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

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.