Release of Kube 0.1.0

It’s finally done! Kube 0.1.0 is out the door.

First off, this is a tech preview really and not meant for production use.

However, this marks a very important step for us, as it lifts us out of a rather long stretch of doing the ground work to get regular development up and running. With that out of the way we can now move in a steadier fashion, milestone by milestone.

That said, it’s also the perfect time to get involved!
We’re planning our milestones on phabricator, at least the ones within reach, so that’s the place to follow development along and where you can contribute, be it with ideas, feedback, packaging, builds on new platforms or, last but not least, code.

So what is there yet?

You can setup an IMAP account, you can read your mail (even encrypted), you can move messages around or delete them, and you can even write some mails.

kube_main

BUT there are of course a lot of missing bits:

  • GMail support is not great (it needs some extra treatment because GMail IMAP doesn’t really behave like IMAP), so you’ll see some duplicated messages.
  • We don’t offer an upgrade path between versions yet. You’ll have to nuke your local cache from time to time and resync.
  • User feedback in the UI is limited.
  • A lot of commonly expected functions are not existing yet.
  • ….

As you see… tech preview =)

What’s next?

We’ll focus on getting a solid mail client together first, so that’s what the next few milestones are all about.

The next milestone will focus on getting an addressbook ready, and after that we’ll focus on search for a bit.

I hope we can scope the milestones approximately ~1 month, but we’ll have to see how well that works. In any case releases will be done only once the milestone is reached, and if that takes a little longer, so be it.

Packaging

This also marks the point where it starts to make sense to package Kube.
I’ve built some packages on copr already which might help packagers as a start. I’ll also maintain a .spec file in the dist/ subdirectory for the kube and sink repositories (that you are welcome to use).

Please note that the codebase is not yet prepared for translations, so please wait with any translation efforts (of course patches to get translation going are very welcome).

In order to release Kube a couple of other dependencies are released with it (see also their separate release announcements):

  • sink-0.1.0: Being the heart of Kube, it will also see regular releases in the near future.
  • kimap2-0.1.0: The brushed up imap library that we use in sink.
  • kasync-0.1.0: Heavily used in sink for writing asynchronous code.

Tarballs

Kube: Accounts

Kube is a next generation communication and collaboration client, built with QtQuick on top of a high performance, low resource usage core called Sink.
It provides online and offline access to all your mail, contacts, calendars, notes, todo’s etc.
Kube has a strong focus on usability and the team works with designers and Ux experts from the ground up, to build a product that is not only visually appealing but also a joy to use.

To learn more about Kube, please see here.

Kube’s Account System

Data ownership

Kube is a network application at its core. That doesn’t mean you can’t use it without network (even permanently), but you’d severely limit its capabilities given that it’s meant to be a communication and collaboration tool.

Since network communication typically happens over a variety of services where you have a personal account, an account provides a good starting point for our domain model. If you have a system with large amounts of data that are constantly changing it’s vital to have a clear understanding of data ownership within the system. In Kube, this is always an account.

By putting the account front and center we ensure that we don’t have any data that just belongs to the system as a whole. This is important because it becomes very complex to work with data that “belongs to everyone” once we try to synchronize that data with various backends. If we modify a dataset should that replicate to all copies of it? What if one backend already deleted that record? Would that mean we also have to remove it from the other services?
And what if we have a second client that has a different set of account connected?
If we ensure that we always only have a single owner, we can avoid all those issues and build a more reliable and predictable system.

The various views can of course still correlate data across accounts where useful, e.g. to show a single person entry instead of one contact per addressbook, but they then also have to make sure that it is clear what happens if you go and modfiy e.g. the address of that person (Do we modify all copies in all accounts? What happens if one copy goes out of sync again because you used the webinterface?).

Last but not least we ensure this way that we have a clear path to synchronize all data to a backend eventually, even if we can’t do so immediately. E.g. because the backend in use does not support that data type yet.

The only bit of data that is stored outside of the account is data specific to the device in use, such as configuration data for the application itself. Data that isn’t hard to recreate, is easy to migrate and backup, and very little data in the first place.

Account backends

Most services provide you with a variety of data for an individual account. Whether you use Kolabnow, Google or a set of local Maildirs and ICal files,
you typically have access to Contact, Mails, Events, Todos and many more. Fortunately most services provide access to most data through open protocols,
but unfortunately we often end up in a situation where we need a variety of protocols to get to all data.

