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YaKR (Yet another KDE4 Review)

Posted in kde, opensuse by mschlander on 21/10/2007

Since the release of KDE 4.0 beta 3 there’s been a lot of talk about KDE4, it even got mentioned in Danish mainstream computer media. So I thought I’d share my thoughts too.

I installed KDE 4.0 beta 3 on openSUSE 10.3 using the packages provided by the openSUSE KDE maintainers. Here’s the screenshot.

Stephan “Beineri” Binner’s openSUSE based LiveCD KDE Four Live is also available witk KDE4 beta 3+.

Besides testing beta3 I’ve also been following KDE4 pretty closely as users go – not following svn or devel mailinglists, but trying to keep up with the goings on. And I have also tried out some earlier builds.

Expectations
The first thing you need to understand about KDE4 is that it uses a little unconventional versioning scheme. It’s similar to the one Microsoft uses for Windows, so most people should be fairly familiar with the style. “Beta3” actually means “early alpha” by usual standards, and 4.0 “final” will mean it’s actually a “tech preview” for the avantgarde to try out in real life. After a “service pack” or two, we can finally really judge the product (KDE 4.1/4.2).

This is actually not meant to be a rant against KDE, I believe in “release early, release often”, and I think it’s very important to get a release out there, to really get some traction going for KDE4 – but it’s also very important to adjust people’s expectations, or a lot of people will be extremely disappointed by KDE 4.0. Beineri already explained about KDE4 != KDE4.0 long ago, but I think it doesn’t hurt to remind people. Now that expectations are hopefully aligned with reality, let’s continue.

Platform
Most of the KDE4 development so far has been in the libraries. Not very visible to the user in the short term, but in the mid to long term I’m convinced that Solid (hardware), Phonon (multimedia), Sonnet (spellcheck), Akonadi (pim), Decibel (chat) and so on will help the creation of great applications to the immense pleasure of users and application developers alike. Considering that KDE3 is already excellent in this respect, the implications of a much improved KDE4 is almost scary. Not to mention all the goodness of Qt4 – such as great svg. Oxygen (icons, window decoration, widgets), will be a huge improvement. Note that my screenshot does not have oxygen widgets nor windeco, and the icon theme is not yet complete. While this all leads to very high expectations, in many ways it’s too soon to judge.

“User experience”
Some things are visible already though, and disappoint me. I thought that the most common complaints about KDE3 would be taken care of, but judging by beta3 this is not the case, au contraire. I noted at least three issues that I think are disastrous, no less.

Common complaint 1: “KDE gets in my way, it’s obtrusive, there’s too much going on”
What does KDE4 do about it? Well, it puts sound notifications on kwin events like opening, maximizing and minimizing windows. Konsole spews popup notifications left and right. Of course these things are configurable, but defaults are immensely important. The rule should be to “disturb” the user as little as possible, unless he asks for it.

Common complaint 2: “The panel takes up too much of the screen”
What does KDE4 do? It makes the panel even bigger (I didn’t pull out kruler to measure, but it’s certainly not smaller).

Common complaint 3: “KDE(3) is too much like Windows (XP)”
What does KDE4 do to combat this widespread misconception? It makes the panel look very much like the panel in Windows Vista. I know the artist says it’s purely coincidental that he happens to share tastes with Microsoft artists. But it’s still a bad idea – I think so partly for selfish reasons, I’m sick of hearing people say KDE is Windows-like, and now it looks like I’ll have to listen to it for years to come.

Apps
Not many of the applications are really anywhere near ready yet, but the few that are usable are mostly very nice. I was never a fan of the decision to replace Konqueror with Dolphin as the default file manager, but maybe it makes sense from a strategic point of view, maybe Konqueror is pearls for swine. But Konq in beta3 seems rather limited, having only one viewmode (dolphin-part), I think I have around 10 different view modes in KDE3-Konq. I hope this is a temporary situation, and that Konq will return to at least KDE3 level in 4.1 or 4.2. On a positive note the default toolbar setup for web browsing in Konq seemed very neat. The KDE4 games are very nice looking, always been a fan of kmines, and it’s great – though I miss the smiley face that was there in earlier KDE4 versions.

When KDE4 development began I was very worried about the prospects for KBabel which I more or less depend on for translation work, as it wasn’t maintained actively. Ironically, today it’s replacement KAider is one of the most usable KDE4 apps, and I’ve already used it for “production” a little bit.

KOffice2 released an alpha concurrently with KDE4 beta3. It also looks very promising. I especially enjoy that the KWord UI is starting to resemble Krita, making the suite more “uniform”, and simply making KWord look way cool. So far I haven’t tested the fruits of the Google Summer of Code ODF-project, but certainly ODF support, and compatibility with OOo must have improved significantly.

Conclusions

  • KDE 4.0 might be nearing release, but KDE4 has a looong way to go
  • With all the library work done and Qt4, there’s an amazing (unrivaled?) platform for desktop and application development available
  • Developers need to be more careful about defaults. Do not let the default settings annoy people, for crying out loud
  • Usable applications are still scarce, but many of them are looking very promising
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2 Responses

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  1. Dan Leinir Turthra Jensen said, on 21/10/2007 at 15:01

    A shame that the screenshot’s been mangled so hard by jpeg compression, the other shots i’ve seen are a lot clearer and don’t have the gradient compression problems obvious in this one…

    When that is said, a well done review, good stuff! 🙂 A small note on the application defaults – those will happen, don’t worry, it’s just not the current important thing, since that can all be done during the freeze, which is happening really soon according to schedule and mailing lists 🙂

  2. Me said, on 21/10/2007 at 16:59

    Wasn’t Sonnet developer MIA?


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