Tom Chance

A Short Intro

The Interview

In what ways do you make a contribution to KDE?

I'm yet another promotion chappie. I co-ordinated the promotion of KDE 3.5 and I have co-written the occasional KDE press release / visual guide / article. Recently I've been badgering people about my dream KDE project SpreadKDE, documenting lots of promotional stuff in case I die or learn to love GNOME, and occasionally pestering the Marketing Working Group.

How and when did you get involved in KDE?

I think I first started by lurking on the usability mailing list, then joining the gang of uninformed posters with pet gripes. After that I somehow got involved with the Quality Team by documenting media skills, and with Promo stuff by editing press releases and writing articles.

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

There are lots of KDE applications that aren't shipped as part of KDE and that don't get a lot of attention because they're generally not used by computer science geeks. But I've come to depend upon Kile, which makes writing essays much easier than a cumbersome word processor; KDissert is a very nice little mind mapping tool; RSIBreak keeps me from wearing out my wrists before I hit the age of 30. But really KDE as a whole needs more publicity. People ought to see how well applications can fit together, how working with remote files becomes painless, and so on.

What do you think is still badly missing in KDE?

A decent KDE frontend to NetworkManager, since networking still absolutely sucks in KDE. With the recent announcement of Solid I'm confident that we'll get this.

Another thing is session management, which I've written about elsewhere. Just to get started on any particular task like writing an essay or designing a leaflet I have to go through the whole palaver of opening apps, opening files, getting back to where I was in my workflow, and so on. I'd love to have a really decent, intelligent task/session manager.

I've got high hopes that both of these will be solved in KDE 4 :)

On the promotion front I think we badly need SpreadKDE. At the moment a small group of people coordinate a very small amount of promotion work on the kde-promo mailing list, and we have to use SVN to update a pretty hopeless web site. Everyone is aware of the problems, thankfully. Now we need to open source our promotion work, mobilising the large number of enthusiastic KDE users out there. I think we can do this by setting up a web site that enables us to initially manage our "in-house" promotion work better (because right now it's a shambles), and then make it easy for any random person to come along and contribute to our projects or just start their own. No complicated techie tools, no need even for people to be using KDE when they want to work on KDE, just a simple but powerful promotion platform. I think it can be done, we just need help.

Finally, I think that the KDE community desperately needs to address an image problem. The important goal for all of us should be the free desktop (or open source desktop, if you will), so that's what we should care about and promote. But too often arguments over cross-project collaboration (e.g. freedesktop.org and Tango) miss this point. Thankfully most contributors to the major projects are aware of this - KDE gets an undeservedly bad reputation here - but it only needs one stupid editorial or flamebait from a high-profile person to whip everyone into a frenzy again. Everyone involved in this wider community, whether you're a core GNOME developer or an enthusiastic KDE user posting comments on Slashdot, should be thinking of the big picture. We all have a responsibility to present a better image to the outside world, and to keep people talking about how the free desktop will challenge Windows and MacOSX, rather than how KDE might be more or less usable than GNOME. I really admire the people who work so hard to do cross-project collaboration right.

Do you have any plans for KDE 4?

A blitz of publicity, hopefully driven by a much wider community of KDE fans through SpreadKDE.

What motivates/keeps you motivated to work on KDE?

All the contributors have given me so much in making such a fantastic desktop, that I feel I owe some time and energy to them. Also because I like to think that I'm helping more people encounter free software, which has to be a good thing! And of course the people involved are (mostly ;-) fun!

Which text editor do you use? Why?

Nano in the shell, because I'm too lazy to figure out all that emacs and vi nonsense, and KWrite/Kile otherwise.

Which distribution do you use? Why?

Kubuntu, because I just want to get on with my work and not have to bother about irritating distribution glitches or upgrade cycles. I also want the latest KDE packages, because I'm too impatient to wait for weeks. I still prefer Gentoo's tools, but I just can't be bothered with waiting three days to upgrade KDE.

What is KDE's killer app? Why?

For me that would have to be KSame for its ability to distort my sense of time. But really there isn't a single killer app - different people will fall for different features. Often I find people just like the overall feel of KDE, how integrated and slick it all is compared to Windows. And of course the community - how many proprietary software companies could boast hundreds of passionate contributors from around the world?

What makes you contribute to KDE instead of the competition?

I just like using KDE more than any free desktop, and I'm not in the least bit interested in proprietary software.

What does your desktop look like?


The iconset is Lila, which I originally ported from GNOME. I really don't like blue shiny desktops any more than I like dull industrial slurry icons ;-)

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

It's an IBM R40e called piglet and it's burning my knees.

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

Either Wade Olson, so I could kick his arse on behalf of my fellow promotion contributors, or Stephan Kulow since he'd undoubtedly have everything shipshape before I woke up.

What is your most brilliant KDE hack?

The KDE 3.5 promotion materials, which I was quite proud of. Even Linus Torvalds mentioned them, albeit in the middle of a massive and unproductive flamebait (see my views on what KDE lacks).

