KDE Look Part 6: 4 Months In

I started using KDE in November of last year so I figured that I’d give an update on how things are working for me four months in.  First off, KDE 4.6.x has not yet hit the official Fedora repositories.  Since I like to yum upgrade or preupgrade from release to release, I try to stay with the official repos and RPMFusion.  So no KDE 4.6 for me.  At this rate, it doesn’t seem that it’s going to make it until around Fedora 15.  But, if that means they iron out any extra bugs, that’s fine with me.  So, with that said, let’s get to the info.

OVERALL, KDE 4.5 is nice and stable.  It’s not as buggy as the 3.5 series was (at least on Fedora).  That said, it has been a teensy bit buggier on the whole than Gnome.  It’s usually not too bad – it certainly hasn’t put me off KDE.  Since Amarok is separate from the KDE Software Compilation, we were updated to Amarok 2.4 in Fedora 14.  Now, I don’t know for sure that it’s linked, but it seems to have caused an issue with Plasma and the KDE 4 notification area.  Basically I’ll see some error in the notification about Amarok and it’s sql-lite database.  Then I’ll start getting a bunch of empty notifications.  They just have a picture of the KDE 4 cashew.  And when this is happening KDE becomes very slow to switch between desktops.  This doesn’t, to my knowledge, happen if I’m not running Amarok and it settles itself a while after I quit Amarok.  Again, I’m not sure if it’s coincidental because it doesn’t happen all the time if Amarok is running.  I’m just calling it like I see it.  That is a bit annoying for me because I like having things distributed across a bunch of virtual desktops and I almost always have Amarok playing music.  Amarok itself hasn’t been very crashy.  It has crashed once or twice when I’ve tried to switch tracks a few times.  But it hasn’t lost the data it had collected since I’d last run it, so it wasn’t too bad.  I still enjoy using it as my everyday music player.

Choqok has been the crashiest of all my KDE apps.  I’m not sure what happened, but ever since going from .9 to 1.0 it’s become a lot more unstable.  It’ll die as soon as I start it up.  And I know there are tons of other people reporting this bug to bugzilla. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it’s probably the content of someone’s tweet or dent that’s crashing it.  I say this because I’ll restart it after a crash over and over again and it’ll keep crashing, but a few hours later it’ll work.  Perhaps the offending tweet or dent has fallen off the edge.  I’m not sure.  This is really the only KDE program that has really annoyed me.

Kontact was annoyingly crashing a lot when I was in the feed reader and then losing track of all the feeds I’d read since last startup.  But then it got updated to 4.4 and it became a LOT more stable.  It’s been great using it for all its components.  It is so much more stable than it used to be in the late 3.5/early 4.x days.  The only thing that sucks is that in a move that somehow made it more stable, they had to get rid of the special dates section from the bottom of the summary page.  I was using that to remember all sorts of family and friend birthdays that I just can’t memorize.  I hope it comes back in the update for KDEPIM that got kept out of 4.6.1 because it was too buggy.

I stopped using Compiz back when I was using Gnome.  It was just too buggy and it didn’t give me much benefit once I got over windows having inertia.  There’s a vocal group on the nets that complain about Gnome 3 not having Compiz, about Compiz not working well with KDE and so on.  Xfce, if I remember correctly, was the first majer DE to incorporate a native compositor.  I think that was the right way to go.  It helps things to be more tightly coupled.  I love KDE’s compositor.  It’s nice and subtle – I set it to have a fade in/out between virtual desktops.  I use some transparancy effects on my Konversation window so I can see the background image behind it.  And that’s perfect.

Now that I can have different plasmoids per vitual desktop, I’ve really started to make use of them. You can see an example here.  I’ve changed it a little bit recently now that I have two widescreen monitors instead of a square and a widescreen one.  A lot of people seem to be into system monitors, but I rarely need to know those things.  And if I do, a quick run of “top” will let me know what I need to know.  I don’t need bars and graphs for the sake of animating a desktop I rarely see.  I use the last.fm plasmoid as an easy way to verify that scrobbling is working.  It’s helped me diagnose issues and also be able to tell that scrobbles are happening without having to load up the browser and get to last.fm.  I love the “now playing” widget.  At least I think that’s what it’s called.  It integrates with Amarok perfectly.  Sure, I can go back and forth between tracks using Amarok’s systray icon, but that requires more clicks.  (Right-click then left-click)  Also, the systray icon doesn’t let me scrub to any point in the song or change the Amarok volume level.  It’s also quicker to see the track’s title and artist if it’s a song I’m unfamiliar with.  The weather widget is, of course, useful for knowing the weather without having to load up a website.  The character map widget is useful for my webcomic work so I can select non-ASCII text.  And the Google Translate widget is also used for my webcomic.  The folder view widgets are self-explanatory.

