Linux

KDE is running on innovation's treadmill

Jack Wallen addresses the stagnant, yet solid, state of the KDE desktop.

KDE

I'm a big lover of the modern Linux desktop. From Linux Deepin to Ubuntu Unity to GNOME 3 -- the way each desktop has combined an artistic flare with a nod to the mobile interface makes for some very interesting work on the desktop. My personal favorite, for quite some time, has been Unity (though that favoritism is waning, especially with the upcoming release of Linux Deepin 2014).

Today, however, I decided to install and poke around KDE once again. It seems this particular desktop has fallen out of favor for a vast amount of Linux users, and I wanted to experience -- first hand -- what KDE has to offer.

KDE is now at 4.13.1 (as of this writing). It's come a long way, yet hardly moved forward.

I'll explain that last statement in a moment. First, let me help you get KDE installed. I'll demonstrate how to install it on a Ubuntu 14.04 desktop system. It's actually quite simple:

  1. Open up a terminal window
  2. Update apt-get with the command sudo apt-get update
  3. Install KDE with the command sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop
  4. Enter your sudo password and hit Enter
  5. Allow the installation to complete
  6. Log out
  7. Select the KDE Workspace
  8. Log in

Even during the login process, you feel like you're taking a step back in time -- the overplayed glow of the window decorations (Figure A), the overworked system tray, and the menu that hasn't changed since the advent of KDE 4.

Figure A

Figure A

The glowing effect is a bit much.

But as you use the KDE desktop, you start to get the idea that the developers have done a mighty fine job with what they have. They've taken an otherwise buggy desktop that suffered from some serious instability and lag and refined it to the point of working really, really well. The KDE developers have set themselves on a development treadmill and are running at an incredibly fast pace -- only they aren't getting anywhere.

KDE today is the KDE of yesterday. That activity feature, which we all thought was such a genius device, is now just an afterthought that doesn't really aid in productivity or efficiency. And widgets? I was shocked to find there are still no widgets that actually aid the user do anything worthwhile. In fact, there are more useful widgets for the Android platform than for KDE 4.

Don't get me wrong, KDE is a great desktop for anyone who fears change or clings to the idea that the only way to effectively interact with a PC is the age-old metaphor that includes a start menu, a task bar, and a system tray. If that's you, I've got good news -- KDE 4.13.1 is as rock solid as KDE has ever been. But many people considered Windows XP to be rock solid, and it's long gone.

Here's the thing... no matter how passionate you argue for one side or the other, it all boils down to marketing for those beyond the current user base. Preaching to the choir doesn't increase the choir -- it only strengthens the existing foundation (which is great, but it doesn't help spread the word). KDE hasn't done anything new and exciting in a very long time. In an age where computer users are always expecting bigger, badder, and shinier things, developers and designers have to step up, be bold, and jump off their treadmills in order to get ahead in the race.

If you look at the whole of the Linux desktop, you'll find most every design has begun to lean in the direction of the modern -- all but KDE (and a select few minimal desktops) have stepped up to break the bonds of tradition. This is not just change for the sake of change. This is change driven by an ever-growing demand for mobile interfaces and a far savvier user base than the PC has ever experienced. And now that the vast majority of people rarely get beyond a web browser in either their work or casual computing, things need to change.

If KDE is going to continue on, they need to rethink their direction. I'm not saying they need to mimic Unity or GNOME, but they need to think fast and move forward -- otherwise, they'll continue to move very quickly in place.

What would you do with KDE? Scrap the current design and head in a more modern direction, or take it back to the olden days of KDE 3? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

12 comments
Zenith545
Zenith545

Fist off - disclosure. here and on your website , you are listed as an "award-winning writer". I can understand not listing the awards here, but why are they not listed on your website? What awards have you? Are they for fiction or technical writing?


Second - the article is pendantic. "Don't get me wrong, KDE is a great desktop for anyone who fears change or clings to the idea that the only way to effectively interact with a PC is the age-old metaphor that includes a start menu, a task bar, and a system tray." <-- Making character judgements is so pedestrian.

"...it all boils down to marketing..." right- marketing is at least if not more than 50% BS, psychologically engineered to sway the uninformed masses.

