KDE 4.10 - Thoughts, findings, comments.


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Well, KDE 4.10 is out. I have always had a soft spot for KDE but it never really caught on full time. It still had a clunky feeling to it in certain regard. Any time a new release came out and there was buzz about it, I'd try it, but always came back. Over the years I've gotten really set in my Gnome Shell, and later, Unity ways. Unity has come a tremendous way and it'll undoubtedly only get better. I still have some Unity crashes now and then but when it gives me issues, it always seems to self recover flawlessly. That said, after I kept hearing about the new speed and whatnot of KDE 4.10, I decided it was time to try it out.

Now I would like to say both systems I have Kubuntu 12.04/KDE 4.10 running on have SSDs, but my comments of comparing speed come from existing installs that are on these very systems. I have room on both my laptop and desktop for another partition, which allows me to install an independent vanilla instance of Kubuntu and mount my home directory accordingly. This way I have two operating systems completely independent of one another that share the exact same home partition where my files are. (Damn I love Linux)

I first noticed that KDE 4.10 is fast. Like, no joke. If I click on a PDF in my home dir, it just opens. Period. The second I click it is the second I am also viewing it. I never thought Unity was slow, and quite honestly Unity is pretty damn impressive, but there's no denying that I'm sensing a speed bump here. It could be a semi placebo effect from the single click behavior of KDE, where a single click opens it, but quite honestly I think there's more to it than that.

KDE is ridiculously customizable. No joke, it's almost obnoxious how much you can customize. I do find that they make decent use of their space and system settings menu in an effort to keep things organized despite how extensive the features list is. Changing the full appearance of KDE took me a few tries to understand since the actual theme was in one place, window border in another, and icons in another, but overall they were easy to get to and relatively self explanatory. I found it exceptionally easy to go in and download a new icon theme. No more root overriding to /usr/share/icons or /usr/share/themes. Just hit up the built in menu, download, and bingo. It's selectable. Well played.

While I find KDE's default layout to be extremely well thought out and extremely user friendly, I do find it to be a little meh for my personal tastes. I always find myself placing the bar along the top edge. On top of that, I've grown to love the icon based application selection, which is something that Unity, W7, and OSX have going on. I just think it makes better use of taskbar space. A Chrome icon is enough of an identifier. I don't need to see a Chrome icon with text citing "Chrome - Tech & Computer Forums..." in it, which only takes up more space. Doing this allows me to feel as though I CAN indeed have all of my notification icons in the taskbar without feeling as though I'm cramping the other side where my active applications are. To do this you need to remove the current task manager and then search the widgets for the icon based one. Simple as that.

Another minor thing that I'm a huge fan of is the 1/4 screen snap feature. We've all seen the snap feature in Unity and Windows 7 where you can snap it left/right and it'll take up 1/2 of the screen. That's great and all, but I often have so many apps open that I like to pile more and more into my 2nd monitor. Unity has the CTRL + ALT thing where you can hold CTRL + ALT and press numbers in your number pad (1, 3, 7, 9) which will resize the window accordingly. That's great, but that's not even an option on my work laptop, which would require tricky Fn keys to hit the number pad. By the time I play that twister-esque finger button pressing game I could just manually resize it and be done. But in KDE, I can snap the window based on where on the screen my cursor is. If it's on the upper side of the left half, it'll snap to the upper left corner, etc. Along with that is the screen edges, which are SUPER useful. I'm on a laptop now with a monitor plugged in on the right. As a result, I set the two outer-most screen edges (left of laptop, right of monitor) to display to me "all windows" in a preview sort of layout. This is a feature I've always loved, and it's super handy having this with the ability to customize it to any screen edge/corner. Very nice.

I've always been a fan of systems that are easy to use yet allow me to do so much more. That's why I love Ubuntu, because it's an easy to use operating system that gets down and dirty each time I fire up a terminal. That being said, Kubuntu takes it to another level. I have a super, SUPER feature packed and extremely customizable operating system which allows me to do anything else I could hope for in Linux. I don't want to speak too soon, but KDE 4.10 just might be the final bomb shell which pulls me away permanently. So far, so good, but time will tell.

