Ellen Reitmayr

A Short Intro

The Interview

In what ways do you make a contribution to KDE?

I'm working on the usability of KDE, and I am a member of the Human Computer Interaction working group. Basically I am trying to make KDE better support its users' needs. While I used to concentrate on single applications like Kontact or Kivio in the past, I am now working towards a consistent user experience for the whole KDE desktop.

When did you first hear of KDE?

When I installed my first Linux in 2002, after a kernel hacker convinced me that Linux is the best operating system ever 8-)

How and when did you get involved in KDE?

Shortly after the Linux Usability Study by Relevantive in 2003. I happened to meet Jan Muehlig, the CEO of Relevantive who initiated the tests, and he encouraged me to get involved with KDE usability. Back then, it was not so easy for usability people to get started with OSS projects, so I was glad to be introduced by him.

All this was just a few weeks before I got my diploma in Psychology. Jan asked me if I wanted to come over to Berlin and help him set up OpenUsability.org - a platform to bring Open Source developers and usability together. Originally, I wanted to stay for two months and then start a job in Southern Germany... hehe - I'm still in Berlin, working on OpenUsability and KDE.

Are you being paid to work on KDE?

Partly - since I'm working for Relevantive I can spend parts of my work time on OpenUsability and KDE. Still, I'm spending many of my evenings and weekends on KDE.

How much time do you usually spend on KDE?

Hard to say - reading mail and blogs already takes an hour a day. It ranges between 8 and 40+ hours a week I guess - depending on the weather.

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

The whole Human Computer Interaction area: Accessibility, Artwork, Documentation, Internationalisation and Usability.

Even if people now know that we exist (thanks to blogging!) it still does not seem to be clear to everybody what user-orientation means: it is more than testing software before it is released. It is about considering user needs and requirements right from the beginning and throughout the development process. The earlier you think of what the users really need, the easier it is to make decisions which features are relevant or what defaults should be chosen.

What do you think is still badly missing in KDE?

A better integration of usability into the development process: most of the time, development and usability go separate ways. When the usability team makes proposals how to improve parts of the desktop or the libs, the suggestions often trail off without results - because nobody is currently working on it.

At the same time it is difficult for us (as non-technical contributors) to keep track of what people are actually working on. We neither have the time nor the understanding to go through all relevant blogs, mailing lists or svn commit logs to know what is currently being developed - and if necessary offer usability advice.

I think that several factors need to be worked on to improve this situation. First, we need a better interface between technical and non-technical contributors, something more compressed and human-readable than blogs, mailing lists or svn commits. Second, the awareness that usability starts with the collection of user requirements, not just with the implementation of a user interface, needs to increased. And third, we need more usability people!!

Do you have any plans for KDE 4?

Making KDE a task-oriented desktop that so seamlessly fits the users' workflows that they cannot live without it 8-)

What motivates/keeps you motivated to work on KDE?

Wonderful people, an excellent desktop and fun.

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

I live in Germany where KDE is already used by a high number of people - given alone the active KDE developers 8-)

For the broader masses: I know that some public administrations have already migrated, so I guess chances are quite good in administrated environments. To conquer German home desktops, however, there needs to be some work done on the usability side. I imagine it is very hard for users without KDE-savvy friends to set up everything in a way that "makes them smile" continuously...

Which distribution do you use? Why?

Kubuntu and SUSE on my primary notebook, Kubuntu on my second one.

Both are strongly influenced by KDE, and influence KDE themselves. That's why 8-)

What is KDE's killer app? Why?

Alt-F2 plus "gg:" or "leo:". It's the fastest way ever to get information and translations.

What makes you develop for KDE instead of the competition?

Passion 8-)

What does your desktop look like?

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

Liebster ("my love") is a Samsung P30, and Denkbrett ("think plank") is a Thinkpad A30.

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

Someone who is able to construct an antenna and set up a WLAN.

What is your most embarrassing KDE moment?

I have a bad memory for negative events, that's why I'm smiling most of the time.

Are you going to Akademy in Ireland this year?

Yes, full time.

What do you hope to get out of it?

One more step into the direction of a workflow-oriented KDE desktop, and further integrating usability with the development process.

Personal Questions

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

My other "Liebster" - Anoush.

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

I'm only KDE addict because he is playing games all day 8-)

Do you have any pets?

I have a little ant, but it lost an antenna and leg.

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


Which book is on your bedside table?

Currently an interaction design book. But usually something more like Stanislaw Lem, Paul Auster or Haruki Murakami. And I listen to radio plays, the hitchhiker's guide to the universe in repeat mode.

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

In the last 10 years: Switching to Linux.

Before: my parents - both fighting and agreeing with them.

What do you get passionate about?

My boyfriend, computers, animals (for example the squirrels when I go jogging in the park), scuba-diving...

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

I can't help falling asleep on trains...

What is your favourite place in the world?

Berlin in Summer.

Galapagos in Winter (did I mention I'm passionate about animals?).