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.comment: A Winding Path to KDE3 - page 3

Desktop Delights

  • February 6, 2002
  • By Dennis E. Powell
Of KDE's many applications, the one I use most is KMail, and KMail in the KDE3 beta is usable but irritating as all hell. Where to begin?

The one configuration file that is likely to be sufficiently complicated that losing it could be a real headache is KMail's. Would you care to guess which configuration file does not wholly make the jump? Good guess.

If you use KMail's own addressbook, you're screwed, because it is gone. The new default is one of those goofy things that wants you to enter everything up to but not quite yet including the blood type of the person whose email address you're trying to save. I can see how this might be useful to those who want to pretend to remember all sorts of things about a business contact, and there are some fields that might be more generally useful, but there are some of us -- well, at least one of us -- who would just as soon have our email addressbook comprise email addresses, period. If this were not bad enough -- which it is -- there is no facility that I can find for importing an existing KMail addressbook to the new default addressbook, though there is supposedly a way to import Outlook addressbooks. Bah!

A comparatively minor irritation is that it used to be that KMail would, when you sought to write a message, give you a blank line on which to do it. No more. It now starts you out on the line containing the double-dash signature delimiter.

Really weird is the behavior of the embedded textfile viewer in Konqueror. There is an intervening dialog that inquires as to the document's encoding. I imagine that there is someplace where this can be turned off -- I haven't searched for it yet, though, but will when it reaches a certain threshold of irritation. Weirder still is the way that it displays simple textfiles -- it seems, for instance, to ignore carriage returns, at least some of the time.

There is actually a more general charset problem -- I guess it's a problem -- with KDE3. It is nice, I suppose, to see Chinese spam now rendered in the proper characters in KMail, as it now is. It is not nice, when I dump out of KDE3 to a console, to find that the charset has gotten changed to something corrupt that resembles a combination of high ascii and ansi figures; the "reset" command fixes it, but I doubt that this is the behavior anyone had in mind.

Klipper, the KDE clipboard manager, is now broken in multifarious ways, or seems to be. Perhaps the addition of yet another level of complication is what somebody hoped for. Here's how it used to work: When you highlighted something, it was copied to the clipboard. When you did Edit > Paste, or hit the center mouse button (or its both-button emulation in two-button mice), it pasted the last thing copied. If you wished to paste something else, you would click on the Klipper applet in Kicker, select the item you wanted from the list, and it would now become the active item for pasting. Here's how it works now: Highlight something, and a weird little menu with "Edit contents" and "Cancel" appears. You need to click just to make the thing go away. Now. The text you highlighted does appear in Klipper, but this by no means assures that pasting will give you what you just selected. It might give you something else from the list in Klipper. It might give you nothing at all. You can go to the Klipper applet in Kicker, choose that which you just added to the clipboard, and now paste it. If there is an improvement here, I certainly can't find it.

While KOffice has been formally uncoupled from KDE development such that no specific version of KOffice corresponds to a specific version of KDE, the two remain tied for all intents and purposes -- they're tied to the same Qt. I do not use all of KOffice, but I use KWord a great deal, so it was with some excitement that I opened the new version, which is said to be much improved. And it is true that, for instance, there are many new export filters -- still nothing for .doc files, but there is RTF, which in some cases will kludge through for those who must exchange documents with Word users. (The HTML filter, though, once good for writers who wished to strip much of the encoding from their work and merely use it as a good document transfer format, has become bloated beyond all recognition and next to useless.) Much work has been done to make KWord truly WYSIWYG, but because I have never printed from KWord, I have no idea how successful this is. What I did discover, though, is that the terrible spectre of autocorrection has been visited upon KWord. I encountered it while writing this very column: When I wrote /opt/kde, it turned into /opt/KDE; when I wrote /usr/lib/qt, KWord thought I meant /usr/lib/Qt, which I didn't. I spent awhile looking and found that the only way to be rid of this pestilence was to remove those items from the list of autocorrection candidates. At the same time I dropped a note to the KOffice mailing list, asking where to turn off autocorrection. Laurent Montel wrote back quickly with the news that there will be a checkbox to do just that, probably by the time you read this. (I've also encountered an annoying little phenomenon in which the character next to the cursor is slightly corrupted through the few pixels closest to the cursor being raised a couple pixels; if I go around the page clicking on characters, the corruption remains even after I've moved on. But it's entirely possible that this is a phenomenon unique to my setup here, possibly because I use a slightly nonstandard -- 1280x960 -- resolution.)

Again, this is a beta release, and anyone expecting everything to work properly is setting their expectations a notch too high. There are a couple of design decisions -- the KMail addressbook, Klipper -- that I think are atrocious and that I imagine others will find bothersome as well. But all in all, KDE3 in its beta2 incarnation, is far, far better than I expected it to be, even a few weeks ago.

Though there is one thing more: Word was, a few weeks back, that Mosfet had rejoined KDE development, which is delightful news. Also, and in that this saga all began with my relentless pursuit of eyecandy, I should note that his "liquid" style is something without which life loses all meaning -- it's that cool. But it's not part of KDE3, at least not yet; his web page says he's ported it over, but I couldn't find it there, either, and the existing source for it won't build against KDE3/Qt-3. I downloaded kdenonbeta (a package well worth the trouble for those who feel adventurous -- it contains projects in the works and projects that have been at least temporarily dropped; there's usually something useful or at least interesting there), but no "liquid." I do not know where it is, and no one will tell me.

I want it. Now.

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