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.
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
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.
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.
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.