Within Sink we call each backend a “Resource”. A resource typically has a process to synchronize data to an offline cache, and then makes that data accessible through a standardized interface. This ensures that even if one resource synchronizes email over IMAP and another just gathers it from a local Maildir,
the data is accessible to the application through the same interface.

Because various accounts use various combinations of protocols, accounts can mix and match various resources to provide access to all data they have.
A Kolab account for instance, could combine an IMAP resource for email, a CALDAV resource for calendars and CARDDAV resource for contacts, plus any additional resources for instant messaging, notes, … you get the idea. Alternatively we could decide to get to all data over JMAP (a potential IMAP successor with support for more datatypes than just email) and thus implement a JMAP resource instead (which again could be reused by other accounts with the same requirements).

diagram

 

Specialized accounts

While accounts within Sink are mostly an assembly of some resources with some extra configuration, on the Kube side a QML plugin is used (we’re using KPackage for that) to define the configuration UI for the account. Because accounts are ideally just an assembly of a couple of existing Sink resources with a QML file to define the configuration UI, it becomes very cheap to create account plugins specific to a service. So while a generic IMAP account settings page could look like this:

imapaccount

… a Kolabnow setup page could look like this (and this already includes the setup of all resources including IMAP, CALDAV, CARDDAV, etc.):

kolabaccount

Because we can build all we know about the service directly into that UI, the user is optimally supported and all that is left ideally, are the credentials.

Conclusion

In the end the aim of this setup is that a user first starting Kube selects the service(s) he uses, enters his credentials and he’s good to go.
In a corporate setup, login and service can of course be preconfigured, so all that is left is whatever is used for authentication (such as a password).

By ensuring all data lives under the account we ensure no data ends up in limbo with unclear ownership, so all your devices have the same dataset available, and connecting a new devices is a matter of entering credentials.

This also helps simplifying backup, migration and various deployment scenarios.

So what is Kube? (and who is Sink?)

Michael first blogged about Kube, but we apparently missed to properly introduce the Project. Let me fix that for you 😉

Kube is a modern groupware client, built to be effective and efficient on a variety of platforms and form-factors. It is built on top of a high-performance data access layer and Qt Quick to provide an exceptional user experience with minimal resource usage. Kube is based on the lessons learned from KDE Kontact and Akonadi, building on the strengths and replacing the weak points.

Kube is further developed in coordination with Roundcube Next, to achieve a consistent user experience across the two interfaces and to ensure that we can collaborate while building the UX.

A roadmap has been available for some time for the first release here, but in the long run we of course want to go beyond a simple email application. The central aspects of the the problem space that we want to address is communication and collaboration as well as organization. I know this is till a bit fuzzy, but there is a lot of work to be done before we can specify this clearly.

To ensure that we can move fast once the basic framework is ready, the architecture is very modular to enable component reuse and make it as easy as possible to create new ones. This way we can shift our focus over time from building the technology stack to evolving the UX.

Sink

Sink is a high-performance data access layer that provides a plugin mechanism for various backends (remote servers e.g. imap, local maildir, …) an editable offline cache that can replay changes to the server, a query system for efficient data-access and a unified API for groupware types such as events, mails, todos, etc.

It is built on top of LMDB (a key-value store) and Qt to be fast and efficient.

Sink is built for reliability, speed and maintainability.

What Kube & Sink aren’t

It is not a rename of Kontact and Akonadi.
Kontact and Akonadi will continue to be maintained by the KDEPIM team and Kube is a separate project (altough we share bits and pieces under the hood).
It is not a rewrite of Kontact
There is no intention of replicating Kontact. We’re not interested in providing every feature that Kontact has, but rather focus on a set that is useful for the usecases we try to solve (which is WIP).

Development

Development planning happens on phabricator, and the kdepim mailinglist. Our next sprint is in Toulouse together with the rest of the KDEPIM team.

We also have a weekly meeting on Wednesday, 16:00 CET with notes sent to the ML. If you would like to participate in those meetings just let me know, you’re more than welcome.

Current state

Kube is under heavy development and in an early stage, but we’re making good progress and starting to see the first results (you can read mail from maildir and even reply to mails). However, it is not yet ready for general consumption (though installable installable).

If you want to follow the development closely it is also possible to build Kube inside a docker container, or just use the container that contains a built version of Kube (it’s not yet updated automatically, so let me know if you want further information on that).

I hope that makes it a bit clearer what Kube and Sink is and isn’t, and where we’re going with it. If something is still unclear, please let me know in the comments section, and if you want to participate, by all means, join us =)

Kube Architecture – A Primer

Kube’s architecture is starting to emerge, so it is time that I give an overview on the current plans.

