Last weekend I attended this year’s Nextcloud conference in Berlin, together with a few other fellow KDE contributors.
Nextcloud Itinerary integration
My main involvement with Nextcloud so far has been the integration with KDE Itinerary. While this generally works fine, it’s not ideal yet when it comes to continuously getting updates of the travel document extractor to Nextcloud users.
Nextcloud uses this in form of a statically built executable, going back to the initial prototype still using ad hoc builds of that executable. Meanwhile we have this implemented on KDE’s Gitlab CI, which should give us more reliable and reproducible results. What’s still missing though is feeding this into the corresponding Nextcloud package more or less automatically for every release, either from our Gitlab job, or by running the same job in Nextclouds Github setup.
Virtual file system API for cloud syncing clients
There is demand for Linux getting an equivalent to the virtual file system APIs other platforms offer for cloud syncing clients, so that all file dialogs or file managers can see the remote file trees even if not fully synchronized locally and request a file of interest to be synchronized on demand.
It came up for the Nextcloud Linux desktop client here, I have heard the same from ownCloud before, KDE wants this and I’m sure so does GNOME. It might be possible to implement this using environment-specific APIs such as a KIO or GVfs, but this doesn’t scale.
This looks like something where a FreeDesktop/XDG standardized API would make sense, so that each syncing client has to only implement that to support all Linux environments (ideally without much extra code, given similar logic is needed for other platforms already), and where KDE/GNOME/etc would gain support for all kinds of cloud file storage system by supporting that API.
Push notifications for CalDAV/CardDAV
Probably the biggest surprise for me was the DAVx⁵ team presenting their work on adding push support to the CalDAV/CardDAV protocols. This would allow e.g. changes to calendar events becoming instantly available on all your devices, while saving energy by needing a lot less polling. This might also then allow things like synchronized reminder states across multiple devices.
Technically this nicely ties in with our existing CalDAV/CardDAV connectors in KDE PIM and the work on integrating push notifications using UnifiedPush, and thus should hopefully be easy for us to add once this becomes available in servers.
Too much “AI” hype
The “AI” topic was a bit over-hyped for my taste, like in many other places as well. While things like the ethical AI rating or the focus on getting things to run locally address important problems, the features as such and their consequences weren’t questioned much. And how people can consider “AI” as a tool to solve the climate crises is beyond me.
An interesting point raised in the discussions was how to mark machine generated content. This might not even always be obvious to the direct user, and people the output is shared with have even less of a chance to assess this. And this already matters for relatively uncontroversial uses like machine translations.
As an example, some time ago I was confronted with some questionable statements I had supposedly made on the Internet (in German). Being relatively sure I hadn’t said that I was pointed to my own website as the source. With all content here being in English though it eventually turned out that the person was using some automatic translation feature in their browser without even realizing that. It worked mostly fine so this went unnoticed for quite some time, up to the point where it failed and the failure then was attributed to me instead.
Responsible use of such technology requires transparency.
Two particular highlights for me were Max Schrems and Simon Phipps presenting about their respective work on fixing EU regulations.
It’s quite encouraging to see that this isn’t out of reach for “us” (ie. the wider community that shares our ideas and values around
free and open source software and privacy), and that the way of influencing this has become much more professional and effective
in the recent years, with many organization coordinating, building relations and sharing the work on
lobbying “political communication”.
I’m happy that KDE is associated with two organizations doing good work there, FSFE and OSI, but we could probably do more still, on the EU level, the regional/national level in the EU and of course outside of the EU as well, be it through throwing out weight behind allies or by being present in stakeholder hearings ourselves.