Saturday, March 27, 2010

KDE SC 4.4.1 Review

I keep three computers at home, one desktop and two laptops, all of which have some Linux incarnation installed. If possible, I usually set them up with more than one partition, so I can dual boot. This allows me to use several different distros, desktop managers. etc., at any given time. I can alpha and beta test that way, or simply keep it fresh so I am not stuck with the same configuration all the time. After all, Linux is about variety and freedom, so why not get the most out of it?

Up until very recently, I was using a Mandriva 2010 installation to satiate my KDE thirst, but not being able to try the latest KDE 4.4.1 was bugging me. After trying to find a way to update my Mandriva box, I didn't find anything that seemed easy or reliable.

I knew that Fedora, with its edge approach to new software packages, would allow me to give it a try. On top of that, I wanted to test another USB installation (I already tested Ubuntu 9.10 and was loving the results). Long story short, I am typing these lines from Fedora 12 running KDE 4.4.1, all installed on TDK 16GB USB drive.

IMPRESSIONS ON KDE SC 4.4.1

When I tried Fedora12 a few months back, it was sporting the latest KDE desktop (I believe 4.3.4). Therefore, knowing how Fedora was with that older version would help in isolating my testing so I could focus on SC4.4.1.

The looks

KDE developers have always put big efforts on this department, and this version continues to deliver. This is obviously very subjective, but I am liking what I am seeing. I have to admit I was hoping for a bigger step forward, but it is a nice progression over KDE 4.3.x. Some new menus have been added, some features have been rearranged and a few seem to have been removed.


KDE 4.4.1 on Fedora 12. Now, those are some good looking widgets!

I think it all looks smoother, the new Air theme is a nice departure from Oxigen, and controls, scroll bars and buttons look better than ever. The new widget addition menu is quite impressive, albeit a bit sloppy in functionality. When dragging a widget to the desktop or the panel, I had some strange results. Sometimes it would do nothing and would take it a few tries before it would work. Some new functionality has been added to a few widgets, they mostly look better as well.


This new menu makes it easier to add widgets (mostly).

The system tray also seems to sport a tighter integration. The applet dealing with removable drives also gets some new functionality and a refined look. Unfortunately, it suffers from a problem that is often there in KDE: It is anything but intuitive. When plugging in a new USB drive, a neat little dialog shows that there are a few actions available for that device. In other words, there is more than one application that could be used to deal with the contents in that drive. The problem is that only clicking on a very small icon on the left hand side of the menu displays the options available.


The menu dealing with removable drives looks good, but is far from intuitive

Fonts look sharper than in previous versions, but I still think GNOME has better rendering.


Font rendering detail on the (almost unchanged) main menu here.

Dolphin also looks very much the same. I still feel the KDE file manager of choice is a bit bloated and slow, but cannot say I count myself among those considering Konqueror a better alternative.


Dolphin on KDE SC 4.4.1

PERFORMANCE

Historically, KDE has suffered from slower performance when compared to GNOME. This issue has been addressed in late releases and performance keeps improving release after release. This last release is no exception. Having said so and while the gap keeps shrinking, I still feel GNOME performs better.

RELIABILITY (or lack of...)

KDE SC 4.4.1 is proudly presented as the result of resolving several hundred bugs, and it shows. It does feel more solid than 4.3.x, but I hear it still is far from being as solid as 3.x, and even farther from GNOME.

In just a few days I have got a few bugs, more than I've had in a full month under GNOME. Applications that get closed for no reason, sessions that close without notice... I haven't really been able to reproduce those crashes consistently, so I can't consider or log them as bugs, but the overall feel is sloppy. In fact, an element that was particularly buggy was the compiz integration. This was not really a problem for me under 4.3.x, so not sure what went wrong here. In this case, several key combinations simply are "forgotten" after the session is closed, while others just don't work for me

All in all, reliability is still a miss in KDE as far as I am concerned.

APPLICATIONS

If you like KDE applications, the good news is that they keep getting better. Kmail, K3b, Amarok, Ark... You name it, it's better. In fact, I downloaded the latest version of Amarok and I must say I very much like the path it's following.


Amarok gets a new splash screen.


Amarok menus look better integrated.


Chromium gets very good integration and seems to even work better than under GNOME.

"SAME OL, SAME OL..."

I started using KDE right when version 4 was released. Back then, there was a general consensus that there was still a lot of work pending. This desktop environment has come a long way since then, improving in all aspects. Having said so, I still think there are several things that are missing or are simply way too complicated for new users. Here are some of my main concerns/issues with KDE:

1.- Custom keyboard shortcuts missing. I love how easy it is to create custom keyboard shortcuts in GNOME. If I want to assign a new key combination in order to open the browser of choice, it is very simple. Likewise, if I installed an alternative web browser, I can set up a new custom key combination in 2 seconds. I am yet to find how this can be achieved under KDE.

