Monday, January 26, 2009

KDE 4.2: I'm tired of Pundits, Here's MY Take

So I am writing this rant on the eve of the release of KDE 4.2, and in the face of interviews from Linus Torvalds stating that he abandoned KDE after the 4.0 release, and partially in response to Steven Vaugh-Nichols negatively equating 4.2 to Windows 7. My bottom line: I've been using KDE since around the time version 2 came out, and while KDE 4.2 is not perfection, it is better than the 3.5 series, and as of right now 4.2 is easily my favorite Linux desktop... and this rant will address some complaints I've seen and to dissect which complaints are warranted and which are not.

Before going any further, some nomenclature for those who have never dealt with KDE 4.2, please skip this paragraph if you are well versed in the KDE 4 series. The biggest new interface component of KDE 4 is the plasma display engine, and the new "plasmoids" that now compose the KDE 4 desktop. Everything you see on your desktop that is not a normal running program is a plasmoid. This includes the menu bar, the application launchers, the task bar, as well as anything occupying the background of the KDE desktop. For those familiar with Mac OS X widgets, plasmoids that exist on the desktop may serve the same purpose as OS X widgets (for example, see the weather plasmoids above). However, plasmoids go way beyond just widgets to encompass all the elements you interact with on a desktop other than actual windowed programs. Want to add a quicklauncher to the menu bar? That's a plasmoid. Want to run a program via alt+F2? Another plasmoid used to run programs. Plasma has replaced kicker, kmenu, superkaramba, and Kdesktop, but it has born the brunt of criticism about how KDE 4 is inferior to 3.5.

Let's see a picture of my KDE 4.2 RC 1 desktop that is running on Kubuntu 8.10 to give a baseline of what my desktop looks like:

The Usual Suspects

In rapid fire succession, here are the typical complaints I've seen trotted out against KDE 4. Some were never actually true, some were true in the early days of 4.0 but are no longer true today:

  • There are no icons on the Desktop!!

    It is true that in most configurations KDE 4 does not put icons directly onto the desktop. However, even since the first betas of 4.0 came out it has been possible to do the exact same thing... simply put a folder view plasmoid onto the desktop, and resize it to take up all the space on the desktop, and BAM, icons on the desktop. In fact, this plasmoid is included in the default KDE 4.2 configuration, so you don't even have to do any work to activate it. As you can see in the picture above, I have icons on my desktop... along with a bunch of other useful stuff, which I'll address below.

    Vaughn-Nichols mentioned that he had to right-click in order to add icons to his desktop... I'm not sure what he meant by that. The folder view allows one to add a new file or folder via right-click menus, but I opened up Dolphin and did a drag & drop of an existing file just fine without any right-clicks... which makes me wonder a bit about what Mr. Vaughn-Nichols was doing with his desktop.

  • The Cashew Haunts My Waking Nightmares!

    "The Cashew" is at the top-right of the screen by default, and serves as an access point for configuring plasmoids. If you really hate the cashew THAT much... there's a plasmoid that will get rid of it. I admit that I'm not convinced The Cashew is the optimal way to access plasmoid configuration, but at the same time it is pretty innocuous. If you move or maximize a desktop window, The Cashew will be covered over by it and life continues on as normal. I think The Cashew is symptomatic of some users who perceive any change as the apocalypse instead of realizing that while The Cashew might not be your favorite nut, it won't give you food poisoning.

  • You can't hide the menu bar!

    True in the earlier releases of KDE 4, but as of 4.2 you can both set the menu bar to autohide, AND you can resize it to be thicker or thinner than the default. I personally thinned my taskbar out, but kept it visible on my desktop, but the option is there to hide it completely. See screenshots below:

    Hell, if you want to, you can COMPLETELY REMOVE the panel (the taskbar is simply one plasmoid sitting on that panel). The flexibility of plasmoids allows you to move the plasmoids that traditionally sit on the panel, and put them out on the desktop itself! KDE 4 allows for customization in ways that other Linux environments do not even imagine.

  • The default window decorations are UGLY!

    While this is an aesthetic judgment, I actually agree with this complaint. So why is it in the section of invalid criticisms? Because you have plenty of choices when it comes to window decorations! For those of you who miss KDE 3, guess what: the Plastik theme is still there so you can get some KDE 3 look & feel back right away. For a more adventurous look I recommend Bespin (named after Lando's pad) which has a smooth look and a plethora of configuration options. If you think KDE's themes are bloated, there is the Skulpture theme that is very minimalistic, can be configured to use very little screen real estate, and is my personal choice for KDE on my laptop. Below is a screenshot of Konqueror doing file browsing with Bespin: (Note the tree view: yes, another complaint knocked out because there IS tree-view file browsing in KDE 4!!)

    If you want to argue that the defaults in KDE should be better chosen, be my guest, although there will be plenty of people who disagree with my choices too. The exact same argument can be made about 3.5 so don't hold it against the 4.X series. The bottom line is that KDE 4 can be made to look the way YOU want it to. I haven't even gotten into the plasma themes which give you a great deal of choice in how your plasmoids and taskbar appear. I a using the "Naked" theme because it is very clean & minimalistic in appearance (see desktop screenshot above).

  • The compositing is slow & bloated! It isn't Compiz!!