The other widgets I use are the KGet and KTorrent plasmoids.  KTorrent, its plasmoid, and KDE integration have gotten me off of Deluge.  (Still my top pick for a gtk system!)  The plasmoid is a great at-a-glance look at all the important info.  Not seen in the screenshot on the post I linked to before is the fact that it includes that graph you’ve seen in every torrent program that fills in the bits of the file it’s grabbed until it’s a solid bar.  Now, this doesn’t matter to me because I only torrent legal stuff like Linux distros, but it also tells you your share ratio.  I know in the past that some of those sites that peddle shadier content have ratio restrictions.  After all, since the activity is illegal in most developed countries (thanks to US trade bullying) they don’t want you grabbing the data without sharing some of the risk.  Otherwise, you’re being a jerk.  (Even I agree with that)  So requirements range from having a 1.0 ration (you’ve shared the entire file that you’ve downloaded) to 2.0 (you’ve shared it to two people – or the equivalent data transfer).  For me it’s a matter of pride when I’ve shared out a Linux distro to a 1.0 or greater ratio because I’ve helped take the load off of their download servers and saved them money.

KGet is a great download manager for KDE.  I’d like to see a little more work done on it.  It doesn’t, as far as I can tell, enable functionality equivalent to “Download them all!” which is the first program to make download managers relevant again now that we have broadband.  After all, the only point I ever saw in download managers was the ability to resume downloads so that you didn’t have to restart your download from scratch if the connection was dropped.  This is a good time to segueway into Chrome integration into KDE.  There isn’t any.  This means that the dialog box is GTK and needs double-clicks while KDE needs single-clicks.  And it doesn’t have the folders you’ve bookmarked in Dolphin.  Overall, that’s not a biggie.  But I haven’t figured out how to get it to use KGet for its downloading.  So the workaround has been to make it so that KGet watches the clipboard for URLs and then asks to download them.  This has only worked varying degrees of success.  Sometimes websites are setup so that you can’t see the actual path to the file you’re grabbing.  In those cases I can’t get KGet to grab the file.  Another problem, but I’m not sure what the culprit is, is when using the URL copy method to get files it stops responding for a while until a few files have downloaded and then keeps asking if I want to save.  That’s dumb.  I want to set everything to d/l and then go have dinner; not have to keep coming back every few minutes to hit save!  Now, I know I could use Konqueror, especially now that the webkit backend can be used.  But if I do that I end up losing the bookmark, settings, etc sync between all of my Chrome-running computers.  So I’m not sure what the solution is there.

Finally, I started using Yakuake. Yakuake is a terminal that drops from the top of the screen whenever you need it.  This has replaced my usage of Konsole in nearly every situation.  I also love that I can bring it up on any virtual desktop to check on the status of the command I ran.

So, in general, I’m still loving KDE.  I hate that I can’t use it at work.  It makes everything about using a computer a pleasure.  I love that I’ve been able to customize it to my specific needs and I look forward to doing that even more once KDE 4.6 lands in Fedora and I can make better use of Activities.  It makes me really feel that Gnome 3 and its rigidity is probably not for me.  I’ve mentioned before that I don’t do radical customization of my desktops.  But I do like to make it work for my unique situation.  I’m going to reserve final judgement until I get to use it.  Who knows, maybe it sucks me into its madness.  But somehow I doubt that will be the case.  I’m really loving KDE too much.

Spanish Language Support in Fedora 14 (KDE)

One awesome thing that is easy to notice in free/libre software is how international it is.  While proprietary software is mainly based out of the US – Windows/OSX – free/libre software comes from all over the place. Mandriva is based out of Brazil and France.  SUSE was originally developed in Germany.  Miguel de Icaza, one of the founders of Gnome, was born in Mexico.  Choqok, the best KDE-native microblogging software is created by an Iranian.  So something that Linux has always done better than Windows is support more languages. Microsoft has to pay to create language translations so they have to make a market analysis about which languages to support (and it still doesn’t cover non-Microsoft programs)  With Linux, it’s all volunteer work (or paid by companies that care about localization) and if the programs are written correctly for KDE and Gnome, they will all be able to take advantage of the translation work for their program.  “Save” should probably translate well across all well-written programs.  I think this is one of the reason why all the regions of Spain have their own Linux distros.  I don’t know this for a fact, but I would guess that Windows probably only comes out in Castillian (official or regular Spanish) and not in Catalan, Andalusian, Basque, etc 

