Kubuntu 8.04 with KDE4 – the Final Verdict

There are dozens of blogs and websites passionately ranting or raving about KDE (passion is one thing that the open-source community seldom lacks). As I have been using the latest Kubuntu Hardy Heron for almost a week, so I think I am ready to form an opinion about it. Here goes…

My second day with KDE4 was spent playing with plasmoids while installing the essential software in parallel. Plasmoids are to KDE4 what widgets are to the web (these days). Plasmoids are mostly eye-candy, but can also be full of fun features. After developing in Qt for last few years, I can safely say that plasmoid development is going to be a fun activity for the developers – and if KDE4 manages to get the escape velocity required to make it leave the linux environment and land on the MS desktops, a big development market will be built around it.

On day two, I searched Adept for all things plasma / plasmoid, and discovered extragear-plasma, which, as the name implies, has a few more plasmoids to play with. The comic strip plasmoid is fun, though you can only begin from the latest strip and go backwards in time from there (and so, requires more navigation features).
Then there’s KDEtwitter, but it eats up a lot of valuable pixels, and does not hyperlink the urls in tweets, so I had to stop using it after a few hours.

Learning to find my way around it wasn’t so hard. A few useful shortcuts and gotchas:

  • Ctrl+F1 and Ctrl+F2 switch between desktops.
  • Ctrl+F12 shows the desktop, and you can interact with the plasmoids before pressing Esc to go back to the normal view.
  • You can use the plasmoid resize handle with Ctrl to freely scale it, or Shift to maintain the aspect-ratio.
  • You can remove the panel (taskbar in Windows) quite easily by editing a text file. I think having a GUI based desktop editor should be a top priority for the KDE4 developers. Here’s how to completely remove the panel.
  • I didn’t notice this behavior in the earlier versions, but, your Trash can resides in your home folder, so if you delete a huge folder from a removable drive, it is actually MOVED to your ~/ folder – I deleted a 34GB folder and saw my harddisk run out of space due to this behavior. Irritating!
  • Shift+Del skips the Trash can and just deletes the files.
  • Apt urls – like apt:gparted – work, and automatically install the linked package.

I also found a lot of interesting arguments about the evil or revolutionary KDE4, here are a few of them:

While the KDE4 attempt to redefine the desktop may not be evil, it requires getting rid of a LOT of old (but not necessarily bad) habits, and right now, I don’t think the retraining is really worth it. A few examples of what I mean:

  • I can’t drag/drop files plasmoids into one another. I was used to dropping a .txt file on my desktop to the kate shortcut to open it, a divx file to the vlc shortcut, and so on… but now, I can’t drag an html file plasmoid to the kate plasmoid to start editing it right away. Drag/drop into an open application (.txt to kate or .html to firefox) isn’t supported either.
  • The context menu for plasmoids is very limited. I can not right click that same .html file to open it in any other software besides my browser (or atleast I haven’t discovered an easy way to this).
  • I can’t right-click a folder on the desktop and add it to an archive so that I can mail it immediately! This is a feature I have been using for years now, but suddenly, KDE4 has taken it away from me. Now, I need to go to a konsole and zip it manually.
  • There is no quicklaunch plasmoid. I have added a bunch of application shortcuts on my desktop, but I liked those tiny quicklaunch icons better.

So, KDE4 wants you to remember: “A plasmoid is not a file” and “A Desktop is not a folder”. While this new desktop may be semantically accurate, but practically, it has been very inefficient for me so far. Maybe I need to discover some magic tricks hidden inside KDE4 to be more productive… or maybe I am just an old dog who doesn’t want to learn new tricks. I will continue using it though, but mainly because reinstalling everything from scratch is too much effort, and because Yakuake, which is a “quake-style terminal” that I can open by an easy shortcut, is helping me do most of my work on the console.

Finally, if you ask for my recommendation, I will tell you to stick to the KDE3.5 version of HH, unless you are curious to see what the fuss is all about, or unless you intend to be an early-adaptor who wants to be an expert developer for KDE4 when it hits the mainstream.