Vector Tiling in Marble Maps @Randa

Categories: KDE, Marble, OSM
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Published on: September 13, 2015

Earlier today I returned from the KDE Sprint in Randa, where Torsten, Sanjiban, me and 50 other KDE developers met in the Swiss Alps for a week of hacking. Our Marble subgroup concentrated on vector tiling in Marble Maps. After some very productive days we have a first prototype of OpenStreetMap vector tile support ready both on the Desktop and on Android. It will become the new map rendering engine for Marble Maps on Android in future releases.

Our main goal for the Randa Sprint was getting the vector tiling tool chain running. This includes splitting OpenStreetMap data into smaller chunks and providing them on a KDE server (thanks, Ben). These chunks are then downloaded by Marble clients on the Desktop or Android and provide the data for the map you see. Fortunately we got the server infrastructure and a basic vector tile generation tool up and running within the first two days, and had it generate vector tiles for a couple of test regions for the rest of the week.

For texture tiles the server is responsible for rendering the map and client devices just display images. This approach is easy to implement for clients, but no changes to the look of the map are possible. Vector tiles require a client that is capable to render the data by itself. Even though that pushes more work on the client, it has a lot of advantages: The map always looks crisp and all elements can be adjusted dynamically. Some of that can be seen in direct comparison already as shown in this screenshot (best viewed in original size):


Marble has been able to render vector data since the very start, but support for OSM vector data only started to emerge recently. With a working tile server in place we now could concentrate on the fun part, extending and improving OSM vector rendering itself. Beaches, buildings with real height, glaciers, butchers, car sharing and narrow-gauge railways are just a few examples of elements we added to the rendering. There’s still a lot of further elements and details to consider, but we covered all major map features already.


The Randa Sprint brought us much closer to a releasable (end-user ready) version of vector tiling. Chances are good this happens within this year still. Our public beta version of Marble Maps in the Android Play Store will get the update automatically. You can become a beta tester if you’re interested in seeing it emerge. We now also have the weekly Marble Café where everybody is invited to get involved with Marble and learn about recent developments.

Last but not least I’d like to thank everyone who helped making the Randa Sprint possible, especially the awesome organization team around Mario and his family/friends as well as everyone who donated and supported it.

Announcing Marble Maps for Android Open Beta

Categories: KDE, Marble, OSM
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Published on: September 1, 2015

It’s my pleasure to announce the Open Beta version of Marble Maps for Android. Marble Maps is a port of the Desktop application Marble Virtual Globe and right now features an OpenStreetMap viewer, search and routing. The app is not yet feature complete; future updates will add turn-by-turn navigation, improve vector rendering and add basic OSM editing capabilities.

Marble Maps on Android - Search  Marble Maps on Android - Routing  a3

Our first Marble Maps release builds on the foundations of the Marble library, which runs on Linux, Windows and Mac OS X. The port to Android could be realized thanks to the recent great advances of Qt on Android. The porting itself was done by Gábor Péterffy during his GSoC project which just recently finished. Now we have a small team working on advancing the app further towards our goals of creating fast, visually appealing, easy-to-use free software. Give it a try, it works very nice already despite its early development state :-)

Among the next updates will be support for turn-by-turn navigation. At the same time we are working on support for vector tile rendering. Have a look at the third screenshot above (a manually opened .osm file) for a sneak preview. Vector tile rendering will replace the current image based maps with vector based ones. This will not only reduce the amount of data to be downloaded, but also result in a much better looking/readable map display. Once we reach that point we’ll also look into context sensitive map rendering like night, hike, bike and similar modes.

Fortunately many of the needed pieces for vector tile rendering are already available. To bring them together we will meet in the Swiss Alps and have in intensive week of hacking in the upcoming KDE Sprint in Randa. If you want to support us, please donate some money to cover travel and accomodation expenses for the sprints.

Marble 1.11.3 for Windows

Categories: KDE, Marble
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Published on: July 12, 2015

In the last months I did not have any system running Windows and therefore could not create new Marble Windows packages. My new T450s however came with a preinstalled Windows 7, so that problem is gone. If you are running Windows, please give the new packages a try:

Please leave a comment whether they work for you. I’ll add the download links to in that case. Compared to the last Windows packages (Marble 1.9.1) there’s an upgrade to Qt 5.5 inside and several new features in Marble itself, e.g. improved support for tours and map editing (the treasure map in the screenshot was done with that) as well as a couple of new map projections.