Now, back in 2005 I ran Gnome in Spanish for about a month. I thought I’d give it a shot in KDE and see how well the desktop environment works in Spanish.  I realize I’m not the best person to evaluate this.  While I am of Cuban ancestry, I was born in the USA and my parents taught me English as a first language.  On top of that, nearly all the Spanish I know is conversational, not tech-based.  But, in a sense, that is perfect because it can help me to learn some more technical terms in Spanish.  Interestingly, I learned last that that “the net” like the Internet is translated to “el red” which is the Spanish word for a net like what goes across a Tennis court.

I’m using Fedora 14 which has been out for about three or so months and KDE 4.5.  I use GDM because I use the main Fedora install which is based on Gnome.  I set the Gnome language to Español (United States) and logged into KDE.  There were a bunch of weird inconsistencies.  My weather widget was correctly translated to Spanish.  (Although the forecast was in English – based on where it’s scraping from, I’m sure)  However, system messages were in English and Kontact was in English.  That didn’t make any sense.  Why did the widgets get the memo, but not Kontact?  Well, I loaded up KPackagekit and it turns out that, while I had the KOffice Spanish language pack installed, I didn’t have the KDE Spanish language pack installed.  (Note, I only typed spanish and there did not appear to be a package for that specific to Gnome)  So I installed it.  What follows is a series of screenshots of the programs I use every day in English and in Spanish.

 

Kontact in English
Kontact in English

 

Kontact in Spanish
Kontact in Spanish

 

Dolphin in English
Dolphin in English

 

Dolphin in Spanish
Dolphin in Spanish

 

Amarok in English
Amarok in English

 

Amarok in Spanish
Amarok in Spanish

 

Chrome in English
Chrome in English

 

Chrome in Spanish
Chrome in Spanish

 

Kopete in English
Kopete in English

 

 

 

Kopete in Spanish 2
Kopete in Spanish - kinda! I wonder why these statuses haven't been translated.

 

Desktop folder view in Spanish
Desktop folder view in Spanish

 

Weather Widget in Spanish
Weather Widget in Spanish

 

Choqok in English
Choqok in English

 

Choqok in Spanish
Choqok in Spanish did not remember which notices I'd already read

 

Choqok in Spanish 2
Choqok in Spanish: After a minute, it ceased to work correctly

 

Overall, it appears to be supported quite well.  The big exceptions are the statuses on Kopete and Choqok.  Choqok needs some real work when it comes to Spanish language support.  If it weren’t so broken I would have stayed in Spanish for a while.  There were a lot of terms that I had no idea were the right or proper term!  It’ll definitely be fun to use it to learn technical terms.  I just need to wait until Choqok is working.

KDE Look Part 4: Fixing things with a little help from my Friends

Sure, it’s a tired and cliche phrase, but hurray for the wisdom of the crowd.  I’ve received comments on identi.ca, twitter, and in the comments here with answers to nearly all my problems with KDE.  Let’s see if I can get them all to work.  First off, I was told that my problem with Konversation not getting my password in time to keep me from being signed into the fedora-unregistered could be solved by setting the password as a server password.  Alright!  That worked!  woohoo!  Before I’d had it set to just run the /msg identify command.

Second, getting Facebook to work in Kopete.  Kofler, who also contributed the tip above, linked me to some pages.  I decided to try this one first.  Essentially you add a jabber account with the username of yourfacebooklogin@chat.facebook.com and uncheck everything in the connection tab.  yourfacebooklogin = your profile’s URL (minus the facebook.com part).

For Akgregator, I wanted to be able to see each of Dan’s posts inside Akgregator without launching a tab.  Going to the advanced setting of his feed worked in getting it to load.  However, it did not load videos.  To do that I had to load it in a separate tab.  So it somewhat works.  If it’s text-only then you’re good.  Otherwise….perhaps there’s some other setting to tick?

This next one’s a bit tricky.  I had to hunt all over bugzilla to figure it out.  In the summary page of Kontact I would see my TODO items duplicated.  It would also print with duplicate TODO items.  In the actual TODO page it was not duplicated.  WTF?  My clue was that when I added stuff to the TODO list it had two resources listed.  So there were bugs from KDE 3.x where you had to delete duplicate entires in $HOME/.kde/share/config/kresources/notes/stdrc.  But there was not a duplicate entry for me.  So I finally found this bug that explained it.  Comment #9 had the instructions I needed.

