Practical Technology

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KDE: It’s time for a fork


OK, I’ve now tried KDE 4.1. I’d been assured that it would be better than KDE 4.0x. It is. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I still find KDE 4.1 to be inferior to KDE 3.5x.

KDE’s developers believe that KDE 4.1 “can fully replace KDE 3 for end users.” I don’t see it.

There are some fundamental changes for the better. Qt4, the cross-platform application framework, which underlies KDE 4 takes up less memory and should result in faster performance. I haven’t seen the promised performance benefits, but then KDE 4.1 is still in beta, whatever ‘beta’ means. So, in this setting—Kubuntu 8.04 and openSUSE 11 on Intel dual-core systems with two gigabytes of RAM—I’ll let KDE 4.1’s poor performance go by without additional comment.

My real problems with KDE 4.1 is far more fundamental. The developers believe that they have a better way of handling the desktop. For them, I’m sure they do. For users, this user anyway, the new desktop fails at a desktop’s main job: enabling the user to get their work done as easily as possible.

Take, for example, that in the new Dolphin file manager, the developers claim, and I quote, “Selecting files is made easier by a small + button in the top left corner that selects the file, rather than opens it. This change makes using the file-manager in single-click mode much easier and prevent accidentally opening files, while being intuitive and easy to use.”

OK, so what part of using a small + button to select a file sounds easy to you? The rationale for creating Dolphin in the first place was to make a file manager that was easier than the powerful but complex Konqueror. This small addition of a button strikes me as a perfect example of making something more complex than it needs to be. This is especially annoying since the idea was to reduce complexity, not add to it.

I could go on, but I’m not going to bother. KDE 4.1 is full of visual improvements that dont’ improve anything. You can see KDE 4’s Plasma interface for yourself. Maybe it will work for you. It certainly doesn’t work for me.

KDE 4 developers, lead by Aaron Seigo, wanted to make a radical change to the desktop. They have. However, in so doing, I don’t think that they have made that classic engineering mistake of making something that’s great for them, but not for users.

Seigo assures me that he can explain what KDE developers are doing to me. I’m sure he sincerely believes that. Unfortunately, in so doing, he’s making my point for me. Desktops shouldn’t need explanations They should just let you do your work. KDE 4.1 gets in the way of my doing work.

Is it because I’m an old foggie? Maybe.

But, I doubt it. I pick up new desktops and interfaces all the time. Switching from one system to another is second-nature to me. KDE 4.1 has taken KDE down a path I don’t want to follow. So, I have a suggestion. Fork KDE.

This is open source. All forking a project really requires is that developers and end-users decide that another path is a better path. So it is that I’m suggesting that if some developers decided that they could build a better KDE by revisiting KDE 3.5’s vision of the desktop, they’d find many users more than willing to give it a try.

For starters, rebuilding KDE 3.5 with the latest version of Qt should result in a faster, more effective KDE 3.x—KDE Classic?–even without any new features or other features backported from KDE 4.1, that already sounds like a compelling desktop to me. What you think folks? Is KDE Classic worth a try?