Marble 1.8.3 Installer for Windows

Categories: KDE, Marble
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Published on: June 28, 2014

Today I took some time aside to update the slightly outdated Marble installer for Windows. It now covers the latest stable release Marble 1.8.3. Before pushing it to our Installation website I’d like some quick feedback from other Windows users willing to give it a try: Does Marble run fine on your system after installing it? The installer also associates .kml and .gpx files with Marble such that you can open them directly from e.g. Windows Explorer. Download the installer here: marble-setup-1.8.3.exe.

Quick ad intervention: If you like this please donate for the KDE Randa sprint. I’d like to meet with fellow Marble developers to discuss future development. Thanks :-)

Marble 1.8.3 running on Windows 7

Since I don’t plan to step up as a maintainer for our Windows installer it would be great if someone else interested in Windows packages could look into some possible improvements. Compiling against quazip would result in .kmz support. Also the installer ain’t the most pretty nor smart thing in the universe yet; forcing an uninstall of older Marble versions before the installation would be a good start. Since it is based on NSIS improvements shouldn’t be too hard to implement. Interested? It’s quite painless to set things up:

  • Install some compiler, the free MSVC express editions suffice (I used MSVC 2010 Express)
  • Install Qt, the binary Windows packages are fine (I used 4.8.6 for VS 2010).
  • Clone the Marble repository (msysgit is your friend)
  • Install cmake (I used
  • Have cmake generate a MSVC solution for you:
  • Open the generated marble.sln. Inside MSVC open the configuration manager and switch from Debug to Release. Compile. Also build the INSTALL target.
  • Install NSIS. Open src/marble.nsi in some sane text editor and change the srcdir variable to your export folder. Use the NSIS compiler to generate marble-setup.exe from src/marble.nsi.

Watch a HD live stream from space

Categories: KDE, Marble
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Published on: May 10, 2014

The NASA is currently providing a high-quality live stream from cameras mounted at the International Space Station (ISS). Watch it directly in your browser to see stunning pictures like this:

Image from the ISS HD Earth Viewing Experiment

The site also tracks the current location of the ISS overlayed on Google maps. If you’re looking for an alternative location tracking that gives you more control, give Marble a try: Aside from getting the current position and orbit you can view it in globe projection for a more intuitive display, and shift time back and forth as you like with the position and orbit updated accordingly.

Marble showing the current  position and orbit of ISS.
Marble showing the current position and orbit of ISS.

To get that view in Marble, activate Satellites in the View / Online Services menu. Click on the ISS in the map (search for it if you don’t spot it immediately) and select Display orbit in the menu coming up.

You can use View / Time Control to shift back and forth in time. You might also want to change the satellites being displayed, the screenshot above uses the Space Stations set available from Settings / Configure Marble / Plugins / Satellites.


GCI 2013 and Grand Prize Trip

Categories: KDE, Marble
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Published on: May 2, 2014

How does one become a contributor of Open Source development? Some start with the wish to fix that certain annoying bug in their favorite software. Others want to extend it by a new feature. However you arrive, the path to go to get that seemingly easy task done is often not clear. Where’s the source for that button? How do I make my changes take effect in the software that is run? Finding the right path can be a frustrating journey many are not willing to endure. Google Code-In (or GCI for short) aims to help out: Pairing prospective contributors with mentors from established open source organizations builds a path to successful contributions. KDE has participated in GCI as a mentoring organization since its start in 2010, and did so again in the most recent 2013 edition.

GCI is all about cakes^w tasks.

To increase motivation GCI is organized as a contest. Pre-university students in the age of 13-17 years from most (not all) countries of the world may choose from a large pool of code, documentation, research, quality assurance and user interface tasks. Where does this pool come from in the first place? It is created by the mentors of all ten participating open source organizations who also maintain it during the whole contest. A task is a set of work in one of the five categories that takes a student a couple of hours or days to complete. Besides self-contained tasks often task series are created where either similar work is split into several tasks or related work is split into subsequent tasks. This way all sort of work can be converted into manageable pieces.

