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Nepomuk and KDE to introduce the semantic desktop

By Bruce Byfield on August 26, 2008 (7:00:00 PM)

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If you follow technology trends, you have probably heard of the semantic desktop -- a data layer for annotating and sharing the information in your computer. But what you may not be aware of is that the semantic desktop is not a distant goal, but scheduled to arrive at the end of 2008. And, when it does, the idea will probably be implemented through the work done by the Nepomuk project, and, most likely, by KDE first.

Ansgar Bernardi, deputy head of the Knowledge Management Department at Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz (DFKI, or the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence) and Nepomuk's coordinator, explains, "The basic problem that we all face nowadays is how to handle vast amounts of information at a sensible rate." According to Bernardi, Nepomuk takes a traditional approach by creating a meta-data layer with well-defined elements that services can be built upon to create and manipulate the information.

"The first idea of building the semantic desktop arose from the fact that one of our colleagues could not remember the girlfriends of his friends," Bernardi says, more than half-seriously. "Because they kept changing -- you know how it is. The point is, you have a vast amount of information on your desktop, hidden in files, hidden in emails, hidden in the names and structures of your folders. Nepomuk gives a standard way to handle such information."

Bernardi adds, "This is something that, conceptually, is nothing very new." He points out that office programs have had aspects of the semantic desktop for years, For example, if an email schedules an appointment, in some office programs, you can have the appointment automatically added to your calendar. What is different about Nepomuk is that it extends this inter-relatedness to all your files, and greatly expands how you can organize and manipulate the information for your own purposes.

"In terms of usability and public impact, it is of great interest," Bernardi says. If anything, he understates the case.

The Nepomuk project

Nepomuk began at the start of 2006, with €11,500,000 from the European Union. Today, it has 16 partners, including Hewlett-Packard Galway, IBM, and Edge-IT (a subsidiary of Mandriva).

At a high level of generalization, Nepomuk has three main aspects, according to Bernardi. First, there is a standard framework for annotating pieces of information so that connections can be made between them. Second, there are ontologies, the sets of "documented shared understanding" or common concepts that can be defined for particular types of information, such as bio-science or computer desktop use. Finally, there are the tools for making or using the annotations and ontologies, what Bernardi calls the "workspaces that connect to other workspaces and help you in your day to day activities of collecting information, structuring it, making sense of it, and creating new information and communicating it."

Together, these aspects will affect all levels of users. The first time you use a Nepomuk-supported desktop, the data sources you choose will be indexed, and you can add additional annotations later. At least part of Nepomuk's functionality will be based on Lucene, the Java search engine.

For everyday users, the semantic desktop will allow enhanced searching of the type that has already been introduced by applications like Beagle, but with more user control than any existing program. For more sophisticated users, such as academic researchers, while Nepomuk will not actual do data-mining itself, it will assist such processes. For example, a researcher writing a standard lab report could gather much of the necessary information by having it entered automatically based on file annotations.

On whatever level Nepomuk is used, it will be accompanied by standard security protocols -- "permissions on various levels, encryption, and key management," Bernardi says, and most likely identity management and controls for sharing information. Not only should a Nepomuk user be able to control what personal information is shared, but they should also be able to create common views, or shared annotations, so that the same research on, say, the semantic desktop, could be shared with both artificial intelligence researchers and web developers without anyone having to alter the information depending on who received it. Bernardi insists that the security will be simple to use -- "otherwise, nobody will use it," he says.

Bernardi expects that the high level components of Nepomuk will be released under a variety of licenses -- although exactly which ones has not been decided. The basic framework will most likely be released under a BSD or GPL license. By contrast, while some ontologies, such as calendar entries, will probably be released under a free license, others are likely to be proprietary so that Nepomuk partners can protect so-called intellectual property. The same is likely true of the user interfaces for Nepomuk.

The Nepomuk project is scheduled to conclude at the end of 2008. Bernardi says that the project is currently on track. There was a feature freeze in June, and integration tests are now underway. User testing is scheduled for September, and will be followed by decisions about licensing.

After the project is completed, development will continue in a number of venues. DKFI has a history of successful spinoff companies from its research -- 49 in 20 years -- and is likely to start one that involves Nepomuk. At least some of Nepomuk's participating companies are likely to continue their own research, and open development is likely to occur at KDE and at SemanticDesktop.org. A Semantic Desktop Foundation is also being discussed.

Nepomuk and KDE

KDE's involvement with Nepomuk is due to Sebastian Trüg, who is best known for his development of K3b, the popular CD/DVD burner. After Trüg received his computer science degree, he was hired by Edge-IT specifically to work on implementing Nepomuk in KDE.

