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The Year In Review: LinuxPlanet's Picks for the Best and Worst of 2001 - page 2

2001: The Year That Was

  • December 30, 2001
  • By Michael Hall
Perhaps the source of the most heat over the past few years, it seems as if the desktop wars are a little more quiet than they used to be as GNOME and KDE both mature into usable environments. KDE's the majority pick among our writers, though Window Maker and XFCE earn praise as well. We liked:

  • KDE
  • GNOME
  • Window Maker
  • XFCE
  • ROX Filer

Favorite desktop environment/window manager: mph

I'm using Ximian GNOME under Red Hat 7.2, so I guess it's my favorite. I tried living in KDE-land a few times over the past year including one protracted period of close to a month, but it never quite "took" in terms of feeling comfortable. As Evolution and Galeon got better and better (more on them in a bit), and I realized how little I needed a great GUI file manager (I think Konqueror continues to edge out Nautilus and GMC), it seemed like a very minimal GNOME desktop was my best use of resources.

The real killer combination, this year ,proved to be GNOME with the ROX Filer running as the file manager. ROX is light-weight, flexible, and easy to integrate with just about anything. There are lots of ways to customize and automate it, too. Anyone looking for an interesting toy to play with and a willingness to take advantage of traditional Linux scripting tools ought to give it a try.

I don't want to seem to slight KDE at all... it just never felt like home. KDE is probably the desktop I'd point out to a new user with no real ingrained habits: the dekstop-oriented distributions prefer it, as do most of the Linux desktop users I know, and it feels more thorough somehow.

Window Maker deserves mention as my favorite lighter-weight setup. I know that there's faster and lighter available, but it has performed very well on a spare Pentium I have running in the corner of the office.

dep replies: And I'm delighted to see that Gnome is progressing so well. One thing I've noticed is that it seems as if Gnome is attracting a lot of outside, independent projects, as KDE did for a long time, though more and more it seems as if people developing for KDE really want their applications to be part of the base distribution. I don't know quite what to make of this. One thing of which I feel confident, the bright side of the Gnome-KDE wars (the reduction of which was one of the year's few happy occurrances) is that without the other, neither would be as good. Competition benefits the user enormously.

bkp replies: I think it is a reflection of personalities that decides what desktop environment one likes. Michael has always been a more adventerous computer user than I, and I think KDE (for me) plays well for my conservative, fussy nature.

Favorite desktop environment/window manager: bkp

After having looked at several over the past year, the clear winner for me has got to be KDE. This is a shift from where I was this time last year, when I was still wavering between GNOME and KDE.

My quandary was that I loved the way GNOME looked, but there was always this feeling that GNOME was less than substantive as far as functionality was concerned. In the end, the arrival of Konqueror and anti-aliased fonts pretty much tipped the scales for me. Maybe I would not get the cool Sawfish schemes, but by golly, my fonts would be smooth!

dep replies: Brian, you very admirably wavered between the two for a lot longer than I did. When KDE-1.0 was released, the conventional wisdom was that it would do until Gnome was released -- only nobody told the KDE developers that their job was merely a stopgap. And the stunnining beauty that Gnome was supposed to bring to us suffered a considerable setback when Rasterman disappeared into the outback (even as, much later, the eye-candy aspects of KDE took a hit when Mosfet picked up his marbles and went home. And what is it with graphics programming geniuses giving themselves weird names?)

Favorite desktop environment/window manager: dep

No one who has read much that I've written will be surprised to learn that I think KDE-2.2.1 is where it's at. But there may be some surprise in my analysis.

I have Gnome running on a Red Hat 7.2 machine here, and I don't tremendously object to it. I think it's fine in many ways, but its level of maturity seems to me to be about where KDE was at 1.1. Where it goes from this point is unknown; there are many forces at work: the limitations of C and the GTK toolkits, the commercial aspirations of many in its development, to name two.

It is impossible not to have affection for XFCE, though I haven't used it for awhile. I wish Olivier had nodded toward KDE as he has toward Gnome, but in any case it is the answer for those wishing to run a GUI desktop on a low-resources machine.

And as much as I like KDE, I wonder if 2.2.1 (or 2.2.2 and subsequent releases in the 2.2 series) might prove to be that estimable desktop's high water mark. KDE3 hasn't been released yet, but my experience with the code so far has been unencouraging. Much of it seems to be shoehorning KDE onto Qt-3.x, which does seem to offer advantages -- most of which seem to be of use to KOffice more than KDE overall.

KDE still falls short in totally editable key bindings; I know of one accomplished user whose enthusiasm for KDE would come to exist if he could cause it to behave as the EMACS he has used for years.

Many of the original KDE developers are still present, and some of them -- David Faure, Waldo Bastian, and several others -- are in my view among the best programmers on the planet. But as KDE has grown, so has the number of people involved, and the sheer size of the project and management thereof has to be daunting. It could well be that KDE3 will be magnificent, the best KDE yet, but I don't see it so far. The new year will, I hope, prove that what I've observed is nothing more than growing pains.

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