    OK, this is subjective, but the compositing is smooth enough for me even on the crappy Intel x4500 integrated graphics on my laptop... not as smooth as I'd like, but definitely useable. I can say from my experiences with Compiz + XFCE on the exact same notebook that Kwin is the smoother of the two. If you think compositing is useless bloat... turn it off (easy: ALT+F12 if you don't like using the GUI configuration). For all of you about to complain about Nvidia + KDE 4: Get an updated driver, preferably one in the 180 series like 180.22, the bugs with plasma and Nvidia cards have largely been solved. I know because the desktop I'm writing this from has an 8800GT and is extremely smooth & stable.

    For all of you addicted to compiz bling, well: kwin4 does NOT have all the "features" of compiz, although it has the ones I personally care about most like the desktop wall for managing virtual desktops (yes the cube and even a sphere are options too). The scale plugins for Mac OS X expose-like functions also work fine. If that is STILL not enough for you guess what... KDE 4 allows you to use compiz instead of Kwin (although I don't guarantee everything being bug free) Just go to: System Settings -> Default Applications -> Window Manager. Personally I think Kwin is better because it is smoothly integrated with KDE, and is actually quite fast at doing a few things right instead of being obsessed with bling, but the choice is yours.

  • Application X is broken!!!

    Everybody is a little bit different, but I'll go through some major applications at this stage. Konqueror is probably better in 4.2 that it is in the 3.5 series, both as a web browser and as a file manager. The KIO components still exist, I personally love using the sftp:// component which is fully operational, as is browsing of samba shares, and regular file management. Konqueror as a web browser will REALLY move forward in KDE 4.3 as the Webkit integration in Qt 4.5 will make for a major improvement... but then again, I've used Firefox in both KDE 3 and KDE 4 as my primary browser anyway. Konsole is working fine with the only features I'd like to see reintroduced being the "send input of this terminal to all terminals" option, but that's not an absolute must-have. Amarok: The betas for 2.0 were not so great, but I will say that 2.0.1 is both stable and has the core features I need to manage my music... having said that extra work on equalizers and bling plugins is still to come. Koffice: Well, I hate to say this but I didn't use Koffice with KDE 3, but I've heard the next version of Koffice is in the late-beta stage right now and is apparently shaping up well. The biggest "missing-link" right now is definitely K3B which is still currently a KDE 3 app right now (although they are developing the next major release for KDE 4).

    Of course, just because you are running a KDE 4 desktop this does NOT mean you can no longer run KDE3 applications... in fact as proof I have a screen shot of K3B running on my KDE 4 desktop for all of you who might not believe. Additionally, KDE 4 can be configured to use Firefox as the default web browser, so the RSS plasmoid you see on my desktop will open up a new tab in Firefox when I click on a story... KDE 4.2 is playing nice with non-KDE 4 applications!


    OK THEN CHANGE IT! Sorry for yelling, but seriously. Look, I'm more of a power user, I either put commonly used programs in the quicklaunch plasmoid on the dock (see my screenshot above at the lower left) or I just use the ALT+F2 combo to run a program (BTW the krunner in KDE 4 is badass and gives quicksilver a run for its money, try it out!) However, I will concede that the new "K" program launcher is different and this may cause consternation to some users. Well guess what... there are two alternative program launchers for you to choose from. First, is the "traditional" launcher that keeps the same app structure from KDE 3.5, and the other is the Lancelot launcher that many people are very positive on (Lancelot may become the default in future releases). The bottom line is this: If you don't want to take the 5 minutes it takes to learn a new launcher, you can restore the functionality of the old one. You ARE missing out on the new advanced search features that make using the new launcher much easier, but don't accuse the KDE 4 developers of depriving you of your old techniques either.

  • You can't configure anything anymore!

    Uh... see above for all different choices you have in configuring KDE. If anything, the old complaint about KDE having too many configuration options is still true in KDE 4.2, although that is one reason I've always liked KDE. As you've seen from my screenshots, my KDE desktop ain't looking like a fresh outta da box KDE 4 install your distro will give you by a long shot... and that's (mostly) due to me configuring it using the standard KDE System Settings panel.

    Here's a quick fire list of things you can still do even if some anonymous poster said you couldn't:

    • Configure window behavior (focus on click, focus follows mouse, auto raise, etc.)

    • Configure background wallpaper (duh.. but if you are adventurous you can manually configure per-desktop wallpaper, a feature that will be fully supported in 4.3)

    • Configure keyboard shortcuts for applications & for the desktop in general. I use it to tweak keyboard shortcuts for compositing functions

    • Install fonts easily & tweak all the fonts on your desktop

    • Use a special style to make GTK apps blend in better with the rest of the desktop

    • Install new color themes, and have minutely detailed configuration options to change widget colors to your own liking. (I personally stick with the preconfigured themes)

    • Adjust the default applications that will open given file types. For those of you who passionately hate Dolphin: You can set Konqueror as the default file browser too! I will give Dolphin credit as an app that has vastly improved since 4.0, but I still prefer Konqueror for heavy-duty work.

    • Notifications: The "feature" here is that you can turn off the bouncy icons & other annoyances... KDE 3 == KDE 4 in that respect.

    • Ripping from audio CDs: the kio slave for that works too, although MP3 support is still an option (just like it was in KDE 3, no better no worse)

    • LOTS of other stuff... if you think you can't configure it in KDE 4.2, please post how you would configure it in 3.5 below and I'll try to figure out if the option is actually missing from 4.2, or if it is just done in a slightly different way.

OK so there are features.. how is it BETTER than KDE 3.5?

