Software

The state of KDE: Pretty but unstable

KDE is still attempting to gain some semblance of traction. Even though it's working to move into the current state of things, there's still something not quite right. Jack Wallen explains.

kdehero.jpg
Image: Jack Wallen

Even though it was a long time ago, I remember using the K Desktop Environment... KDE 1, KDE 2, and KDE 3. The design of the desktop was always instantly familiar and equally clean, and it fell perfectly in line with what was popular at the time. In other words, it was very desktop-centric, and it did a great job at towing that particular line.

However, that was then, and this is now. The general look and feel of the UI has shifted to a more mobile-centric metaphor. Ubuntu and GNOME have followed this trend. Even Windows has hopped on board the mobile train. KDE, on the other hand, is still locked in the world of the desktop.

With one small exception.

Plasma Mobile

The developers of KDE have been hard at work with what they are calling Plasma Mobile. Ultimately, Plasma Mobile intends to become a streamlined version of KDE for mobile devices (check out this video, which offers a hands-on look at Plasma Mobile in action). Plasma Mobile does, in fact, look like it could easily best Ubuntu Touch for Linux smartphones. Of course, KDE still has a massive hurdle in locating an OEM to make use of their project. As we all know, in this very Android/iOS-centric world, that's a rather tall order. It took Canonical quite some time to find a home for Touch, and that hasn't really enjoyed much in the way of success.

Even though Plasma Mobile has two really great features in its corner (it will run both Plasma widgets/apps and Ubuntu Touch apps, and it offers a really slick interface), it's still battling a serious uphill climb. And if what finally came of Ubuntu Touch is to be our litmus test, I've developed a streak of doubt running through my veins. When I finally managed to get my hands on an Ubuntu Phone, I found myself wanting to retract every positive thing I'd said about Ubuntu Touch.

However, I'll refrain from dubbing Plasma Mobile a success until I have a device in my hands and can experience the UI for myself. A video is great but, in the end, hands-on experience is a much better indicator.

And that leads me to my next point.

Stability

If there's one major gripe I've had over the years with KDE, it's lack of stability. I'm not talking about the desktop crashing and burning... I'm talking about that intangible sense you get when working with something that you know, beyond any shadow of doubt, is stable.

Really, really stable.

I get that feeling with GNOME 3, Ubuntu Unity, and Elementary OS Freya. However, I've never had that feeling with KDE. Even with the mighty KDE 3.x, I always worked with an underlying sensation that something was a breath away from crashing.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Even though the design and execution of KDE Plasma 5.4 is incredibly nice (Figure A), I can't shake that "shaky" feeling that KDE has always managed to deliver.

Figure A

Figure A
Image: Jack Wallen

The KDE designers have done an excellent job.

No matter what I'm working on or how pretty the desktop is, I feel as if something just might crash on me. Take, for instance, the Dashboard feature. This is a feature that should, theoretically, allow you to place a group of widgets on the Dashboard and then only see them when the Dashboard is visible. However, this doesn't actually work out-of-the-box (or at all). Back in earlier incarnations, you had to go to System Settings | Workspace | Behavior and adjust the setting so that the Dashboard could hold its own widgets. That's not the case any longer. In fact, the setting can't be found. Interestingly enough, this is a bug (read about it here) that was submitted this past February. It's still listed as unconfirmed, even though it renders the Dashboard useless.

But even without an actual purpose, the Dashboard feels sketchy. When you click on the Dashboard button (top left) and select Show Dashboard, the animation that's presented gives you an unsteady feeling like you might not be able to return to the desktop.

If I could ask one thing of the KDE developers, it would be this: Is it possible you might focus on stabilizing and fixing what you have, before you introduce more features?

I know it sounds harsh, and I should reiterate that the work the KDE team has done on the design is quite elegant. But the lack of stability (even if only a perceived stability) undercuts the design of the desktop. I want to use it, but placing KDE in a production environment, to me, seems like a risk.

Believe me, I want KDE to succeed. I've always loved that Linux had such a vast array of choices... something for everyone. And KDE fills a very important niche for the Linux desktop—but at a 5.4 release, the environment should feel a lot more solid than it does.

What is your take on the KDE desktop? Do you find it to be stable enough to be production-worthy?

Also see

About Jack Wallen

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 jackwallen.com.

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