KDE 4: My Desktop Just Got Cooler

Tuesday, I decided to make the plunge and try out KDE 4.0.0 One word: amazing. So ever is my quick and unscientific review of KDE 4.0.0

KDE 4 is a very sexy looking desktop. The panel is darker, the default wallpapers classier and artwork much more modern. The icon and widget theme Oxygen and the effects make the desktop stunningly pretty. The Oxygen window decorations don’t add much. I ended up switching to the Plastik. Also the artwork for the new KDE 4 games is simply beautiful.

Naturally artwork is a very subjective thing, but it does help with the user experience. If a user wants to look at a program, then he/she might want to work and experiment with it too. So far I am impressed by the Oxygen art team’s progress.


Older KDE 3 applications also work well. So the new KDE libraries are as stable as the KDE developers claim them to be. Unfortunately not all the KDE 4 programs are stable. I encountered a number of crashes with the new Plasma-able version of superkaramba. Other KDE 4 applications can seem a bit unstable at times too. Also interoperability between KDE 3 and KDE 4 applications is a bit weak too. The most stable apps so far the one related to systemsettings and the KDE games.

Again, since KDE 4.0.0. is a release directed towards developers and early adopters, I am not going to complain about this. I am sure other windows managers were less stable after such a massive API change. Things should get better with the next release of KDE 4. Probably by the time Kubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron will be out, most of these bugs will be out of the way. Remember KDE 4.0.0 is just the first version in KDE 4’s lifecycle.

One thing I love and hate about KDE is the tight integration between KDE apps. As of KDE 4.0.0 many of the integration pieces are missing. I will not harp upon my two favourite KDE applications, amarok & kontact (part of KDE-PIM). In both cases, the developers are not ready to get the code in place to deal with the new APIs, and the new features they want to add. A straight port to the new kdelibs is one thing. A new release worthy of the KDE 4 title is another.

However some necessary parts of the KDE integrated experience are not there. Example: the Regional/Language settings work… barely. Also the new kickoff menu does not always find new non-KDE programs, something the old menu did. (That might be more of a Kubuntu/Ubuntu integration issue though). Plasma whose ultimate goal is to integrate the desktop, kicker and applets with the rest of the system, has a long way to go.

…And Everything Else!
To finish off this off-the-cuff review, I want to point a few other things I noticed.

The new kickoff menu takes some getting used to. At first I frowned upon the limited space this new menu system takes up. After a few uses, it grew on me. The Favorites and Computer parts let you quickly get to a favourite application or location. The Recently Used keeps track of your recent documents and applications used. Everything is nicely compartmentalized. The regular applications menu is the part that takes use to the most. Displaying only one menu at a time gives a lot more information about each application. Only problem is when there a large number of applications in a submenu. If the KDE developers come up with a natural way of categorizing applications and keep the maximum depth of submenus to 2 then its all good. Also please, please make it possible to scroll between menus without all that clicking.

The new okular document viewer is awesome. With all the backends in place, it really does become the universal text document viewer. Excellent work. Also KDE 4.0.0 sports a new revision of the gwenview image viewing program. A few more plugins to do slight photo-editing would be nice. But I guess thats what digikam is for. Dolphin also got an update in KDE 4.0.0. Dolphin’s breadcrumb file displayer is now easily editable to let you navigate the file system path. I found this very useful to enter hidden directories without displaying all the . files.

The new konqueror is now an actually usable web browser. Kopete for KDE 4 is nice, but I miss having easy one-click access to my accounts. Now I have to click twice to do the same thing because of the whole profiles thing. KGet also shows promise to be more useful than it once was, with bittorrent integration.

Wrapping up, KDE 4.0.0 brings a lot to the table. Its a sexy-looking desktop with a lot of potential. Once all of the KDE applications get fully ported, and the few nuisances straightened out, KDE 4 will be the most fun free desktop out there. For now KDE 4.0.0 just made my desktop look and feel a lot cooler.

Initial Impressions of Kubuntu 7.10 Gutsy [BETA]

Yesterday, I updated my main desktop system to Kubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon.
This release adds a number of exciting and useful features to Kubuntu. While not a revolutionary feature set, this new release promises to evolve Linux as a desktop OS. So, for the next few days I plan on experimenting and reviewing this new release of Kubuntu.

Before, you run off and grab the beta release, I have to warn you. Unless you don’t mind things breaking and you fixing them, DON’T use the beta release. The full release is coming out in a few days, so just wait until all the bugs are fixed.

Upgrade or Bust
I started the upgrade process by following the guide on the Kubuntu.org site. Unfortunately, the updater died as soon as it started installing packages. I recovered with a dpkg -a –configure, in the command line. Repeating the upgrade led to another updater crash. But after another recovery and some deleting of packages, I had a working system.

The upgrade process was not exactly, new user friendly. But its not something that should scare a long time Linux user familiar with the command line. Having run different Linux distros for six years, I did not have too much of a problem. Also a known bug in the hotkeys-setup script, prevented me from fully installing the official kubuntu desktop. Hopefully, both problems will get fixed soon.

As it stands, the upgrade process needs work. A clean install would of been better. But one of the nice features of Ubuntu, is upgrading without nuking your current running install.

File Management with Dolphin
One of the first things I did after upgrading, was to check my home folder. The new release used Dolphin instead of Konqueror for file management. Dolphin, the default file manager for KDE4, is one sweet program. Dolphin does file management in a simple, and clear manner. This is very much in the spirit of UNIX: a tool should do one thing, and do it well. It doesn’t try to be everything as Konqueror did. In fact, if you have to move, and sort tons of files as I do, you will want to upgrade just have this tool on by default.

Restricted Drivers Manager
The restricted drivers manager is another nice feature, that the Ubuntu devs added in the previous release of Ubuntu. Unfortunately, Kubuntu was missing a KDE frontend for this tool in Feisty Fawn 7.04. With this release, the tool works in KDE. Having this manager working in Kubuntu makes the KDE side of Ubuntu, as attractive as its GNOME cousin.

Since my nVidia drivers already work, the manager just informed me that the drivers were in use. Its nice this know. Also it helps to get the message across: free open source Linux needs free and open sourced drivers. Maybe in the future all hardware manufactures will offer free open source drivers.

Desktop Searching with Strigi
In earlier posts, I wrote about my search to replace Google Desktop search with a FOSS replacement. One of my early and most promising experiments was with Strigi. Its a nice program when it works… but this version of Strigi suffers from a bug. It basically eats up 100% CPU and refuses to actually do any work indexing. The result in my case, is that Strigi daemon borrows one of my CPU cores and takes it for an infinite spin. Good thing I have a free core to run the rest of my system. Killing the daemon every startup gets a bit irritating.

While I appreciate my CPU power being put to good use… Strigi… this is just absurd. I would prefer to run folding@home instead. Also since my version of Strigi does not want to do further indexing, its also not finding the results that I expect.

Impressions of Day One:
At least my system works without a hitch. The upgrade process was not pleasant, but at least everything works. Dolphin captured my heart, and is the best reason for the upgrade. The restricted device manager is also nice. And the utility will definitely help getting restricted, closed source drivers working on a system. Strigi is promising, but needs fixing. Badly.

To Be Continued…
Tomorrow, I will look at the new Amarok, OpenOffice.org and artwork. And I will check if my remote control works out of the box, this time.