScript or Arexx embedded in every application.

Fortunately, Sebastian Sauer has created a great scripting engine for KOffice, Kross, which makes it easy to define a scripting API that will be reusable from many languages like Ruby and Python. Krita and Kexi already use Kross and with KOffice 2.0, the other KOffice apps will follow.

Now if we can reuse the Kross API for an application like Krita to export an IPC interface, either DCOP or DBUS, I don't care, we will have gained a lot.

Do you have any plans for KDE 4?

No. I actually don't work on KDE itself; just on Krita and KOffice. The lure of library development is too strong, and I've promised myself I wouldn't succumb.

But, as soon as we start porting KOffice Qt4, KWord will get a new text engine, and Krita will become so much faster thanks to being able to directly work with images, instead of pixmaps. It will help enormously with putting the actual rendered image on screen. And KWord's new text engine will help with getting a great text tool in Krita. We also need Qt4's improved threading API to make Krita more responsive and to take advantage of all the nice dual-core laptops that are coming.

On the other hand, porting all Qt3 idioms to Qt4 idioms will take a lot of work (I love the dear departed QPtrList!), and I'm not sure I particularly like the new MVC-based listview thingy.

What motivates/keeps you motivated to work on KDE?

My primary motivation is very selfish. I use KDE because it empowers me, gives me the chance to do my day work with less cursing and more productivity. That's very valuable and I want to do my best to make sure I don't lose it. But I also wouldn't want to miss the kick I get from cooperating with people from all over the world and making something really nice and powerful.

What chances do you see in your country for KDE as a desktop platform?

I don't know.... The Netherlands is very much a winner-takes-all country. We used to be 100% solid WordPerfect, then became 100% MS Word almost overnight. People held out against Windows for quite a bit of time, and then, suddenly, all DOS boxes became Windows, around 1995. It's not like Germany, where somehow there seems to be a healthy diversity of systems in use. On the other hand, if KDE.nl plays their cards right, we may break through, and become the next overnight change.

Which text editor do you use? Why?

Lots of different ones. I know that concentrating on just one editor could make me much more productive, but when I started hacking, there were so many different Unix systems around that you couldn't even count on the local vi being sane. So when I started using Linux I put myself on a strict rotation: one month nvi, the next vim. Elvis for the third. Joe the fourth, Jed fifth and sixth month (Jed was great). When I finally could run X11 (because I doubled my RAM to 8MB), I started using Nedit. A colleague introduced me to the word completion in Emacs, so I started using that, too. And then Kate didn't get all confused anymore when you'd select, cut and undid the cut, so I started using Kate occasionally.

Nowadays it's not that big an issue. Nedit doesn't work anymore because Motif cannot handle UTF-8, but I use XEmacs for edits in many files, vim for quick hacks, writing mail, scripts and editing config files, Kate for multi-lingual text files and I fire up KDevelop when I have the evening for myself and expect to be hacking for a few hours.

Which distribution do you use? Why?

Kubuntu.. SuSE... SuSE... Kubuntu... I haven't decided. I'm vacillating between these. I don't trust Novell much, and I like Kubuntu (I particularly like the way Jonathan Riddell fixed the tablet support in the Qt packages for Kubuntu like a streak of greased lightning when I asked him), but Yast has always been a godsend.

You know, I used to use Slackware, did all the configuring by hand. I have calculated my X11 modelines with a calculator, edited sendmail.cf by hand and installed Taylor UUCP. I'm done with sysadminning, I just want to hack.

SuSE is great for running my mail, web, mailman, cvs, dhcp and dns server, Yast really helps here. Kubuntu is great for my development machine. So I guess I will go on using both.

What is KDE's killer app? Why?

The minicli. Definitely. One day I discovered that my daughters always exit their KDE session by typing "logout" into the minicli, instead of clicking on an icon. And not only that... Typing gg:"what do I want to know" is so addictive that it's gotten into my thought processes. Often enough, when walking to the railway station and mulling over some problem, the thought "Alt-F2. gg:..." enters my consciousness. It's even part of our family language: whenever someone asks a question they should have researched, the cry goes round Deventer: "Alt-F2 gg it!".

What makes you develop for KDE instead of the competition?

What competition? When I started looking for something better than fvwm, GNUStep was still in denial mode -- we're not a desktop environment, we're a cross platform development platform! -- and little-known GREAT was a gratis but closed source CDE clone. CDE was out of reach, so I started using KDE as soon as I got my first computer with 64MB of memory.

