Saturday, August 29, 2009

Why I Dumped KDE

I had been a KDE fanboy for about 10 years. I remember compiling version 1.0 from source myself. But now I had to put an end to it. Let this be a lesson to us all. If you produce software that is
  1. unstable
  2. unintuitive and weird
  3. lacking important functionality
then your users will be upset.

As a user of free software and Debian testing as my primary desktop operating system, I have a degree of tolerance for unstable software. In fact, two of the biggest culprits in the past, KMail and Konqueror, have become much more stable in KDE 4 compared to KDE 3. But Plasma kept crashing or running nuts with resources, and there were frequent rendering problems that caused windows and icons to disappear, causing me to restart my sessions every so often. I don't need that. And I didn't even dare to stress the enhanced desktop effects (compositing features) beyond a few trials. In the meantime, me and lots of other users who dared to adopt KDE 4.0 or 4.1 had to spend hours reporting interface bugs and regressions that were all probably reported once before but got reintroduced accidentally during the big rewrite.

The second problem was that KDE had set out to reinvent the desktop, and ended up giving users a desktop environment that they did not understand and that they could no longer use in the way they were accustomed to. The new theme and widget style were hard to read and fairly hard to use without the enhanced desktop effects also on. The panels wouldn't stay where I wanted them, and the things on the panels wouldn't either. And why after we have finally gotten to the point that all major free desktop environments can share the system tray, everything in KDE is now a plasma widget that is incompatible with everything else. The widgets, the menus, everything just didn't feel right. The interface of Kopete, the instant messaging client, had me constantly guessing who I was talking to and why. KMail had some good new ideas, but I had to spend hours disabling most new features so I could continue reading my mail. And the network manager applet, still in Debian experimental admittedly, was so weird to use that I'm amazed it ever connected to anything at all.

Which brings me to the third point, the one that finally did it for me. They wrote a new desktop environment, but forgot the include the functionality that people actually need to use. No stable network management. No printer setup. No bluetooth support. No Debian update manager support. The entire groupware suite still cannot synchronize with hardly anything. Not my phone, not Google, not MS Exchange. Instead, there is now a MySQL server running on my desktop with the promise that it will be able to store all my contacts at some point. Or something. And Konqueror, now demoted to merely a web browser, has as far as I can tell, not been developed at all since KDE 3.5. It has serious rendering problems with many currently popular web sites and has none of the extensions that Firefox offers. You can probably synchronize the bookmarks with Akonadi someday. Or something. So, in practical terms, if you subtract all that, you are basically left with nothing, and might as well not use KDE at all.

So what now? I had good experiences with LXDE before, so I went with that. It has worked out well so far: visually appealing, lightweight, yet functional, and you can smoothly mix in KDE and GNOME applications. Well, that's LXDE plus OpenBox, to spread the credit fairly. I got Iceweasel configured to do most of the things that I once appreciated Konqueror for, and with the right extensions it's much better. Evolution isn't as configurable as KMail, but at least it can connect my calendar and addressbook to the external sources that I need. Pidgin gives me more protocol options and a saner interface for instant messaging. I hung on to the KDE konsole application, which has nice enhancements in KDE 4. Also, Amarok, possibly another one of those rewrites/reinventions gone wrong, seems to be without usable alternative at the moment. (Kaffeine has not been ported to KDE 4, and all the Gtk/GNOME-type applications I tried didn't do what I needed them to do.)

The Linux desktop, for lack of a better word, is becoming irrelevant. If you are a hacker, all you really need is a browser and a terminal. And maybe Emacs. If you are a normal user, all you need is a browser and an office suite. And maybe Skype. There is not much room for differentiation left there.


  1. Just use Emacs. escreen for flexibility. M-x term. bitlbee and ERC or rcirc for IRC and jabber and MSN and all. gnus for mails and RSS feeds, or newsticker for those. There's even a skype bitlbee plugin. You still need a browser, I picked conkeror (firefox with Emacs like keys and buffers rather than tabs). BBDB for the addressbook. Calendaring, org-mode I have to learn, meantime web based solution aren't that awful. Amarok? EMMS. Video playing... well fire up VLC.

    It may seem too much, pushing Emacs this way, but it really makes my day.

    Oh and then the window manager you want to forget about it unless when you need it, awesome is my choice.

    Hope this helps.

  2. I was quite critical toward KDE 4, but I found 4.3 very good. The feel and look is eventually stable and fluid.

    All in all, they've made a bet, and it seems at some point they should suceed, at least I believe so.

    Wish you nice experiences with your alternative desktop configuration.. !

  3. First of all, as a "KDE fanboy", you should have known that KDE 4.0 was a "developer release" and 4.1 was for "early adopter". If you are not those two audiences, you should not bother to use KDE 4.

    Second, Konqueror, is not only a webbrowser, it can still do local file browsing, even though it uses another KPart, Dolphin KPart, but the functionality is there and it is getting mature and complete by each release.

