Vasco Dias @blog

another blog about stuff?? oh yeahh

Changing home: Kde 4.6 to Xfce 4.8

First, some background

My distro of choice is Arch linux, it is simple, doesn’t try to do things i don’t tell it to do, keeps the user in control, pacman (the package manager) is powerfull enough for what i need, uses a rolling release model, has a great wiki and a great community. Much more could be said, just try it if you want (it’s linux, it’s free, why not?) and/or search for the many reviews out there (reading the install guide is a MUST).

Some years ago i was always distro hoping and believe me when i say that i tried almost everything until i found arch. Nothing compares. Even today sometimes i try the latest fedora o ubuntu but they just can’t do it for me. They are cool to test new features without destroying my arch system but besides that i just can’t live with them.

By now you should be able to understand a little what i look for in software in my computer. It should be simple, well defined, modular, do what is told to, replaceable, etc. I like to know what the system is doing, why it is doing it and how. I should be able to understand how each component interacts with each other in order to understand the whole system better.


The desktop environments

I think the first desktop environment i used/saw was probably kde 3, some old version that came with a really old Suse cd i got from a magazine (my first linux contact or close to it :)), and later in a Caixa Mágica distro (a portuguese linux distribution).

My feelings were that i didn’t really liked it. I can’t exactly explain the feeling, maybe i was overwhelmed by so many options in those control panels that i couldn’t understand why they were there or simply because i didn’t like the themes that existed at the time. Long story short, i got more experience in that linux world, started playing with distros and desktop environments and used gnome without really liking it too.

But why didn’t i like it? I’m also not really sure. I know now that i like gnome/GTK themes more than those used in kde/Qt world. So that was not the reason at the time i’m sure. For some reason i associated kde to bloated software. Surprise surprise, i don’t like bloated software.

And what do i consider as bloated software? It’s not hard to know. Think of those times when you want to do something simple like opening the file manager or simply opening the menu to launch an application or even when you simply login and in those simple things that should be quick you wait forever and forever and the computer simply stops. You go crazy, i go crazy, the world goes crazy (yeah i know i’m exaggerating :P).

Then a sane person remembers “let’s see what’s happening here”. Thinking as a sane person, i open htop and see lots of strange processes and weird daemons that i don’t understand why were launched just because i launched the file manager (here put any “appname” you want). There are things i can tolerate such as if the software really is using those features that other daemons are providing but if there are processes running just for the sake of being running, i’m sorry, but i don’t like it.

Conclusion for all of this, i used Xfce 4.4 for a long time before and then Openbox for some time too.

Kde 4.0 and changing to Xfce 4.8

But if i used Xfce for so long and liked it where in the story does kde enters? I bought a laptop and entered university and needed a system where i wouldn’t spend much time configuring stuff. Installed Arch in the laptop along with kde 4.0 that was new and shiny at the time (maybe it was 4.1, more stable i think). I wanted to try new features, new theming capabilities (Qt4), a more coherent system, all that talk about a semantic desktop, etc. Well bad choice, i spend so many time configuring stuff, disabling things that i didn’t need, fighting against applications crashing all the time… In the end the time i spent with it was not worth to throw away and start everything again with another desktop environment.So i stayed.

Here are some things that i quickly remember that are bad about current kde:

