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KDE 4: Beauty only gets you so far

We've been playing with KDE 4 for the past few days. Actually, there was very little playful about it. We're nothing if not honest. We struggled. We even used phrases that would make a sailor blush.

We do, now, have a (mostly) working install of KDE 4 on Xubuntu. And we stand by what we said with our first impressions. KDE 4 is fast, and does have the potential to be a powerful and utilitarian desktop.

However, it's just not there yet.

A few of the major issues we encountered we have since solved.

Updates can be made to a system that doesn't have a root account using gksu and Synaptic, or via the console. It seems there is a problem with calling kdesu. The other solution, of course, is to give root a password. This was a bit disappointing, but it certainly wasn't a deal breaker.
The other major problem we had was either PEBKAC (problem exists between keyboard and chair) or a packaging issue. We were unable, for a while, to create folders and documents by right clicking in the Dolphin file manager. For whatever reason, the issue was solved with a reinstall of KDE 4 on Xubuntu.

KDE 4 is undeniably pretty. There have been many reviewers gushing about how pretty it is. We don't disagree, even with everything set to defaults, it's beautiful. As we used it more, we started to wonder. Are the aesthetics more important than giving users an expected or configurable interface?

The prime example of this is the Kickoff menu. We thought it would take some getting used to, at first. We thought using it for a day or two would probably make us fairly comfortable with how it functions. We thought within four days, it would be quite familiar.

It's not. The tabs we've gotten used to, for the most part. We've gotten used to them changing the menu above as we mouse over them. So we mouse over Applications, and we get the main menu. We click on Multimedia, and it takes us to the submenu. We select our program, it loads, and we're done.

The problem is, next time we mouse on the Applications tab, it opens the multimedia submenu. We haven't yet found a way to change this. It only takes a second to back out to the main menu (by clicking the arrow), but it's an annoyance solely because it's not what we'd logically expect to be there. We'd expect the applications tab to bring up the main applications menu, consistently.

Another annoyance is the panel itself. Is there no way to customize the panel short of editing configuration files? We've yet to find it. We can't drag it anywhere. We can only show or hide tooltips. Can we move the icons we put on it? It sure doesn't look that way.

Widgets, which we suspected would be a nuisance, are really handled quite nicely. Plasma widgets beat the pants off of SuperKaramba widgets in terms of memory use and we expect there will be some truly unique, useful ones soon. Widgets are nice, but they're really just shiny objects. They certainly don't break KDE 4, but they don't exactly make it, either.

It would seem, then, that KDE lost sight of what made KDE strong in first place. While it's true looks are very important to a desktop, function should be king. If our icons aren't in the panel where we expect to find them, it's an inconvenience. If we can't move them easily to where we expect to find them, that's an even bigger inconvenience.

KDE 4 has a lot of potential. It also has a lot of wrinkles to iron out, and we don't just mean the occasional Plasma crash. We can't help but feel something very precious was taken away from the KDE users in this release. We traded an easily configurable interface that we could make function how we thought was best for something exceedingly pretty, but very inflexible.

Tags: desktop, desktop environment, DesktopEnvironment, KDE 4, Kde4, Linux, opensource, osupdates, PEBKAC, plasma, widgets