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KDE 4 for KDE 3 users

Posted in kde, opensuse by mschlander on 12/12/2008

Since the release of KDE 4.0 11 months ago, there’s been a whole lot of heated debate going on, on blogs, mailing lists, forums, IRC and basically any other media you can imagine. The complaints seem to come in waves though – everytime there’s a KDE release or a major distribution release with KDE 4, a new wave of angry complaining people seems to appear out of the blue, putting forward the exact same complaints other people have already been presenting all over the net for months. It would actually be kind of funny to observe the phenomenon, if only they weren’t so loud and angry.

Since the release of openSUSE 11.1 with KDE 4.1.3 is imminent I thought I’d prepare a little something for the upcoming wave of frustrated people. Many other KDE4 FAQs and introductions already exist, but they’re not invented here. I’ll try to keep it short and broad, since almost all the complaints fall into three basic categories.

It’s different
Yes, KDE 4 is different from KDE 3 in many ways – this was the whole point of KDE 4 from the beginning. It was always intended to be a radical change, since it was decided that incremental improvements would only get KDE so far. This means there is a learning curve and there may be the need to reconfigure some applications from scratch.

However many applications are more or less straight ports, but some components are new and rather different, most notably the desktop and panel (KDesktop and Kicker) were replaced with Plasma, KControl has been replaced with Systemsettings and Dolphin replaces Konqueror as the default file manager.

Over time KDE 4 will become more different than KDE 3, not less, so waiting to migrate later probably won’t make it any easier.


Missing features
Yes, it’s true that KDE 4.0, 4.1 and even 4.2 doesn’t have every exact feature or configuration option that exists in KDE 3. This means you may have to adapt your workflows a little bit, but it’s very unlikely any of these missing features will be critical to doing your work if you think about it.

Nevertheless KDE 4.x already has got lots and lots of features that weren’t in KDE 3, you just have to look.

The missing features are not the result of a new philosophy for KDE, it just happens that porting everything to KDE4/Qt4 was a huge task, and some components were completely replaced and need more time to mature completely, but mid- to long term it’s for the best. If you compared KDE 4.0 with 4.2 (beta) you’d be amazed how many features and configuration options have been added in one short year.


Lack of polish
As mentioned above important components have been rewritten from scratch and even straight porting application wasn’t a walk in the park. KDE 4.1 is still just the beginning of the KDE 4 era, it will become much better in every area very fast. There’s definitely room for improvements regarding optimizations, usability and bugs in KDE 4.1. But it’s not like KDE 3 was bug free either, many KDE 4 components objectively work much better than their KDE 3 predecesssors.


This post won’t do much to alleviate the inconveniences with migration in a practical sense, but hopefully it’ll help some people migrating from KDE 3 to KDE 4 to understand what’s going on and why, and see things in a bigger perspective.

It’s also interesting that generally the most unhappy users are long time KDE 3 users – whereas users of GNOME or Microsoft Windows etc. don’t seem to have all these problems when they try KDE 4. I guess they approach KDE 4 with more of an open mind, intending to try something new and different, instead of expecting to find their former desktop environment++, maybe KDE 3 users can learn from that approach.

PS: KDE 3.5 is included in openSUSE 11.1, for the last time(!!). It’s under “Other” in the Desktop selection step of DVD installations.


9 Responses

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  1. Miq said, on 13/12/2008 at 11:36

    Pingback from Distrowatch ( post #113)

    It is interesting to note that the criticism directed at KDE4 now was the exact criticism delivered by the KDE camp at GNOME at its inception and first releases. GNOME then advocated and introduced concepts at least radical if not revolutionary to the same extent as KDE4’s enough to be flakked by people being shifted from their comfort zone. As we know, GNOME meant pressure for KDE to develop, and today KDE4 is the revolutionary paradigm pusher and thus on the receiving end of fearful flames from people unwittingly turned conservatives by their established usage habits.

    KDE was always a bit more incongruous than what GNOME turned into and though it was more adaptable and possible to make into something miles more aesthetically pleasing than GNOME it also required more effort and even technical skills to make it so, and since most people are lazy over time GNOME won over those that wanted a consistent and sufficiently pleasing DE for the least effort. GNOME didn’t deliver a revolution in usability but it did simplify and make consistent DE management and presentation. KDE4 now is doing this while retaining the adaptability and feature-richness KDE is famous for AND immensely improving usability at the same time. WIth time it will bring back as many distros and users from GNOME as GNOME has been siphoning away from KDE3, and GNOME will find itself the second choice (or perhaps even sharing rank alongside XFce and fluxbox et al). This will of course pressure GNOME3 into “radical” evolution which will cause much the same reactions as KDE4 has endured. Everything is cyclic, it all comes again.