"But many people considered Windows XP to be rock solid, and it's long gone." XP is not 'gone' because it is no longer a rock solid operating system, it is gone because Microsoft created a fear campaign and stopped support of it.

"It seems this particular desktop has fallen out of favor for a vast amount of Linux users" - Fallen out of favor? That implies that people used it, then switched to a different desktop. Where did you get this info? Can you cite any surveys or polls to substantiate this??

Ubuntu - 'nuff said.


Granted this article is your opinion and these comments are mine. Gotta fill the white space somehow, yes?




a_george
a_george

KUbuntu is working great for me Ilike kde over windows and gnome


Gerry_z
Gerry_z

"Don't get me wrong, KDE is a great desktop for anyone who fears change or clings to the idea that the only way to effectively interact with a PC is the age-old metaphor that includes a start menu, a task bar, and a system tray."

I've been using Linux since 2006.  I looked at and experimented with many distros over the years, but I always come back to Kubuntu.  KDE is one of the main reasons.  "Start Menu?  I have one, but raarely access it because i have auto hide toolbars that contain the majority of my commonly used programs and folders.  I use it to access the odd program like the Lightscribe labeler I only use on occasion.  Even then, it is usually at the top in recently used section sp it's  only two clicks away.  My takbar allows be to easily click between multiple desktops.  It just works the way I do.  I don't use mobile devices, I am not in to glitz.  It's nice to have a desktop, that is as the article points out, rock steady, yet allows me to customize it the way I want.  I have an AMD A6 processor with 22 gb or  ram.  Load time is a little longer than my Win8.1 laptop (A6, 6gb), but once loaded it purrs.  Every time I use the laptop I find myself missing features I have grown used to with Kubuntu.  This system came with Win8, but I wiped it and installed Kubuntu..  I'm often tempted to do the same to the laptop, but unfortunately there are still times I need Windows and so far I haven't been able to get Kubuntu and Win 8.x to play nice together. 

nigel
nigel

Jack - "the voice of the Android Expert". There is a huge difference between Android devices and Desktop devices. Let's talk about large scale and small scale devices. There is a big difference in operating the two. Small scale devices are perfect for touch screen interfaces and many multimedia apps. Large scale touch screens are still too expensive and logistically too hard to use. Where keyboard input is large, the "traditional" desktop is still king. Bling doesn't increase productivity. Using the right tool for the right job is paramount. Multitasking with several concurrently open apps is a nightmare on small scale devices. In many business environments, screen real estate is still king. People can supplement large scale devices with small scale devices. Use what works for you but don't denigrate a good system. Even Scumsoft is bringing back the menu with Windows 9. KDE is a great interface. Until I/O devices change significantly for large scale devices, we need desktops that work efficiently.



rcugini
rcugini

You can always use Cinnamon if you like eye candy.  I was a KDE fan for quite a while, but it just uses to many system resources.  Comparing KDE to anything else, be it MATE xf

mrdt
mrdt

Apparently Jack has not been paying attention to the developments of KDE 5, which has much of what Jack says is missing. Also, he forgets to mention that KDE can be customized to suit your needs. The start menu and the status bar are both optional and replaceable.

This he says this "This is change driven by an ever-growing demand for mobile interfaces...."The attempt to make the desktop function the same as a mobile interface just doesn't work. Take for example redesigned websites that are supposed to be one size fits all, sadly those don't work, as on large screens you are hit with the need for excessive scrolling, over-sized graphics and lots of wasted space. Finally, lets not forget how there was an attempt to fit the desktop on the mobile, and how that simply didn't work out so well which led to something that we see today. 

Change for the sake of change, without real benefits is what this review is really calling for, which to me is a bit sad.

spamcatcherev1
spamcatcherev1

The sentence that begins with "KDE is a great desktop for anyone who" needs some revision.  Let me fix it for you...

"KDE is a great desktop for anyone who"... actually needs to get something done, and doesn't want to spend a bunch of time pointlessly relearning something just because some pea-brained media pundit calls it "outdated."

KDE is not now and never has been about "design slickness"--for those who demand trendiness at the expense of functionality, there's GNOME Shell.