Nevertheless GCI is not meant to be a way of distributing work. Indeed it’s much more a communicative event where lots of small teams emerge — students and mentors exchange ideas, collaborate and task after task gets closed. Each successfully completed task earns you a point. In the core of the contest said procedure of choosing a task and completing it is repeated for seven weeks in a row. Afterwards the number of successfully completed tasks is summed up: One earns you a certificate. Three or more a groovy T-shirt to make your friends jealous. And if you are among the twenty top performers you win a trip to Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California!

All 20 GCI 2013 Grand Prize Trip winners in front of the famous Android lawn statues.

Getting there means finishing tasks, but fortunately they’re fun to work on. Maybe even addicting, or why else would you work on them from dusk till dawn? The never-sleeping KDE students added documentation videos for all sorts of KWin effects, updated KGeography for recent changes of regions and polished KStars features. A new touch typing course for the US english keyboard layout and keyboard layout files for more languages were created for KTouch. The Python support of KDevelop was extended in a series of tasks and Amarok got several new testers to verify bugs. The email client Trojitá got a couple of usability improvements and all sorts of new features found their way into Marble. Among them are extensions of its KML support, polishing of the new ownCloud integration and initial support for tours. Inner and outer planets of our solar system are now shown as well as the moon with its phase. New map themes were created, the interactive legend enhanced, the handbook and Python binding documentation extended, routing support improved and a screencast recording feature added. The Marble tasks alone sum up to 115, a considerable amount of the 259 KDE tasks closed in total. At the end of the contest Mikhail Ivchenko from Russia (47 tasks) and Benjamin Kaiser from Australia (46 tasks) ranked top among the KDE students. They joined the lucky twenty who visited Googleplex from April 13th to 17th. For the first time each organization could send a mentor to the trip as well; I was the happy one from KDE to go to Mountain View as well.

Mikhail, myself and Benjamin in the awards ceremony. Photo by Sergej Ivchenko.

The trip was an amazing experience for all of the 50 participants (20 students accompanied by a parent each and 10 mentors), lovingly organized by Stephanie Taylor and other members of the Google Open Source Programs Office. It started off with a meet-and-greet event in San Francisco to get to know everyone, followed by a day around Googleplex in Mountain View, a fun day in San Francisco and a farewell day in the Google San Francisco Office. Group activities like the Google campus tour, a Segway tour in San Francisco, a visit to Alcatraz, a Yacht cruise and a visit to the California Academy of Sciences were varied with lots of food, swags and interesting talks by Googlers. A great experience that all participants will keep in happy memory for a long time! Stephanie summarized it nicely:

This week we had the 20 grand prize winners and 1 mentor from each org here in Northern California for the Grand Prize trip and it was an amazing experience for all of us.  Being able to watch the students literally glow with excitement at meeting their mentors was very heartwarming.
As a bystander watching all of the conversations and hacking going on between students and mentors for 4 days was incredible. Students were not just chatting with the mentors from their orgs they were also involved in highly technical conversations with mentors and students from other orgs.  At every meal and break I would look around and there would be groups of 4-8 people huddled together deep in conversation. I’m sorry we can’t have every one of you attend the trip, but trust me, if you witnessed what I saw you would know that all of those long hours and sleepless nights you put into the 7 week contest helping teenagers learn about open source and your projects was worth it. : ) Kudos to all of you.
We hope that these students will continue to be contributors with your orgs and maybe even mentors and or GSoC students in the years to come.


Back to the roots

Categories: KDE, Maemo, Marble
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Published on: September 3, 2013

Nokia used to produce some excellent smartphone hardware. If you’re happy to own a N900, there’s an upgrade to Marble 1.5 on its way that brings some fresh life to good old Maemo. It’s in extras-testing now and should appear in extras soon. Kudos to Bernhard who took over maintainership of the Maemo version and worked hard to make this release possible.




New stable release Marble 1.6!