Vaughn-Nichols seems to think that all the new features in KDE 4.2 are getting in the way of actually getting work done. I could not disagree more with this assessment, both because KDE 4.2 is still using the basic KDE paradigms, but also because it adds new & better ways to access information. The following is an incomplete list of ways that KDE 4.2 actually makes it easier to get work done.

First, the plasmoids I have configured give me quick and condensed information at a glance that would require much more work to achieve via a normal web browser or file browser interface. The fact that plasmoids are now first-class citizens in KDE 4 means that they will gain much more functionality than what superkaramba applets ever had in 3.5. Secondly, the "bling" of kwin's composite puts every window on my desktop a mere keystroke away at any time, much faster than even the ALT+TAB switching of older KDE versions. Third is the new krun interface. As a power user, I find krunner's powerful search & complete options to be a big improvement over KDE 3.5. However, krunner does not stop there, it can act as a simple calculator, unit converter, and spell checker as well. Fourth, the data indexing and semantic services Nepomuk and PIM database Akonadi are just now starting to come into their own as powerful tools that make it easy to search both the desktop and web for information. These data engines are integrated into KDE 4 in ways that are much more organic than any search options for 3.5. Finally, KDE4's newer applications like Okular and Gwenview are excellent programs for dealing with PDF files and viewing raster and SVG images. The new and improved KDE4 and Qt4 frameworks are just now being exploited to provide new and exciting software applications that improve productivity beyond what KDE 3.5 could offer.

So what are MY complaints about KDE 4.2?

I like KDE 4.2 a lot, but like anything else, there's room for improvement, and I'm not afraid
to point out where there is an actual need to improve things.

First, I'd like to see some third-party code integrated into the more "official" releases of KDE. I know that some of this work is actually the responsibility of the distro and that after KDE 4.2 is out the distros can smooth this process, but here are a few suggestions. First, my favorite plasmoid of all time is the Yet Another Weather Plasmoid which does an excellent job of showing weather predictions, including smooth-scaling radar maps. I'd like to see the main KDE developers show more interest in including popular third-party plasmoids into the main distribution. The Bespin & Skulpture themes could also be brought into the main tree as well. This would also encourage more third-party activity, as it would be a great way to gain some fame by getting your plasmoid into the official KDE build tree. Additionally, good plasmoids would make for great Google Summer of Code projects assuming Google doshes out the cash this year.

Second, yeah: KDE 4.2 still has bugs (but then so does GNOME, XFCE, KDE 3.5, etc. etc.). The system tray needs some work. It is functional, but the icons don't scale & refresh properly as of RC 1. This is mostly polish, but needs to be done. Amarok 2 is not bug free, but at least it doesn't crash on me in normal operation, keep at it! Finally, things are relatively smooth, but can be made faster. My personal vote is for making Konsole as fast to display & scroll as an old-school xterm is, which would be a great way to show off how a KDE environment does not have to be "bloated".

Third: There are still some things to get ported to KDE 4. Aside from K3B mentioned above, the big one for laptop users is the network manager applet. THe KDE 3 version does work (I'm using it now) but my wireless will be much happier with a proper KDE 4 network plasmoid. Fortunately, work is already underway on a KDE 4 plasmoid that will deliver this needed functionality.

Fourth: Artwork! KDE 4.2 has a surprising number of themes already, but more wallpapers, color schemes, and artwork are always welcome. High resolution wallpapers at 1920x1200 or 2560x1600 would help, as would nice SVG wallpapers. Slick looking SVG icons don't hurt either!

Finally, the whole issue of what went wrong with the earlier releases of KDE 4 needs to be put to rest... everybody involved deserves a little blame. Was KDE 4.0 ready for general consumption? Clearly no. The developers did try to warn us that 4.0 was really only in place to provide infrastructure to get application developers to migrate over, but no disclaimer is going to stop the lemmings from being attracted to a nice round number. The distros are also partially to blame in that some of them pushed KDE 4 way too early, and made the problem worse by dumping 3.5 too quickly (WHY can't you have a .kde3 and .kde4 directory coexisting??!?!). Finally, the users themselves are partially to blame. We got used to a very mature platform in 3.5, and expected a major re-write to be feature complete and bug free almost immediately. Instead of properly filing bug reports and feature requests (or even trying to help out with actual code) far too many users started venting about how KDE 4 was a "disaster" and that KDE was dying etc. etc. None of this was helping the actual developers to improve KDE 4 any faster.

To all You Playa Haters Out There

First of all, to all you Gnome guys: I got nuthin' but love for ya. If you hated what KDE was before KDE 4 came out, I'm not on some religious mission to convert you. However, I hope this rant and attached screenshots did help to dispel some of the things you may have heard second-hand about what a "disaster" KDE 4 is. Just remember that the talk about what will go into Gnome 3.0 is bordering on the same level as what KDE 4 has already gone through. As Aaron Seigo pointed out in his blog, there was pain, but in my not so humble opinion, I think the pain of creating KDE 4 is already starting to pay dividends and that KDE 4's development is ready for rapid expansion. If the Gnome team is prepared to endure what the KDE devs have, they can make some big improvements to Gnome too. Also, I did note that the KDE 4 dev process has not been flawless, and the Gnome devs can learn from what the KDE guys have been through too. After all, we're just one big happy family bound together by D-Bus interfaces right?