KDE is and always has been about customization.  I am a UX professional, and KDE's flexibility allows me to set up a workspace that works exactly the way I need it to, without getting in the way, or presenting second-order learning tasks.  My customized KDE allows me to be more productive--to do more work for less effort.  And that's what UX is all about.

As for market share, unless I am mistaken, KDE is now the most popular DE in LinuxLand.  Yeah, that whole being #1 thing is such a poor measure of success.

mshelby
mshelby

You make some really good observations here. I think the issue can't be resolved with the current set of developers. Not that that's a bad thing either. KDE is built by users who code it to suit their needs, not really to suit your "wants" or my "wants." And many KDE devs are university students, I think. They are building it to be of use to the university set.


There are some wonderfully talented and creative minds at KDE but you are right, they do seem to be running on a treadmill or "sawing on that same old log" as the old-timers her in the American south sometimes say.

There are plenty of great innovations coming out of KDE though, like the "get new stuff" functionality to download themes, widgets, etc... But even there they seem to have lost momentum. They have essentially created a self contained sort of "app store" but it hasn't really gotten off the ground. Just take a look at the KDE Themes under "get new stuff" and sort the results by popularity. Its the same old tired set of themes and colors that are far and away the most downloaded... This despite the fact that there are plenty of newer beautiful designs out there. There just doesn't seem to be much desire to go and get them.


So does that tell us that folks who use KDE don't want the latest glitzy stuff? I'm not sure... It takes me back to my original comment that KDE is built by and for the university crowd. And quite possibly the typically pragmatic German mindset. And I don't mean that in a bad way.


KDE is not alone in this, they just lead it. Linux as a whole is built by the university set for the university set. That's why it's so difficult to find drivers for certain devices like wifi adapters and printers. University computers are typically hard-wired into a network. There isn't as high a "need" for wifi chipset drivers. Also, just try getting certain Lexmark printers to work. The drivers largely don't exist. Not because Lexmark won't allow it, (which may also be the case -I'm not naive) but because universities don't order much from Lexmark so there i no pressing need to develop or hack a driver or work around.


My opinion is just that, my own. I only base it on observation, not hard data. But I've been poking around the dusty cobwebbed corners of Linux since about 1998 and this seems accurate to me.

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

 "Don't get me wrong, KDE is a great desktop for anyone who fears change or clings to the idea that the only way to effectively interact with a PC is the age-old metaphor that includes a start menu, a task bar, and a system tray."

MS (and W8 fan boys) made that statement about people refusing to use Metro.

It really boosted sales of W8 . :D


It's just like GNOME 3's exciting "innovation" of including menus inside application windows (i.e. the way it was always done before the last GNOME brainwave).

Zito937
Zito937

It's that marketing to put something new out that turns a mature usable desktop into a counter productive unusable rubbish.  Change change change for the sake of change you can call it innovation if you want but it's just marketing.  And it's a bit of an odd time to be saying they are stagnate after releasing a new interface, framework 5 and plasma next.  One problem with calling something modern is that it's very vague term and a set of subjective standards.  I suppose years from now we will talk about how transportation was so hard because we still had to use the wheel and computers were so hard because we used a mouse instead of waving a wand in the air.  I am glad kde doesn't waste their time scrapping everything starting from scratch to create something that is not any better and just call it innovation.  I want KDE to stay on track, keep moving forward instead of going around in circles trying to look modern and innovative to attract those new users you are talking about.  Exciting is not always good.

rcugini
rcugini

I'm sorry about the glitch.  You can always use Cinnamon if you like eye candy.  I was a KDE fan for quite a while, but it just uses to many system resources.  Comparing KDE to anything else, be it MATE xfce or Cinnamon, is like comparing Vista to 7.  Classic KDE is like XP.  It looks like 3.x.  The newer format is like Vista or 7.  Nevertheless, if you have a fast powerful system with a quick solid state drive, KDE will be plenty fast enough for you.  KDE is great at printer support and getting online when using problematic networks or with unusual types of encryption.  Many desktops vary widely in terms of how or if they support devices and hardware.  KDE is your best bet especially if combined with Mint or PC-BSD (where it really shines) or Ubuntu eg Kubuntu.

Editor's Picks