KDE 4 Second Time Around

I’ve been spending time in KDE on the weekends since I usually don’t need to update my podcasts (which I manage in Rythmbox) and here are my current impressions.  Now that the latest nVidia drivers have come out, I was able to enable the desktop composite effects in KDE.  This does not use Compiz, but rather KWin’s built-in effects.  The default effects were nice.  They slowed up my computer a little, but I was still able to run Blender, which is more than I can do in Gnome with Compiz turned on.

I finally learned how to make the panel only show the programs open on that desktop.  Apparently, I just hadn’t found the magic spot to right-click on the panel to bring up a menu that has a simple checkbox to do that.

So far my only complaint is that KDE 4 is uglier than Gnome 2.x.  I can’t put my finger one what it is, but something offends my visual senses.  Particularly, I don’t like how Kontact looks.  I think it looks heavily 1990s.  The calendar part, in particular, doesn’t seem as polished as Evolution.

However, there are a lot of great things going on.  The widgets are really neat and better than any equivalent thing happening in Gnome.  I will keep checking them out to see where it ends up.  Also, I’m anxious to see where Amarok 2 takes us.

Fedora 9 Review (also Gnome in Fedora 9 Part 2)

So I waited until about halfway through Fedora 9’s initial life-cycle to install it.  I listed the reasons for that here.  Once KDE 4.1 was finally out and most of the complaints had stopped, I took the plunge.  I am actually very happy with Fedora 9.  I think most of the reviews you may have read criticizing Fedora 9 focused on the initial version.  That was, according to the mailing list, very buggy.  But, for those who run Fedora on their day-to-day systems, simply waiting a few months is enough to get most of the bugs ironed out.  First I’ll focus on what I have thought of Gnome since I’ve been using it since the install.  Due to Fedora’s servers getting cracked, I just got KDE 4.1, so I’ll just be giving my preliminary impressions there.  I’ve been wondering if KDE 4 would bring me back into the KDE came from the Gnome side.  We’ll see.  I intend to boot into KDE 4 for the next week or so to see how I like it.

First, let me mention some of my pet peeves which are no longer a problem.  Compiz no longer comes on every time I log into Gnome.  You may remember my struggles in getting it to stay off instead of turning it off every time I logged into Gnome.  That’s what caused me to use Xfce exclusively for a few months.  I also like that GDM now actually remembers your previously selected Window Manager.  Before the option “Last Window Manager I logged Into” didn’t work.  You could select to use your new one as your default, but that always seemed so “permanent” to me.  So I really like that it now just defaults you to whatever you used last time.  The new GDM that Fedora is using is nice, and very clean.  I don’t like that it has to show the names of the users – that’s bad security practices.  It also stinks that it’s so new there aren’t any themes for it.  I had about 10 or so themes that I would cycle through for the older GDM.  Before moving on, I want to mention that I haven’t had any problems with PulseAudio.

There are some other new benefits in Gnome.  I’m not sure if this is from the Gnome Virtual File System, but now anything you have mounted in /media gets put on the desktop.  They already would put your usb drives on the desktop, but now they also put nfs shares if you have them mounted in media.  Also, with the USB “logo” they make it easier to tell which of your drives are internal and which are USB-attached.  That’s pretty convenient.  I would still like for the media to have better user-friendly names like how you can name the volumes in Windows.  There does not appear to be an easy way to do this in Linux.  So I’m left wondering which drive has my pictures, 160 GB Media or 122.9 GB Media?

The other major update is with Fedora using PackageKit.  The great thing about using PackageKit is that all of the Gnome distros are moving to using it so now the Linux user only has to learn one way of installing packages.  They don’t need to learn a new package manager for each distro they use.  PackageKit also tends to have much better descriptions of the updates and packages deing installed than any previous version of Fedora’s package managers.  When you first get notified that there are updates to install, it gives you the chance to review the changes.  Otherwise you can just install all the updates.

