Friday, August 8, 2008

KDE 4.0 - Constructive Critisizm

KDE4.0 - Is it ready to be a desktop?

Let's start by pointing out the good things... Plasma looks cool in screenshots, and the black taskbar is reminiscent of a semi-fashionable look and feel.

The Oxygen artwork is some of the best scalable icons in existence right now... comparable only with the highly acclaimed OS X artwork and eye candy.

Dolphin has everything Konqueror needed as a file browser, with larger previews and really exploiting the Oxygen artwork without taking up too much real estate.

Now for the bad:

Task Bar

The new black task bar is black and only black. No easy option to change. No easy way to drag contents around, and no easy way to put the clock in 24 hr format. And please don't suggest retexturing or modifying a ~/.kde/ file. Those things only further slow the already long winded transition to a new desktop environment in the first place.


For those using newer versions of KDE 3.5, you'll notice a big change in Konqueror. First is, it's no longer your file browser. Second is, it's been replaced with an eye-candy application called Dolphin. This remains true for KDE4. I'm not sure why, but now that the KDE team has polished a usable file browser, Konqueror (and although fast, unusable as a web browser for some very obvious reasons, such as flash and gmail to name a few), they've introduced a broken and less-featured file browser with a cute name.


For starters, Dolphin (until bleeding-edge versions) does not support tabs. Instead it supports the "Norton Commander" interface, known more commonly as "Split View", which although nice, is a difficult transition from Konqueror's tabs, if you used them.

Second, Dolphin (as of Ubuntu 8.04) has no details column for "Modified Date". Which for any computer guru is essential (think of log files, screen captures, recently modified documents, etc).

Third, Dolphin doesn't remember your view settings!!! Large icons, small icons, details, it doesn't really matter which one you specify, because it won't retain the settings. This has held true since early releases and is very cumbersome.

Fourth, yeah fourth... the preview on the right most side of the file browser -- although beautiful -- often overlaps with other previews (such as selecting many items). Upon first launch, the preview pane was only 50% visible, and the sporadic behavior is not something thats I'd recommend to the majority of end users already happy with a functional (Konqueror) file browser.


All issues aside, you have to hand it to the KDE team in their transition to modularize every desktop applet as a plasma widget. Truly ground-breaking. The question is, does this justify sacrificing already well-working features? Is the KDE team OK that people will have to live without functionality for now? With any big project, bugs and features are expected, however the recent decision to replace Konqueror with Dolphin seems a blatant disregard to usability. I find this true with Plasma, which assumes you want widgets in the first place!

Clock widget? No thank you. I'm fine with the one in the corner. (The analog version looks very under-developed IMO).

K-Button widget? I'm fine with that in the corner too. I was also fine with the KDE 3.5 organization to it. Now you have to click, then type, then click to open an application. Spotlight/Finder clone needs some work before the good-old-K-Button is removed!

Desktop Icons Widget? Same goes, although I'm always willing to try something new.

Plasma pallet! In the top right... get it out of there! Haha... I'm sure it will be removable in future versions... it makes the wallpaper look varnished. :)

Desktop Effects

The introduction of Desktop effects is highly anticipated, but most are finding performance terrible, and I haven't seen anything impressive thus far. The 3d animations, such as exploding menus and windows don't appear to be made from the windows contents, and break appart in a very mechanical fashion that may remind you more of Star Fox on the Super Nintendo than anything else. For those who used Compiz with KDE 3.5, you'll know that its very functional and very nice looking, and makes one wonder why the KDE team would re-write some of the Linux communities best desktop effects...

Some times I wonder if all of the time spent on reinventing the desktop environment could be made transitioning the Firefox components to KDE, such as file associations, GTK themability (mostly broken in KDE4.0). Lets face it... KDE users use Firefox! They have to! Its tried and tested with Flash, Java, and Gmail. The user base on OS X alone is astonishing, add the Windows user base, and Konqueror is really a "second choice" like Internet Explorer is to so many Firefox Windows users.


With the release of KDE 4.1, I have some very high expectations before making the switch. I've been a KDE fan since the days when Mandrake (Mandriva) was sold in Wal-Mart (1999), but
KDE 4.0 is simply driving me away from the polished desktop that I've grown to love.

The Qt4 framework, which is the driving force behind the KDE4 desktop, seems to be the next best thing since sliced bread, as it will allow GPL KDE apps like Konqueror, Amarok, LMMS, Kopete, to find homes on non-KDE and even non-Linux desktops. I have to say I'm impressed. I've been using LMMS 0.4.0 Beta on Windows XP for a week now, and its amazing!

That said, I'm excited to see some of the projects such as KDE4 on OS X, and the popularity of the Qt framework for building applications. I just hope the "less is more" mentality of Gnome doens't leave people switching away from KDE by default. I'd like them to choose Gnome because they like it. Not because KDE's broke.

What about Gnome?

For the Gnome fans out there, I have nothing bad to say. Its stable, predictable, easy to use and feature-full. Fortunately for the Gnome users, Gnome's changes aren't very drastic and usually come with smaller bouts of rejection. :)


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