Now on to the rest of you who either jumped on KDE 4 too early without having the right expectations, are trying out Beta KDE 4.2 builds right now with an expectation that everything will be just like 3.5, or haven't even tried KDE 4.2 at all but have "heard it on the street" that KDE 4 was hopelessly broken. KDE 4.2 is not "broken" and has reached a state where it is a solid replacement for KDE 3.5 for me at least. If you are not as adventurous as I am, then PLEASE do not use KDE 4.2 before it has been officially added to your distro of choice. For example, even though my version is from Kubuntu's repositories, the support is not 100% and that could be the source of some bugs that might not even be KDE's fault.

Finally, some people REALLY hate change. Oh they say they love change, they wear "Change We Can Believe In" buttons, but deep down they don't want to have to change their ways. To you guys, especially the ones who constantly post useless flames about KDE 4, I say: put up or shut up. I've been using computers since I had a Trash-80 back when I was a kid. I remember screwing with my autoexec.bat and config.sys files to squeeze out extra low memory in DOS, and I started in with Linux in 2000 right when the 2.4 kernel & KDE 2.0 were both bleeding edge... so get off my lawn!! No seriously, the point is that things change, and as I've pointed out above, many things have seriously changed for the better in KDE 4.2. If you don't want to learn something new that's great, but you lose your right to complain when people with more vision than you see that the old ways are not cutting it anymore and that change is necessary. This is doubly true in the world of FOSS. I've seen plenty of ignorant forum posters bitch about "forking" KDE 3.5 based on Qt4, but I haven't seen a single line of new code. In the meantime, I've seen the KDE 4 devs bring KDE 4 from a toy project to a desktop that I'm happy to use fulltime. Was it always pretty? No. Is it perfect right now? No. BUT: KDE 3.5 wasn't perfect either, and it took both bravery and perseverance to get KDE 4.2 to where it is today.

For those who say that they cannot deal with a new desktop, get over yourselves. KDE 4 is not really that radically different in the big picture. I mean, you run programs on a desktop! Sure things are being done a little differently than KDE 3.5, but get a grip for a second, the KDE 4 series is definitely still KDE at its core. It is not rocket science to learn KDE 4.2 if you really knew what you were doing in 3.5, and the payoff will be a very refined desktop that is both visually pleasing as well as very functional.

So as of today I say: Viva la KDE! I think 4.2 is a major milestone, and I'm already looking forward to screwing around with the 4.3 betas in a few months. The real innovators in FOSS software are not making stupid rants like this one, but are making SVN and git commits even as I type this. To them I say thank you, and only listen to the critics if they file properly documented bug reports!


  1. This is great blog post.. i can agree totally.
    One thing for Konsole tho: It's definately the fastest terminal emulator i have used. Definately faster than xterm, which isnt famous for being fast anyway.

    Sometimes i still open my urxvt, because it plays better with screen (urxvt's scrollback buffer still works in active screen sessions, something that no other terminal emulator can do)

  2. Hi..

    I also wondering why people always complain about KDE 4 series. For me, everything looks great and working. The looks even comparable to not yet release Windows 7.

    Anyway..i'm thinking something different about KDE. Since its now build on plasmoid, theoretically we can build another version of KDE desktop.For Netbook or maybe a lighter version. Something like XFCE for GNOME.

    Just an idea...

  3. I've been using kde for a long time now (8-9 years). I started using KDE 4.0 and even with it's flaws and fewer configuration options at the time, I fell in love with it.

    Before KDE 4 I was always trying Gnome and KDE at the same time when I installed a new distro. I always went with KDE but I had my doubts. Now Gnome doesn't even come into play anymore. The KDE team just keeps adding stuff that makes it my alltime favorite desktop.

    Yes it has it's flaws. Yes there are things that can improve. Yes there are apps that we want to see being ported to KDE 4.... Give it time people, it will get there.

  4. I've no idea why every distro is not taking the same approach we have at openSUSE, which is to separate .kde and .kde4, and allow coinstallation of any application - KDE 4 KMail crashed? Boo hoo, now let's start KDE 3 KMail.

  5. Concerning getting third-party (KWin and KStyle) themes and Plasmoids into KDE4, I've already submitted a wish to the b.k.o — I think it would be better if KNewStuff2/GHNS would be able to download and compile content and put them appropriately into the user's '~/.kde' directory.

    This way all content on kde-[look,files,*].org would be treated the same from the users point of view — themes, icons, plasmoids, scripts etc. ;)

    link to the wish

  6. Hey all,
    Thank you for the good comments, I'm glad there are informed people out there making KDE better.
    One quick addendum, if some of the full-screen pics look a little distorted, that is an artifact of downscaling the original 1920x1200 resolution... but you probably knew that already.

  7. Thanks for the blog post, I enjoyed it. But I absolutely love the rocks & water image you're using for wallpaper. Where did you get it? Can you send me a copy? fargher at gmail dot com Thanks!


  8. For Robert & anyone else interested in my background, it can be downloaded for non-commercial use here:

  9. My one qualm with kde 4.1 was the inability to switch virtual desktops the way I like to (As far as i researched anyways). All I wanted was to slide my mouse to the right of the screen and to appear on the second desktop. E17 and compiz both let me configure this quite easily with options such as the amount of time it takes. I would love to know if kde 4.2 can be configured this way, and if so, how?

  10. Pecan: Good question, here's how to activate that functionality:
    Run the "System Settings" program and then click on the "Window Behavior" button.
    Under the "Window Behavior" menu tab over to the "Advanced" settings and look at the "Active Desktop Borders" settings. It defaults to "inactive" but if you set it to "always" you will be able to change desktops just by moving your mouse. There is also a time delay feature so you can set a delay to prevent inadvertent desktop switching if you want.
    I hope this helps.