    • blackbelt_jones said, on 25/05/2009 at 12:36

      “today KDE4 is the revolutionary paradigm pusher and thus on the receiving end of fearful flames from people unwittingly turned conservatives by their established usage habits.”

      God forbid we should let people’s work get in the way of the software.

  2. […] Fonte ispiratrice dell’articolo. […]

  3. […] 11.1 is your first venture into the KDE4 world, this post and the official KDE4 introduction page will hopefully lessen the shock for […]

  4. Paul Smith said, on 29/03/2009 at 6:44

    I am a long-time Linux user, starting back in 1997. I started using KDE shortly after KDE2 was released and, until now, have never looked back as I found KDE2 and KDE3 to be really good environments to work in. About once a year I would try Gnome and would quickly turn back to KDE because I found KDE to be much more usable (and much better architected). After the release of KDE4, I tried to use KDE4 for about 1 month before sadly giving up on it and switching to Gnome (I want to stick with desktops that I know will be maintained and will be developed for). Since then, I have tried each new release of KDE4 and have sadly returned to Gnome for exactly the same reasons. Frankly, I really really want to like KDE4, but I find it’s wanting in so many areas compared to KDE3 (and Gnome):

    1. I use a handful of Gnome based applications, specifically GIMP and OpenOffice. The GTK-Qt rendering issues in KDE4 make using any GTK based application truly annoying and distracting. I’m not talking about the look of the taskbar or the file manager. I’m talking about severe rending issues with kicker and KDE applications while a GTK application is running that makes it impossible to use any KDE application while a GTK application is running. I know I can disable GTK-Qt in OpenOffice, but it’s a severe enough an issue that KDE should never have been considered stable without fixing it. As a side note, I also see issues with some KDE 4 applications running under Gnome, specifically when windows are maximized, the window decorations disappear.

    2. Introducing Dolphin as an eventual replacement for Konqueror is serious and fundamental mistake. KDE had/has a beautiful concept in Konqueror. A single viewer that can view anything. Pushing Dolphin takes that truly powerful paradigm that throws it in the trash, replacing it with a Windows/Gnome me-too file viewer. All I can say is YUCK ! If you think Konqueror is too complex, fix it, don’t change the paradigm to something inferior.

    3. Arguably minor: Rending of all the visual effects is not smooth, and is often jerky (I’m seeing this on a 3 year old dual Opteron based system w/ 2GB of RAM and a fairly high-end Nvidia graphics card). I find it often unpleasant to watch compared to Compiz and end up disabling many of the effects when I work with KDE.

    4. Dual monitor support with some of the visual effects does not work well.

    5. Navigating multiple desktops in KDE3 was simpler and faster than what I find in KDE4. Having the desktops in the taskbar as was done in KDE3 worked really well. As best as I can tell, this feature is missing in KDE4. This is a feature that I use a lot and I find KDE4 to be notibly more difficult to use in this respect, especially on a dual headed system.

    6. Containers ? — No more usable than just placing files on the desktop, and increases visual noise. Having multiple containers on the desktop is nice in theory, but in the end, it creates too much clutter. I know it works well with the Plasmoid way of doing things, but it’s less usable than the legacy approach used by KDE3 and most other desktop environments.

    7. The KDE menu system, while appearing very slick, is less usable than the KDE3 equivalent. I find it harder to navigate. I believe the root cause of this is the inability to see more than one level at a time.

    8. Many of the controls in KDE4 are non-intuitive compared to KDE3, Gnome, Windows, and Mac. It took me about 1/2 an hour to figure out how to place the task bar on the left side of the screen (IMHO, having the task bar on the left/right works better for code development and other engineering tasks which can make better use of vertical screen space). To figure out how to move the task bar, I had to search the web. Something this basic should not have required a research project. I’ve seen other, similar usability issues elsewhere.

    All this being said:
    I’ve done a quite a bit of development with Qt, starting with Qt 2 as a hobby and now work with Qt4 it as part of my day job. I also started working on a KDE3 application (DiabetiK) a number of years ago and really liked what I saw in KDE 3. Architecturally, both KDE3 and KDE4 are really elegant. I believe the KDE team has done a good job and can easily get KDE4 where it should be if they focus on addressing at least the major usability issues that at least a large segment of the (ex)KDE userbase raises.

    Final note:
    In my effort to use KDE, I’ve limited my trials to the most recent version of Kubuntu as well as pre-packaged .deb’s for Ubuntu. I have not (yet) tried other distributions such as Fedora or Slack with KDE4. I have heard that some distributions have built with debug switches on, included which have hurt performance; however, if a mainstream distribution that is dedicated to KDE, such as Kubuntu, can’t build KDE4 correctly, something is fundamentally wrong with either the KDE4 build environment or the KDE4 build instuctions.