Categories: KDE, Marble
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Published on: August 15, 2013

Together with the 4.11 Release of KDE Applications a new stable Marble version 1.6 has been released. It surely is the greatest Marble release to date. Arguably each new release of a software should be the greatest so far, yet Marble 1.6 introduces an extraordinary amount of awesomeness. Below is a teaser image highlighting some of the new features. Make sure to check out our visual changelog which mentions even more new stuff and embeds some nice videos. Enjoy :-)

New features in Marble 1.6



Marble’s Desktop GUI revisited

Categories: KDE
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Published on: January 6, 2013

In the last five years the Desktop user interface of Marble hasn’t changed much: A QMainWindow with a central, large map (MarbleWidget) and a QTabBar based left sidebar with several widgets to control the map, perform searches and routing etc. Marble 1.5 (KDE 4.10) for example looks like this:


There are two main disadvantages when using a QTabBar here: Only one of its widgets can be visible at a time, and switching between the widgets in the tabs involves much mouse moving from top to bottom and the other way round (have a look at the tab positions in the screenshot).

To improve things we now introduced a new layout based on QDockWidgets. Its initial view resembles the old look and feel with a sidebar on the left, but shows two widgets at one time:


Dock widgets alone are not enough of course; the screenshot above also shows many further improvements. The Map View makes better use of the available space using smaller icons, showing the name and description to the right and indicating whether map themes are favorite ones using small overlays. Controls to choose the projection (sphere vs. flat map) and celestial body (planet) are condensed into a toolbar unless there is more space available to expand them. The old Navigation tab is gone in favor of a new map overlay visible in the bottom right. It’s also the first overlay to receive a modernized styling. The search results previously also shown in the navigation tab have moved to the new search dock which also integrates the search field previously found in the main toolbar. The latter is disabled again to leave more space for the map and dock widgets.

A big advantage of dock widgets (in combination with QMainWindow) is their configurability by drag and drop. Wide aspect ratios like 16:9 are used for many monitors now, which results in a good opportunity to create a right sidebar by dragging the dock widgets you’d like to see elsewhere to the right window border:


On closer look you’ll find that the routing dock has received a small facelift as well. The input fields for via points now integrate the drop down button previously found to their left. Actions working on the route previously found in various push buttons are now grouped in a toolbar.

It’s very easy now to assemble a new layout that shows all the controls you need in a certain situation. All features shown in the screenshots here are available in the Qt version of Marble in the master branch and will become part of Marble 1.6 / KDE 4.11. Feel free to give it a try. Please note that only the Qt version bin/marble-qt has implemented the changes at this time; the KDE version bin/marble will follow shortly.



Cooking in the Marble Kitchen

Categories: KDE
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Published on: December 28, 2012

A lot of activities in the Marble community over the last weeks are shaping up now to become part of the Marble library and applications. Much is related to the ongoing Google Code-in and this blog post introduces some of the new features that were realized by GCI students.

Popular star constellations — patterns in prominent stars within apparent proximity on Earth’s night sky — are now rendered by the extended stars plugin. Realized with much love for detail, Marble’s view of Earth from outer space is now more stunning than ever. See for yourself (yellow bubbles are manual annotations):

The screenshot also shows the new Earth at Night map theme which will replace the existing one. It features updated images with higher resolution. Further map themes have been completed or are in the works, among them Jupiter moons and historic map themes. To help you give proper attribution for derivative works, a new info box in the bottom right corner shows license information for the current map theme. Like all info boxes it can be disabled if needed.

Another main working area is KML support. While the most important KML elements are long supported, we are aiming for full KML 2.2 compliance in a future version. Towards this goal support for reading, writing and using more KML elements has been implemented. Among the new features is support for random color mode, reading and rendering screen overlays, reading balloon and list styles, rendering of remote images and writing of polygons, photo overlays, ground overlays and time spans. While preparing support for balloon style in placemark rendering the new webpopup plugin (annotated as map info dialog with webkit support in the screenshot below) was born. Given its nice look and generic applicability we’re currently replacing many QDialog based dialogs with it.


Much more has been realized in the last weeks and the above is just an incomplete high-level overview. Most of the features mentioned above are already merged into the master branch (to be part of Marble 1.6 / KDE 4.11). Some map themes will be deployed via GHNS and therefore be available in all KDE versions of Marble soon (File => Download Maps).

Google Code-in is still running for some weeks and we have a set of open tasks for volunteers to take. Check out Melange and search for Marble tasks (with KDE as organization) to see them. The website has a lot of information to get started as well.

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