Trüg explains that adding Nepomuk is a key goal of KDE 4. "There is even Nepomuk technology in 4.0," he explains, "but not much for the user's eye. So far we only use it for tags, ratings, and comments, as well as metadata cached from files for fast searches. In 4.1, you only see the tagging and rating interfaces in apps like Dolphin or Gwenview," he says, referring to KDE's new file manager and image viewer."

However, KDE is planning to extend the use of Nepomuk considerably in the next few releases. Already, Trüg says, "experimental tools exist that allow you to relate people to files (pictures for example) or other people, or to tag Web sites. But in the future [Neomuk] is supposed to be combined with way more applications. Important, of course, are the KDE_PIM applications, such as KMail and KAddressbook. KMail developers, for example, have plans to provide virtual email folders through Nepomuk. Also, a service will extract contacts from KDE-PIM and link them to emails, IM accounts and dates, and thus provide an abstract view of the people you know."

With these developments in place, Trüg continues, "There should be no distinction for you between an email address and an IM account. You should be able to ask for emails from the guy you are chatting with without having to search through all your mails. Nepomuk should gather the different email addresses he used to send you emails from, for example.

"There are so many ideas in my head (and not only in mine)," Trüg laments. "But so far there are not enough developers." To help change that situation, he has written a series of tutorials to help developers to start writing Nepomuk-oriented code.

After the semantic desktop, the semantic Web?

"Nepomuk is a nice tool to have," Bernardi says, "so it's an end in itself. Certainly, it offers new ways of building applications, and we certainly hope that will fly."

However, Bernardi's strongest hope is that, besides having the potential to change the way people use their personal files, Nepomuk will also also lead to the successful implementation of the semantic Web -- the semantic desktop on the next logical level.

Right now, Bernardi, explains, the semantic Web faces "a chicken and egg problem." The vision of the semantic Web is to annotate all the information on the Internet in order to create a new level of services. However, nobody is creating the services, because the annotations are not available to make the services useful.

Bernardi's hope is that Nepomuk might provide a way to end this dilemma. "Nepomuk might provide an answer," he says, "because it provides an environment that makes it easy to annotate your information, and because it helps you in maintaining your information. Which means we have a very personal motivation to annotate your information. And then we have the initial starting point."

Whether Nepomuk will have all the implications that its developers hope is impossible to say right now. However, starting some time in 2009, we should have a chance to find out.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

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Nepomuk and KDE to introduce the semantic desktop

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 78.86.139.134] on August 26, 2008 08:19 PM
I've been following Nepomuk for a while now and it does indeed seem promising. The KDE integration is great, and expanding all of the time (just follow Planet KDE for about a week and a few new uses will likely be blogged about). Of the whole Nepomuk project itself, I'm afraid I have some doubts about the scope. There are many papers published in the Deliverables section of their site, but the integration systems apart from KDE (Mozilla for example) seem dormant or at least stalled, and there are more ideas being incorporated (such as Gnowsys and SELF) which seem admittedly related but don't really seem to fit.

KDE's Nepomuk integration is very pragmatic; infrastructure has been built and is expanding, use cases are appearing and being implemented. More developers would be great, but it is obviously going ahead and picking up pace. As for other Nepomuk systems, they don't seem particularly grounded in real-world applications. Integration is the key, since I would not spend time in a Nepomuk frontend adding metadata and constructing ontologies if the only use of them would be inside the Nepomuk frontend. I would vertainly do it if it were in my music player (Amarok), regular file manager (Dolphin), image viewer (Gwenview), etc. but also if it were in my browser (the Mozilla integration, as I say, seems dormant), in my messenger, in the websites I visit, etc.

RDF, SPARQL and OWL are standards and thus future interoperability is pretty straightforward. Get Nepomuk plugins/integration with WordPress, LiveJournal, Firefox, the GIMP, Inkscape, Abiword, OpenOffice, identi.ca and as many Free Software projects as possible which deal with authoring and publishing. Make it seamless to add metadata, not as an obscure, hidden menu item. Then push for Nepomuk integration with services like Google, Flikr, DeviantArt, CreativeCommons.org, feedburner, YouTube and as many other content-pushing services as possible.

If metadata (automatic and manual) can be preserved/expanded upon from drawing a picture in Inkscape, uploading it to Flikr, being downloaded by someone else and made into a slideshow video posted onto YouTube with music from Newgrounds, with the final video containing all metadata from its constituent parts then it really would be a semantic web. The thing is, this level of permeation is emergent it cannot be planned. It relies on action, useful code and willingness to help integration efforts, not necessarily debating the merits of peer2peer topologies or other such details. That will come in time as the initiatives pick up momentum.

