Carsten Niehaus

A Short Intro

The Interview

In what ways do you make a contribution to KDE?

I am the main author and maintainer of Kalzium, KDE's periodic table of the elements. I have also represented KDE at several exhibitions, for example last year I was at Systems, LinuxTag, Wikimania and LinuxInfoTag Dresden.

When did you first hear of KDE?

Well, I "heard" of it by using it. See next question...

How and when did you get involved in KDE?

I was in the German airforce in my military service most men have to do in Germany. The evenings were quite boring so I installed SuSE 6.4 (I think) on my PC. KDE 1.1.2 was the default desktop on it so I used it. That was in 1999 or early 2000. After a few weeks I noticed a couple of translation bugs in KDE-applications so I fixed the .po-files. After a while, Matthias Kiefer asked me to get a real cvs-account so Coolo gave me one. That was probably also in 2000.

In October 2000 I started to study chemistry and biology in Osnabrück. I needed a good periodic table on my Linux-PC but there simply was no such application. As I had no internet in my apartment, webelements.com was not possible either. As I knew a little Pascal back from when I was 12 or so I started to play with Qt and KDE. When KDE 3.0 was released Kalzium was good enough to be shipped with it.

Are you being paid to work on KDE?

I don't receive money for what I am doing.

How much time do you usually spend on KDE?

As a student up to five hours a day. Now, two hours a week or something like that. But it really depends. Yesterday I worked for about three hours on Kalzium, the week before I didn't touch it at all.

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

I think the accessability-features are so important that they really deserve more attention. I am not disabled and don't use any of those features, but still: at aKademy for example you learn by speaking to people like Gary Cramblitt what it is like to use an app when the author of the application cannot control his fingers like I can. Kalzium is totally unusable for him because you need to control it by mouse. Therefore, in KDE4 you will be able to just type /Car<ENTER> to get the information dialog of Carbon (this is like the typeahead-find found in KPDF and Konqueror). You will also be able to navigate with the keyboards. And so on.

What do you think is still badly missing in KDE?

That is easy: As a chemistry-teacher I need to be able to create handouts with chemical formula. Try to create this:

...in a linux-application. You will fail. In the Windows world I would use ACDLabs which is just great. But it doesn't work without Windows. There are many formula editors but they do not really work for what I need. And many crash all the time.

Do you have any plans for KDE 4?

Kalzium in KDE 3.5 is the first version which is really good. It even looks nice! For Qt4 Pino Toscano developed a new painting-engine. This will allow us better visual effects. Also we already finished a pseudo 3D-crystal structure viewer (there are 13 "celltypes" in chemistry, you can look at the cells in 3D). The plotting will be greatly enhanced. We now share our data with BlueObelisk.org, we already implemented more looks. More data will be added. And so on, there is plenty of time and a lot ideas :)

What motivates/keeps you motivated to work on KDE?

The people. I see KDE-developers several times a year. For example, the Pim-Meeting is in Osnabrück every January. So I go there and drink a beer with them. As I don't know kdepim's code I cannot help with that, but still I went in an Indian restaurant with them. This is important for me.

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

Pretty good chances. In my school almost all PCs run Linux, some are still dual-boot. Most school-software (I think close to 99.999%) is written for Windows, though, that sucks. And if you contact the software-vendors you don't even get an answer. But still, in Germany Linux on the desktop is coming, and mostly with KDE I am sure.

Which text editor do you use? Why?

vim. Because that is what I started with. I am using vim for 7 years now and am so used to the shortcuts that I cannot use KDevelop for coding. I cannot count the times I wrote :wq in Kate or KWord...

Which distribution do you use? Why?

All three computers run Kubuntu. I started with SuSE, tested Mandrake and then used Gentoo for three years or so. I switched to Kubuntu 5.04 last year and will stay with it and its successors. All computers simply work, I don't need to touch any config files. Even my suspend-to-disk works, I didn't even know the computer supports it ;-)

What is KDE's killer app? Why?

There are many good apps. I am using Konq for browsing and things like fish. Therefore, my personal killer-app is not an app but the invention of IO-slaves. webdavs:/, fish:/ and others make your life so much easier...