  11. Can't change the clock to 12 hour time. kweather is gone, which really annoys me. The tray icons look like shit. Why do desktop icons need their own control bars? Why can't the desktop icons be auto-arranged? Task manager window buttons do not stack up vertically.

    Those are my only complaints. I'm still in 4.1 though, because Fedora 10 hasn't moved to 4.2 yet.

  12. Ninevoltz:
    You might be able to fix the clock, even in 4.1. The setting is a little funky though, and you have a point that it would be easier to change between 12 and 24 hour time directly from the clock's settings.
    Try this instead: Run "System Settings" and go to the "Regional & Language" settings. Then under "Country/Region & Language" select the "Time & Dates" tab. Under that tab, the box that is labelled "HH:MM:SS" can be changed to "pH...MPM" which (possibly with a login/logout) should change your time format globally, including the system clock.

    I agree that it would be nicer to have this be a simple setting in the system clock itself, but I hope this helps.

  13. Couldn't have said it better myself

    If you wan't something that allows great configuration and flexibility, use KDE. If you want a DE that you can use with 3 brain cells, use Gnome.

    I was so angry at that KDE 4.2 vs Windows 7 article, the author clearly had no idea what he was talking about. It was obvious he just made a 5 minute look at KDE and assumed that you couldn't change anything, that you were forced to stick with it and that the new paradigm was crap

    BTW what wallpaper are you using?

  14. I believe that this is the best I've seen in response to the grumpiness of KDE debates.

    The article by CyberCynic is the latest of several. I went through his "Fork KDE 3" article in detail and couldn't find anything but errors.

    The funny thing is that he keeps on moaning even though everey issue he listed was clarified.

    For the notorious "Fork it" article he used a previous version to "review" the latest. It is still my position that "CyberCynic" has no knowledge of value about KDE 4.X whatosever.

    My guess is that the guy needs attention trying to get back into the game, and the KDE 4 rants are simply the strategy to make a living out of OpenSource again.

    Sadly most articles focuses on "bling" whereas the real important issues are the framework and everything under the bonnet.

    In my book KDE 4.2 is indeed impressive. I am so pleased that they have dared to think differently - overcoming illogical usagepatterns by using logic.

    That's really not why I'm using KDE 4. I'm using it due to the obvious potential. It will certainly become the reference desktop environment that OSX, W7 and any OpenSource DE is measured against.

    Most important is that KDE 4 has prepared for great workflow and sensible handling of information in the future.

  15. KDE's choice:
    "OK guys, we've hit a dead-end. The code of Kicker and KDesktop isn't going anywhere, QT 4 is out and quite frankly, we could do with a scrap-and-start-over. It's scary to look at, and few dare touch it for breaking something else. We're re-writing everything, but more importantly, we're going to write it in a way that it takes less code to get the same result, not just with panels and the Desktop but with all applications. We won't fall into the same trap as we did with the KDE 2 --> KDE 3 series and just keep lumping code onto itself. Seeing as it's hard enough maintaining Kicker and KDesktop separately, scrap them - use the same code to write the panel and the desktop and maintain them simultaneously. In fact, have one program do both - then have that program's widgets shareable between the desktop and the panel. Re-work all the artwork: make it easy for artists to get in and make their desktop beautiful, and make it easy for them to share what they have. Make it easy for everyone to share. Increase the speed of development tenfold. Keeping these values at heart, we can achieve in one year what we did with 6 in KDE 3, and longer counting KDE 2."

    One year later:
    "Where there were millions of bugs, missing features and crashes, now we've limited to hundreds, if not double-digits, with more bugs squashed all the time. More applications are being ported to KDE 4 because of the ease of development: Amarok and KDEnlive being massive ports and well-ready for the new features of KDE 4. Some people may complain, but there were always complainers. We've started something revolutionary, something no-one has ever done before: we've seen it through and watched it grow, and now it's ready to replace 3.5 for most average users. Sure, some reputable people may not like what we've done: they even suggest that we add the Plasma functionality to KDesktop, as if it were easy. Yet, they've never actually worked on KDesktop or Kicker. They didn't write code towards it, and those people that did find Plasma a huge relief.

    And that's just one year. Who knows what we will achieve next year..."

    Somehow I don't think the speeches are as majestic as that, but maybe they should be: KDE is now the fastest growing desktop environment I think I've ever seen.

  16. Thanks for the review. I was using KDE 4.1 and was about to give up due to the bugs but you convinced me to upgrade to 4.2 and give it a try.

    However I have the same lagginess with my Nvidia drivers and they are not provided by the restricted drivers app. Do you have an easy procedure to install the latest?

  17. People hating the cashed are like people hating the start button or the OSX dock. It's an integral part of the desktop design, what's there to hate? It's ridiculous.

  18. KDE actually said, on their website (at the time they were releasing 4.0) that the FIRST release designed to be for complete and average home use is 4.3

    It wasn't their fault for poorly communicating it, if something is written on big bold writing on their website "this is a test release" I'm not sure how you could get that message out any clearer

    If anything this whole problem was caused by distributions like Federoa and Kubuntu, who just forked out KDE 4.0 without considering that it was unstable, and without offering KDE 3.5.x as an alternative (like OpenSUSE did, they have KDE 3.5 and 4.1/4.2 running at the same time without conflicts)

  19. Db0: I feel you on the Nvidia drivers. I was going to reply with instructions on how I manually update the drivers on my Kubuntu box, but I've decided the post is complex enough that I will actually make a full-blown blog post out of it in the next couple of days.
    I know that KDE 4.2 plasmoids will not be very smooth on older drivers... one danger of upgrading ahead of the curve. Hopefully the next round of big distro updates from the major players will use Nvidia drivers new enough to work out of the box, but I'll give you some tips on how to do it yourself soon.

