Editorial: KDE 4.0, A Call for Perspective – Archived

KDE 4.0 was released last week and all hell seemed to break loose. What I view as a solid first step in a very positive reaction was met with some applause, but generally scorn and complaints. I think some perspective is needed, and I humbly offer to try and provide some. I’d like to take issue with some things I see that are just plain wrong.

KDE 4 is Vista. Vista is an operating system. KDE 4 is a desktop environment. Right off the bat, on a basic level, this is wrong. If you only look at the DE aspects of Vista, it still doesn’t stand up. People complain about Kickoff, the new (possibly temporary) menu in KDE 4. Have you used the monstrosity that Vista provides? Plus, if you do not like Kickoff, you can drag the old style launcher to the taskbar and be happy. Vista offers nothing of the sort. KDE 4 runs very well on modest hardware. Vista is painful on modest to good hardware. I had a hardware failure on my main machine yesterday. It runs Linux. I’m stuck writing this from Vista on a 64 bit processor (AMD 3200+) with 3 gigs of RAM and it is unbearably slow. My desktop effects consist of some translucency and some crummy 3-D window switcher. With KDE 4 there are a lot more useful effects this early in. KDE 4 = Free Software. Vista = closed source. Complaints people have with KDE 4 are already being addressed. Some have been fixed. Get that kind of action from Microsoft. The Promised Land, KDE 4.1, is rumored to be released in about six months. The Promised Land for Vista, SP1, is still unreleased a year into its life (and the reports of the beta are less than glowing.) Maybe it kind of looks like Vista with the use of black, but that is about it.

KDE 4 is Gnome. This is usually meant as a swipe at Gnome as well as KDE, based in the belief that the Lords of Gnome sit in their ivory towers deciding how the peons can use their computers. The great Nautilus-Spatial-View Wars of 2004 saw a lot of bickering on this front. Since a lot of configurability that KDE is famous for just wasn’t ready for the 4.0 release people are assuming that it is just gone forever. It is coming; you can relax or file bug reports. If the configurability you are used to isn’t there in 4.1, then I’ll be right there with you. I believe the developers when they say it is coming. It isn’t like there is a lack of options in KDE 4; I’ve even read complaints that there are still too many. It is just that the most visible ones, like in the taskbar, just aren’t there yet. That is right in your face immediately.

This also feeds into the Holy War that Gnome and KDE are locked in. We have choices. Some people like Gnome, some KDE. There are plenty of other choices as well. Fans of gerbils can use XFCE. Enlightenment is cool. FVWM Crystal works nicely. Blackbox, Openbox or Fluxbox. Why so much energy is devoted to Gnome people attacking KDE people and vice versa confuses me, other than people love to have an enemy. In the words of convicted wife-beater Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?” When the negativity impacts development (my 10 things I hate about KDE 4 RC2 article was accused of stopping development for hours, weirdly) then things are getting out of hand. Some thicker skins might be in order as well.

KDE 4 is lacking in cowbell. The “needs more cowbell” joke stopped being funny about three days after you heard a co-worker say it for the first time. That was years ago! Enough already.

It was a mistake to release KDE 4.0. This has already been addressed nicely here. For the “tl;dr” crowd, the release has to get out into the real world and take a beating. I’m sure the complaints so far have been useful in some sense and will influence direction. This is a complicated issue that has been covered in more detail by people smarter than me; I just wanted to address it. I’m surprised to even see this, since “Release early, release often” is such an ingrained part of Open Source. Imagine if Duke Nukem Forever was Open Source and followed this philosophy.

“My experience with KDE 4 is the One True Experience” There are so many odd combinations of hardware, distributions and preferences that everything becomes equally valid. The experience you have with KDE 4, for you, will set your ideas into stone. I’ve read there were numerous problems with the Kubuntu packages. People who used those are naturally going to be unhappy with 4.0 for good reason. OpenSUSE has done an outstanding job with their packages. I’ve used them and have a positive feeling about 4.0. Nvidia cards perform well with the proprietary driver and KWin’s composite. I’ve read ATI doesn’t work that well. For the ATI owners, composite will be horrible. Some people love Kickoff. Some people hate it more than anything else in the world, apparently. Who is right? People passionately hate Dolphin, others love it. Most people, for these reasons, are going to have very different experiences with KDE 4. If we could just cut each other some slack and recognize the validity of each person’s opinion I think the overall atmosphere will improve.

Things haven’t been perfect. It is too bad that KDEPIM wasn’t ready. From what I have seen and read, it will be worth the wait. Distros have had some trouble with packaging. Things are nowhere nearly as bad as you may read, either. Before my hardware failure, I had been using 4.0 as my main desktop for weeks. I’m starting to prefer it, warts and all.

Here is my somewhat lousy analogy for KDE 4. You’ve lived in a house (KDE 3) for years. You have everything set the way you want it to, have gotten used to the oddities of it and love it. Some major parts of it have fallen into disrepair (arts) and it is time to move. You decide to build a new house from the ground up (KDE 4). It reaches a point where you can move into it, or stay in the old one for a few more months. You decide to move. The old house had cable. The neighborhood for the new on is being wired for cable, but it isn’t available just yet. Is your old house better because it had cable? Is the new one a failure because cable isn’t ready yet? The new house has a different thermostat that is quite different from the old one, and you can’t set it the same way you could the old. The builder promises that in a couple of months you will have three thermostats to choose from that are a lot better than the old one, but at least the current one works. The builder also says that if you do move in, he’ll listen to things you don’t like and give you the opportunity to change things, instead of just giving you something set in stone. He even promises to continue to improve the house for years to come. You can either live in the old house for a while longer and watch the progress of the new one and stay comfortable; or jump into the new one and get used to it. Odds are you aren’t going to complain that you shouldn’t even have built a new house. Particularly because it is free and built at no cost to you. It could be worse; you could be in the luxury prison down the street, where the prisoners complain that the old one, while bad, was much better than the new one.

The KDE Release Event is today. I had hoped to go, but the complete lack of free flights complicated it. Congratulations again to everyone involved. You have a lot to be proud of, and a lot more work ahead.

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