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.comment: A (P)review of KDE2

A New Look as Well

  • August 2, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

There's never been a time in the history of Linux as exciting as the next few months promise to be: the 2.4.0 kernel promises to make more hardware work, and the hardware that already works work better, under Linux than ever before while introducing a host of exciting new features. (Among these is allowing the features introduced in XFree86-4.00 and repaired somewhat in 4.01 to work, though the XFree86 and DRI projects have some work yet to do, too--perhaps also available in the next few months.) And KDE2 will be released, which to many of us is the most exciting thing that has happened to the desktop since Al Gore wrote the original Linux kernel many years ago.

Last week the KDE developers imposed a feature freeze for the 2.0 release, so for the first time we have a solid idea of what the new KDE will comprise. It will be great (it already is), so the complaints I raise here and there (or, more likely, here, and here, and here) are minor whines and quibbles, which isn't to say that the KDE developers are not cordially invited to follow my sage advice.

The Desktop
There's nothing in KDE2 that will leave the user of earlier versions entirely astonished, but there are some things that will be a little puzzling, perhaps annoying at first (and not inconceivably annoying after that). Gone are the KPanel and Taskbar, replaced by a unified thing called Kicker. It contains a number of links to applications by default; unlike the old KPanel, you can drag a file onto it and drop it there. This is of course useful for application launching, for those apps you don't want to navigate the KMenu to find. Yes, the KMenu is still there, though the familiar alphabetical listing of categories is not; the new arrangement must have made sense to someone somewhere, but I do not know who or why, because it makes no sense at all to me. Briefly during development alphabetization returned, but it has disappeared; here's hoping it will get restored by release time. A good change is the addition of non-KDE applications to the appropriate submenus, instead of segregating them in a submenu ghetto of their own.

The Taskbar has been incorporated into Kicker, instead of being a separate desktop element. As a matter of personal taste, this is not a change for the better. In KDE-1.x, KPanel and the Taskbar could both be set to autohide, triggering on a user-configurable edge of the screen. (Kicker can be set to autohide, and it lives at the bottom of the screen by default, but you can drag it to the top or side of the screen, and it will stay there.) I populated KPanel with all the applications that I frequently use, and really don't have the space to spare for a taskbar, too. Making them separable would be a Good Thing. A clock applet lives on Kicker, too, and other applications, such as the dialer, KPPP, are supposed to dock there. Puzzlingly, there is now across the top of the screen an odd menubar that has in its defense only that it can be turned off (right mouse button on desktop, Configure Desktop, uncheck "enable desktop menus"). It's redundant; better to restore the old taskbar, I think.

Beginning in KDE-1.1.2, there was kludgy support for what were called themes. KDE2 now has full support of themes, and will import Gnome themes, if you have one or more of those that you like. There are several bundled with the release. (For what it's worth, I've found that XFree86-4.01 is happiest with the KDE-SGI theme.) Of equal delight to some users, among them me, is that KDE2's warm embrace of things non-KDE extends to incorporation of the wonderful XscreenSaver modules in the list of available screensavers. (One chooses one screensaver module; if you want to use XscreenSavers instead, put that fine application before KDE2 in your ~/.xinitrc and leave the KDE screensaver application off, as it is be default.) Likewise, desktop background programs, both from KDE (KWorldWatch) and elsewhere (XEarth, XGlobe, and XPlanet that I know of; maybe others as well) can be configured and launched in the KDE2 background configurator. This is good stuff.

Not so good, to me at least, is the titlebar one sees when first launching an application under KDE2. It has gotten all scrambled, with the X to close the app moved inexplicably to the extreme left. Many is the KDE user who, upgrading, will maximize the application he or she seeks instead to close. Fortunately, you can click the right mouse button on the titlebar and restore sanity by choosing Decoration > KDE 1. Unfortunately, the other attractive choices all have the close button on the left. The change is gratuitous and in my opinion a little contemptuous of users. But it is, as I mentioned, easily changed, though it would be nice if the old style of arranging buttons were in the control center, so that sane KDE2 users could still take advantage of the other window decoration options.

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