  20. For people with older graphics: if you set the KDE_SKIP_ARGB_VISUALS to 1 before Plasma starts (e.g. in ~/.profile) ARGB visuals will be disabled, so that means less eye candy, but better performance.

  21. I tried KDE4 on openSUSE 11.1 and there are two roadblocks for me. With KDE3's taskbar, when an application such as Firefox or my program editor has numerous windows open, they all map to a single taskbar button, and one can minimize/restore/move-all-to-window etc, whereas with KDE4 none of this works making it impossible (by comparison) to pick out what I need.

    The other problem is that when my editor restores a window it no longer raises to top other windows, which I presume is a KDE4 bug.

    KDE4 is prettier, but is not yet a replacement for my productive KDE3 working environment.

  22. My main concern before upgrading is that 'sync to vblank' doesn't work in OpenGL apps (with the NVidia drivers). It works fine in KDE 3.5, and also in OSX (which is composited), so until then I'll be sticking with KDE 3.5. I understand this is more of an X issue, so I can't really blame KDE 4.

  23. @howardt: That is already posssible with KDE 4.2 (openSUSE 11.1 uses 4.1.x). You can also manually group entries in the taskbar.

  24. Some people like a Ford rather than a Chevy. Explain why. For me I just do not like the look and feel of KDE 4. Not a very scientific explanation, but true nevertheless.

  25. My first intro to kde4 was through installing Fedora 9. Not only was it a shock, but parts of it crashed almost immediately, and would not restart. I was never able to configure much of it because of that bug.

    This was 4.0. Not a good way to make a first impression.

    I actually wiped it and installed Fedora 8 so I could have KDE 3.5

    This writeup makes 4.2 sound promising, but it will likely be some time until I give it another try.

    I guess the KDE team and distros screwed up by pushing it before it was ready.

  26. @Chuckula. The 180 nvidia drivers do NOT fix the performance issues in KDE4.2rc1 - Everybody keeps saying they do, they do NOT. KDE4.2 doesn't work well with Wine+games either. Frames black out, performance is poor (not just lower, poor).

    @Pandamine please tell me where on the KDE 4 release page it was even IMPLIED that "that the FIRST release designed to be for complete and average home use is 4.3" Here's the URL to make it easy. . Stop blaming victims.

    @Einar - Even though I'm using the 180 nvidia driver I'll try this! Thanks for what may be a useful tip!

  27. This is THE definitive KDE 4.2 article. Good work.

    One of the things I found most puzzling throughout this whole 4.x saga was the dismissal of brilliant 3.5.9 by many geeks for an incomplete 4.0 and then shock/rage/etc.

    I have Mandriva 2009 KDE 4.1 (best KDE distro) and Kubuntu 8.10 KDE 4.1 (not in my top 5 KDE's) on different sytems but the everyday use ones are still running PCLinuxOS KDE3.5.10.
    I hade wait to for 4.x to be ready to upgrade for two dozen computers in our extended families that are running Gnu-Linux. I can have mom and dad and the inlaws and cousins all running on 4.2 now.
    It is ready.
    But you know what?
    The machines that are running 3.5.10 along with the usual eye candy and enhancements still have an amazing desktop when 4.0 came out.
    For pete's sake people have been using the SAME desktop on XP for 8 years.
    3.5 had two maintenance releases in 2008, the latest being the end of the summer.

    There was no NEED for anyone to jump into 4.0 if they didnt feel ready (lemmings and distros take equal blame) to change their everyday machine.

    ANYONE who uses their main machine to test betas deserves all the grief they get. Who among geeks doesnt have a spare old P3-P4 box lying around?

    The drama queens like SJVN were so offended it was funny and pathetic at the same time.

    This isnt Apple and the other proprietary systems, we are all about choice in desktop world (I use XCFE and E17 on old systems) and KDE even more so (yes, I like my system to act and look like a I want, not how someone says I should like.).
    The thing about having lots of choice is YOU DONT HAVE TO USE IT if you dont want to.
    its like complaining that Baskin-Robbins have too many choices to choose from when all yo like is vanilla and strawberry. Having choice doesnt preclude you from having only what you want.

    Where was I?
    Oh yeah,.. you say the corner cashew, I say kidney bean since its rounder.

    Its ready for mom and pop.
    Its beautiful, its sexy and easy to use.
    And if you arent ready for it yet, guess what?
    In 6 months, KDE4.3 will come out.
    Until then, KDE3.5 is still a great desktop.
    Its your choice.

  28. Though I do like KDE, have been using it since the beginning. There are two things that bother me the most in KDE4. Desktop Icons, and KRunner.
    I know I can setup a folder view plasmoid to show icons on the desktop, but it feels more like a sorry hacked on feature than having a regular desktop icon setup.
    KRunner looks pretty, but having to wait for it's search feature to catch up with my typing slows me down. It makes it difficult to use when I'm trying to open konqueror and it's search is still searching, so when I hit enter it opens konsole instead. I personally would like to turn that feature off, but have not found a way to yet.

    It feels more like using KDE 2. So I'm guessing KDE 5 will be amazing.

