Last month I wrote a piece saying that I was going to try KDE for a month (I’m a big GNOME fan!) and then report back on my experiences. I must admit I’m feeling relieved to be back with GNOME as I never really felt comfortable with KDE, but that’s not to say it was all bad.
I’m going to keep this simple—break it down into the good and the bad with a few comments about each. I know I got a few comments last time about why an article like this was not necessary, “Just let people decide for themselves" sums up a few of them; so this article is simply going to represent my point of view: use the desktop environments, try them, and pick the one you like most!
Integration between applications
During the month I’ve tried to avoid using my normal GNOME applications under KDE and found that one of the nicest things about KDE is how well applications are integrated to the desktop and with each other. Moving from one application to another doesn’t feel like you’re moving to something entirely foreign which makes adjusting to a different environment much easier.
Another point about this is that settings work well across the entire desktop so you only have to make the choice once and you can change the feel of everything!
This point highlights the different paradigms that dictate the two major desktop environments: the K menu is filled with a massive range of programs, a great selection of games, utilities, graphical applications... everything! This approach provides the user with a great deal of functionality out of the box, although in my opinion it can be a little overwhelming.
The idea of choice reaches beyond just the applications, however, and includes every kind of context menu you could imagine. When dragging a file from one window to another, it doesn’t simply rely on a default action but prompts you for what you want to do. When accessing the desktops context menu, there are a lot of options, such as options to customize the desktop, which takes you to the full blown settings dialogue. Which, in turn, often makes it easier to find what you’re after.
What can I say? You could find yourself lost in these settings dialogues for a long time: I’m not sure this is for me, I prefer to just get on with what I want to do. Other people in my family, however, have been very happy with this customisability and have spent ages getting their desktops just right.
Initially I felt swamped by the traditional K menu so I switched to Kicker and I think this really is a superb menu, showing only what you’re actively using and providing plenty of short cuts to help you get to what you want quickly (something which from my experience doesn’t seem to be the norm in KDE!). If you use KDE and haven’t tried this, I would honestly recommend it.
Konqueror benefits from the first point I made, integration. I love the fact that when I want to view a file while browsing it comes up within Konqueror, no extra applications! My favourite example is PDFs, and using this feature keeping on top of all the PDFs I seem to have lying around was made completely painless. Other applications were great as well, especially K3b, which, based on the overall capabilities of the program, is, in my opinion, quite a bit better than anything in GNOME.
Everything always seems to be in the way: there were very few instances while using KDE that I felt I could just get on with the task that I was doing without something else interfering. An example of this would be writing while I was connected to an IM network through Kopete—the size of the alerts was ridiculous. And, while it was nice to be able to see so much information about friends logging in, was it really necessary to flood a large part of the screen!? I’m not using a tiny monitor either (1200x800), but I guess this might be better with an even larger screen.
Relating to the above point, while I’m working I set myself either to be busy or invisible within my IM program—seems sensible to me that the better default would be to disable pop-ups under these conditions, certainly while set as busy.
Another example of bad default choices is a single click to open files and folders. OK, this point, like every point in an article like this, is subjective, but does nobody using KDE find it infuriating that when you try to delete a file you find yourself opening it; or trying to drag a single file and having to drag a box around it to select it? I’ve no doubt there are options where I can change this, but the default made no sense to me... and it wasn’t the only one.
Initially I felt that KDE ran a bit quicker than GNOME but as the month went on and my time away from GNOME grew, I was surprised at the speed of GNOME when I returned this morning. Applications do seem to start quicker and I’m at my desktop with everything finished loading sooner.
This point is probably the most serious about KDE in my opinion, certainly from a usability perspective. Who thought it was a good idea to have menus that had vertical text?!—I mean the one down the side in Amarok and Konqueror. I guess after you’ve used the programs for a while and know which buttons are which, it would stop being a problem. But to begin with it’s a nightmare.