Open Source

KDE 4: So long and thanks for all the fish

Jack Wallen reviews KDE 4 and says, "No, thanks." Find out what he likes -- and dislikes about the new version.

The release of KDE 4 has long since come and gone. Much ballyhoo has been made over the release. Many are praising it. Many are condemning it. Me? I fall in the latter category. Why? Let me explain.


Oh wait, sorry...sorry.

Recently I was tasked to do a Get Up To Speed presentation for Techrepublic about KDE. I initially thought to use KDE 4. So I did a fresh install of Kubuntu and fired it up. Very quickly I realized two things: (1) It just wasn't ready for users and (2) it's too much like Windows Vista. Shortly after that a very scathing thread started on the Ubuntu users mailing list where a user ripped KDE 4 apart. Many of the die-hard readers replied by ripping the user apart. The user claimed that Ubuntu was adding software that was not close to being ready to be used. He was right.

But in the sake of spirit, I am writing this blog outside of my usual Enlightenment E17 desktop and in KDE 4. I wanted to have some critical feedback for my Techrepublic brethren so that a solid, enlightened, educated discussion could proceed. So, without further adieu, here is my take on KDE 4.

Look and feel

This has to be the ugliest default desktop since the days of Fvwm95. It seems to me some of the KDE 4 developers found the Windows Vista desktop pleasing enough to copy it. Actually it very simply says what I have felt all along with KDE — they are simply following along the Windows path to ensure the users have a feeling of familiarity with their desktop. Yes, this is very smart thinking on the part of KDE. But Vista? To my knowledge, the vast majority of people are very unhappy with Vista. Sure it may look clean and fresh, but it's performance and track record are horrible. Why try to physically emulate that? Wouldn't the users think, "Oh no, not Vista again!"? This, of course, is the new Oxygen theme. It doesn't take much to open up the OS X-like system settings tool and change the theme (although I couldn't find how to change the desktop background anywhere in the system settings tool — eventually right-clicking the deskop allowed me to open up the Configure Desktop window where I could change wallpaper).

How about Panel properties? In KDE 3.x you could change just about everything with regards to the panel. KDE 4? Not so much. You can resize it and move it. That's it.

Widgets. Yes. Widgets. You knew it was coming. When Superkaramba came around I knew that the widget would be the way of the future of the KDE desktop. And why not? It's where OS X is heading and KDE has become, of all things, a follower not a leader.


I will give this to KDE 4. It does perform well. In fact I would say it performs, as far as snappiness is concerned, much better than 3.x. That's pretty incredible considering how early it is in its life. Granted, you will need at least a mid-level graphics card to play around with some of the better bells and whistles. But overall, in the realm of performance, I am impressed.

File management

Why in the world, after so many years, did KDE switch from Konqueror to Dolphin for file management? This goes well beyond the realm of comprehension as far as I am concerned. Konqueror was a so-so Web browser but one of the finest file managers available. But no. KDE isn't happy with that choice. Instead they want to focus their efforts on making Konqueror the best Web browser available (and the default for KDE 4) and Dolphin the new file manager. I just don't understand this move. Why not make Firefox the browser and keep Konqueror the file manager? That would allow the developers to spend more time shoring up everything else in KDE 4. Instead we have to deal with a horde of issues. Speaking of which...


I was actually a bit hesitant to write this blog entry in KDE 4. So much so that I found myself constantly saving in case one of those random crashes occurred only to find me pulling out my hair wishing I had hit save more often. My experience with KDE 4 has been thus: Run it for a bit, log out, attempt to log back in only to have it crash before making it to the splash screen. Sometimes deleting the ~/.kde4 directory works. Sometimes I have to open up Synaptic and re-install the kde4 package. I can usually get it up and running again, only to have it crap out on me later.


I realize it was time for a major change in KDE 4. But why not follow more in the steps of a Compiz or something exciting instead of trying to combine the "best" of MS Vista and OS X? Wouldn't it have been better to create something truly exciting and unique that would make everyone oooh and ahhh instead of making them think, "Been there, done that?"

Naturally I will give KDE time to settle down and grow some roots so that it may stabilize. But I don't see myself ever migrating full-time to a KDE 4.x desktop. I am one of those people that use Linux because (out of the many reasons), it's different. So when I am on my Linux desktop, I don't want it to look and feel like anything else. That is, in all honesty, how I win people over. They look at my desktop and say, "Oh, I want that!" If I am using KDE 4 those same people are going to be saying, "Oh, I have thanks."

And, for the time being, that's what I am saying to KDE 4: No thanks!


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

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