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.

The State of Desktop Search on Linux

Desktop search is one of those techs that keeps coming back and never really sticking.  At least that’s how it seems to me.  Look at how giddy I was about Beagle back in 2006.  And I tried it and it was, generally, pretty awesome.  It really worked well.  It was like the speed of locate without having to wait until the database was updated at midnight.  And it could see into IMs, MP3 metadata, emails and office documents.  Now?  According the the official website it’s no longer under active development.  Perhaps that’s because they met all their goals.  And that’s fine, but pretty much everyone switched over to tracker around 2008.  I’m not quite sure why – perhaps all the anti-Mono hatred that went on.  Fedora doesn’t even ship with Tomboy or F-Spot anymore.  They’re there in the repos, but they aren’t the defaults.

But even tracker doesn’t appear to have quite the lustre it did two years ago.  I’m pretty sure when I re-installed Fedora when I went 64-bit that it didn’t have tracker installed.  I’m pretty sure when I checked yesterday it wasn’t installed.

I’ve been using KDE all week and I saw that NEPOMUK kept indexing my new music files when I bought music.  It was using strigi-libs, but strigi itself wasn’t installed.  It was also pretty much only scanning my music directory by default.  (there were some others, but I didn’t pay attention)  I told it scan my entire home directory.  Then I installed strigi.  The gui is pretty ugly compared to anything I’ve ever used for tracker.  And it didn’t seem to know anything about any of my files.  Dolphin used NEPOMUK to quickly find some audio-files but I couldn’t think of a test that would check that it was getting metadata rather than filenames since all the metadata is in my filenames.  Well, later on I was able to confirm that it is searching inside of files.  But it does’t seem to see everything just yet.

So why isn’t search going anywhere?  Was desktop search over-hyped? I remember being told that within a few years no one would care about folders because you’d be able to instantaneously find it.  And it wouldn’t matter if it was called 98q2iohnasioi8h.jpg because the search tool would read into the metadata and find that it was your cousin Earl.  But it doesn’t really seem to be happening.  And that really sucks because I know when I was using beagle I found it to be incredibly useful.

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.