  29. My only rant is about the "single click" madness, default should be double click, like ALL other desktop. This alone would be a big usability improvement.
    Apart from that, I've used 3.x and started with 4.0 series. I think is a fabolous piece of software, and kde developers deserve all my admiration.
    KDE 4.2 rocks, and I think 4.3 will be even better. This is the free software world, where you are not chained but, in return, you have to accept / be happy about help developing with testing and give costructive feedback.

  30. Very good assessment of the KDE 4.X situation. I've been using 4.2 for a few days now and I've been pleased with it. Personally I loved the folder view option. The cashew does take up loads of space on smaller resolutions. If I were running 1920x1200 I wouldn't care about it that much.

    There are a few things I don't quite understand about the new plasma containments. Why was there a separation of the "desktop containment" from virtual desktops? IMO the virtual desktop should be a desktop containment. Virtual desktops still work as they always have but now if I want to quickly change the plasmoids that I'm working with I have to now change desktop containments. This doesn't make much sense to me. On top of that there is only one hard coded shortcut to change desktop containments. So changing around desktop containments isn't very smooth.

    The new system tray hiding his nice. But when I click on the arrow to look at all the icons in my system tray I should not have to click on the same arrow to hide them all again. It should automatically do this after X number of seconds.

    kweather was great. it was small and provided all the weather information I wanted without having to minimize my windows. The whole weather applet thing is pretty spiffy but it would be great to have one that could sit in the panel.

    All in all KDE 4.2 is a huge leap over the 4.1 series. I've had a few stability issues with it but I'm sure these will be ironed out as 4.2 gets updated. It does take longer for KDE 4 to load on my old school computer but it is much snappier once its up and running. The developers have done a great job with it. I admittedly don't understand all of their ideas but I'm trying to.

  31. @spiderbitendeath
    Since I don't have any icons on my Desktop background for several years now, I decided to try the full-screen folderview desktop containment in order to learn more about this "sorry hacked on feature"

    Just to be on the safe side:

    - Cashew -> Appearance Settings
    -> Type : Folderview

    For a naive non-desktop icon using person like me, the sight and the interaction with what I got afterwards is pretty close to what I saw in KDE 3.

    Additionally, I tried to perform some small tasks
    ( rightclick -> create folder, move folder, rightclick -> create text document, rename textdocument, drag&drop program launcher from Lancelot menu, drag&drop files and folders between dolphin and desktop, sort icons manually, sort icons by date, align to grid, rubberband and [ctrl] and [shift] selection of items on the desktop, log out and log in to verify that the icon positions are actually stored, etc.)

    Plasmoids seemed to have worked without a hitch regardless whether the containment was Desktop (the default) or Folderview, only the LCD weather applet seems to have some problems (I will investigate and file a bug, if necessary).

    The only thing that stands out between KDE3 and KDE4 in my humble opinion is the activity indicator in KDE4 (the "cloud of stars") and the fact, that each new item was created in the same small gap between two icons and not where I interacted with my mouse with the desktop (this may, again, turn out to be a bug).

    Could you please point out what is so hacked about Folderview as containment? This is a serious question, I don't want to ridicule your opinion, but I fail to see what shortcomings the "folderview as containment" method has compared to the state of affairs in KDE 3.

    Thanks in advance

  32. @spiderbitendeath

    At the risk of posting something that is already common knowledge, but

    you can disable different runner backends in the krunner configuration menu in order to reduce the search time. On my old Athlon XP 2200+ sysetm, disabling all runners except calculator, command line and power devil improved the situation quite a bit, but I have no idea what your use pattern looks like, how powerful your computer is or how fast you type.

    Disabling features to improve performance should not be necessary, but OTOH, in KDE3 Alt-F2 produced only a command line without any additional runners at all.


  33. >> The compositing is slow & bloated! It isn't Compiz!!
    Well, if it isn't as fast and small as that combination, what good is it? Gnome has a significantly smaller footprint than KDE4, so has KDE3.x. You'd expect a redesign to do things better and more efficient, because you're (also) able to discard the overhead "kludges" as Compiz and Karamba have created. I've read reviews that said: "It's a bit slow on my 3GHz dual core/2 GB machine, but it works GREAT on my quadcore/6 GB machine".

    I like bling, but I don't like it THAT much. And even if I'm wrong, why is nobody proving it?

    Hans Bezemer

    KDE user since 2000, now KDE 3.5.9/Compiz

  34. About Amarok. I tried KDE 4.2 on a live CD, and Amarok still exits when you plug an MTP device in. With 4.1 and Amarok 2.0, MTP device does the same however, even generic mass storage devices will not show up. I installed Amarok 1.4, which provides access to USB MP3 players, but MTP (some subsystem missing, told me to recompile KDE, lol) bring now joy.

    The point, does the latest Amarok support USB MP3 players or MTP players? If yes, then I will upgrade to 4.2 on my netbook. As of right now, 4.1 (Mandriva) on my netbook is amazingly solid, and of course, the look/feel and eye candy always draws a crowd when I use it in public.

    I got past the KDE 4.0 blues, and can certainly see how KDE will be superior to 3.5 (in my opinion). 4.1 was good enough for it to be my primary desktop on my netbook, and 4.2 will no doubt go on my netbook and my work desktop.

  35. @Marko "My only rant is about the "single click" madness, default should be double click,"

    No way. Why double click when single click is half the work. Been single click since 1990 (Solaris, then Linux in 1998 on) and double clicking is weird. Now that said, if you have a netbook (as I do), double click is downright terrible. Just tap the touchpad one with mouse over, so even if you are used to double click, it has it's places. Cheers.

