KDE – What Happened? (follow-up)

Lots of responses to my post from June, “KDE: What Happened?”, with some very fair pro-KDE points:

  1. Ubuntu doesn’t put nearly as much work into its KDE packages as it does into its Gnome packages. Excellent point: it’s probably Ubuntu’s look and feel I like rather than either Gnome or KDE.
  2. My complaint was really with Amarok rather than KDE, which I only used for about 30 minutes. Good point: but I’m glad it was clear I didn’t use KDE for very long before giving up.

Ignoring the less-valid suggestions of other comments that only inferior consumers can’t be “bothered” to customise their gadgets (as if this was a badge of honour, for consumer or provider), I clearly need to try a “real” KDE desktop from a “real” KDE distribution for some length of time (and it wouldn’t hurt to use a decent machine, too, although I don’t really have access to one; Ubuntu/Gnome has been happy enough on T41-era hardware for some years).

However, apart from the pure speculation that hackers have migrated away from KDE development, I think my other points still stand and I’ll attempt now to clarify them. Yes, KDE may still be under development; yes, it’s beta – but what software isn’t? KDE just seems to this semi-casual observer to have taken too many unnecessary sideways steps: the sound managers; the default themes; the stability.

I know how hard it is to develop good software but KDE (and Amarok) not only aren’t continually improving, they degrade at times – yes, in the name of long-term improvements but that’s not much use to this current-term potential user – and it’s this which I find most puzzling/maddening. Judging by the comments, at least, it seems I’m not the only one; I’ll finish by linking to this page which describes how to run Amarok 1.4 under Ubuntu Jaunty – solving my original problem:


When Software Works Right

I recently started using Picasa. It’s wonderful but I backup my photos across a lot of different machines and disks and I’d been a little concerned that it wouldn’t work very nicely under these conditions: how would starring and edits appear after copying my Pictures folder to another location? Obviously I could (and have) just exported the starred and edited photos into their own folder but I was pleasantly surpised to discover Picasa on my Windows XP box showing all the stars and edits created by Picasa on my Linux laptop.

rsync the entire folder and it just works – hooray!

KDE – What Happened?

Wow. What happened? It’s slow, it’s ugly, it’s unstable. I realise it’s not exactly a state of the art machine I’m using but, nevertheless, my true and trusty T41 has run everything else I’ve ever thrown at it: Windows XP, Gnome under Ubuntu with its “enable desktop effects” wobbly windows and all. With 2GB of RAM it’s still a serious machine after 6 years on the go…until it met KDE 4, that is.

Why am I using KDE at all? I make a point of not doing so usually, aside from one indispensable application: Amarok. I use Amarok for one very important purpose: organising my music collection. With its support for visualising your tags in all possible dimensions, automatic cover art fetching and its killer “organise files” feature it is pretty much the ultimate MP3 collection organising utility. Apparently, it also plays music. That it was the one odd-ball KDE application remaining on my desktop was a perfectly acceptable compromise, given the advantages.

Last weekend’s upgrade to Ubuntu Jaunty, however, had the unfortunate side-effect of dragging in KDE 4. Suddenly Amarok (Amarok 2, now) had a totally alien UI with car-aaazy decorations looking like something out of CDE in 1995 and a truly horrible (and un-hideable) plug-in system in the middle third of the screen, used for no less than 4 separate high-tech purposes such as “disconnect media device”. That it now crashes regularly and is slower than before is simply icing on the cake.

The KDE Years

It’s very sad and it certainly wasn’t always like this. After years of neglecting the grand “desktop environments” of KDE and Gnome in favour of Afterstep, I was won over in 2000 by KDE 2. It looked good, was easy to configure and – most of all – had the then amazing Konqueror filemanager and browser. In a world before Firefox, what Konqueror had achieved was simply stunning: it rendered pages better than Netscape, was nicer to use and, though it had seemingly come out of nowhere,¬† nobody was surprised to find Apple using its rendering engine¬† as the basis for OS X’s Safari.

It was so obviously, clearly good that I didn’t look back for several years and in fact went on to install KDE in the course of several contracting jobs, including one just after that fateful initial discovery in which a fleet of thin client workstations served a KDE 2 desktop to a school interested in exploring alternatives to Microsoft software.

