Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why I Went Back to Gnome

aka Why I Think Linus Trovalds Did

We heard a few days ago that Linus Trovalds has stopped using KDE. Well, so have I, same pinch. But over the past few weeks I’ve been wondering what really is wrong with KDE4.

And why would we wonder what’s wrong with KDE4. That’s because KDE4.2 is here. It is stable, it is functional, it has features and yet it is unusable. Why should a stable, functional, featureful piece of software be utterly unusable? Lets could the reasons.

(Disclaimer: the problems that I recount here might not have to do with KDE. They might be the problems with the kernel, Qt, Kubuntu or just me. But Joe User doesn’t care about that. Joe User wants his software to do what he wants it to do. If it does not he whines. So you either fix his problem or you educate him. And if you educate him he doesn’t remain Joe User after that.)

I love plasma. It is immensely powerful and has infinite potential. To realize just how powerful plasma is, do this in 4.2. Click on the clock to open the calendar. Now drag the calendar onto the desktop. No other desktop environment can ever let you do that. It’s awesome!

However, also do this. Drag the weather plasmoid onto the panel. Or try dragging the analog clock onto the panel. Try to put your panel on the side rather than the bottom. The results are awful. Plasma is wonderful and all that, but things aren’t working. It is not that they can’t work. It is just that the developers haven’t yet figured out the best way to make them work.

Take activities for example. I like the concept. I have a use case for them. When I’m working on my computer I like to have the notes and calendar widget on my desktop. When I’m reading and listening to music I like to have the now playing widget on my desktop. But everytime I want to switch an activity, I have to zoom out using the cashew and then zoom in.

You know what, in one context I like the windows panel better than the KDE panel. It is that the Windows panel has ‘levels’. For example if I have my panel made larger so that it is three times as high as the regular panel, I can have the taskbar on the top level, iTunes toolbar at the second and quicklaunch at the third. It is a highly efficient way to use your panel space.

With KDE you can only stack your things horizontally and not vertically. That renders the panel a little less usable. And yes, this was a problem with KDE3 too and they’ve not fixed it in KDE4.

The systemtray! Will someone finally fix it please?! Why does it have to flicker every time I minimize a window? Why do the icons take forever to load? I thought the systemtray would be first thing that people would fix!

I really like the idea of animations being coded into the window manager. I really do. It removes one level of complexity from the desktop environment and makes life easier for the developers.

However, the animations in kwin just aren’t right. In windows or even with compiz, when you restore a window, it first grows slowly and then faster and faster until the window appears to ‘pop up’ on your screen. KWin animations are linear and don’t have that ‘zing’ to them. Second, they aren’t smooth enough. They stutter. I can visibly make out the maximizing window stop in mid motion and then continue growing after a while. It is highly irritating. So much so that I actually turned the effect off.

KWin people, take a look at compiz. Run the same effects side by side on two machines, one with compiz and other with kwin. And learn.

Those are my reasons for staying away from KDE4. They are small reasons but when you used computers for 10 hours every day for your work, they tend to get onto your nerves. (Just like the Vista permission dialogs. Small detail but over time just irritates the hell out of you.)
What KDE4 lacks is not stability, functionality or features. It is that elusive quality called maturity.

(To dole out some praise, I think KDE4 has some absolutely kickass apps. Dolphin, Gwenview, and Okular are just awesome. I use them even with gnome!)

1 comment:

  1. I just can't work with animated desktop environments. Maybe because I learned to use a computer when Windows 3.1 workgroup reading 3.5" disks was the hottest thing around :P
    I find them distracting and sometimes annoying. I turn them off be it compiz, kwin, windows. Mac seems to be a little cleaner so I let it be there, but I'd turn that off too if I knew how :P