2.- Panel launcher functionality. This one is a big drawback, I think. GNOME makes things really simple and clear here. If you want to add a new shortcut to your panel, you can right click on any of the menu items and do so, or just drag and drop. Similarly, you can simply right click on the panel and add a shortcut. In KDE this is ridiculously cumbersome. The only option I found involves adding a widget (Quicklaunch) to the panel. This widget has limited functionality:

- You can only add launchers by right-clicking and choosing the right option
- Customizing launcher icons is anything but intuitive
- Once you choose how many icons should be displayed, you can only change that from the Quicklaunch settings, it does not dynamically adjust as you keep adding icons.

I think one could argue that KDE offers alternative ways to achieve the similar functionality, but panel shortcuts are very widely accepted, even expected. Most Windows users are used to this functionality, which became so popular for a reason. I think it would be smart to make this feature clearer, easier and more intuitive in future versions.

3.- System tray. Any Windows user has seen how ridiculously crowded the system tray can get when too many applications land their icons there. GNOME has made an effort to be very strict about this, limiting the amount of icons that can populate the system tray. KDE, in turn, takes a similar approach to Windows, allowing many applications to dock under the system tray. The result is as bad as in the Microsoft operating system.

NOTE: By the way, it is about time the icons in this system tray are reworked. They are way old, low resolution and low quality, especially for a desktop manager so focused on the looks!

4.- Not taking advantage of multiple desktops. Once again back to a Windows analogy: What happens to the panel when you have 10 or more applications open at the same time? Well, once again it becomes overcrowded. Docked windows become small squares that cannot even show the window title. Some Windows users increase the panel height so twice as many docked windows fit in. While KDE does that for you, I really cannot understand why suffering from this when multiple desktops can be used?

GNOME works around this efficiently. Each desktop panel is only populated by the corresponding docked windows. As a result, if you have 3 applications open on desktop 1, and another 3 applications open on desktop 2, you will only see 3 docked windows on each panel. KDE would show 6 docked windows regardless of the desktop they are in (What tha...?).

5.- Very inconsistent icon themes. Once you get used to how easily you can change icon themes in GNOME and how well it works, it feels like a big step backwards when you try in on KDE. To begin with, the applet allowing to download icon themes from external sources (mostly kde-look.org) fails too often, for many of the icon themes displayed are simply not available.

When you get to download one of the ones available, it works so badly it is not even funny. Default folder icons are never updated correctly (you seem to be stuck with the Oxygen default), the system tray icons almost always remain untouched, and the main menu randomly updates some icons while leaving others unchanged.

Once again, I think this is important because KDE has been all about the looks and being able to customize things to the last pixel.

CONCLUSION

KDE SC 4.4.1 is definitely a step forward, one in the right direction, but I feel it still suffers from issues that have been there for way too long. If KDE plans to ever take the world as the best desktop manager available, it will have to bring its functionality to "human beings" and become flexible where it really matters.

Having said so, I very much encourage users using previous KDE versions to give SC 4.4.1 a try. If you are comfortable using KDE already, SC 4.4.1 will surely give you many reasons to be happy!

For those who have never used KDE, by all means give it a go. Even if some edges could benefit from a bit of polishing, KDE is still a great desktop manager. Most importantly, it really shows strong and continuous improvement, so things can only get better.

Enjoy!

21 comments:

  1. Hi. I love KDE, but like you, I must admit there are still some rough edges. The overall feel does seem to lack some quality control, and crashes and glitchiness are easy to come by. In this regard, I feel KDE has actually taken a step back from the 4.3 series.

    Despite all of this, I still prefer it over GNOME, so I will just keep contributing bug reports or whatever I can do to help the developers polish things up a bit.

    Regarding the multiple desktops, you can change the behavior easily enough. Right-click in the window-selector area and select "Task Manager Settings". Then check the box below under "Filters" called "Only show tasks from the current desktop."

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  2. Well maybe I have a few answers for you:
    to 1) well you can set a shortcut to special application via the kmenueditor. Go to your application of choice and click on the tab "advanced" and then you can apply a shortcut for this app
    to 2) of course you can drag&drop application from the starter menu to panel and even to the quicklaunch widget
    to 3) you can select, whether an icon should be always, auto or never visible in the system tray settings, so its not as bad as in windows. But generally your right its a little bit overcrowed.
    to 4) right click on the task manager > settings and you will find the option "only show tasks from current desktop". I think that will fill the gap.
    to 5) Full Ack. Icon managment is weird in kde. But btw download often fails because the icon packages are not hosted on kde-look directly, but on third-party sides like rapidshare or private webspace. this is known limitation of the downloader (not just icons but e.g. wallpapers as well) and will not be fixed, because it cant be solved finally.