There were two of these.  Delete the one that's not bold
There were two of these. Delete the one that's not bold

And then it worked!  Yay!  I’ll be sure to report back here if it doesn’t survive a reboot or something like that.

Another thing I mentioned last time was that it seemed at though having my dynamic playlist only look ten songs ahead seemed to mean I could come up with duplicate songs.  In the week and one half that I’ve been using Amarok I’ve had two songs come up twice.  That’s not too bad considering I’ve heard somewhere between 75 and 125 songs in that time.  (Based on my daily avg on last.fm and my knowledge of how much I’ve been using it in the past 10 or so days)  I ended up coming up with the following solution, I used a proportional bias with playcount equal to zero and set it to 80%.  Why not 100%?  I wanted to see how things were affected by me going through more and more of my playlist and leaving Amarok with less and less new songs.

Amarok 2 Dynamic Playlist Proportional Bias
Amarok 2 Dynamic Playlist Proportional Bias

I wanted to add another stipulation so that it would also tend to favor my most recently added songs.  That way I could have more of a chance of hearing stuff I’ve just added to the library.  Unfortunately, that did not appear to be a condition I could match against.

Well, that takes care of all the problems I was having so far.  Thanks to everyone who responded in the comments and on identi.ca.  I *did* find a bug with the TODO list where it can’t print more than one page worth of TODO items.  That is very annoying.  However, someone’s already filed a bug on it.  I just added a “me too”.  It didn’t seem to have much work on it.  Perhaps no one else prints their TODO lists but the two of us?  (Or at least no one with that many tasks)  Next up I’ll be taking a look at how KOffice stacks up.  With the big American Thanksgiving holiday coming up I probably won’t get to it until Monday, but I’ve already done a lot of the background work ahead of time so perhaps it will be up before then.

KDE 4 Look Part 3: A Week of KDE 4.5

So I’ve used KDE for about a work week.  During that time I’ve pretty much gone to using the KDE versions of all my programs except Konqueror.  I’m not sure if the Fedora 14 version of Konqueror is the one with Webkit, but last time I used Konqueror with KHTML it was mucking up a bunch of web pages including my blog.  So I stuck with Google Chrome, which is what i use on Gnome, LXDE (Lubuntu on my laptop), and on my Windows 7 install.  (Also, I stuck with gPodder for podcasts because that’s working perfectly)  So how did it go?  First of all, I love the stock screenshot tool in KDE, KSnapshot.  I love that lets me choose full screen, region, window under cursor, and section of Window.  With Gnome I hit print screen and then I have to edit the png in the GIMP.  So it gives me less work for my Linux-related blogging.
I mentioned it last time, but I’m really liking the integration of everything into the info icon so I can go back and see what’s happened – really liking it.  Here’s a sample of the types of notifications in here:
KDE 4.5 info
KDE 4.5 info
If you click on the “x” you can dismiss the message.  It’s also neat that you can click on the buttons on the bottom there and divide it up by the service that’s causing the notifications.  I really do love that a LOT more than the system as implemented in Gnome in Fedora 14.  (And all previous versions that have had the Ubuntu look-a-like notifications).

I’m still really loving Amarok.  So, to expound on what I wrote a few days ago, although I’m still really loving the dynamic playlist.  I’ve been hearing songs I haven’t heard in ages.  However, I think I have a better understanding of how the dynamic playlists work now.  I have it set to 10 songs at a time and one song came up twice.  That’s only happened once so far.  But, perhaps, once a song falls off the five songs I have on the back end it gets put back into the pile?  Statistically I should almost never come up with the same song again because I have so many, but I will on occasion come across a song again.  Am I right about the way it works?  What’s the reason not to tell it to compute the next 1000 songs or save the last 1000 songs?  I was also thinking, and this is nothing against Amarok – it would be the same with any of the music players, but when I have this awesome random playlist in which I’m trying to get through all my music, if I wanted to listen to a specific song, I’d have to lose the playlist.  At least that’s the way it feels.