What is your most embarrassing KDE moment?

Probably attempting to dance and failing miserably at some reggae/hip-hop nightclub at aKademy 2004. If Aaron Seigo ever invites you out and like me your body isn't connected to the rhythm part of your brain, politely decline and meet them at 6am for a post-partying breakfast instead.

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

Not this year, I ran out of money over the summer (as in had to scrounge from friends to pay for bread and baked beans) so aKademy wasn't going to be a wise move! I also had to pick up my girlfriend from the airport when it was happening. Pooh. But the year before I went and, when not working (I think Fab, Michael and I did about 10 hours a day) it was great fun! Anyone nearby should go just for the weirdness of meeting all the people who wrote the software you use every day.

Personal Questions

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

A partner, Ali, for six years this January. Shocking for someone so young =) I would post a picture but she'd kill me, so you'll just have to spot here here instead.

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

She's a KDE addict too, as a user, and I spend far more time working on other things anyway.

Do you have any pets?

Well Ali has an evil hamster called Sherbert and a rabbit called Snoopy. My other pet would probably be my younger brother Michael.

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

Bedford, because it's great, and it's apparently it's less than an hour from Brussels (he must have very fast shoes). Also anywhere around Snowdonia, a national park in Wales that I have to visit at least once a year to stay sane. I like to wander around the less touristy parts and fall in love all over again. The photo of myself above was taken in Criccieth, where my grandparents live and where I spent this Christmas (hence my silly attire and slightly bloated appearance).

Which book is on your bedside table?

I have a pile of books that I read in parallel. I currently have 'Q' by Luther Blisset (a pseudonym for four Italian nutcases), the latest issue of Radical Philosophy, some books on T.M.Scanlon's work and 'Parecon' by Michael Albert.

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

Hmm, a tough question. The lyrics from OK Computer by Radiohead, reading Noam Chomsky as a teenager, discussions on the NoLogo mailing list in my gap year (2001-2002), the life and times of Richard Stallman and Larry Lessig, endless activists I've spoken to and/or worked with. So nobody/nothing in particular.

Richard Stallman or Linus Torvalds?

Stallman, no question. Anyone who can quit a safe job, write a manifesto that brilliantly articulates the vision of a then-dying subculture (hackers), kick off a hack-fest that produces the basis for a totally free operating system, write a serious of interesting and visionary articles on ethics in computing, and then devote 20 years and counting of his life to spreading freedom to all corners of the world has to get my vote.

Torvalds is obviously a great hacker, but I think a lot of geeks overestimate his importance and appeal to the rest of the world. I think that most people - that is, people other than geeks and technology managers - find the freedom stuff far more compelling than talk of coding gods and nifty development methodologies.

How would you describe yourself?

A fairly relaxed vegetable gardener, cyclist and hill walker; a massively over-worked activist on green and free culture issues; a philosophy student with an eye to an academic career developing a coherent fusion of my free culture and green ideas; a real ale drinker and cheese eater; a very amateur photographer and pathetic guitarist; a freelance journalist and obsessive current affairs reader; possibly just somebody who should shut up once in a while. According to a friend I just asked I'm creative, down to earth and genuinely motivated by the common good... I'd like to think she's right :-)

What do you get passionate about?

Politics, especially in getting more people involved in grassroots activism. It's amazing what you can achieve, how much better you can make the world, and it saddens me to see very passive people just sitting around doing nothing special with their lives. Join a green group, contribute to a free software project, volunteer in a local arts community group, just do something more than a boring office job! Look at all those who helped with the fight against software patents in Europe, whether writing a few emails or travelling to Brussels several times to pester MEPs and attending demonstrations. We all blocked the corporate lobbying machine in one of the most bureaucratic and complicated organisations in the continent, mostly through a lot of little people doing their little bit towards a very cool campaign.

I suppose that's one reason I contribute to the KDE project... working with other people who are passionate about something bigger than themselves is really rewarding.

I also get really passionate about ethical lifestyles, and people who refuse to think of anybody but themself when a few small changes could make the world of difference. I'm known for pestering friends and family to be more green. I love meeting other people who feel the same way, which is quite common amongst free softies :-)

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

Stare out the window and think about things, scribble silly ideas down, or strike up a conversation with the nearest person who doesn't turn away with an expression of disgust. Drunk people on trains are just the best kind of entertainment!

What is your favourite t-shirt?

My buzz t-shirt with a massive happy bee face on it, which always cheers me up. I got it from a bloke I "know" from San Francisco, who I "met" when he emailed me about bulletproof gardens in response to the Ugly Gardens project. Now we (meaning myself, this chappie called Bill and my Ugly Gardens collaborator Rob) have a habit of posting each other stupid things like Manekin Pis statuettes and receipts from LIDL. So in a way I like the t-shirt because it comes from Bill.

What is your favourite place in the world?

At the top of any mountain in Snowdonia, preferably with a good friend and a cheese sandwich.