But to understand why we’re going where we’re going it is useful to consider the assumptions we work with, so let’s start there:

Kube is a networked application.
While Kube can certainly be used on a machine that has never seen a network connection, that is not where it shines. Kube is built to interact with various services and to work well with multiple devices. This is the reality we live in and that we’re building for.
Kube is scalable.
Kube not only scales from small datasets that are quick to synchronize to large datasets, that we can’t simply load into memory all at once. It also scales to different form factors. Kube is usable on devices with small and large screens, with touch or mouse input, etc.
Kube is cross platform.
Kube should run just as well on your laptop (be it Linux, OS X or Windows) as it does on your mobile (be it Plasma Mobile or Android).
Kube is a platform for rapid development.
We’re not interested in rebuilding mail and calendar and stopping there. Groupware needs to evolve and we want to facilitate communication and collaboration, not email and events. This requires that the user experience can continue to evolve and that we can experiment with new ideas quickly, without having to do large-scale changes to the codebase.
Groupware types are overlapping.
Traditionally PIM/Groupware applications are split up by formats and protocols, such as IMAP, MIME and iCal but that’s not how typical workflows work. Just because the transport chosen by iTip for an invitation happens to be a MIME message transported over IMAP to my machine, doesn’t mean that’s necessarily how I want to view it. I may want to start a communication with a person from my addressbook, calendar or email composer. A note may turn into a set of todo’s eventually. …

A lot of pondering over these points has led to a set of concepts that I’d like to quickly introduce:

Components

Kube is built from different components. Each component is a KPackage that provides a QML UI backed by various C++ elements from the Kube framework. By building reusable components we ensure that i.e. the email application can show the very same contact view as the addressbook, with all the actions you’d expect available. This not only allows us to mix various UI elements freely while building the User Experience, it also ensures consistency across the board with little effort. The components load their data themselves by instantiating the appropriate models and are thus fully self contained.

Components will come in various granularities, from simple widgets suitable for popup display to i.e. a full email application.

The components concept will also be interesting for integration. A plasma clock plasmoid could for instance detect that the Kube calendar package is available, and show this instead of it’s native one. That way the integration is little effort, the user experience is well integrated (you get the exact same UX as in the regular application), and the full set of functionality is directly available (unlike when only the data was shared).

Models

Kube is reactive. Models provide the data that the UI is built upon, so the UI only has to render whatever the model provides. This avoids complex stateful UI’s and ensures a proper separation of bussiness logic and UI. The UI directly instantiates and configures the models it requires.
The models feed on the data they get from Sink or other sources, and are as such often thin wrappers around other API’s. The dynamic nature of models allows to dynamically load more data as required to keep the system efficient.

Actions

In the other direction provide “Actions” the interaction with the rest of the system. An action can be “mark as read”, or “send mail”, or any other interaction with the system that is suitable for reuse. The action system is a publisher-subscriber system where various parts can execute actions that are handled by one of the registered action-handlers.

This loose-coupling between action and handler allows actions to be dynamically handled by different parts of the system system, i.e. based on the currently active account when sending an email. It also ensures that action handlers are nice and small functional components that can be invoked from various parts in the system that require similar functionality.

Pre-Handlers allow preparatory steps to be injected into the action-execution, such as retrieving configuration or requesting authentication, or resolving some identifier over a remote service. Anything that is required really to have all input data available to be able to execute the action handler.

Controllers

Controllers are C++ components that expose properties for a QML UI. These are useful to prepare data for the UI where a simple model is not sufficient, and can include additional UI-helpers such as validators or autocompletion for input fields.

Accounts

Accounts is the attempt to account for (pun intended) the networked nature of the environment we’re working in. Most information we’re working with in Kube is or should be synchronized over one or the other account and there remains very little that is specific to the local machine (besides application state). This means most data and configuration is always tied to an account to ensure clear ownership.

However accounts not only manifest in where data is being put, they also manifest as “plugins” for various backends. They tie together a QML configuration UI, an underlying configuration controller (for validation and autocompletion etc), a Sink resource to access data i.e. over IMAP, a set of action handlers i.e. to send mail over smtp and potentially various defaults for identity etc.

In case you’re internally already shouting “KAccounts!, KAccounts!”; We’re aware of the overlap, but I don’t see how we can solve all our problems using it, and there is definitely an argument for an integrated solution with regards to portability to other platforms. However, I do think there are opportunities in terms of platform integration.

An that’s it!

Further information can be found in the Kube Documentation.