  • plasma. Seriously, having a big framework/plataform/application/whatever you want to call it just for showing the wallpaper, the clock, the system tray and the start menu is overkill. Not to mention that it is invading completely unrelated applications and when it crashes (and i assure you it will crash) you will be kind of lost without being able to do anything (the latest releases have improved this case).
  • the notification system (plasma related?). It is bad, confusing, not user friendly, strange, different… Why the hell do i have scroll and tabs and a big window with the notifications inside… If i miss a notification i just want to click and see all the latest notification as they appeared in the same order, with the same feeling.
  • akonadi/nepomuk. In the beginning they were really bad, now they are better but i don’t have a need for the features that nepomuk provides in the desktop search and akonadi is not really useful yet (but i believe it will be when more applications start using it).
  • chashew (plasma related). I think that is what they call that round thing where you can click on the desktop. You can’t remove it, there is no option, there is a sort of a hack but not really an option.
  • systemsettings. No matter how many times i go there, i always feel lost and simply start clicking everywhere until i get what i want. I swear i spend at least 4 minutes everytime i need something from there. For example, when i go to Appearence, i expect every option related to theming to be there, like, qt, kwin, icons, plasma and mouse theme (this last one everybody gets it wrong).
  • plasma theming. Why do i need yet another thing that needs a different theme selected to fit with the rest of the environment?
  • networkmanager applet. There is a feature missing so long that i needed to install nm-applet just for it, make a connection a system connection with the option “Available to all users”.
  • keyrings. Just for the above it is needed to pull another gnome dependecy, in this case gnome-keyring. And why is that? Because everybody likes to reinvent the wheel and a standart way to save secrets is not yet in place (there is a project in about this, but as anything else that is really useful it is almost dead. Just keep the users suffering).
  • standarts. There are standarts defined like where to save icon themes and other general themes, caches, configurations, and other data need for applications. Kde just likes to do everything different and sets a big whole mess in a folder ~/.kde4. Try locating anything there.
  • kwin/flash. For some weird reason if i sometimes make a flash video fullscreen the plasma panel stays on top of the video and other weird combinations.
  • pulseaudio. With the new release of kde 4.6 pulseaudio is recommended. I used kde without it and never tried it in arch. This release was working fine just with alsa, but then i need to connect another monitor with the hdmi connection and wanted the audio to go through the cable. Let’s just say that kmix is in a very bad shape and that if i chose the hdmi cable as the first output and was not using it the sound would never go to the internal speakers so i had to always be changing the order.

There are so many other things that i kept enduring that i don’t remember or were fixed.

I’m not trying to say that kde is bad software. I think kde is a very good software with very good developers behind it and useful for many users. I know that many of the features i don’t use are used by others and they like them. I’m not saying anybody to change. It is just not for me, at least yet. So with so many choice that rules over the linux world i’ll be changing to Xfce.

And why not gnome you ask? Because many of the same mistakes are also there. It is bloated and it is changing into something that i don’t see myself using (new gnome 3 or the unity interface by canonical, you choose). Xfce is the perfect choice for me here. It’s simple, elegant, not too bloated and i can control it.

There are applications that i still need to change or maybe i’ll keep them because i like or because there is no real choice. Kmess, Akregator, Choqok, Kwooty and Konversation are the ones in this situation.

So, you should use what you like, what you want and what is useful for you. You should be the one able to answer those questions not anybody else. Choice and freedom are the important words here. There are great developers everywhere and everyone works their best to make their dreams come true.

(This is a personal blog, this is my point of view/my wanna be rant. Please do not start flame wars.)


3 responses to “Changing home: Kde 4.6 to Xfce 4.8

  1. pankromatic 17 February 2011 at 05:10

    Arch is great. I agree 100% with their keep it simple philosophy. Glad to see you like it too.

    I went with XFCE as the least of evils on Arch and have been pretty happy.

    But you are right, KDE and Gnome are waaay to bloated and complicated. Closer to Windows than to Linux, in my opinion.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. shpongl 18 February 2011 at 16:48

    My only real complaint with KDE 4.x is Dolphin. Even as KDE keeps improving, this is one part of it that keeps going from bad to worse, Needs Nepomuk/Strigi to show basic metadata?
    Can’t edit ID3 tags? No easy way to add right-click entries? I’d take Thunar over it anyday….

    • diaz 18 February 2011 at 17:56

      True, just to “manage files” it loads all that stuff and lacks essencial features. Thunar with a simpler architecture allows to add custom actions and also has some nice plugins.

      And i really like your blog, keep the good work ^^.

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