And when I wanted to code a GUI application for Linux, the only GUI toolkit that came close to being as easy to use as Visual Basic was Qt with its Python bindings. Motif was closed, Gtk still asked me to handle the scrollbars around a treeview myself, that funny toolkit Lyx used -- XForms -- was closed, binary and sucked. And Athena simply demanded C coding. No way...

So my second free software application, Kura was done in PyQt. (The first was a UUCP mail and news client in Visual Basic -- just when I had finished it, I moved to Linux.) And when I got my first glimmer of Gnome it was a horrible, complex, convoluted, crash-prone sliver of a shell around Enlightenment. I remember I called it the Dark Side of User Interface Design in an article I wrote for O'Reilly Network. That kind of political incorrectness would be impossible nowadays, of course, so I won't repeat that remark.

And the current state of the competition doesn't inspire a desire to switch either. XFCE isn't competition: it may have a panel and a file manager, but there's no framework for integrating applications. GNUStep applications are still horribly crash prone and there's still no concerted effort making a real GNUStep desktop environment. And Gnome still looks like no fun at all to hack on. Or work with.

What does your desktop look like?

Boudewijn's desktop

I've got the application menu bar on top, with the systray and clock and so on in the same space. It saves vertical space, which is at a premium on wide-screen panels, and I seldom use the menu of any application anyway. It's another way KDE is better than anything else that claims to have learned from MacOS. A menubar where it belongs.

My kicker disappears, and only contains a couple of app shortcuts and the taskbar anyway.

I like the Web window decoration because it is small and not gaudy at all.

In general, I tend to tweak my desktop look & feel whenever I am faced with a thorny problem and need to give my conscious something easy to do to free my unconscious the liberty to gnaw at the problem.

What type is your laptop/desktop? What is it named?

I used to have a Dell Inspiron 5150 laptop, but it broke down due to a couple of design faults after a year and a half. It turned out to be very hard to get Dell to honour their legal obligations, and in the meantime, I got a Lenovo Thinkpad z60m which is absolutely great. Not as fast as the Dell, but the keyboard is wonderful.

It's named Selday, after a small town in the south of Valdyas. All computers in our house are named after places in Valdyas.

If you were shipwrecked and had to share an island with a KDE contributor who would it be?

If I have to be shipwrecked, I prefer to have the company of someone who's got a sense of humour, can drink the odd glass of wine and who's smaller than me, in case the coconuts run out. Hm... Who would fit the bill? And just being smaller than me isn't enough, of course, I wouldn't like to be stranded with a black belt Aikido-type like Inge Wallin. That wouldn't do at all -- what would become of Krita in that case? Difficult, difficult. I have to pass on this question!

What is your most brilliant KDE hack?

My first hack was making the System window decoration maximize vertically, and since I only knew Visual Basic, SQL and Python at the time, that was quite brilliant. And I once hacked Qt to have the scrollbars on the left-hand side of the window.

But I think the most brilliant hack was resurrecting Krita. Patrick Julien deserves a lot of credit for that, too, because he patiently answered all my inane questions about Krita and C++ -- and there was little to distinguish me from the usual kind of enthusiast who joins a mailing list, verbosely announces his intention to help out and then disappears. Except I didn't disappear.

What is your most embarrassing KDE moment?

That must have been the time I was playing with KDevelop and accidentally added a complete copy of KOffice to the KOffice CVS repository. Or was it the evening at Akademy I mooched a cigar off Eric Laffoon? But that was not a moment, more like an extended evening and night. Maybe the day, long ago, when I asked David Faure why Konqueror didn't remember my favourite sort order for directories, and he said, "Good point, go and hack it in". I didn't know C++ at time. So, after two weeks I had to admit failure and unsubscribed from the mailing list. Or... The day Irina upgraded her KDE and she suddenly couldn't send messages with Kopete anymore. At that time, already, I was feeling responsible for people having a good time with KDE, and here KDE had failed her. Turns out the send message shortcut had changed, but it was a nasty surprise, in the middle of a bugfix release, and very embarrassing. Bram Schoenmakers finding a crash in Krita the day of the first public release was acutely embarrassing, too.

Did you go to Akademy? What did you see/What did you miss?

Yes, I went to Akademy. The Malaga edition. I missed the SuSE-sponsored night out, because I wanted to avoid acquiring a hangover -- I had a talk to give next day. And I got food poisoning on Wednesday night, which had me down and out for two weeks. So I missed most of the good stuff and didn't do as much hacking as I wanted.

Personal Questions

First things first. Married, partner or up for adoption?

I've been married for twelve years now. Irina and I have got three daughters, reading from left to right, Rebecca, Naomi and Menna. I got married absurdly young, at least, for a Dutchman, at the age of 24. Naomi was born the next year, and Rebecca and Menna the year after that.
Boudewijn's children

If you have a partner or children, how do they cope with a KDE addict?

