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Switching To KDE From GNOME: Initial Impressions And Thoughts
I have been using Linux, specifically Ubuntu, for a little over 3 years now. When I first got into using Linux, I had a choice between sticking to the default GNOME desktop environment(DE) or go with KDE. As with Ubuntu, I was able to quickly burn a Kubuntu Live CD and try it out before installing. Long story short, I decided to pass on KDE and stick with GNOME and I've been very happy with it up until recently. This may be old news depending on when you read this, by Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, have been having issues with GNOME. As a result, Ubuntu 11.04 will be defaulting with a new DE called Unity. I talked about Unity briefly on my Eee PC hub. It was garbage then and I'm not impress with it now.
These past few weeks have been full of changes in my digital computing world. From switching to the Dvorak keyboard to going to KDE. It's not exactly easy to stop using what you're comfortable with but change can be necessary and also exciting. Lets begin.
Why Am I Switching?
Even though I was not a big fan of Unity(formerly known as Ubuntu Netbook Remix), I appreciated it as an option to those who might like it. That's the great thing about Linux: Choices! Anyway, Canonical stirred up the Ubuntu community when they announced that 11.04 Natty Narwhal will be shipped with Unity as the default DE. You can imagine my shock and displeasure hearing this news. As I was doing some investigation, I uncovered the "conflict" between Canonical and GNOME. In the meantime, this was going on at the same time GNOME was pushing GNOME 3. Perusing through the GNOME website didn't make me any happier. From the looks of things, GNOME 3 looks like a tweaked version of Unity. Not only that, but did the guys at GNOME remove the minimize and maximize buttons? Why on Earth would you remove something that people have been using for decades?
I found that I had the best user experiences and support when I stuck with the default DE. Instead of trying to learn GNOME 3 or Unity, I decided to jump ship to KDE. The Kubuntu community is very large and is supported by Canonical. Naturally, it was my weapon of choice.
Installing Kubuntu 10.10 was a cakewalk. I had absolutely no problem with it. I actually tried Kubuntu when KDE 4.5 launched. It was very buggy and I didn't like it at all. While I was reading about GNOME 3, KDE just launched version 4.6. This version got lots of positive reviews so I decided to give it a shot. 4.6 does not come pre-installed with Maverick Meerkat. I had to add the backports PPA and update the system. Everything updated without a problem and I didn't even have to reboot.
Paste this in the Terminal. One time per line.
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:kubuntu-ppa/backports sudo apt-get update
After adding the PPA above, open KPackage and update your software.
KDE is "Windows-like"
Right away, I was already familiar with some of the KDE apps. I used a number of native KDE apps when I was on Ubuntu. These include K3B, Amarok, and Gwenview. I also preferred Dolphin over Nautilus but I didn't use it in Ubuntu because the icons did not match GNOME's Humanity theme. Another thing I forgot before was how "Windows-like" KDE was. I was immediately reminded of Windows 7 or rather Windows 7 reminded me of KDE.
When I tried out KDE years ago, I tried to make it look like GNOME because it was familiar. This time, I decided to keep the standard bottom panel look. After installing my basic apps, I decided to play around with the desktop and widgets. My introduction of the Plasma desktop in the past was a buggy experience. The newer KDE 4.6 seemed to do a good job improving the stability but I still experience Plasma crashing. It was far less frequent than before but still noticeable. Another glitch I noticed is a graphical bug. Take a look at the picture. Sometimes, when I am scrolling or changing desktops, the screen will not display correctly. It's as if Plasma or X is trying to redraw the screen but can't do it fast enough. At first, it was just annoying but it started to sour my experience when I misclicked links.
Plasma = Beauty
I have to say Plasma makes KDE beautiful with the panels and widgets. It is far better than anything I've seen on GNOME. Widgets can be moved, resized, and rotated easily without a loss of quality. I do detect a hint of aliasing when rotating but I never use it anyway. I would like to see more functional widgets and less [useless] bouncing balls. They should also standardize the way to install new widgets. Some can be installed with 1-click while others have to be downloaded and installed manually. Even more annoying, there is no way to sort the 1-click widgets from the manual ones.