Some of the other changes, though cosmetic, were welcome.  They were, I think, Fedora’s new theme (as opposed to the new Gnome theme).  First off, there’s the change to the scrollbars.  I know it’s just aethetic, but I love how instead of a square crashing into another square, now it’s a rounded edge finding its home where it fits neatly like a puzzle.  I just like it, perhaps it’s some Fruedian thing.  Who knows?  Also, I really like the Window Decoraction they’ve chosen for the maximise, close and shrink buttons.  I think a plus sign makes perfect sense for themaximise button.  After all, you’re making the window bigger. It certainly makes more sense than the symbol Windows uses for maximising a window.  And now we get to the exciting part, I will use KDE 4 on Fedora 9 for the first time.  So I will be, in a sense, live blogging about my experience in KDE 4 as implemented by Fedora 9.  As you may recall, I was pretty impressed with openSuse’s port of KDE 4.0 and 4.0 wasn’t supposed to be as good as 4.1.  So I’m going to log out of Gnome and I’ll see you on the other side!

Ok, here’s the initial screen on first boot.

So you can see they’ve fixed the problem everyone was having with a lack of desktop icons.  That icon view can be moved around.  I got a little preview at Kopete’s message notification when it popped up in the top middle of the screen where I was looking around.

Overall, KDE 4 appears to have a Mac OSX type of theme and it’s pretty good.  Just as I said with openSuse 11, I like how the maximise and close Window icons are separated so I have less of a chance of accidentally closing the WIndow.  One bad thing, right off the bat, is that Konqueror cannot properly do the Visual Editing in WordPress, so I had to switch to Firefox 3.  The neat thing about Dolphin, and KDE 4 in general, is that there are a lot of neat effects even if Desktop Effects is turned off.  As you hover over files in Dolphin, the preview window fades into the preview rather than just switching abruptly.  KDE 4 is definitely going to give Mac OSX a run for its money in the effects department.  Especially as it continues to mature into 4.2, 4.3, etc

An interesting technology they’ve been touting for KDE 4 is nepomuk which intends to bring the innovations of the semantic web over to the desktop.  Therefore it supports tagging and commenting files.  This would facilitate better search because the search program wouldn’t have to depend on reading the file or the file’s title to find it.  It would do it based on what you’ve tagged the file.  I can see this having some great new implications.

Annoyingly, I haven’t been able to figure out how to make it so that only the applications in your current desktop show up in the panel.

I know there’s a way to fix this, but I couldn’t find it within five minutes and gave up.  The Widget selection seems to be about the same as in openSuse 11.0.  I crashed plasma when I tried to use the Twitter widget, b

ut I think that’s because I didn’t have KWallet enabled.  Interestingly, there doesn’t appear to be a dashboard

button like in openSuse.  Perhaps that was changed between KDE 4.0 and 4.1?  Ah…it’s now a widget you add.  Here’s my widget-crazy desktop with KDEtwitter, simple calculator, binary clock, fuzzy clock, RSS reader, and show dashboard.  In practical use I’ll probably get rid of the binary and fuzzy clocks.  I’m always in need of a calculator, so I’ll probably keep that one on the desktop.  Same with KDEtwitter.

Ok, so a while back, I blogged about one last look at KDE 3.  So now I’m going to revisit some of the applications I talked about there to see how they’ve changed for KDE 4.  First up is Amarok.  I know we’re still waiting for Amarok 2 since it follows a different schedule than KDE 4, but let’s see if it’s changed for KDE 4 nonetheless.  It looks pretty much the same as before.  So I guess we have to wait for Amarok 2.0 for dramatic changes.  Kopete has has some cosmetic changes, but it more or less operates the same.  I trawled through the options to make sure.  Overall, it’s not too bad and it’s pretty informative.  I like it.

I think Fedora has done a pretty good job with KDE 4.  It works pretty well – as good as it works on openSuse.  I still have some work to do to get used to using KDE 4, but overall it’s not too bad.  I’m still not a fan of Kontact, but I’ll give it another shot and see if I can get use to it.  I’m going back to Gnome for a little bit since I have all of my ToDo items in Evolution and I want to keep KDE to QT programs to see if I can get by with only KDE applications.  Overall KDE seems to crash a lot less than KDE 3, widget crash notwithstanding.  It feels a lot more polished and mature and it looks a lot better than KDE 3.  The new menu isn’t that bad at all once you get used to it.  Perhaps, given some time, I can come to love KDE again.  Later this week I’ll probably be giving it another shot.  I leave you with two little things I like in KDE 4.  The first is a panel widget and the second is a menu item.

