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Leading and Bleeding with XFree86 4.0 and KDE 2 Beta

An Installation Overview

  • May 15, 2000
  • By Scott Courtney

It all started with an annoying bug in KMail, and it has ended with my primary Linux machine running a new version of glibc, the latest XFree86, and the brand-new beta of KDE. In this article, written just a few hours after all this came to be, I'll walk you through the installation process and give a brief first look at the new KDE. (You can take a quick peak at KDE 2 in the accompanying figure; other screen shots can be found later in the article.

Fair warning: This is an installation overview and a first impression of the new KDE, not a tutorial. If you know more than me you don't need my help, and if you know less than me you have no business trying this at home. If you're a newbie, just skip to the KDE "first look" section and enjoy knowing that this will soon be coming to a desktop near you (the KDE team is saying late summer). Or, if you really want to try this, ask a more experienced friend or users' group to help you out. If you're a veteran Linux guru, this article will give you a synopsis of the steps I followed (hopefully helping you to avoid some of the empirical parts). Veteran or newbie alike, if you decide to try anything described here--make a system backup of the old version first!

Now, shall we begin at the beginning? In other words, why am I doing this to a perfectly good Linux machine?

I had KDE 1.1.2 installed, running, and very stable on my Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 machine. KDE was working great, and I was happy with it. I looked at GNOME, liked it as well, but didn't have any real reason to switch.

The only thing I hated about KDE was that KMail wouldn't send messages. I had tinkered with the account-setup options, tried several different SMTP servers both on my local host and on my ISP's network, and compared the settings against other mailers on my machine. I could even send mail by telnetting to port 25 on the SMTP relay and typing the headers by hand. But when I clicked the "Send" button in KMail, nothing happened. No message sent, no message queued, and no error message in any log I could find. I pored over documentation and help files, posted to the Caldera users' e-mail list, and pestered my colleagues. No help in the docs, and no one had ever seen my problem before, nor could tell me what to do about it.

Worse yet, I had personally set up KDE on Linux systems I built for two or three friends, and not one of them had any problems at all! There are other e-mail programs, including excellent console-based apps, but I want to be able to run what my non-techie friends are running so that I can better support them. Even if KMail ends up not being my own choice for e-mail, I need it running on my workstation. I knew there had to be a way to make this work, and I was determined to find it!

In desperation, I decided to follow a really wild piece of advice from Dennis Powell, KDE wizard and writer of the excellent book, Practical KDE. Dennis, or "Dep" as he's called online, suggested that I try the alpha code of KDE2. I did a double-take at this, because e-mail is mission-critical to me and I couldn't imagine running my whole desktop on beta code, let alone on something that's called alpha.

Dep was kind enough to send me an early draft of a HOWTO-like document he's writing, which explains very lucidly how to install the snapshot builds of KDE2 and how to safely make it coexist with KDE 1.x. You can't run both at once, but you can switch back and forth as needed. I read his article carefully (by the way, it's not ready for publication yet, so I can't tell you where to get a copy--but there's a similar document linked from the Documentation section of the new www.kde.com Web site) and decided that this was something I could do. Mind you, I don't lightly approach trying a source build of extremely large and complex C/C++ projects. I'm a Java and shell-script guy. I know C, but not well enough to debug anything down in the bowels of KDE. But I have enough confidence in my Linux skills to be able to safely back out anything that failed, so I figured I'd give it a try.

Then I got carried away with things. I had previously installed (successfully) the new XFree86 4.0 on my Dell laptop, and it was working great. The source refused to build under Caldera 2.3, but the binaries went right in. It even correctly detected the weird flavor of ATI Rage Pro that lives in the Inspiron 7000. If it could do that, I figured, installing it on my desktop machine with an ATI Xpert98 would be a breeze. Besides, I reasoned that if I already had the machine down to console mode for the KDE build, I might as well plop XF86 4.0 on there too. Everybody said that KDE2 was faster than KDE1, and like any other good Penguin I have an infinite craving for faster systems.

Then the folks at KDE announced the first beta for May 11. That did it! I was hooked! I held my breath (see how blue I am?) until The Day arrived, then grabbed the code as fast as my cable modem could snarf the files. I was off to the races!

Well, I was at the starting gate, anyway.


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