The KDE Community is known for its commitment to free and open source software and sticking to standards. This extremely versatile community has produced software like KDE Plasma desktop, Calligra Office Suite, Krita, and much more. Its community members have created successful projects (for example, ownCloud, created by Frank Karlitschek, has evolved as a fully funded company).
The community is also known for being ahead of its time. The current release of its desktop, aptly called Plasma, embraced convergence before Canonical started talking about it. And they had a Plasma Mobile project before Ubuntu Phone came along. Renowned KDE developer Aaron Seigo also tried to bring a Plasma powered tablet to the market, but it did not materialize. Until now.
Today, during the Akademy event, the KDE Community announced Plasma Mobile project. It's a Free (as in Freedom and beer), user-friendly, privacy-enabling and customizable platform for mobile devices. Plasma Mobile claims to be developed in an open process, and considering the community behind it, I don't doubt it.
It's not just on paper; it's not just hype. There is a working prototype of the device running on Nexus 5 that offers basic phone functionality. It's a fully free and open source software so anyone can take it free of charge, modify it and redistribute it, without any strings attached.
Since the project originated in Europe, it has a very strong focus on privacy. The community said in a press release, "Instead of trusting your hardware or OS vendor, you can use software that has been audited in an open development process, and combine it with services from vendors you trust -- or your own."
The phone will be running on top of Kubuntu, which was founded by KDE developer Jonathan Riddell. Riddell is actively involved with Plasma Mobile project. He told me in an online interview, that he "[has] been working on this together with Harald for a day or so a week for a few months to create the Kubuntu images for Plasma Mobile which work on the Nexus 5 phone. This shows the advantage of the KDE technology stack, it’s the best way to create GUI applications using Qt and KDE Frameworks and QtQuick."
Ubuntu and Riddell were in the news recently, when he, after paying heavy costs, managed to to get some clarity on Canonical’s licensing and IP policies. He didn’t fail to reiterate his stance on the subject in connection to the Plasma Mobile: “It [Plasma Mobile] shows the importance and advantage of Ubuntu being completely free to share, copy and modify. It’s incredible how far we’ve got with such a small team in less than 6 months, I’m really excited to see where it can go now that it’s public and all the world can contribute."
Customization has been one of the strongholds of KDE software and Plasma Mobile is no exception. Plasma Mobile has been built with modularity from the ground up. Whether it's the wallpaper and Look and Feel, or lower-level system components, you can change almost every aspect of the system to make it behave and work exactly as you like.
Where are the apps?
Thanks (or no thanks) to Apple, mobile has become all about apps. Any successful platform would need native apps so people can do things using their phones. Plasma Mobile is adopting an approach different from that of Canonical, which is trying to do its own thing.
Plasma Mobile is designed as an ‘inclusive’ platform and will support all kinds of apps. In addition to native apps written in Qt, it also supports GTK apps, Android apps, Ubuntu apps, and many others. The only condition, to include any app for Plasma Mobile, is that the licence of that app should allow that and it should be possible to get them to work at technical level.
Where to get it?
Plasma Mobile is available immediately for download and install on Nexus 5 devices. Just keep in mind that it’s at the prototype stage. You can make and receive phone calls, for sure. The OS provides a workspace to manage the system and a task switcher to control and navigate apps on the device. The developers have included a number of apps, both native and 3rd party in the device images so the system can be tested and improved further.
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