    Hope this will help and dont forget to rummage a little bit in the settings, kde is a little bit shy :-)

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  3. In response to #2, I think you have to "unlock widgets" before you can drag-and drop applications on your panel, but it should work.

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  4. A very good and fair review.
    I am using Arch Linux with KDE SC 4 since KDE SC 4.3.x and never experienced applications terminating unexpectedly or sessions restarting without any warnings.
    Maybe it's a Fedora issue?

    The only bugs I've noticed so far in KDE SC 4.4.x is that Plasma crashes from time to time (Not more than 2-3 times/week. I use some custom widgets, so maybe this is why) and that the process monitor won't show proper CPU/RAM usage, etc, but I think that is an Arch problem since it started happening in a recent system update.

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  5. Thanks for all your comments and help, your suggestions were great!

    @mr bumpy: Thanks! I managed to get the docked windows filtered by desktop, but not with the option you mentioned. The one that worked for me was "Only show tasks from current screen". The drag & drop thingy didn't work, not even with widgets unlocked.

    @Sebastian: Thank you! I finally managed to get the shortcut I needed to open Konsole, that was great! As for the icon theme and download feature, I understand what you are saying, it makes sense. What I don't understand is why they are keeping it there if they know for certain it will never work reliably! As far as I am concerned, things would be better off with a simple dialog which recommended visiting kde-look.org, or something along those lines.

    @znurre: Cheers, glad you liked my review! I am not sure if it could be down to Fedora. Constantine should be rock solid by know, it's not like it was just released, so that's a strange one. Like I said, though, I could not reproduce it consistently, they are more like "one offs" that seem to appear more often than I am used to in Linux.

    In general, even with the help from these wonderful posts, I think my point stands. Ease of use and intuitiveness are still immature in KDE.

    - If keyboard shortcuts get a section under System settings, why bury the creation of new app shortcuts under a difficult to spot Kmenu editor tab?

    - Similarly, even if it had worked for me, which it didn't, why would you need to keep widgets unlocked to drag and drop an application shortcut into the panel? I would think widgets and shortcuts should be treated differently.

    I won't go on about it, but I think these are just a few examples of things that could easily throw back new comers, which is a shame considering the great work put in other areas.

    Once again, thanks everyone for your comments and feedback.

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  6. Good review.

    1)
    Right click on the menu icon, select "menu edit". Find your application and select advanced, here you can add your keyboard shortcut.

    2)
    It's possible to drag'n'drop a shortcut from the launcher to the panel. (I keep doing it by accident on my macbook, because the touchpad is weird at times)

    3)
    I see your point, but I also don't see a good solusion for the problem.
    When I need to access the running applications and services on my desktop, I want quick access to them. I also don't want them to take up space in my taskbar.
    KDEs solution is pretty much what Windows does, autohide them. I only have four that is visible.

    4)
    The show-only-application-on-this-dekstop is one of the things I disable when I encounter it.
    I find it more than annoying, that I can't see an application is running because it's not on the desktop my on. It usually result in me getting confused, as to where my application has disappeared too and where my data is.
    You can easily get this behavior in KDE, I think it's just right click on the taskbar and going into settings for it. Or do as sebastian suggested.

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  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  8. @m_abs: Thanks for the tips, I have learnt a few nice tricks from yours and other posts here! Glad you liked the review!

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  9. There is an application like kappfinder with which you can easily find any application missing that is not listed in the kmenu.

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  10. @p j: Thanks for your comments!

    I have been playing around with options and have found a couple simple ways to improve performance:

    1.- Set SELinux to "permissive", or even disable it. Of course, do this at your own risk, but I don't see a huge security risk in it. On the other hand, the performance gain is quite noticeable.

    2.- Use the menu classic "outfit". Maybe not as fancy, but a lot more responsive. I also tweaked its settings and added the few applications I use to favorites. Then I hid the applications group, making the menu lighter and quicker.

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  11. Good review... but... why can I drag icons from the K menu to my panel? When I drag them to the desktop I get a launcher, and when I drag them to a Folder View I get a nice menu asking me if I want to copy the link file or if I want to create a link (KDE 4.4.3)

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  12. BTW, if you want to really run a KDE desktop under Fedora, I'd advice you that in Constantine the Fedora people totally screwed it up (because they wanted KDE 4.4 into RHEL 6, I don't blame them ;)). The right way to have a great KDE running is to use the KDE-Red Hat repo. Copy this file into /etc/yum.repos.d:

    http://apt.kde-redhat.org/apt/kde-redhat/fedora/kde.repo

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  13. The release of KDE 4.0 was met with a mixed reception. While early adopters were tolerant of the lack of finish for some of its new features, the release was widely criticized because of a lack of stability and its “beta” quality.

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  14. the right way to have a great KDE running is to use the KDE-Red Hat repo. Copy this file into /etc/yum.repos.d

    ReplyDelete
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