If you haven't tinkered with it, I certainly recommend it.
I have a spare partition setup for Linux. I might just have to give this a go since I have only been messing with Win8.
So I've been using KDE 4.10 on Kubuntu 12.04 for just over a week now... and I haven't looked back. I've switched both my laptop and desktop to run KDE 4.10 and I've been very happy with it. I made some adjustments to the default layout which has worked out nicely. Unity, in comparison, seems to be a little bit more aesthetically pleasing out of the box since I feel as though Unity's default layout meets the needs of the majority of users, however Unity's customizability is nearly non-existent. KDE looks and feels fine out of the box, but I've never been a fan of the bottom panel idea. Even on Windows I've moved the panel to the top. Personal preference speaking here.

It is absolutely remarkable, and I stress, absolutely remarkable just how many things you can adjust right here in the GUI. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of editing text files as sometimes the less cooks you have in the kitchen often means the more stable it is, but KDE has proven to not have any stability issues that I remember being hit with in the earlier 4.0-4.4 days. Plus, I've looked at some of the config files that the GUI is editing, and it's just editing straight up text - no additional nonsense added. Nice and clean.

Another little thing that I noticed in KDE that I never saw on any operating system before was the network manager reported the MAC address of the access point I'm connected to. Now this may seem meaningless to you guys, but a few days ago we put in a new wireless network at work. I had recorded the MAC addresses during deployment but made a single mistake. I needed to find out where a specific AP was with a specific MAC address. I slowly walked around, stopping for a moment at each location where I knew that room had an AP and bam - eventually my laptop hopped to the AP I was looking for. What helped out here is the fact that the room that had the AP in question was actually a conference room, and there was a "absolutely no interruption" meeting going on with the principal, a student, and their parents. It was a very simple feature, but one I thought very highly of.

Being a fan of Unity and growing to be very attached to the layout I found myself wanting that layout in KDE. As a result, I acquired that rather easily.First I downloaded the "Gentle" color scheme, which you can do right from the system "settings - appearance" window, and edited the window background color (via the colors tab) to be a bit darker. Then I installed the oxygencolors 6.2b icon theme and ran the included script to change my folders to "oxy navy". As far as the panels, I removed the task manager and kmenu from my default panel and aligned it to the top of the screen. I added a 2nd panel and added the kmenu and icon task manager. With those few things changed, you have this:

I do have to admit, at times I felt very lost with the amount of things you can adjust. There were times I just had no idea where it would be. Luckily the search feature within system settings is a very smart one as it'll look recursively for what you want. For example, if you punch in "screensaver" it'll highlight "Display and Monitors". That's nice in case you're looking for something fast and feel as though it's a generic feature that COULD possibly be in 4 different locations. It's definitely worth mentioning.

One last thing that I just came across the fact that I can monitor services from another box over SSH. I just enabled an additional tab within KDE's system monitor to watch over my server's RAID. Now that is pretty damn nice.

To wrap up with a very candid opinion, this is the ultimate win/win for me... being able to combine the layout I like with all of these bells and whistles... it's hard to argue. No arm twisting to lock me into a specific interface like some other OS's, just a simple "Here's your interface, Sir. If you find it does not tickle your fancy, enjoy the large array of easy to use customizable features."

While I'm an advocate of using the best tool to complete your task, I do recommend trying out KDE 4.10. It's been a real treat.
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Some further tinkering in KDE has brought even more light on just what you can do with the already extensively configurable KDE that we all know and love. I decided to see if I could build on the "Kunity" setup I had going on when I ran KDE prior to installing Gnome Shell for a while to do some testing. To make a long story short, I found out how you can not only make KDE resemble Unity to an incredible level of accuracy, but it is actually *more* customizable than Unity. I first started by simply looking through the widget menus. I found one known as Window Menubar. I wasn't too sure what it was at first so I fired it up. Sure enough, it acts as a global menu. Any application I open, I see the corresponding file/edit/view/whatever options across the very top. Note that the reason I saw it along the top was because I had positioned my taskbar to be at the top of the screen and added the widget accordingly. Of course if you don't like the global menu, don't add this widget. ;)

