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KDE 4 Isn’t Too Bad, After All
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by Rob Williams on October 2, 2009 in Linux, Staff Editorials

When KDE 4 was first released, I didn’t care much for it, and I thought I never would. But due to recent circumstances, I installed the latest version to see if things changed for the better, and to my surprise, they have. That might be an understatement, because as I see it, KDE 4.3 is easily one of the most polished desktop environments out there.

Introduction

In late 2007, I was getting antsy. KDE 4.0 was right around the corner, and I wanted it there now. Sure, I’m impatient, but all throughout the beta and RC period, I tried to ignore as much KDE 4.x related speak as I could, as I wanted as much of the OS to be a surprise as possible. Sure, I might be different that way… but I find it a lot of fun to sit down in front of unexplored territory, and take it all in at once. When the release happened on January 11, 2008, I immediately downloaded a Live CD of some distro to take it for a spin before committing to a install on my own machine.

Well, after all that waiting, as sad as it was, I was ultimately disappointed with KDE 4.0. As I spoke about many times back upon its launch… I felt like the desktop environment was going backwards. The reason I chose KDE 3.x over GNOME 2.x wasn’t just because of a familiar Windows-like layout, but rather because of the insane amount of customization that the former desktop offered. I am not sure what the KDE developers were going for, but it could be that they were going after GNOME’s users by making the desktop as a whole easier to use. At the same time, though, it made things frustrating for power users or those who like to hack their OS.

Whenever a new piece of software is released that I use on a regular basis, I usually waste no time in upgrading it. But with KDE 4.0, I was left so disappointed, that I decided to hold onto KDE 3.x for as long as possible, even if the support was to end soon. Well, that happened last August, so I’ve essentially been using an unsupported desktop environment since then. Recently, I’ve been itching to upgrade my PC, so I’ve been holding off on a decision, but it came down to this… either make the switch to GNOME, which I really didn’t want to do (no offense to fans of the desktop… it’s just not for me), or put up with all that I didn’t like about KDE 4.x.


Rob’s KDE 3.5.10 Desktop – September, 2008

Thanks to certain events that occurred the other day, I was essentially forced to make a decision. The main hard drive in my machine crashed, so I had no choice but to start anew. Thankfully, since I have such a robust backup scheme, I lost nothing, but that still doesn’t take away the burn from the time lost to troubleshoot and reinstall my OS’, Linux and Windows. Just earlier that day I was talking to my colleague Brett Thomas, who was telling me what he liked about KDE 4. He happened to have been testing it that day himself, so it was in all regards a coincidence.

During that conversation, I told him straight out that I couldn’t see myself moving to KDE 4, because I found it to be going in the wrong direction, along with my favorite music application, Amarok. Joke was on me. Never in a million years would I have seen myself installing both that very evening. Before I get into my new-found thoughts on KDE 4.x, allow me to first explain what I didn’t like before.

KDE 4 Didn’t Float My Boat, Because…

I don’t in any way consider myself to be a minimalist, but I do like a clean and rather straight-forward interface. I customized my KDE 3 environment to be as clean as possible, and it was very easy to do given the insane number of customization options. With KDE 4, I found that a lot of the control had been taken away, and even today, I find that KDE 3 beats the pants off of KDE 4 any day where that’s concerned. But, KDE 4 seems to have gotten better with age. At least, that’s how it appears to me.

One common complaint I tell people when asked why I don’t care for KDE 4 simply comes down to widgets. In KDE 4, everything is a widget. You create a shortcut on the desktop? It’s a widget. I just found that absurd, and it essentially amounted to “bloat” for me. There wasn’t a true desktop… rather, everything is just one huge widget comprised of many smaller widgets. While nothing has changed since KDE 4’s initial launch, I personally have come to accept the design and actually now find more pros than cons.


Official KDE 4.0 Screenshot

Back to customization. In my OS, I use keyboard shortcuts to launch applications a lot. Each time I boot up, I hit Ctrl + Shift + F, for example, to load up FileZilla. In KDE 4… I was stumped. I looked so long to find a solution, but couldn’t. There was scarce information online, and it sure as heck wasn’t straight-forward inside of KDE itself. I now know that it is indeed possible, but I can easily understand why I overlooked it initially. I’ll get into that soon.

To sum it up in a sentence… I didn’t care for KDE 4.x because it essentially took a step back with regards to what I liked so much about KDE 3.x. Of course, this is entirely my opinion, and I don’t expect many people to agree with me. KDE 4.x wasn’t for me, and I truly believed I’d move to GNOME before I’d upgrade. But as it stands now, I’m very glad that I decided to give the latest version and honest try before I jumped ship to another environment.

On the following page, I’ll get into my initial experience with the latest version of KDE 4, and why my opinion of the environment took a total 360° in the span of a single evening. Please note that if you use KDE 4 already, you’re likely to know all of what I’m about to say. If you happen to be in a similar situation as I was and don’t want to upgrade to 4 from 3.x, maybe you’ll reconsider after seeing where the environment stands today.