KDE 3.X: The good, the bad...

I Love KDE. With the final KDE4 release just around the corner, I thought it'd be good to note down some of the best and worst features in the 3.X series.

Why KDE?

I use KDE exclusively on all my Linux boxes. Why? It just... feels better. I've tried several alternatives - XFCE (which I like very much, but it lacks some of the features I need), WindowMaker, Fluxbox (great on a low-end PC), Enlightenment (supposedly the nicest looking window manager for Linux), and Gnome. Gnome is, of course the main competitor for number of users. It's the default window manager for the Ubuntu project.

With so many other choices, why choose KDE? There are two main reasons:

  1. It is incredibly configurable. There are so many options I could spend a whole day setting up a new install. Some people say that this is a bad thing, and it certainly is for a novice user. Who wants to be bombarded with configuration screens? However, I consider myself a power user and enjoy the added flexibility.
  2. KDE features brilliant integration between it's apps. Thanks to the KPart technology (Think OLE done right for Linux), it's very easy (from a programming perspective) to embed one application ( or "KPart" inside another.

The Good:

As far as I'm concerned, the best featured of the KDE 3.x series are (in no particular order):

  • Window Management. I personally Love the "Keep Above Others" option - it allows you to keep a window above all other windows on your desktop. Some windows applications can do this, but I've found that they don't play nice with the Alt-Tab task switching when they do.

    In KDE, this feature is part of the window manager. Application programmers get it for free! You can also do the reverse ("Keep Below Others"), or enable full screen mode (no prizes for guessing what that does!).
    Another useful feature is te ability to customize the behaivour of any window - either just once, or every time that window is created. For example, I may want my IRC chat client to always start at a specific place on the screen, have it stuck to the bottom of the window stack, and disable thew window decorations. With KDE, this is all taken care of by the window manager. Neat huh? but we're just getting started...
  • Kate is a brilliant text editor for KDE. I use it for all my programming (well, sometimes I'll revert back to vim). Out of the box it supports syntax highlighting for hundreds of languages, code folding, and a whole lot more. you can download plugins to extend the editor too. One of the main reasons I use it above other text editors is the built in Konsole (thanks to KPart). This is so increadibly useful i can't imagine life without it.
  • Other KDE applications that I use every day and love include Konversation (IRC client), Konsole (guess), and Amarok (best music player you ever did see!)
I'm aware that other window managers may have similar features, especially the larger ones, like Gnome.

The Bad:

Nothing is perfect, and KDE is no exception. Here are a few of the things that I don't like about KDE.

  • Konqueror. Konqueror is KDEs default web browser, file manager, and a whole lot more. My main gripe is that it's trying to do too much at once. When you think about it, browsing the web and browsing your hard disk are two very different tasks. Konqueror tries to achieve this balancing act by working in "modes". Sometimes it looks like a web browser, and some times it looks like a traditional split-pane disk browser.

    The web browsing features are okay (I especially like the fact that typing "gg: foo" in the address bar searches google for the word "foo"), but why try and compete with Mozilla firefox? The first thing I do on a new KDE installation is install firefox and remove all the konqueror shortcuts. Firefox is already well known amongst computer users. Why not put more energy into integrating firefox with KDE?

    The disk browsing side of konqueror is rather tragic. My main gripe is that by default, clicking on something opens it. A single click! Users migrating from windows will find this very confusing. If you just want to select something you have to hold down the Ctrl button.

    It seems that in KDE4 the disk browser part of konqueror is being split out into a separate app called Dolphin. I can't wait! Now if we could just ditch the rest of it...
  • Lack of Xinerama support. I run a dual (and sometimes triple) head setup at home. KDE has very limited support for Xinerama. For example, I'd like a window decoration button that lets be move an application to the next / last / other screen, even if it's maximised. Ultramon for windows gives me this, and it's very handy. Several applications will always display their "fullscreen" mode on the first display only, which is a real pain (especially since my first screen is my laptop).
  • The K menu needs a lot of work. Mine tends to get cluttered very easily. It'd be nice to have some easy way to organise applications into frequently used groups.

All in all, I'm not complaining. If I had more time I'd try and improve KDE myself, but I'm rushed off my feet as it is!