Very well, I'd say. My kids like Krita a lot -- especially the ability to paint purple bell peppers -- and Irina has never known me to be anything else than occupied in the evenings. Whether it's reading, studying, writing books or hacking. We both have always had our projects that keep us occupied.

Do you have any pets?

We used to have cats -- and birds before that, when the kids weren't born yet -- but it turns out I'm allergic to all the animals I like. So while I could possibly keep a dog or a goldfish or so, the deplorable fact is, our house is devoid of cats. And there's nothing as inspirational for a hacker as a cat obscuring a bug by sitting in front of the monitor.

If someone visits your country, which spot is a must-see?

I have a soft spot for Haarlem, but the provinces are much neglected by tourists. Deventer, where I live, has some very Anton Pieck-like places, and the river IJssel is worth seeing. Limburg is good for taking long walks and eating good food; Groningen and Friesland are very impressive. Leyden, where I studied, is both pretty and lively, Maybe the best plan would be to rent a bike, start in Kampen and bike down the river IJssel to where the IJssel becomes the Rhine, and when you come through Deventer, visit us and have dinner with us.

Which book is on your bedside table?

I read a lot of books -- my blog was originally a book-notice blog. Currently I've got John Zizioulas "Being as Communion", Christos Yannaras "The Freedom of Morality" and "Variations on the Song of Songs", Nestle's edition of the Greek New Testament, Ahland's edition of the Septuaginta, Wodehouse's Quick Service and Aunts aren't Gentlemen, Hudson's New Testament Greek, Queen Sheba's Ring by Rider Haggard and Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby. Especially Yannaras' books are just great. He's one of the greatest thinkers of this and the previous century.

Who or what in your life would you say influenced you most?

Father Adrian, from the St. John the Baptist monastery in The Hague. He was already a very old man when I first met him. He was a scientist before he became a monk, and had studied chemistry before the second world war. His writings were filled with an awe at the magnificence of creation that no Creationist or Intelligent Designist can match: he saw in every scientific discovery another discovery of the greatness of God. He enabled me to grow beyond the mental puberty I had become stuck into.

Richard Stallman or Linus Torvalds?

Richard Stallman. No doubt about it. Both are great hackers, but I admire Richard Stallman's vision, tenacity and integrity. Without him, I wouldn't even be able to actually type the answer to this question, and I have a strong suspicion that nobody would be able to read my answer either. There would be no free software world without him.

How would you describe yourself?

Once I was a scholar... I have the novelist's habit of thinking in quotations. I may not be the world's greatest programmer, but I've got a knack for languages and a love for complex systems. I'm still a real user, even of Krita. When we had an option for selecting the scaling algorithm, I always used the slowest one -- because that was bound to be the best one, right? I love company, good food and good wine.

What do you get passionate about?

Lots of things. Freedom. Politics. The abominable way our government treats asylum seekers and immigrants. Our immigration service is perfectly capable of separating an eleven year old boy from his mother and sending him to Byelorus where he has no family left.

And one of the fastest ways to upset me these days is to point out that we should give up our privacy for our safety. It seems to me that Bruce Schneier is the only sane voice left.

I'm passionate about scholarship: the right and ability and opportunity to devour knowledge and build on it. Whether it be code or physics, language data or texts. Field workers who keeps tapes filled with unique language data in their desks until the magnetic coating rusts from the plastic film, just to keep colleagues from competing in their own special field... I suffer acutely when knowledge is withheld on purpose.

Owning knowledge is wrong. Knowledge should be shared, that's what it exists for. And don't get me started on education or theology, food or wine or art...

You're stuck on a train for 6 hours and are bored out of your skull. What do you do to amuse yourself?

I think I can code for about three hours before my battery runs out, if I don't compile too much. After that, I'll fish my current book from my backpack. It's an introduction to Biblical Hebrew, but it could just as easily have been something sleep-inducing like "Struts in Action". If the former, I might finally suss out the Hebrew script, if the latter, I will sleep the sleep of the just for three hours.

What is your favourite t-shirt?

I don't wear t-shirts -- unless for publicity purposes, and then I wear the Krita hackathon t-shirt. So I guess that's my favourite shirt. Besides, it has been designed by my favourite KDE artist.

What is your favourite place in the world?

I'm not actually sure I've got a favourite place. I like London and Paris, but only for short stretches. I like Greece a lot, but I'm also very fond of Haarlem and Leyden. Home and Church have their good points as well... And I really like travelling by train for an hour or two and hacking. I'm most productive on the train.