Review: openSuse 11.0 (and KDE 4)

I’ve never used Suse or openSuse.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been a “loyal” Fedora user since Fedora Core 1 and I have Ubuntu on my laptop since it had awesome laptop support.  I even got some Suse CDs as a prize for the Letter of the Month from Linux Format magazine.  However, I never even tried it at that time as I was mad at Novell for the Microsoft pact.  I think it lends a lot of credibility to Microsoft’s BS argument that Linux violates its patents.

But it’s been a few years and nothing horrible has happened because of the Microsoft pact and it came as a liveDVD in the latest Linux Format Magazine.  I was trying to wait until KDE 4.1 came out for Fedora so that could be my first experience with KDE 4, but that’s been delayed nearly a month now (while they, rightly, fix some bugs) so I decided to go ahead with the Suse review.

Suse is the second oldest distro that’s still around.  It started off as being based off of Slackware and later on was somewhat based on Red Hat, borrowing rpm and some other technologies.  Since then it’s gone off on its own and is now considered one of the big boys.  A few years after Red Hat shelved its personal distro and converted over to the community-sponsored Fedora, Suse decided to do the same thing with openSuse.  Just like Fedora, they’ve had some uneven releases.  However, openSuse 11 is supposed to be their comeback release.  Historically, Suse has been one of the biggest supporters of KDE as the default desktop although that has fallen off a little seince they’ve been trying to compete with Red Hat in the business world.

It’s important to note, however, that Novell’s Suse team has put a LOT of work into their KDE desktop.  This liveDVD is running KDE 4.0, yet they didn’t seem to have any problems getting icons on the desktop.  Lots of people were complaining about being unable to do so in Fedora and other distros using KDE 4.  Apparently, they just didn’t take the time that Suse did to engineer a really good KDE 4 release.  (Frankly, I’m surprised that Siego didn’t point to openSuse 11.0 as an example of a well-implemented KDE 4.0 release!)  They’ve also solved the problem of the ugly black panel that was too large.  So, plus points go to Novell’s openSuse/Suse KDE team.  They deserve an applause for doing this so well!

Novell has the KDE program menu that has annoyed so many people.  One of the things I’ve always loved about KDE was the fact that it had a favorite (or most run) programs section on the start menu.  Sure, there are some that believe that if you’re going to run programs that often you should have them as launchers on your taskbar.  But that can make taskbars look a bit cluttered.  Also, I think the most used program portion of Window’s Start Menu is one of the things they got very right with Windows XP.  (I’m not sure if MS innovated that or copied it from somewhere)  This menu is a good menu and doesn’t deserve all the hatred it’s received on the net.  It just needs a couple of tweaks to make it perfect.  The first problem with it is that if your mouse wanders down to the Favorites, Applications, etc portion of the menu, it switches you to that section.  I think a click should be required there to keep people from accidentally switching.   That was the biggest complaint most people had and it can be fixed so easily.  No need to throw the baby out with the bath water.  One other thing that was a bit unclear to me was how to go back on the applications hierarchy.  The skinny arrow on the left is not noticeable enough – at least not the first time it catches you off guard.

Widgets…it’s one of the biggest, most talked about innovations of KDE 4.  There is a lot of innovation going on in KDE 4 and if they can get past the KDE 4.0 stigma, I think they may end up surpassing Gnome with this release.  With Superkaramba, KDE has always done widgets so much better than Gnome.  Gnome’s desklets always seemed a bit kludgey and tacked on at the end.  Superkaramba always felt like it was part of KDE; even before it was added as an official part of KDE 3.5.   Now, with Plasma, the KDE team hopes to take them to the level of Apple’s OSX widgets.  In fact, OSX widget compatibility is either in KDE 4.1 or coming in KDE 4.2.

