Some musings on KDE4, and what I am currently up to

Posted on by Chris Warburton

I’ve been using KDE 4.0 for a time now, and I’ve made it my default session. I am starting to delve into KDE in terms of technology and community as much as I have already done for GNOME.

Although I have tried KDE on and off for a while, starting with RedHat 9 (my first distro), I have always backed off from the full desktop. I think RedHat 9 planted subconscious discomfort of KDE into my head, since their desktop was obviously tailored for GNOME and then their KDE setup was shoehorned into the same mould, resulting in KDE coming across as not-as-good-as-GNOME (which was true, if “good” means “good at being GNOME” as RedHat had set up). KDE, admittedly, has an assload of cool features. I’ve used in GNOME, amongst other things Amarok, Ktorrent, KMLDonkey, Kdesktop, Konqueror and Kopete. The 2 problems I had with running my whole desktop as KDE were:

1) Kicker, which I find a bit hard coded into its default setup. For example, to use 2 panels Kcontrol becomes useless (as far as I can tell), and I even tried to go as far down as text configuration files before giving up on any sort of independant configurations.

2) Konqueror as a file manager. Yes it has configurability coming out of its ears, but therein lies the problem. I am incredibly organised when it comes to filesystems. My Home folder is immaculately hierarchied (well, not quite immaculate since I would prefer a database-backed filesystem for those ambiguous files that crop up, like asparagus jelly going with the vegetables or the jellies, but that’ll teach me right for messing with glowing green rocks), thus I am left with a file manager which has more icons in the toolbar than in the current folder. It is just one of those preference things which can either be summarised as “It felt wrong” or else would result in a winding path of anecdotes about uncles, rhetorical and mensaphorical questions, hastily sketched graphs and a few Google image searches. In short, I like Nautilus quite a bit (I would probably love it even more and be using spatial mode if I hadn’t shot myself in the foot for a couple of years and tried Windows, turning the crap that Microsoft churns out into bad habits that I need to unlearn some day), and therefore Dolphin (which is in my opinion a QT version of Nautilus) is quite usable (once I get used to its quirks).

The same can be said of QT as a user interface toolkit (I am an artist learning to program, rather than the other way around and thus I am all about the bling baby! [Hence why I didn’t give GNUStep much of a weigh-in until recently]). I don’t know, the rendering just felt too….. plasticky to use (even BEFORE the “Plastik” theme became default :P ). I can’t really clarify what I mean by that, but lines and gradients just felt insubstantial (I am a big fan of things looking substantial and ‘there’ rather than flimsy and flexible. Basically I prefer Ziggy’s handlink over Motorola’s Razr). GTK always seemed more substantial to me, like the buttons are really there and are being pushed whilst QT seemed like using a veneer. Anyway, hand-wavyness aside I really love the Oxygen widgets. The tabs are really nice (except when you get more than will fit in the window, then this horrible artifact rears its ugly head, but its apparently fixed now so should hopefully be packed up for 4.0.1), the gradients are smooth and flow nicely between widgets, and I think it’s really smart how the window gradient gets darker near to the bottom, which is a common place to see buttons (for example in confirmation dialogues), making the buttons stand out against the background. Plus I LOVE seeing the widgets on website forms, since they give a great sense of integration between web pages inside a browser and proper applications.

My main criticism of Oxygen is that the scrollbars and progress bars stand out a bit too much. Whilst the whole theme reeks of subtlety and low contrast, unselected scrollbars and empty progress dialogues leap out, which goes against the rest of the theme. They jump out so much in fact that they need to shine bright blue to stand out any more than they already do. Don’t get me wrong, it looks damned sexy, but it also seems inconsistent and out of place with this theme. Plus I don’t get the gradients being used in the bars either. It looks like a-MacOSX-wannabe-without-making-it-obvious, but once again makes progress dialogues and scrollbars look inconsistent with the rest of the desktop and therefore stand out. If I’m reading a web page I don’t want to be noticing a dark patterned rectangle contrasting itself garishly with the rest of the window.

Here’s some less elaborated points I feel about KDE 4.0:

The set of default desktop backgrounds are incredible

The panel containment is annoying. Configuration has been added, I await the updates (I downloaded and built the whole of SVN, but deleted it and went back to the Kubuntu Team’s packages). The most annoying thing is the inability to drag plasmoids about in the panel.

The “Get Hot New Stuff” buttons are ghosted out in many applications. These are great for finding stuff, for example my desktop image (I’ve also used it with Amarok and SuperKaramba in the past) and I’d like to see the infrastructure put in place to get these going globally (I know plasmoid packages aren’t stable yet, their plasmoid repository is empty, etc. but this would make me really happy).

The plasmoid library is a bit lacking. I’ve seen many plasmoids on my travels through prereleases, but a few haven’t made it to the packages I’m using. There are a few (increasing every day) on KDE Look, but still not epic in functionality. I know I can use SuperKaramba widgets, but they’ll stick out like sore thumbs. This has prompted me to learn C++, since in my opinion there’s no point whining if I could be hacking, so I’ll see where that takes me later.

Native applications aren’t all there yet. The biggest things I miss native KDE4 clients for are an RSS aggregator (ie. Akregator) to use instead of Liferea, and an IMAP mail reader (ie. Kmail) to use instead of Evolution. Both of these applications are in kdepim, but that is broken in the current packages and trunk (when I tried it on Thursday).

Crashes can get annoying. This isn’t too frequent generally, but I notice it A LOT in Konqueror. No tab rcovery (a la Epiphany) means that when it’s gone it’s gone, and I have a tendency to go through my news reader opening any pages I find interesting, then switch to my browser and go through them. This means that I can lose all of the news awaiting my perusal and since my reader has marked them read there is no catagorisation of those I’ve read fully and not read fully, so I have to go through them again. Can get annoying. Especially when it gets triggered by the most basic javascript, and when other sites make it freeze for 10 minutes at a time. Needs moar work plz :(

Some things need a bit more polish, like the menus and inconsistent icon theming (the icons aren’t wrong, they just don’t seem to be getting applied everywhere). The general complaint that mouse themes don’t seem to be consistent across windows. Stuff like that.

So, in conclusion. I should be doing revision.

Foody food time, energy drink time, shower time and exam time.

Then sleepy time. Lots and lots of sleep.