Editor’s Note: Replacing KDE4

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.

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