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!

22 thoughts on “KDE – What Happened?”

  1. Your rant’s title is “KDE – What Happened?” and yet there is no talk about KDE only Amarok 2. I don’t like Amarok 2 either, that’s why I still use 1.4 – add Bogdan PPA repo and install amarok14. (and check out Amarok 2 later as devs promise it will be possible to get a familiar interface in 2.1 or 2.2)

    As far as KDE is concerned as a desktop environment I am currently running KDE 4.3 Beta 2 along with Gnome 2.26.1 on Ubuntu Jaunty and KDE (even being a beta) is, overall, light years ahead of Gnome.

  2. I’ll tell you what happened to KDE: Arrogance. KDE did not listen to it’s user base. It based Plasma off of the hopelessly unstable SuperKaramba, and even tried to make it everything their user base hated. Then, on top of that, they decided to release it long before it was complete, bug free, and ready for the public. The thing was really still in alpha.

    I disagree with what you say about the user experience in KDE, as most of us KDE users prefer the customization options. Just as I don’t like Microsoft restricting my use of my music files with their DRM infection, I also don’t want my window manager telling me how I want it to look. I want to decide that.

  3. Good design takes time, and KDE 4 is designed to be good. It might have few glitches at the beginning, but it started to shine from release 4.2.

    It is not true that talented hackers are migrating from KDE, in fact KDE is full of ultra talented and genius software engineers, you can see from their planet, how they like to experiment with new and innovative things. And moreover, KDE is driven by community, you can count how many non-paid KDE hackers compared to non-paid Gnome hackers.

    But yes, some people prefer dull and over simplistic environment (like Gnome and Mac OS), that’s their choice.

  4. Rhythmbox?

    Even MPD + ncmpc or Sonata – if so inclined toward the lightweight world of the command line.

  5. wt? Did you even try KDE 4? There’s no mention of it in your post! If you did you probably tried Kubuntu (or added the version in the repos) which has gotten poor reviews. If you want to try KDE 4 an honest test run I’d suggest Mandriva or Chakra before giving a callous critic.

  6. Hi,

    I agree about Amarok 2, it is slow and buggy. But lets remember it is still being developed and I expect that these problems will be fixed. Like you, I also dislike the plug-in window. I think the developer’s missed an opportunity, they could have made the UI for Amarok totally customisable. They could have a set of presets for people who couldn’t be bothered with customising. e.g. default and classic.

    I do not agree that the rest of KDE4 is slow or stuck in a time warp. On the contrary, I find KDE4 to be very snappy, on my admittedly fast system. I think the new KDE is simple to use, it has borrowed some of the philosophy from Gnome, with its simplified configuration and more elegant file browser.

    Yes, I see a great deal of potential in KDE4. It has a very flexible UI, I think that it would be relatively easy to have different “skins” to modify the interface of KDE4 (I believe this is what Plasma is about). The user could customise KDE4 to just how they wanted, again there could be presets or a Plasma widget to achieve this.

    Unfortunately, I cannot make a suggestion for a good music player on Linux. I am still looking for one for my FLAC collection. The only one I really like on KDE is Amarok 1.4 🙂 On Gnome, perhaps you could try Rhythmbox or Banshee – although you probably already have.

  7. I completely agree. The only question remains: what KDE developers have been thinking? Seriously, KDE’s space usability just sucks. All windows are filled with gray emptiness, default theme sucks and bugs, bugs, bugs.

    So if you want some way to organize music collection, you can wait for songbird 1.2 final or try downloading the latest beta (beta 2). It’s more stable than KDE 4 has ever been.

    Songbird collection organizing capabilities are way better. Especially, when there’s an album performed by multiple artists 🙂

  8. You should consider trying a real KDE distribution like arch or sabayon. Its not fair to blame kde if you ONLY tested the ubuntu version. Its my humble opinion.

  9. So let’s get this straight. You use KDE 2 for a while; then move to Gnome, using only Amarok from KDE 3; you then dislike the newest Amarok 2 based on KDE 4’s widget set or whatever, and therefor consider KDE 4 to be stuck in 2001. Brilliant.

    I am not a huge fan of the UI in Amarok2, but by pulling the edges of the middle panel together you can pretty much hide that panel and then it’s just like Amarok 1, for the most part. However I wouldn’t consider the KDE apps or desktop very nice within the *buntu project — they do Gnome well, but treat KDE poorly.

    I also don’t think that removing options from applications (a la Gnome) makes for a better desktop environment at all, nor does it make for happier users who “switched by now to Gnome” because all of the options have been taken away from them.

    I love my KDE. I am amazed at work how difficult it is to connect Gnome, Windows, or OSX users to network shares and to do work on remote files (other than Samba shares), where as KDE was made for the network and has great KIO connectors built in to all of it’s apps. I can open and edit files with sftp:// or smb:// or other protocols, to name just one huge advantage.

    To each user, their own preferences of course. But I don’t think KDE is on it’s death bed at all. Gnome, on the other hand, is just working to remove more options without any innovation in its DE.

  10. I used Amarok in a Gnome environment as it was perfect for me. With Amarok 2, ahem, the least said about it the better. Like you I am on the hunt for a replacement, currently with Songbird, not perfect, but better than Amarok (both have issues with albums who have various artists) so I am on the hunt again. I here good things about aTunes, but haven’t got round to installing that yet.

  11. I use Amarok 2 (for pretty much the same reasons you described) under a clean install of Ubuntu and it works great..The UI is the same as in the screenshots on the official Amarok 2 webpage..

    Maybe smg went wrong during the upgrade here?

  12. I agree totally. I moved to Gnome when all of the major players moved to KDE4. Now Gnome3 looks like it is going to be the same train wreck if the current mockup is any indicator of the finished product. Where is a person to go now? Back to Windows? None of the other free desktop alternatives cut it for me.

  13. Everybody knows that Ubuntu’s KDE packages (that i think are the same as Kubuntu’s) are broken. It’s common sense. It’s not kde fault. Get a decent KDE distro.

    I use KDE 4.2.4 on my ArchLinux machine and it is fast and takes only ~240Mb of RAM with all composition effects enabled.

  14. I tryed KDE 4 VIA sidux. Went back to mepis it KDE 3.5 still.. I have a 2G HZ micro and 2G DDR ram..Just a average box. Just too much candy,and stuff was moved around too much. All of the usual tools gone or tucked away in a obscure place. It takes too many clicks to get stuff done.

  15. I had the same experience with Amarok 2.0 and the KDE 4.0 environment.

    I finally got MediaMonkey 3.0 working on my Ubuntu machine and I will never look back. If you have a LARGE music collection – there is no better Music program out there.

    – Mitchman

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