So, I’ve been using Kontact for all the built-in programs.  As I mentioned before, I really like the summary page when it starts up.  I was ready to say that the Kmail component doesn’t properly thread my email while Evolution does.  Turns out that I had to go to View->Message List->Aggregation to fix that.  Looking through the sort menu (appears above aggregation) you can see the awesome configurability of KDE programs.  You can REALLY have your mail sorted the way you want.   I’m not 100% sure I got it the way I wanted, but KDE’s help system is severely broken in my install of Fedora 14.  I need to do some research to see if I have some package uninstalled.  The only other complaint I’ve had is that emails that are starred on Gmail appear green and not red when they’re unread.  So it’s hard to see if I’ve read them yet.  I’m about 75% sure about that – I don’t have any examples right now in my inbox.  What I do like about the way Kontact organizes email is that it’s similar to Outlook by dividing my emails by day:

KDE 4.5 - Kontact - kmail
KDE 4.5 - Kontact - kmail

The calendar part of Kontact works perfectly with the Google Calendar.  It adds it to my summary page and gives me pop-ups when necessary.  I wasn’t able to figure out how to export my TODO list to Kontact, so I haven’t been using it.  But I played around with it a bit.  It looks like it was modeled after a slimmed MS Project or whatever Gnome’s Project-equivalent is (KPlato in KOffice).  I’m pretty stoked that you can assign sub-tasks.  This might revolutionize the way I do TODO lists.

I haven’t used the feed reader part of Kontact too much.  It’s an integration of Akgregator.  In the past it’s been very crashy.  From what I’ve used so far, it seems pretty pretty good.  There’s an interesting discrepancy in the displayed webpage, however.  Here’s a page from Dan’s blog on Akgregator:

Kontact's Akgregator displaying Dan's page
Kontact's Akgregator displaying Dan's page

Here’s the same page in Liferea – my second favorite gtk program:

Liferea displaying Dan's page
Liferea displaying Dan's page

So what’s the reason for the discrepancy?  I looked around in the options and I couldn’t figure out how to make it act like Liferea.  It’s not a game killer, but it could really sour me on Akgregator after a few weeks of that crap.  If anyone has any help, provide it in the comments.  Thanks!

I would just use the KDE uBlog Plasmoid, but I would need one plasmoid each for Twitter and Identica.  So I did some research and found out that Chokoq is the KDE version of Gwibber, which I love on Gnome.  So, first the deficiencies.  Unless I do a quick post, I can only send to one service at a time.  Gwibber, by contrast lets me send to all my services at the same time.  Since I usually post to both places, that’s a bit annoying.  Also, Gwibber has had Facebook integration for a while.  I’m not all that into Facebook, but I *do* like being able to post stuff there.  I also use it to keep up with my friends’ feeds without having to visit the stupid website.  Now what I like.  My favorite feature of Chokoq and, perhaps, the killer app is the fact that it lets me know which notices are unread (white in the following screenshot):

Choqok 1.0 Beta 4
Choqok 1.0 Beta 4

Most of the time I’m enjoying Choqok without noticing that I’m not using Gwibber.  The main developer has decided to have a system where you can request new features and he sets a donation target to work on that feature.  Overall, this is great – it’s what rms said the future of programming would be once we commoditized software.  However, I find it a bit worrisome in the way I perceive it happening on Choqok.  After all, does this mean no features are developed if no one pays the full bounty?  I see some features there that have been stuck with half their donation amounts for the past few months.  Does this mean those features don’t ever get implemented?  I guess what it allows for is someone else to just do it all for free and then Choqok loses all their users.  I’m not against software developers making money via donations.  Or, in this case, payment for features.  I’m just not sure it’s progressing in the right way as I understand it from the Choqok website.

So, I got some info in a dent that NEPOMUK is going to be better integrated with Dolphin in the next release.  That said, I wanted to see what the results of all the freakin’ indexing would lead to.  So I decided to search for Girl Talk songs.  I know that those particular files have the proper metadata because they show up properly in Rhythmbox.  And I know that the artist’s name is not in the filename since it’s not a track I ripped off a CD.  NEPOMUK and Dolphin failed to find it:

In KDE 4.5 NEPOMUK and Dolphin search fails to find Girl Talk songs
In KDE 4.5 NEPOMUK and Dolphin search fails to find Girl Talk songs

I know that it must be looking inside of the text-based file formats because the Discworld PDFs don’t have those words in the filename.  So, I decided to try the Strigi search program in case it I needed that to specify MP3 metadata.  Here’s what I got:

Impotent Strigi-client
Impotent Strigi-client

None of the buttons appear to do – when I press them nothing happens.  When I type to search it doesn’t even find as much as NEPOMUK and Dolphin.  If I’m doing something wrong, feel free to let me know.

