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Editor's Note: Replacing KDE4

Jan 28, 2011, 23:04 (78 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

Yes, I am one of those grumpy KDE 3.x fans who can't deal with KDE4. So I've been trying out different desktop environments and window managers to replace my beloved KDE, and it has been fun and enlightening. In the past few weeks I've tested XFCE, LXDE, Fluxbox, FVWM, Ratpoison, IceWM, Afterstep, and others I have forgotten about already.

XFCE, LXDE, Fluxbox, and IceWM are my top four, and I seem to have settled on XFCE on my main Debian Sid box. It's similar to a stripped-down KDE 3.x with the feature set that I like the most. It's peppy on an AMD Sempron 3000 with a gigabyte of RAM, and really, any operating system that isn't peppy on this system is just plain obese. The most excellent cool thing about Linux is it's easy to try all these out, and underneath it's the same Linux and everything works. All Linux applications should work in any graphical environment, even though some folks act like using non-Gnome applications in Gnome, or non-KDE applications in KDE introduces unacceptable impurities. Whatever, to me it's all Linux and I mix-and-match.

Those happy mix-and-match days may be coming to an end, because installing any KDE4 applications also installs kdebase and a batch of libraries. No big deal, that's how it's always been, for KDE4 it's something like 100MB of extra stuff. (Remember when 100MB was a whole entire hard drive?) But performance suffers, especially with applications that depend on Nepomuk and Akonadi. My main three KDE applications are KMail, Konsole, and Digikam. Without any KDE4 my system performs well. When I click something there is an immediate response. Startup and shutdown are fast, apps open and close quickly. I use SSH tunnels a lot, and remote performance is close to local performance. Sadly, not so when KDE climbs aboard, especially KMail.

Poor old KMail. I've been using it for so long I barely remember wonderful email clients like Pegasus and Eudora. Which were not Linux apps, but they were excellent and if my recollections are accurate I don't believe any modern mail clients have improved on them. The latest KMail incarnation has been "improved" beyond redemption for me: it's dog-slow over SSH, and not much better in person. It has a tabbed message interface now, which is nice I guess except there is no way to turn off tabs, which wastes screen real estate. KMail depends on Nepomuk and Akonadi, and despite the many claims from KDE4 fans and devs that Nepomuk and Akonadi don't affect performance, they darned well do.

So I've been testing other mail clients, and narrowed it down to three: Icedove, Claws, and Balsa. Icedove uses mbox, which is a deal-breaker for me. I prefer maildir or mh. Balsa supports mbox, maildr, and mh, which is most wonderful, and it reads my KMail maildirs without any fuss, and no need for import or conversion tools. I'll need a separate conversion tool for Claws, if that is the one I ultimately choose. Both Claws and Balsa are easy on system resources, and fast.

Konsole and Digikam behave reasonably well and don't need Nepomuk and Akonadi. Yet. Who knows what the future will bring. There are plenty of good Konsole replacements. Digikam is my one indispensible piece of software; if it falls into the KDE4 Crisco trap I will be very sad. I worry about KDE4 applications becoming so intertwined into KDE4 that running them in other graphical environments will become difficult, or even impossible. And that essential functions will require big horsepower and hardware video acceleration. OK so maybe that's just silly paranoia-- but I think there are reasons to be concerned.

I imagine some readers are thinking "You should report bugs and help improve KDE4." Which is a valid viewpoint because community support is what makes FOSS work. But I'm not going to. There are several other FOSS projects that I support as best as I can, that are valuable and useful to me. We all have to choose where to invest our limited resources, and mine go to projects that make sense to me.

It's been an interesting and useful exercise in choice and alternatives, at any rate. You see, we KDE3 lovers are not averse to change-- we're averse to changes that don't work for us.

Check out Linux Planet in the upcoming month for some XFCE, Balsa, and Claws tips and tweaks.