What makes you develop for KDE instead of the competition?

Qt. Definitely. I had to work with wxWidgets. I could have chosen GTK+ or Fox as well. I compared all three and liked wx most. After four month and about 500 heart attacks later I know why Trolltech gets to charge for the commercial Qt: it is simply worth it! I am 100% sure that if I had used Qt instead of wx for that application the code was about 30% less, it had taken 50% of the time and there would have been much less bugs. And no, I am not payed by Trolltech to say so ;-)

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

My laptop is hydrocotyle (a plant named "Wassernabel") and is a HP OmniBook xt1000. Julia is using a IBM ThinkPad a21m called lavendula. It only has 650MHz but works and is enough for KWord and Konqueror. The third PC is almost never used, I am only using it for backup.

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

Well, to learn things about coding and KDE: David Faure. I always had much fun with Alex Neundorf and Tobias König, so they would also be a good choice.

What was your most brillant hack

There is none. My coding is pretty low level.

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

Sure, I was in Malaga for four nights. I did not see Malaga though because there was not enough time or a good opportunity. But I finally saw most kdeedu-people in real life: Pino, Albert, Danny, Inge and others. Also, I have met Lauri! I know her since day one, she is one of the first names I connected with KDE for some reason. I knew most KDE folks before Malaga, but she was never there... Akademy was really nice, I hope to be on Akademy 2006 as well, depends on where it will take place and when.

Personal Questions

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

I am happy to be able to call Julia my partner for three years now :)

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

Well, she has no choice ;-) I simply put Linux on her box and my PCs are also Windows-free. So technically, she has to use KDE. But now, she is used to KDE and likes it. Also, she thinks of KDE as my hobby and everybody has to have a hobby, right?

Do you have any pets?

Well, Julia has four budgies named Fionntan, Kira, Ruby and Stella. Fionntan is Irish for "fair skin" (she is light blue), Kira is also an Irish name. Stella is named after the plant Stellaria media which is a German plant birds love. Well, and guess where Ruby comes from? They live in a big aviary but are most of the time outside of it and can fly as much as they want.

I have three Bonsai. They need more care than the birds so I can call them 'pets'. ;-) One is a Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia), a field maple (Acer campestre) and a serissa (Serissa foetida).

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

Well, most Non-Germans think that we Germans all wear leather trousers and drink Weizenbier. Of course, there is also no food beside Bratwurst and Sauerkraut. Therefore, please do not visit Bavaria! There are many cultural/historical sites in Germany like Dresden and Berlin, great nature like the Mecklenburger Seenplatte or the Harz (a forest with medium-size mountains). Of course, not to forget the tidal flat at the North See.

Which book is on your bedside table?

I just finished Critons State of Fear. Before that, I read Andreas Eschenbachs 800 site "One trillion dollar", a book about a poor guy inheriting one trillion dollar. A very thought through book, makes you think about many problems.

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

Hard to tell, but the whole Open Source-thing influenced me a lot. Before using Linux I never thought about freedom and patents and the like. So OSS has influenced me a lot. The most? I guess my parents and family?

Richard Stallman or Linus Torvalds?

Torvalds, he is more close to reality.

How would you describe yourself and what do you get passionate about?

I am a science-guy. I love reading scientific texts, like to look behind the obvious. I even read the small print on my tooth-paste. On the other hand I love nature. When I started to study biology, I couldn't tell an oak from a maple. But my two "focus"-subjects where ecology and botany. I learned so much about plants and how the ecosystems are interconnected that I fell in love with it. I see a forest or a lake with different eyes now! So I can be very passionate about those things.

You won't see me on many parties but I will always attend a private party. I am just not the disco-guy.

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

Happened to me on the ride from Munich to Dresden: seven hours in an ICE and no seat to sit on. Well, I talked to the other passengers, told them about Linux and KDE, of course but also about this and that. I guess in those situations it is best to just try to communicate with others.

What is your favourite t-shirt?

A simple white one. I don't like shirts with something printed on it (beside when being on a fair like LinuxTag)

What is your favourite place in the world?

I saw many places in the world. New York, Dublin and Prague are probably my three favorite towns. There is no single place in the world for me, there are just too many great places to be!