Monday, June 16, 2008

How to create desktop icons in KDE4

If you happened to have read the update on my previous blog, I was contacted by KDE4 developer Aaron J. Seigo. Frankly, he was not very happy with my blog, calling it a bunch of FUD. Well, I'm not in the habit of spreading FUD, I told him, so if my information is incorrect, prove your point and I will rectify it. He told me he would get back to me by Monday and he did.

You can view the screencast he has made available and judge for yourself whether you need to be a rocket scientist or not (as some people have claimed) to get your "Old Skool" desktop back when working with KDE4.

Personally, I'm happy with his clear explanation for now - although it has debunked my previous blog for the most part ;-) If you tend to disagree, comments are always welcome.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Desktops in trouble

The main reason I switched to Linux in 2000 was the availability of a viable desktop, in my case KDE 1.1. The Linux world was very different back then and I was even forced to install proprietary tools in order to have all the functionality I needed. Nowadays we have Open Office, MPlayer, VirtualBox and apart from some Wine emulated stuff there isn't a proprietary program in my entire system. We are inclined to take all those things for granted. The next version of any program is bound to be better than the previous one, so why worry.

Well, there are some disturbing developments and they are happening in the key components of our systems: the desktop. KDE has spawned a new release, KDE 4.x, and although it looked promising at first, KDE is in trouble. People are not only complaining about its instability (which is not a good thing in itself) but also about the direction KDE is taking. It is a change of paradigm. KDE has always been what you wanted it to be. You could install it as is and just use it or tweak it until you were happy with it. Just about everything was configurable and every possible feature was available. That was what the KDE audience liked about KDE.

But the KDE team has taken another path by banning the icons from the desktop, claiming that all that clutter wasn't neat. The folder view was much more powerful, they stated. I won't argue with that. Maybe that one day the KDE audience will learn how to use them properly and won't even blink when that code is taken from the repository. But I don't think this was the proper time to do that.

The change of a major version number has always been a big deal with KDE. I remember that I continued to use my KDE 1.x long before I finally switched to KDE 2.x, simply because it wasn't stable enough for production purposes. The switch itself wasn't a big deal. Ok, theming was much more difficult than it was back in the KDE 1.x days, but as far as basic functionality was concerned it was pretty much the same thing. Although reports are mixed I don't think that KDE 4.x is production quality right now. Most major distros agree with me: KDE 3.5.x is still an option. Since my hardware is slowly starting to fail I'm afraid I will face that decision as well in the near future. And I've already decided: I'll be using KDE 3.5.x.

If you want to lure your users to a new version the best way to do it is to make sure that everything is the same, but better. The KDE developers have failed to do this and I think that may have been the worst development in the entire history of the project. It's also a breach with the previous KDE philosophy: you decide what is good for you; we won't. Instead of letting the user decide which desktop paradigm he prefers, the KDE developers decide for him. That's a philosophy that sounds familiar. The Gnome boys have been saying that for years. You don't want to tell me that in the end they were right, do you?

Gnome is in trouble as well but for different reasons. First of all, there is the Mono controversy. I could dedicate a blog entry itself on that, but I won't. But it is a major problem. It is no secret that Gnome is closely tied to Richard Stallman and his FSF, so when Stallman himself admits Gnome is in trouble and some parts of it might need to be completely rewritten I guess we have a real issue here. But that is not all. Some people think Gnome has become a dead project, because it has ceased to be "exciting and innovative". Ironically, what is their example? Yup, you guessed right. KDE 4.x.
Now, if the revolutionary features in KDE 4 do not improve productivity and ease of use, then I don't know what else will. Plasma is simply changing the way we perceive a desktop, and I think for the better - the folder view is just one things that comes to my mind, but there are others, like the desktop grid and such.

It is a strange cross-over if you come to think of it. KDE developers are starting to treat their users like mindless children just like Gnome has all these years and Gnome developers are looking at the direction KDE is taking. Is this the prelude to a merger like happened on the 3D desktop front with Beryl and Compiz? A flashy, innovative desktop for dummies?

I know there is an end to the KDE 3.5.x branch and when KDE 4.x hasn't proven itself by then or - even worse - slowly slipped into oblivion for the lack of people using it, I'll be forced to choose a new desktop. I have found myself looking at E17 lately, which is the new generation Enlightenment. It is lightweight and fast and looks pretty neat. But secretly I still hope KDE will get their act together and start to provide what users want. A stable, reliable and configurable desktop. "Klickybunti" is nice, but I also want to get some work done.

Update: I've been contacted by core KDE developer Aaron J. Seigo and he assured me that a classical desktop with desktop icons is still possible. So I've asked him to show me how. If he delivers the goods (and he has), I will publish them on this blog, so it will make a nice tutorial for those who want to have an "Old Skool" desktop and at the same time prove or debunk Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols claims that Joe User will be "utterly bewildered by the process". Well, one thing is for sure: they are still listening.

P.S. Comments are always welcome, but can you please refrain from pushing your favorite alternative?