-- Warbo

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Re: Nepomuk and KDE to introduce the semantic desktop

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 193.190.253.149] on August 26, 2008 11:43 PM
> the integration systems apart from KDE (Mozilla for example) seem dormant or at least stalled

Is is my general impression also, but after stumbling trough a lot of project pages, I ended up here: http://code.google.com/p/nepomuk-mozilla/

Seems the mozilla component is quite active too (I did not yet had a chance to install it). Annotating web-pages doesn't seem that usefull to me, but the Firefox->dbus->Nepomuk link could be quite interesting if it would enable me to link Nepomuk to my Zotero or Delicious plugins...

cheers,

Maarten

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Re(1): Nepomuk and KDE to introduce the semantic desktop

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.1.147.242] on August 27, 2008 12:37 AM
In case anyone who hasn't seen this, particularly the Aurora concept, is a great visualization of something that would benefit greatly from a further developed framework like this: http://labs.mozilla.com/projects/concept-series/

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Re: Nepomuk and KDE to introduce the semantic desktop

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 131.246.194.48] on August 27, 2008 02:53 PM
(here again the colleage of Ansgar Bernardi who kept forgetting names)

The NEPOMUK project has an integrated Java prototype which is well integrated and very active, as you can easily spot on this very very active changelog:
http://dev.nepomuk.semanticdesktop.org/timeline

Indeed, there is commits at 02:00 am, a good sign of productivity. The gnowsis (not gnowsys!) project is dormant because we at DFKI decided to work on one mutual project, which is NEPOMUK, so we have moved progress to NEPOMUK. As you find on the gnowsis.opendfki.de homepage, we moved development to nepomuk.

The reason for paralleling in Java and KDE is, that scientists are bad coders.
If we use Java, we at least don't have to care for platforms or memory issues, and most scientists know how to code Java. The features of the Java platform should be ported to KDE bit by bit, and if you follow the KDE-nepomuk mailinglist, you will notice some discussion on that. The interfaces are also quite good already, they can be ported to DBUS.

The challenge now is to straightforward copy as much existing work as possible to KDE, this is not limited to NEPOMUK-java but also includes our relevant neighbours, such as chandler by the osafoundation, openiris.org, dbin.org, etc. There are others out there..... we listed them on semanticdesktop.org

greetings

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Nepomuk and KDE to introduce the semantic desktop

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 131.246.194.48] on August 27, 2008 02:45 PM
The name of our project Manager is Ansgar BERNARDI not BERNARD. An "I" is missing at the end.
Just to repeat it as often as it was misspelled: Bernardi, Bernardi, Bernardi, Bernardi, Bernardi, Bernardi, Bernardi.
;-)

He also has a homepage (seems he has no time to update it): http://www.dfki.uni-kl.de/~bernardi/

(btw: I am the employee who kept forgetting the names of the girlfriends, greetings, I also kept forgetting the name of my wife while she was still my girlfriend. NEPOMUK forever, hurray, etc...)

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Re: Nepomuk and KDE to introduce the semantic desktop

Posted by: nanday on August 27, 2008 07:14 PM
My deepest apologiest to Dr. Bernardi. I don't know how that happened, but I've corrected it.

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Nepomuk and KDE to introduce the semantic desktop

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.68.50.111] on August 27, 2008 07:53 PM
Greetings all.
I ran KDE-4.1 on a 4 gig RAM with an X2 with debian x86_64 and found Nepomuk to be quite the system hog, sorry to say. I had to turn it off to get stuff done.
I'M NOT a coder by any stretch of the imagination, but I've been know to write a few bash scripts; I don't undersand why the creators of these programs don't write in some controls on how much cpu is used or use cron, etc to spread out the CPU usage. I remember running Beagle for a while, it was the same thing - A big system hog. I tried renice and schedtool, but had varying results plus schedtool added issues, so I uninstalled Beagle.
Comments?
Chris Wakefield
Victoria, B.C.

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Re: Nepomuk and KDE to introduce the semantic desktop

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 89.210.12.157] on August 30, 2008 08:14 AM
in the free world you have choices!

try tracker. for me it worked out of the box without being a hog! integrates seamlessly with the deskbar applet on gnome (like beagle)

poutsoklis

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Nepomuk and KDE to introduce the semantic desktop

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 211.26.41.16] on August 29, 2008 12:19 PM
Actually, the reason why Semantic Web is getting anywhere is because nobody in the SW project knows what they're trying to implement, much less how to implement it. The web is moving so quickly away from this direction that their job will become harder as time goes by - let's hope they just drop the idea. Good luck to the KDE people though as I think their project is very useful and much more likely to succeed :-)

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A workaround for the system hog

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 86.204.31.148] on August 30, 2008 08:08 AM
could be a system like Ulteo where the apps runs on distant (and very fast) machines ....

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