Carl Schwan

Carl makes FOSS and takes our Twitter mic from February 24th to March 3rd. Thank you, Carl!

Please tell us about yourself

I’m a French and German KDE developer and a huge fan of everything related to open source and free culture in general.

What are you working on right now?

I’m involved in many parts of the KDE community. I’m mostly known for my work in the KDE websites and promotion of Plasma and the KDE applications. But recently I started writing a Matrix client for Plasma and Plasma Mobile called NeoChat. And I generally contribute to Plasma Mobile applications.

What is most interesting about that?

Plasma Mobile might not become the next Android but I really enjoy it. Not because it’s perfect but because it represents a hope that we might be able to enjoy a fully community owned mobile phone operating systems that is completely usable.

How did you first discover FOSS?

I was a big Apple fan in high school, reading all the technical articles about the latest Apple products. This lasted until my Macbook pro broke and that I got a new laptop with Windows. I was regularly using bash even on my Macbook, so the new Windows was a really unfamiliar environment. Two days after starting to use Windows, I decided to give Linux a try and after short experimentation with Linux Mint (Mate) decided to go with Manjaro KDE because it felt more comfortable and modern looking.

What prompted you to start contributing to FOSS?

I was familiar with building websites as I’m was doing it since I was 16 in a semi-professional context, but I was curious about how to create GUI applications and found that the best way to learn was to contribute to applications, I was using. My first patch was adding a button in Elisa to toggle the ‘party’ mode. It took me some time to get it right, but in the end, my contribution was merged. My second patch was in Korganizer and was about updating the look of the event view with more modern-looking event items. Strangely after that, I didn’t do any code contribution but focussed my efforts on updating the KDE documentation in the wiki, and from where I ended up doing some server maintenance of the wikis and gradually more and more KDE websites. It’s a bit ironic since my first goal was to learn how to create GUIs.

Why should others get involved with FOSS?

The community can be really awesome. I regret that with the ongoing pandemic we can’t meet anymore, but meeting follows contributors in Milano in 2019 or at FOSDEM in 2020 were some awesome experiences.

How should they get started?

I won’t be the first to say it and probably also not the last but the code is not the most important aspect in contributing to FOSS. I believe that the thing that is missing to push Linux desktop usage is not some missing features, but a lack of promotion, documentation, and translations. These are all areas that don’t need coding knowledge but are also very much time-consuming and often forgotten. In KDE, we have an excellent getting started guide, that can be found here. But other big open sources organization have their own too, e.g. GNOME.

I really encourage them to read these guides and find an area that interest then.

What difficulties and limitations do you see with FOSS?

The lack of promotion and public awareness of FOSS products. Unfortunately, it is very hard to break away from our bubbles. When we create a big announcement for Plasma, most people who read it are already using Plasma or another DE for Linux. It’s good that we are able to reach them but it does very little to reach existing Windows or MacOS users.

Another difficulty we have is funding. While there are some major FOSS projects that are able to reach comfortable amount of funding like Blender or Krita, many other don’t. This is a problem since without sustainability, the future of a FOSS projects can be guaranteed as we can’t rely on eternal goodwill from FOSS maintainer to maintain stuff in their free time forever.

How can they be solved?

For the promotion aspect, there are no good shortcuts, unless a celebrity suddenly starts promoting FOSS software to their followers, is mostly a thankless task. We need to more promote FOSS software are events (and not only FOSS events), reach out to journalist of mainstream media, constantly create social media attention, make sure websites are representing the software in a good light, …

For the fundraising aspect, this is even harder. It’s difficult to convince people to pay for software that they can legally get for free. Blender and Krita had the advantage that the alternative proprietary software is really expensive, but who would support the development of a calculator application? Also, the FOSS ecosystem for funding software is not really mature. CiviCRM is too complex and as a very poor user experience and Liberapay had some problems in the past. I tried exploring in the past about forking Blender Fund system but this project stalled a bit …

Where do you see difficulties in contributing?

Without a goal and some minimal mentorship, it’s easy to lose motivation at the beginning. Moreover asking questions in the chat can often remain unanswered for hours because of timezones or a lack of time from the maintainers. Unfortunately, there are only 24 hours a day even for FOSS maintainers!

What does a perfect day off look like?

Cycling and playing board games with friends while drinking one or two beers.