  36. Great post! Quick question: I'm looking for a systray network activity icon and it looks like in your first desktop image you show one - what is it? I was using knetstats but now can't get that into the systray - I'm not a power user so if there is a way I'm not aware.

  37. Excellent review!

    I have tried KDE4.1.x in Mandriva, and that told me the anti-KDE4 hype was just that: hype. I'm looking forward to using KDE4.2 soon.

    (One thing I noticed, and loved, in your screenshots was your all your Sid Meier's Civ4 icons. If you're a regular at, you'll recognize me. ;))

  38. "send input of this terminal to all terminals" - this has been available in KDE 4.1 already. Look in the edit menu.

  39. Great article and I'd to give 4.2 a try after a year with Gnome. After 2 days testing and configuring on Ubuntu 9.04 this is going to be my windows manager from now on, I realy felt in love with it and don't think we will need a fork of 3.5 to reach the heaven with KDE, we are almost there already ;-)

    I've also tested the tree kind of menus but still prefer the old one to get my job done. Maybe Lancelot is the future but time will show.

    Looking forward to a stable release of Koffice, now it would't install on Jaunty!

    Evolution is replaced with PIM and with a plasmoid warning med about new messages in Kopete and Kmail.

    Firefox don't look good in KDE but is my webbrowser of choice (using Firebug, Web Developer and Foxmarks all day). Will have to look for a theme with a better integration.

  40. DominicB: Yeah, you are right about that! I miss the old method of being able to right-click on a konsole tab and activate the feature that way, but I do see how the new menu system is also more flexible since you can pick & choose exactly which consoles will get the input.

    Select: Edit -> "Copy Input To" and then select which konsole terminals you want the input of the current window copied to.

  41. Hi Chuckula, thanks for the nice and detailed review/rant/whatever. I tried 4.2 with openSUSE 11.1 on my tablet, but went back to 3.5 due to graphics issues, they may be X driver related.

    Regarding Skulpture, the code is very messy, but I am working on cleanup and restructuring.

  42. @Chuckula: I did manage to get the new Nvidia drivers going. Mainly by installing a new repository which has the new package and apt-getting them. Worked just fine and now the system is much much more reponsive.
    Finally KDE starts to be fun :)

  43. How did you get the audiocd KIOslave to work? I'm running mandrake cooker and I get an unsupported protocol error when I try that. Can't find an audiocd package in rpmdrake either.

  44. It sounds good and I was a KDE user until a couple of days ago! Then I discovered that Gnome 2 is far more conducive to getting lots of work done very quickly with the greatest efficiency! Yeah, I'm a convert and I converted because it was the logical choice, for me at least! It all comes down to a matter of personal opinion, preference, and choice...don't you think? I shouldn't have to say that because you know what it's your thing! Feel me?

  45. I came across this article while searching for " make KDE 4.2 look like KDE 3.5"..!!

    After reading through the stuff, franticaally looking for tips on how to make the changes I wanted, I finally understood that KDE 4.2 was not "that bad" after all! I wanted to crucify the person that had thought of the FolderView, but now I find it impossible to live without...!

    Now, I am spending most of my spare time configuring the looks of my desktop - I should say, KDE 4.2 ROCKS.

    Thanks for the tips.

  46. Documentation... I really would like to know how to personalize the Plasma container shape, I know it can be made but so far I haven't had any success (the square shape reminds me of Vista) I would also like to know how to configure previews (KDE 3.5 lets me preview some files and some others not), and most of all, how to make the file associations? I read the official KDE forums and the guy said there was no one who used that feature... well I usually tweak my file associations so I do... I know there must be a way to do it but it is not documented. I've just downloaded Bespin and will compile it as soon as I get back to the power grid. Maybe it has some option to make the Plasma container ovoid... (that would be really nice, I would rather have smaller icons than a desktop that look like Vista)

  47. Hey All!
    Sorry for the long absence.. my day job at school actually took up a bunch of time, who'd a thunk it?
    DB0: I'm glad you got the drivers installed, and if it's from an updated repo, so much the better. I did just post my manual instructions for installing Nvidia drivers so if you feel adventurous, give it a whirl.

    Washington: I'm not up enough on plasma development to tell you how to make your own container shapes. There are a bunch of ways to download new plasma themes you might like better. Try: right-clicking on the desktop, choosing "Appearance Settings", and then clicking the "New Theme" button that allows you to dynamically download & use new plasma themes. It IS possible to code your own theme, but that is beyond my capabilities at the moment (but maybe not yours).
    As for file associations, that is actually not too bad: Run "System Settings" and then select the "Advanced" tab (located along the top of the window and not very pronounced unfortunately). This brings up an alternate tab of settings, and you can alter file associations and add new ones by clicking the "File Associations" button. I personally have used this to add an association for "docx" Microsoft files since I use a newer version of OpenOffice that supports these files. The interface for changing file associations is actually about the same as in KDE 3.5 once you find it :-)

    ToxicWorldExile: The Isley Brothers? Everyone knows Marvin Gaye is where it's at.

    OK: I'm now going to at least think about a follow up post. I'm now running Jaunty Jakalope beta 1 with KDE 4.2.1. I've got some new things I'd like to see improved, and I've taken KDE customization up a notch to the point where I have an unconventional desktop (think: No start menu at all, no panels or task managers at all, but I still have a fully-functional desktop....)