  5. blackbelt_jones said, on 25/05/2009 at 12:13

    Obviously, those who feared that a possible fork would divide the KDE community were correct, and the name of that fork is KDE4. So the whole IDEA of KDE4 is to be completely different from the wildly successful KDE3? How has anyone managed to be surprised by the reaction? It’s like the developers forgot that users exist.

    KDE4 not being KDE3 is a perfectly valid reason to not want to use it, but it’s not a good reason to hate it. You know what is a valid reason to hate it? The expected demise of KDE3. As far as reasons to hate are concerned, that’s about as good as it get it.

    Actually, I like KDE4. I’ve got a dual boot now, Vector Linux with Kubuntu, and I like to tinker with KDE4 from time to time. But I won’t be giving up KDE3 anytime soon, and obviously, I won’t have to. There’s going to be a user base for KDE3 for a long time to come, and that will mean that KDE3 will ne maintained, if not developed, for years. Two KDEs is the reality now, and if the official KDE community is willing to embrace that reality, a united KDE community is a possibility. KDE4 is a great idea, but abandoning KDE3 is a terrible idea. That’s why, I promise you, it’s not going to happen.

  6. Matt Gilbert said, on 14/11/2009 at 13:02

    I’m a long time slackware / KDE user, and was very happy with my slackware 12.2 and KDE 3.5 Everything simply WORKS!!!!!!!

    I upgraded one of my machines from SW 12.2 to 13.0 and of course KDE 4.x came with it. I always look forward to upgrades with a bit of excitement, but my enthusiasm was short lived, as it took the KDE 4.x several minutes to load onto the desktop – every thing looks strange, dark and foreign, and what the heck are these crescent moon shape things in the corners? Oh, those aren’t moons, they’re cashews. Okay……why do I need cashews on my desktop?

    There were all these annoying tools and wrenches and sidebars whenever I moved the mouse over an icon. It wanted to put ‘widgets’ and ‘panels’ on the desktop.

    The Kmenu itself was divided into dark ‘sections’ that had to be navigated through, click, by click, by click after annoying time consuming click. So I switched the Kmenu to ‘classic’ mode, which made it a little better.

    I installed a new version of seamonkey and wanted to put an icon/link for it on the desktop, but when I right clicked the desktop all I got was an option to install widgets. Totally ridiculous. No opportunity to install links to files, directories, applications, URLs, or devices. But hey, step right up, we got widgets galore!

    I feel like I’m being treated like a windows user, that the system is ‘dumbed down’ for my benefit and I’m supposedly too stupid to navigate a ‘complicated’ file system, let us do it for you and offer you ‘widgets’ and cute little spinning whirlygig thingamajig doohickeys.

    not to mention the confusion and frustration trying to get a konsole up and running. Where is my ‘fortune’ ? Why aren’t the directories shown in color with a forward slash after their names? This is progress?

    Well, I’m very glad that my ‘upgrade’ was done on a ‘hobby’ machine, and not my main system which is very happily running SW 12.2 and KDE 3.5

    I’m going to continue to play with KDE 4.x on the other machine and TRY to like it, and be open minded and leave my ‘comfort zone’, but so far, KDE 4 and I are off to a rough start.

  7. blackbelt_jones said, on 15/11/2009 at 8:41

    In 2008, Aaron Seigo wrote that KDE3 would remain supported as long as there are users, because that’s how free software works. Well, KDE3 still has plenty of users, but the users have been superceded by the distros. It’s not hard to understand why established distros don’t want to deal with two KDEs, but an upstart distro that wanted to dedicate itself to preserving KDE3 would automatically seperate itself from the pack, and have an army of grateful users.

    I started my own microbrew live CD based on Slax, with a pledge to keep KDE3 “as alive as possible, for as long as necessary”. It’s been downloaded 40 times in four weeks, which I think is pretty good for a homemade CD by some guy who isn’t much of a guru, after a couple of mentions in a couple of forums. Maybe somebody who knows what he’s doing will follow my example. Maybe somebody with resources with see an opportunity.

    I hear that the KDE team isn’t doing much to support KDE3, but they haven’t closed the door, either. And they won’t, because they don’t want a fork, and a fork is what happens when you close the door on active users. KDE3 is not quite as dead as they say it is.

  8. manmath said, on 07/12/2009 at 6:14

    Blackbelt is right! Actually there are many users who wish a longer support for kde 3.5, but unfortunately the distro-makers are abandoning it. As for now only, mepis and pclinuxos are the two humble distros sticking to kde 3.

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