Despite these few annoyances, the panels and widgets are functional and uniform. I'd have a hard time trying to break the look of KDE with these widgets. Most of them blend nicely into the background with a transparent alpha. This preserve your current background wallpaper. Speaking of wallpapers, I am also enjoying the option of having multiple wallpapers on multiple workspaces. This was something I've always wanted in GNOME but there was never a workable solution for me.
Having different wallpapers on different workspaces may not seem like a big deal but it make a difference. On GNOME, I would sometimes use the cube switcher to show off to my friends how cool Ubuntu is but it was something I rarely utilized. The main reason is confusion. Even though the workplace switcher tells me that I am on workspace 2, I would forget after a few minutes. It's not that I'm forgetful. Your mind gets used to thinking you are on the first workspace because the background looks the same. For this reason I only found myself using the GNOME workspaces when I open GIMP. As we all know, opening GIMP is like opening Pandora's box.
After spending some time tweaking Kubuntu, I got it just the way I want. The process was somewhat gruelling compared to what I was used to with GNOME. I changed the default task widget to smooth tasks, changed the shortcut of Krunner to Meta + Space(like GNOME-Do), installed Dropbox, and re-made all of my Prism web apps.
"It's Growing On Me..."
I expected to hate KDE but after a few weeks. It's growing on me. They both have their pros and cons. I think the Ubuntu Software Center is far superior to KPackageKit. With plans to add ratings and comments on a future release, the Software Center will be my package manager of choice. For viewing images, Gwenview blows Eye Of GNOME out of the water. Integration feels much better on KDE compared to GNOME. Right clicking a picture folder from Dolphin allows me to start a slideshow with Gwenview. If you install the KIPI plugins from KPackage, you can export pictures straight to Flickr, Facebook, and even your Kopete online contacts! No need to browse, then hunt for the picture to share. Just click the "Share" button on Gwenview. This is a really nice feature.
Another nice feature that I didn't expect to like is KWallet. At first, KWallet use to pop up asking me to set up a Wallet, which I did. Then whenever I ran a program that required a login process, KWallet would bug me to give XYZ app access. This reminded me of Windows Vista. After a few logins, I noticed that I only needed to enter my KWallet password once and I could log into all the apps that use to prompt for a password. KWallet is a password manager and as strange as it sounds, it's a pretty handy tool.
Probably one of the most useful feature in KDE that I've experienced is Klipper. Klipper is a "Clipboard Manager." It basically stores a history of your "copy" command so you can use it later. This can be useful in many situations. For example, I had to enter a sequence into the terminal in order to install Dropbox but instead of copying 1 line, going to the terminal, then going back to the browser, I copied the commands by each line in 1 pass. Then I went back to Klipper and simply clicked on my previous copy history and pasted it into terminal. Have you ever copied a text, went to a search engine to paste it only to "lose" what you copied? This happens to me sometimes, especially when I'm copying carelessly. We tend to forget that we overwrited something important. Klipper to the rescue.
So far, I've been pleased with KDE. Aside from the graphical bug and occasional Plasma crashes, I enjoyed my switch. I still have Ubuntu on my netbook and it feels "primitive" in comparison. GNOME is indeed a bit more stable but KDE feels more modern and advanced. I was a bit overwhelmed by the complicated menu system at first but I'm more comfortable with them now. Besides favoring a few GNOME apps, I wish KWin had a magnifier that could work with the scrollwheel like the one available in Compiz. Plasma is probably the best thing that separates KDE from GNOME. Plasma is beautiful, logical, and (for most part) functional. Getting rid of cluttered desktop icons is genius. Using vector graphics to create widgets and panels with transparencies and gradients is a treat for the eyes. I hope more developers pick up on KDE. Having made the switch, I have to say KDE is way ahead of GNOME.