So now I move to looking at Kopete.  As you know, I recently switched to Empathy from Pidgin.  I didn’t find it to be immensely better, but I liked the theming and the Gnome integration.  What I don’t like about Kopete off the bad is that it’s a lot harder than in Empathy to tell people’s status if you allow their buddy icon to show.

kopete-buddy-list
Kopete buddy-list

I’m still not a huge fan of how the away status is separate from the message.  It’s quite a bit trickier to tell what’s going on with that.  However, given the decrease in the use of the status message due to the rise of micro-blogging, it’s not as important.  Most of the time a simple away is fine.  I just wish it were more intuitive if I *did* want to put a message.  Finally, unlike Empathy, it does not have Facebook integration.  With Chokoq I didn’t mind it as much because most of the time I don’t keep up that much with Facebook statuses.  Although I don’t have that many friends, I have enough of them that I can’t read them all or that’s all I’d be doing all day.  But I *do* want Facebook chat.  At lot of people I know, especially older people, only have a FB account.  They don’t have AIM or Gmail or the others.  So it’s the only way I can talk to them.  So, Kopete guys – let’s get some Facebook chat going on!

For IRC I’ve been using Konversation.  I find that it works just as well as Xchat-Gnome.  I use IRC here and there so I’m not too picky about my IRC client.

Konversation in KDE 4.5
Konversation in KDE 4.5

There’s only one issue with Konversation.  With both Xchat-Gnome and Konversation I have it setup to auto-log me in (provide password) and sign into the rooms I always go into.  Yet, with Konversation it adds me to the rooms BEFORE it authenticates my nick.  So I’m always dumped into #Fedora-unauthorized and then have to rejoin Fedora.  So I have to do some research to see if I can set a delay or something.

I’m enjoying Plasmoids.  They’re definitely neater than SuperKaramba – especially since they’re so integrated into everything.  I added both of the [default installated] weather plasmoids to see which one I’d like.  I ended up with some interesting results.

Weather Plasmoids
Weather Plasmoids

They’re both using wetter.com and they both have exactly the same city listed.  The one on the right is correct.  The one on the left is….very much not.  Anyway, I have some exploration to do over time to figure out which Plasmoids are useful and something I’d like to keep on the desktop.

I haven’t gotten into activities yet.  So far I haven’t seen a need for it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t in the future.

Kpackagekit appears to be set to find updates a lot more often than Gnome’s Packagekit.  I’ve certainly updated more in this week than I have in Gnome.  And I know that the Gnome one doesn’t check that often because there’ve been times when Pup hasn’t alerted me but when I do a yum check-update I see that there are updates to install.  I like it although I think it’d be nice if they also used the package metaphor to help keep it nice and easy to see what’s installed or selected to be installed.  Otherwise it’s been a pleasure using it to do installations.  It actually appears to search the repos more quickly than the Gnome version.

Now, I can’t remember if this comes from a Fedora package I installed, but GTK apps in KDE use KDE native icons, themes, etc.  I love it!  Back in the bad old days, it sucked to use GTK applications in KDE because they looked so ugly and out of place.  Sure, some programs out there use wxwidgets and still look ugly and out of place, but the majority of the major programs out there either use GTK or KDE-QT for their widgets and icons and so on.  Look how nice and integrated gPodder looks:

gPodder with KDE look/feel
gPodder with KDE look/feel

So, after about a week of using KDE 4.5, what do I think?  Well, I really like it!  For now it’s going to be my default desktop environment on Super Mario.  I’m going to take advantage of all the little things that KDE does better than Gnome and see if the things I don’t like about KDE can either be tolerated or fixed with future updates – or maybe even commenters who will tell me what I’m doing wrong.  I used to use KDE 3.3, 3.4 and 3.5 as I’ve mentioned before.  At some point, the memory needs of KDE and its excessive tendency to crash (when compared with Gnome) drove me away.  I went back and forth between Gnome, Xfce and the *box window managers.  Perhaps I’m now back to stay for good.  Only time will tell.  And, of course, I’ll re-evaluate things when Gnome 3.0 comes out.  But, until then, I think I’m KDE all the way!

To anyone who’s wondered about the KDE 4.x series or who thinks they need to move on to Trinity:  I think you need to check out KDE 4.5.  I’m very happy with the way it’s been handled in Fedora 14.  (Your mileage may vary when it comes to other distros)  Although I always tried to make sure I was very nice and fair in the way I did it, I definitely expressed my disappointment in earlier KDE 4.x releases.  It is super customizable now.  I made a disappearing, tiny panel on my right monitor that only contains launchers for my favorite programs.  And I put it on the top of my screen.  Overall, the programs and DE are very stable.  This entire week I only had Kontact die on me once.  Up until a recent series of fixes with Evolution – it was dying on me nearly every time I added a task to the TODO list.  It does appear to need a bit more RAM thank some of the others DEs and WMs.  So depending on how much of a gear head you are and how much money you have for computer tech, that might be an issue.  But KDE is SO customizable that I’ve barely scratched the surface – discovering new options in my attempts to make sure I scoured every option before complaining that a program wasn’t doing what I wanted it to.  So perhaps if you turn off all the special effects and make some other customizations it can also be very light.  But definitely give it a shot.  Don’t hang onto the past just because you’re afraid of change.