Wow!  If you’ve only seen the same old screenshots of a calculator, a click and a notepad, you haven’t seen the true power of the widgets.  First of all, they have quite a few new ones now.  You can see that I have a comic viewer, an RSS feed, and a Twitter feed.  All of these came from the default “add widgets” dialog.  I’m surprised, especially given the popularity of Twitter, that no one has showcased these widgets yet.  I’m thouroughly impressed that we’ve moved beyond simple system monitors and weather widgets (although I’m sure those are coming soon enough!)  They’re very easy and intuitive to position and configure.  And, one of the problems I always had with widgets on any desktop was that if I had all my programs open, they were less helpful to me.  Well, by clicking on the little button by the gecko or the top right corner, the plasma dashboard view is activated. This minimizes your programs and brings the widgets to the forefront.  A simple click on the desktop brings your programs back!  Couldn’t be easier.  They’re also very pleasing to the eye with their drop shadows.  They move smoothly and appear with a little fade-in.  Very nice.

As far as programs go, they have a pretty standard set.  OpenOffice.org provides the office suite.  Again, like with Mandriva, this is a little bit out of place since they could use KOffice.  However, I know that OpenOffice.org has much better compatibility with the suite from Redmond.  Interestingly, GIMP and Krita don’t seem to be included – but then again, it’s a liveDVD.  I’m sure it’s in the repositories.

In fact, let’s check out Yast, their control center.  It appears to control any setting you might want to change.  Plus points for them for making it all nice and organized.  In fact, they seem to be on par with Mandriva here in terms of everyting you could possibly want in one place.  Minus a very small point for it not looking as pretty as Mandriva or even as pretty as the rest of openSuse 11.0.  From here we can install programs.  Let’s see how well that appears to work.

I have to say that it is indeed ugly to look at.   I couldn’t really get a good feel for it as it didn’t have repositories defined.  I’ve really become much more of a fan of PackageKit’s interface.  (Which I’ll talk about in my Fedora review)  More and more Gnome-based distros are moving to PackageKit and I think there’s even a KDE version of Packagekit.  It works very well for package management and you can’t argue against the value of a consistent interface across distros.

Some last little things I noticed.  Take a look at what came up when I clicked on “My Computer”:

I really, really like this page that it loads up.  It is very useful for locating places on your computer AND for getting information.  To get the same info in Windows you’d have to open up “My Computer” AND right-click on “My Computer” and click on properties.  Here you have some quick links to “Common Folders” and also you can see that it recognized my NTFS hard drives.  You also have all the key information you need in order to get help from someone:  kernel version, distro, KDE version, graphics card driver, graphics card info, CPU info, and the total and free RAM.  Just one look gives you everything you need to know.  And I want to finish up with just a quick look at some of the neat finishing touches that Novell has done with openSuse.

Look at that – there’s a little gecko – the Suse mascot on the title bar.  This little dude appears on any title bar that has focus.  It’s just little touches like this that make the distro seem more professional.  I wish more distros would do things like this.  And look at this:

Now, this is probably a KDE setting, as opposed to Suse, but good on Novell for leaving it in.  There are many things I like about this setup.  First of all, the expansion button is not next to the exit button.  The number of times I’ve been frustrated by accidentally closing a window when I meant to resize it is just too numerous to count.  Also, the up arrow makes more sense to me than Microsoft’s icon.  It’s just that we’ve been around with the Microsoft implementation for 20 years.

So, what’s my final verdict?  I think Novell has done a really, really good job with openSuse 11.0.  Unlike Fedora, they did a very good job with the unfinished KDE 4.0 and turned it into something usable.  Lots of visual finishing touches make the distro just feel professional and not hacked together.  There are a few rough edges here and there.  I also didn’t test out flash, MP3 playback, or DVD playback.  I presume these can all be downloaded from some third party repository in some country where they don’t implement silly things like software patents.

Except for the still touchy subject of the Microsoft deal, I’d recommend Novell to someone who was new to Linux but ready to learn.  It doesn’t have the same hand-hold style of Ubuntu, so that’s still my top choice.  Right now it’s really almost a tie between recommending Mandriva and openSuse as the next best thing after Ubuntu.  Fedora is often broken due to being bleeding edge and I wouldn’t recommend it to someone brand new to Linux.  Of course, there still is the patent deal and they either did it to make themselves more palatable to companies than Red Hat (thus having bad motives) or they had to satisfy investors (which they legally must do in the USA).  So I guess that would break the tie and give it to Mandriva.  But Novell has made a top notch distro and if they can get over the negative press from the Microsoft deal (and there are websites like boycottNovell to prevent that), then I think openSuse may end up on more magazine covers and start to steal some of the thunder away from Ubuntu.