As you can also see from the prior screenshots above, I have an always-visible panel on the left side of my screen, along with shortcuts to programs I frequently use, etc. While the overall layout resembled Unity rather heavily, there's one area that fell extremely short. The dash. There was nothing within KDE that directly resembled the dash menu from Ubuntu. I caught wind of some talk about some people doing this exact thing, so I did some more digging. It turns out you can use all sorts of alternative application launchers with KDE. You can use classic and the newer kmenu of course, but more than that exist. I had no idea. There were a few that I found, such as Lancelot, Homerun, Classic, etc. I decided to move forth with Homerun, which is one that is supposedly maintained by a few Kubuntu and/or KDE developers. There was a PPA available, but it was listed for 12.10 and 13.04. I have 12.04 with KDE PPA'd to 4.10, so this was a bit of a let down. Instead I downloaded the four .deb files from the PPA page for 12.10 and installed them manually without issue. Sure enough, Homerun operates fine on my install.

At first glance, Homerun hits the dash void nicely. By moving your bottom panel to the top, adding the Window Menu widget to that panel, adding a new panel on the left along with the Icon Task Manager widget, along with Homerun launcher, you literally have a KDE based Unity just like that. The catch that made me a believer was the fact that I can actually customize the Homerun launcher. One thing I disliked about Unity's dash is the default layout shows 3 lines. Recent Apps, Recent Files, Downloads. Maybe I don't want Recent Apps to be there? Maybe I don't want Downloads either? On top of that, it felt like there were only a few select options available due to the limited size of the dash menu, so you could only fit a few icons. This inevitably meant each time I went in the dash menu, the likelihood of me needing to click to further levels was almost guaranteed. Keep in mind, I do love Unity quite a lot, but the dash was a real disappointment for me. It was something I typically ignored since I'm a very keyboard-centric user, so I would type what I need and be done with it so I didn't have to fumble through different lenses. In comparison to Homerun in KDE, it spans the entire size of the screen, giving you far more options out of the gate. On top of that, you can customize exactly what you want in each screen. For example, I was able to remove Recent Documents and re-add it. This is a degree of customizability that flat out does not exist with Unity.

Another interesting thing I noticed was the fact that you can do all of your file browsing within Homerun. For example, I wanted to dig up a PDF that was located within ~/Documents/Maps/Building-1/GroundLevel.pdf. When I click on Documents, it doesn't open Dolphin - instead it just drops me a level deeper right there within the Homerun dash. I keep going until I find the PDF, click it, and bam - Okular is there presenting me with the PDF in question.

There is only one major gotcha that I found so far. If you open the Homerun dash, it starts you off in the "Home" tab. This is where you can have a hot-list of favorite applications, along with your Favorite Places (bookmarks from Dolphin), etc. You favorite applications by clicking the star over them within Homerun. If you're within Home and you want to search for Firefox, it won't bring you Firefox unless you have it favorite'd in Home. If you hit CTRL + Page Down (or simply click the Applications tab one notch to the right), it'll scan all applications and bring up Firefox instantly. So that's one +1 for Unity, as hitting Dash - "Firefox" brings up Firefox, whereas Homerun Dash - "Firefox", not so much. Instead you need to Homerun Dash - CTRL+Page Down or Click Applications - "Firefox" and bingo, it's there. Or else favorite it. I can only imagine this functionality may be integrated in the future, but as of now it's hard to say. Considering how much functionality the Homerun launcher gives you, I will be easily content with this minor -1 considering the magnitude of extras I get out of it.

Way to hit another home run, KDE. The fact that you are easy to use out of the box, insanely configurable, and at this point pretty dang stable, you might have just sunk me as a permanent user. ;)
My post was past the editable stage, so take this as an EDIT update. If you take my above advice and add all applications to your home tab of the Homerun launcher, it may admittedly get a little convoluted, especially if you put all applications + recent documents + power settings + places + etc etc etc in the home tab. The launcher stays put to where you last used it and doesn't reset to the top, which means if you're in a mouse-using mood you may have to scroll with later uses of your session. An easier solution instead of having all applications listed in the home tab of the launcher is to just add krunner, which will do the searching for you. This way you can just keep it more basic and still have the "type program name and insta-launch" capabilities there.

I also noticed you can adjust krunner to only pick up specific types of searches. For example I noticed when I would search some things, such as Okular, I'd get Okular and "Run Okular" under the Command Launch section. I wasn't interested in launching commands at all from the Homerun launcher so I clicked on the wrench next to the krunner menu from the dash settings and unchecked command prompt. Bingo.

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