Another Look at KDE and Amarok Part 1

As I’ve mentioned before, I used to be really excited about KDE.  It’s been a while since I last looked at KDE.  Well, technically, I couldn’t really do much there.  But there’s this time I was able to look at it.  Let me just say that I no longer agree that it’s uglier than Gnome.  Take a look:

My KDE 4.4 Desktop
My KDE 4.4 Desktop

At first I was confused because the desktop background was not carried over to my right monitor.  When I went to change the background I saw that they no longer put it all into one dialog.  You need to go to each screen and manually set the background.  While counterintuitive at first, it actually makes more sense this way.  You can see my micro-blogging widget, calculator widget, and some folder views.  The taskbar is looking nice and slick now.  The KDE version of the system try is looking really nice.  It has a very good slickness to it; to quote Aaron Seigo, “like something that might come out of Cupertino”.  My FAVORITE part of KDE 4.4 vs Gnome 2.30 is the little “i” i the right corner.  If you click there you can scroll back through all the system messages.  So, whereas you might miss that in Gnome if you’re looking somewhere else or away from the computer, you can easily find and review the messages in KDE.  At first the desktop was really slow and I thought “here we go again.  I’m going to have to once again write off KDE 4.x as useless.”  But it turns out that it was just Strigi/Nepomuk indexing my home folder.  It’d be a year or more since I last loaded KDE 4, so it had a lot to index.  When I also had some errors with Amarok (which I’m about to get to), I gave it a reboot in case KDE was having a fight with SELinux (as has happened in the past).  Anyway, when I came back, Strigi was done and KDE was much more responsive.  Konqueror had also been slow during the indexing, so I’ll want to test that in Part 2.  I took a look at my old friend, Kopete.  It was looking nice, if a bit cartoony compared to Pidgin.  I’ll also want to take a closer look in Part 2.  It didn’t support Facebook chat (as is supported in Pidgin via a plugin) which isn’t a killer, but it’s not good.  Perhaps there’s a plugin there too?  I’ll have to investigate that.  What I was most curious about was Amarok.  It was one of my biggest anchors to KDE back in the day and really my favorite music player.

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - Where's my music?

I’d added tons of new albums since I last used KDE.  Where were they?  This was a bit alarming.  It distracted me from noticing much else about the player.  I loaded up the local collection:

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - OK....seriously, why aren't you seeing my music?

There were artists and albums missing from here.  There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.  Some new albums were there and others weren’t.  Some Flacs were there and some OGGs were there.  I checked and it had all of my library set to index.  It said it was done!  And I checked all over the web.  But I couldn’t find an answer to my dilema.  Well, I decided to play with what I had to check out the new interface.

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - Lyrics
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - Checking out the Lyrics Plugin and new layout

First of all, it looks a lot nicer than earlier 2.x releases.  I’m not going to go as far as say that it looks as nice as the 1.4 release, because that was really nice, but it looks a LOT better.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the vocabulary to describe what was so offensive to my eyes with the early 2.x releases, but the best I can think of is that it felt cobbled together.  The plugins just didn’t feel as cohesive and it seemed to be held together by glue.  In a way, it was true because Amarok is one of the programs that best exemplified using all of the KDE tech – plasma, plugins, etc, but they didn’t hide it.  A clumsy building analogy – I shouldn’t see the plumbing, bricks, rafters as separate pieces – it should feel like a cohesive whole and I shouldn’t think about the components.  I think they were much more successful this time around.  Above you can see the lyrics plugin providing lyrics for a song.  One thing I really liked was the fact that by the previous and next tracks, it lists the name of the track.  Sure, it’s basically pointless because you can look at the playlist on the right and see what the current and next tracks are.  But I can appreciate the elegance – if your eyes are already on the next button why should they have to wander?  Also, perhaps you’ve scrolled around on the list and lost track of the current track.  This info can help you get your bearings.

Eventually at some point, I don’t remember if I closed Amarok, some of my most recent albums were picked up by the player.

