Sunday, 18 April 2010

KDE SC 4.4 Review: Plasmoid-Widget-Mania

I am not a KDE user. I made the controversial statement in a previous podcast that if I want to play with fisher-price toys, I would go to Toys-r-us. Surprisingly, nobody roasted me for that. Come on, Kubuntu users, where are you?

KDE with its' shiny, primary-coloured icons has never been my thing. That capital K-with-every-program-name obsession always made me feel like I'm in kindergarten. Or should that be K-Indergarten...?
KDE 4 point 0 didn't help to overturn my prejudices. Although continually described as 'cool', 'sleek' and 'awesome', the descriptions 'buggy', 'unstable' and 'crash' followed it around like a bad smell. 

I have good news; it's been fixed. Personally, I wouldn't tout 7,293 closed bugs as a plus-point. Surely one suite of software, shouldn't have had that many at time of release. Seriously; 7,293 bugs???!!!

However, hearing good things of KDE 4.4, I decided to give the Live CD a spin. Sure enough, KDE 4.4 undoes all the damage done by the hopelessly un-ready 4.0.

Even I have to say 4.4 looks good; indeed, a worthy rival to Windows-7 and Mac OS-X Snow-Leopard in the visual glitz contest, mainly by aping the look and feel of both. We never steal, just borrow, right guys?

It is seriously glossy. Widgets and panels with everything. Any configuration you want. Multiple desktop spaces, all individually configurable.

The shiny 3-D effects don't crash. It's quick (although not necessarily what I call 'fast'). The Plasma widget organiser in KDE 4.4 displays large icons for each Plasmoid which you can drag off the strip and place in a panel or on the desktop. Filter the available widgets to subsets, either by category or by entering a search query; if you still don't find it, there is an equivalent of Ubuntu Software Centre for Widgets and Plasmoids, so you can locate, download and install them right from the Organiser. This also works well.

Functionally, KDE is pushing some ambitious concepts; the social desktop, to incorporate online services; and the semantic desktop, to fully index content and simplify searching. The social desktop is beginning to show, through a growing number of widgets; Incoming Messages, Microblogging and specific ones for  KDE's KnowledgeBase, OpenDesktop.org and Google Calendar.

The  KWin Window Manager also gets some improvements. It is KDE's tightly-integrated compositing engine You can now group windows together to get a tabbed interface. There is a drag and drop method for creating tabbed window grouping but it is only currently available in KDE's Oxygen window decoration theme and its' derivatives. KWin also does desktop edge snapping, to easily maximize a window along one of the screen edges, or you can tile two windows horizontally in a side-by-side arrangement. Then there's a fancy virtual desktop grid effect, for organising all your virtual workspaces with thumbnailed icons of running applications.

The KDE Kick-off menu is an acquired taste. For me, navigating back and forth through the menu groups is logical and coherent, I just find it fiddly with those tiny menu controls.

Dolphin is KDE's file manager; "now with Nepomuk integration" - Nepomuk? What kind of name is that? It's a very mature and capable file manager, not that I had a problem with Konqueror (I just hated it as a web-browser). The Nepomuk search framework is fast, and Dolphin has a better search front-end in 4.4 to make it easier to specify search criteria. You can even save searches as well - Woo-hoo!!! Finally! Other desktops please take note! This is one feature we all want!

Nepomuk has the timeline file view, which makes it easy to see which files were used on a specific day; you can drill down into a virtual folder for an individual date and see all of the files that were used on that day. It utilises the KIO virtual filesystem framework, this is coming soon to a Gnome desktop for the rest of us.

So I take some but not all of my abuse. KDE remains, for me, anything but intuitive. There are settings for absolutely everything, if you can find where they reside. Knowing what, and where, you can drag and drop is a matter of trial and error (but a minor triumph when it works however. Some "unlock widgets" setting has been mentioned although I have yet to find it. The World and his mother-in-law seem to dock applications in the panel system tray, which rapidly fills up worse than Tokyo subway train.

Go KDE 4.4 only if you have a decently powerful machine, this is not a light-weight desktop environment. Don't run this version on a netbook, unless you have the patience of a saint. There is apparently a Plasma Netbook shell in 4.4.0 as an alternative to the standard Plasma Desktop shell, so look for that instead.

You can do it, its your choice. RC

2 comments:

  1. It's a fair review :)

    I love the fact that there are settings for everything - I guess you have to be a geek to care about such fetailed settings, but I love it. I was using Gnome and giving an odd test run to KDE until ver 4.2 (I think at least), but then I realized it just felt better than Gnome and it was getting usable in terms of speed and stability. Also, there are bunch of features being added constantly, so it's exciting to be a witness of implementation of some really nice ideas - Nepomuk being one of them.

    Anyway, the main thing is that competition will lead to innovations - and that is something all GNU/Linux users should be happy about.

    See ya :)

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  2. Nenad: thanks for this, I knew there must be KDE users out there. Some people think the increasing choice of desktop environs an unnecessary distraction of effort and fragmentation; but as you say, choice of the life-blood of open-source.

    It's good that 4.4 got everything working the way it should. Level that playing field against OS-X! RC

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At least try to be nice, it won't kill you...