Thoughts on KDE4

I’ve made an effort over the Christmas break to try as many new (or long-unused) software packages. This is party to ensure that I stay up to date (I can just about justify not knowing the inner workings of Vista, but not being able to configure Kmail is just embarrassing), but also because I will soon be buying a new main computer, and am still undecided as to what OS to run on it.

My usual working environment revolves around the Gnome Desktop Environment, running on either Ubuntu or Mandriva. I’m also a regular user of Mac OS X (both Tiger and Leopard), as well as Windows XP which I have to use for a couple of tasks at work. I’ve not used KDE regularly for over 4 years, and have not used it for more than 5 minutes since KDE4 came out. To rectify this shortcoming, I’ve now set up two test environments:

  1. A fresh install of Mandriva One 2009 (KDE version) on a 6 year old HP laptop which has a flaky wireless card and a broken trackpad (but which is surprisingly fast otherwise).
  2. My usual Ubuntu laptop with the kubuntu-desktop metapackage installed on top of what is already there.

The way KDE4 is set up varies a lot between the two distros, so some of my observations apply to one or the other:

I like the overall sense of minimalism. Previously KDE seemed cluttered, and both distros have done away with the clutter to a greater or lesser degree. Kubuntu have made no preconceptions about what users might want on the taskbar, choosing instead to just have a menu icon and a very useful file management widgit. Mandriva have put shortcuts to configuring desktop and computer (both very useful), as well as a “show desktop” icon and a shortcut to Firefox. All of these work, but as with Gnome I find myself wanting to add my own frequently used applications (in Gnome I always add Firefox, Thunderbird and Gnome Terminal to the top taskbar as soon as I do a fresh install).

Mandriva have chosen to go with a KDE3 style menu, while Kubuntu go with the KDE4 default. Both are fairly instinctive, but I had a little trouble finding Dolphin on Mandriva, and was a little baffled that Kubuntu doesn’t seem to have decided whether Dolphin or Konqueror should be used as a file manager (which is a shame because I’m really taken with Dolphin).

Configuring Kmail was very different in each distro, which confused me, but both were at least as simple as Evolution, and I had no problem setting up my email, and performing a few basic tasks.

The look and feel of both distros is excellent, and they certainly look prettier than anything I’m running at present. I can certainly make Gnome look this good, but out-of-the box KDE is more aesthetically appealing.

My only real gripe is with Plasma; both the annoying Folder View that comes as default, and also the fact that adding or removing widgits can cause random crashes. It’s useful, but just doesn’t seem finished to me.

I think KDE4 has the potential to be really good in about 6 months time, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone coming to Linux from Windows. I also think both Mandriva and Kubuntu have taken KDE in interesting (but very different) directions, and I find myself wanting to see how other distros have implemented it now.

Introducing aaahh-records – home of free and charming music

I’ve just stumbled upon this net label, whilst trying to determine which year the Wind Whistles album was actually released in (the answer being 2007 and 2008 in different places).

The label has so far only released three albums, but two of them happen to already be on my list of favourite freely available music for this year, which makes me think I’m likely to like anything they put out.

Christmas Eve with KDE4

While I’m off for Christmas, I thought I’d spend a little time getting to know KDE4. To stop me cheating, I installed the latest KDE version of Mandriva One, which means I’m without a fair few other things I’m very reliant on.

So far I’ve changed a few cosmetic things (desktop wallpaper and window decorations), and installed all available updates. Mandriva 2009 does have Firefox, so I don’t think it is cheating to use it, although I am also exploring Konqueror as an alternative browser, as well as using KWrite, Dolphin, and a few other things I’ve not used before.

After some customisation, my desktop now looks like this:


(time passes)

A few hours later I realise that this experiement has to be at an end for now. Not due to anything to do wih KDE4, but more to do with the fact that the laptop I’m testing it on has several hardware faults which make long-term use non-viable. But in the few hours I’ve had, I’d say that I’m pleasantly surprised. Dolphin is a great file manager, Kmail has come on a lot, and the desktop environment as a whole has the feel of something that can move beyond what KDE3 was and redefine what a desktop environment does.

I’m still not abandoning Gnome though.

Death by Panda – All the electronica you’ll ever need (and then some)

I’ve written about Death by Panda before (around the time I was listening to “House Made of Glass” on repeat). Since then there have been three further albums, all of which explore an area of music that can be disconcerting, but that does a damn fine job of sounding both computer-generated and very human.

The new album is called Straight Lines in Subjectivity (direct download).

WordPress 2.7

I wasn’t sure I needed to upgrade this website to WordPress 2.7 (the latest version of the blogging software which acts as a front-end for everything else here), but as I missed the last couple of releases I decided it might be a good idea.

The upgrade went flawlessly (following the 3 step upgrade), and I’ve also added OpenID support so that Livejournal users who read this will be able to leave me comments using as an OpenID (replacing “username” with their own username).

I don’t think anything is broken, but let me know if this is not the case.

Ubuntu Customisation Kit

Ubuntu Customisation Kit is a great bit of software that allows Ubuntu disc images to be customised and then rebuilt. Uses I’ve found so far include:

  • Making a totally up to date installation disc that can be used on multiple computers without having to install a month of software updates afterwards.
  • Making an installation disc that contains what I actually need so that I don’t have to add and remove a load of software when I install a new system.
  • Customising a LiveCD for fixing laptops and data recovery.

I’m sure I’ll think of more.