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - Finally finds some of my new albums. Yeah, Danielle's been on a Disney soundtrack binge

OK, I thought.  Things are starting to pick up.  It’s starting to work correctly.  But it’s still missing my FAVORITE part from KDE – the stats!  So I looked through the available widgets/plugins and found the Current Track widget/plugin.  Surely that’s what I was looking for.  Except it claimed no track was playing although you can clearly see in the screenshot below that I am indeed playing a song.

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - No, there's definitely a song playing....

I wanted to double-check that Amarok knew a song was playing, so I clicked on the wikipedia tab.

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - Accessing Wikipedia

So it knew a song was playing and could get info based on that.  Let me take a quick aside to say that while this could be done in Amarok 1.4, this is much more elegantly handled.  Also, between the two music players I have experience with that can do this (Songbird and Amarok), I think Amarok handles it best and with less lag.  I think Banshee can do something like this, but I’m not into Banshee.  At this point I had pretty much given up on Amarok.  After all, it couldn’t find all of my library.  It didn’t know that songs where playing.  I just didn’t get the point of using it over Rhythmbox.  But, I’d been having some problems with KDE.  It was slow and Kontact had refused to launch.  Maybe I should give it another shot.  Maybe I needed to reboot so that SELinux or some other process would figured itself out.  So I rebooted.  I was very happy to see that KDE 4.4 was no longer so sluggish and that Amarok now found the missing songs!

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - THERE"S my music library!

So, as I mentioned above, I’m 99% sure that the sluggishness was caused by Strigi.  Now, Strigi/Nepomuk was cataloging my music library.  Does Amarok use that or did that cause Amarok to be slow in indexing my music library?  If it was still indexing my music library, should it have told me it was done?  It didn’t matter because I was happy everything worked.  And I’m documenting it for others out there who may find themselves in the same predicament.

And there was even more good news!  Amarok now knew it was playing music!

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 finally figured out it's playing music

Conclusion?  If you put in a new widget/plugin, maybe you need to restart Amarok so it can be properly initialized?  Well, as Dan (my brother who was asking me about this today at lunch) can see, with the “Current Track” widget we finally see the triumphant return of stats!  Also, Dan, if you still have your Amarok 1.4 stats somewhere on your hard drive, you can import those into here.  I didn’t try it, but there’s a button for it.  You can also import from iTunes if you have been listening to your music on there.  (Just kidding, I know Dan uses some other music program because iTunes is crap!)  Why are these stats so important to Dan and I?  I have no bloody idea.  It’s just some strange consequence of the way our brains are wired and was the primary reason we loved to use Amarok back in the 1.4 days.  See that score there?  That’s the dynamic way to rate music.  It works a lot better than what I’ve had to do in Rhythmbox.  It scores 0-100 based on how often you play it.  So you don’t to go through your entire music collection to rate it, as I’ve tirelessly been doing.  Just let your playlist play and skip any songs you hate and they’ll sink in the ratings while the ones you like rise in the ratings.  At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work – how it worked in 1.4.  I was blindly rating songs because I’m used to that from the years-long Rhythmbox usage.  Let’s just say, I’m very psyched to further explore this when I do my KDE look part 2.

So I tried to launch Kontact again and it turned out that I had been blaming KDE for the reason it wouldn’t launch when it was really my fault.  In addition to doing in-place upgrades (supported in recent Fedoras, but not as clean as a wipe-install), I changed computers around a year ago when mario broke.  So KDE was confused because it had a lockfile (or something) active from mario and now I was on supermario.  So I told it not to worry and go ahead and launch Kontact.

Kontact on KDE 4.4 Summary Page
Kontact on KDE 4.4 Summary Page

Kontact opens up on a NICE summary page.  (Which I’ve mucked up because you have no business knowing where I’m going to be and when)  Anyway, I like it enough that I decided to investigate where Evolution can be set to do the same.  I couldn’t find how to set it just by looking in preferences.  Man, I couldn’t find it looking through help either.  It’s so nice and allows me to to see what I have coming up without having to seek it in the calendar mode.  This alone might be enough to make it worth switching.  I’ll have to investigate contact some more next time around.  Here’s what the email section looks like:

Kontact on KDE 4.4 Email Page
Kontact on KDE 4.4 Email Page

The biggest takeaway is that KDE is FINALLY stable.  I didn’t have one crash at all.  Ever since my KDE 3.5 days I’ve always found it to be very crashy and buggy.  And when I first looked at KDE 4.0 it was doubly so.  Now it seems usable.  Now I might change over to it.  We’ll see what I end up doing.  But I’ll definitely give it another look in a few days.