    And you haven't mentioned which KDE 4 version are you talking about? Many people say that KDE 4.2 is the beginning of usable KDE 4, and KDE 4.3 starts to reach feature and stability parity with KDE 3.5. But yes, some issues you mentioned are valid, and the developers are addressing it. But judging from how fast KDE 4 is being developed (from an utterly crap KDE 4.0 to now KDE 4.3) and from the feature list, I think most of your problem will be addressed in KDE 4.4

    But well, Desktop Environment is a matter of choice, use whatever you like, I just want to correct some misinformation that you spread. Enjoy your new environment :-)

  4. Try JuK as a music player. First KDE 4 versions had many glitches, but the latest version is as stable as the KDE 3 one, plus some small features.

    It's sad reading so many negative things about KDE 4. Personally, I still use KDE 3 as a desktop, but I run many new KDE 4 applications that run just fine. The small tools were ported very easily. The problem is that some stuff was written in KDE 3 so long ago, and worked for many years without the need of a maintainer (e.g. kdeprint). Now, when a port is needed, and lots of work has to be done, there is nobody doing it. You can't blame the whole project for that.

    About plasma: it works flawlessly here and on many systems. It's not the most lightweight thing ever, but you can't expect that with all that amount of features. This makes me think that if it works nice in one place, and so bad in another, it's a hardware/driver issued.

  5. The end of your post, that desktop differentiation is over, is like famous "end of history" statement.
    KDE is trying to prove you wrong, even if no one else is. Personally, I found KDE many years ago to awfully slow and unstable, and moved to Gnome. The I realised that many of the things that sucked about Ubuntu were Gnome's fault; things cheerfully break, sacrificed on the alter of underlying improvements (eg indexing in Evolution email) and they never get fixed in Ubuntu (until the next release). KDE pursues a more traditional model of making released products, not development snapshots, and KDE 4.3 works really well. I prefer it to Gnome now.

    By the way, a real hacker only needs a tape, a machine that can move the tape forwards and backwards, and a pencil and eraser, a little lookup table, and patience.

  6. I am sorry dude, but I cannot stand it when people generalize their experience and needs to the whole of the user base.

    I am a proud user of KDE 4. 4.2 was amazing and 4.3 is far better. Every release the improvements are subtle, yet make all the difference. I have effortlessly set up two monitors and have never seen a better desktop. KDE has some killer apps such as the fish kpart for using all kde with files on a remote server through ssh, Akregator is the best rss reader i have seen, and plasma give me a reason to minimize windows. Not to mention I don't know how I got along without krunner. I concede that some apps, like kopete, are pretty awful. However, there is nothing stopping me from using pidgin and iceweasel. They fit right in.

    Don't get me wrong though, to each his own. Just don't act like KDE betrayed its users. I am a KDE user and I love what they are doing.

  7. "The Linux desktop, for lack of a better word, is becoming irrelevant. If you are a hacker, all you really need is a browser and a terminal. And maybe Emacs. If you are a normal user, all you need is a browser and an office suite. And maybe Skype. There is not much room for differentiation left there."

    I am a normal user - certainly not a hacker - and just a browser and an office suite don't do it for me. I need almost the whole functionality of KDE 3.5. At the moment it's still the best DE on Linux. I would love to see a build of KDE 3.5 for another release, from a non-official repository maybe. Or I will switch to CentOS 5, there are non-official packages of KDE 3.5.10 for it, too.

  8. I am so glad to read this. I'm incredibly tired of the knee-jerk "OMG YOU JUST HATE KDE 4 BECAUSE IT'S DIFFERENT!" response I get to exactly the same issues you have with KDE 4.

    Essentially, KDE 4 might one day in the future -- perhaps a year or more -- be an adequate replacement for KDE 3.5.10.

    But right now it's not. As such, its inclusion in pretty much every major distro now is ridiculously premature and is nothing but bandwagon jumping, in my opinion.

    And anymore, there are so many KDE 4 fanbois out there, that (as evidenced by some of the comments on your post here) you can't even give rational criticism of KDE 4 anymore without someone jumping down your throat about it.

    I'm glad that there are a few of us willing to point out that KDE 4 simply isn't a viable alternative to KDE 3.5.10 yet. It's time to stop that knee-jerking and get reasonable about what it can and can't do, and right now the "can't do" is the biggest obstacle for me even taking KDE 4 seriously.


  9. I switched to LXDE for quite a while. I really liked roxterm as a terminal emulator with it. I like that the configuartion gui is a seperate executable for the terminal. saving resources when not in use. I also used it with compiz instead of openbox for a while. that was a pretty interesting desktop. when I upgraded to squeeze I went back to KDE, to give 4.x s try. It's not great, but it does still have the rotating box desktop switcher that I've come to love in LXDE plus Compiz. I'll probably keep using it until 4.3 gets into testing, as I hear that is really nice. one feature of KDE I forgot how much I missed was the hal integration to auto detect usb drives and add an icon to the desktop. not having to have antipatory fstab entries nad run mount manually is nice.