The Gnome Years

Years later, a similar instant switch occurred when I tried Ubuntu and its default window environment, Gnome. Having disregarded Gnome for years, here, for the first time on a Linux desktop, was a nice default look and feel. Nicer and more polished than Windows which – though I hated using it for any length of time – had undoubtedly always looked and felt better right out of the box. The file manager was good: nice thumbnails and you could burn CDs by selecting a bunch of files and right-clicking “burn to CD”. GIMP looked and worked well – helped, obviously, by being the original GTK application but nevertheless fitting in perfectly. Firefox had come of age, too, of course, long ago replacing Konqueror. By now, of course, all our work was done in the browser anyway and that holy trinity of file manager, web browser and photo software was all I really needed or wanted to work right…except for Amarok, of course.

In contrast with KDE’s continuing “how many pixels between a window’s outer-frame and its inner widget bounding box” approach, Gnome had spent time studying what users actually wanted to configure and stripped away all the trimmings. There really was nothing offensive to reconfigure, beyond perhaps a desktop background. In doing so, they had foreshadowed Apple’s rise which was built on providing good looking hardware and software that just worked and that ordinary people could use.

That geeks have since flocked to OS X might indicate that it’s not just ordinary people who want their computers to, like, work. I suspect those who prefer to run free software or are overly attached to their IBM hardware (or both) have probably switched by now to Gnome for this very reason; perhaps this migration of talented hackers itself fatally dented KDE’s chance of ever mounting a resurgence. For me, it seems that, after the initial quantum leap of version 2, KDE remains stuck in a time warp in the year 2001. Suggestions for a new MP3 collection software are very welcome!

Lotus Notes 7 in Ubuntu

I have been struggling with Notes 6.5.4 for a long long time. Although there is an official, supported, “native” Notes 7 for Linux now it is tricky to install and – more importantly – much slower than a Wine-d Notes client. Also, since it’s Eclipse-based it suffers from the usual Eclipse filesystem bloat; expect mystery folders dotted throughout your home directory.

Finally, it seems somebody has made the necessary additions to enable Notes 7 support in Wine. A small patch was necessary for 0.9.30 but this has made it into 0.9.31.

It’s surprisingly easy to get it up and running. Here are the steps, just beware that I’m going to assume you have Notes 7 already installed on some Windows system.

  1. Edit /etc/apt/sources.list and add the WineHQ repository for Wine by adding these lines:
    # Repository for winedeb http://wine.budgetdedicated.com/apt edgy main
    deb-src http://wine.budgetdedicated.com/apt edgy main
  2. Install Wine by running apt-get install wine.
  3. Create a basic Wine configuration by running winecfg. This takes a moment or two after which a window will appear; the defaults are fine except that you should set the version of Windows to be emulated to be Windows 98.
  4. Time to copy over your Notes 7 install from your Windows machine. Assuming that Notes is installed in C:\Program Files\Lotus\notes, copy this directory into $HOME/.wine/drive_c/ (winecfg will have created this folder).
  5. Edit $HOME/.wine/drive_c/notes/notes.ini and change the line Directory=C:\Program Files\Lotus\notes\data to read Directory=C:\notes\data.
  6. Notes 7 can now be run with the command wine c:\\notes\\nlnotes.exe.
  7. However, there remains a problem with the preferences dialog. You must set the environment variable WINEDLLOVERRIDES to oleacc=n. To simplify this, I wrote this script called notes7 and placed it in /usr/local/bin:
    export WINEDLLOVERRIDES=oleacc=n
    wine c:\\notes\\nlnotes.exe

Now, you can just run notes7 to launch Notes.

I haven’t encountered any problems with any functionality; the only remaining minor issue is that bold and italic stylings for the default Notes font won’t appear.


Wine on Thinkpad T60p under Ubuntu Edgy

Another oddity with the Thinkpad, related this time to the fglrx graphics driver.

In order for Wine to run successfully I need to add this line to the options section of my device in /etc/X11/xorg.conf:

Option "UseFastTLS" "2"

Very annoying and it just confirms what utter s$%^ the fglrx driver is.

This tip comes from the “Problems with fglrx” page on Thinkwiki: http://www.thinkwiki.org/wiki/Problems_with_fglrx

With this done, however, I can now run Autostitch, DVD Shrink and Lotus Notes just perfectly. Incidentally, I use the Wine packages from WineHQ:

deb http://wine.budgetdedicated.com/apt edgy main

iPod on Thinkpad T60

A strange one; my iPod gives read/write errors when I connect it via one of the USB ports on the right-hand side of my T60. However, if I use the lone USB port on the left-hand side…no problem.

More on this here:



There’s no consensus on whether this is a software (i.e. kernel) or hardware problem, but I’m tending towards the latter as modprobe -r ehci_usb made no difference.

On the other hand, with the iPod connected to the lone USB port I transferred its full contents onto an external USB disk (connected, interestingly enough – albeit inevitably – to one of the other ports, which the iPod doesn’t like) without any issues.