my KDE and Gnome rant unearthed…

June 5, 2007 at 4:28 pm (open source)

Today I heard Adam Sweet on LugRadio episode 20 season 4, ask Aaron Seigo whether KDE 4 would be lighter, specifically less option saturated. Upon hearing this I found it ignited the ongoing annoyance I have been known to hold towards people criticizing KDE for being intensely configurable. I’ll quickly make clear now that I don’t use KDE, I find it ugly and – in my more recent experience on Ubuntu, quite unstable. So I use Gnome, because I think it’s the best out of those two.

Something that upsets me about Gnome though, is that it regularly forces me to use the commandline, this is a problem because the whole point for a graphical desktop is surely to stop you from having to use the commandline. An example of this was where I attempted to get some of he Myst games to work under wine, and reading the error messages that were spamming my terminal – it appeared that at least one problem was switching the display to a different bit depth. As much as I doubted that it make everything work, I thought it’d be useful to at least see whether anything changed if I manually did this – so wine didn’t have to. Bearing in mind that this was in the days before I had a constant internet connection – I lost an entire night going through xorg related man pages, and got nowhere. To this day I don’t know how to do it, but I’m sure it must be fairly simple. Anyway – that was an example where I, a reasonably technical user of Linux (not competent) wasted many many hours trying to do something that is straightforward to do on Windows and I would be surprised if you couldn’t do it on KDE. Previously I had described Gnome’s insistence that users cannot handle lots of options as the result of inbred ideals, where instead of making functionality usable, they instead choose the strip out the functionality entirely.

As far as the extreme saturation of options resident in KDE goes, I totally agree with Aaron Seigo here when he said that cutting back on KDE 4’s options would be fine except that the 20% of options that one person would use, will not always be the same as the 20% that another person uses. A good example of something I see as a seemingly useless, yet overwhelming useful option, and also the reason why I continually fight KDE’s corner against those who criticize the abundance of configurability within it, is the taskbar hide button width setting. Basically, kicker, the KDE taskbar, allows you to add a button to it which retracts it from the screen – so that only the button still shows. When you want the taskbar back, you just click again and it will return. Back on my old laptop (which appears to be effectively dead now unfortunately), I only had an 800×600 pixel screen resolution, and the ability to hide the taskbar was great – however I only ever used this option in KDE. This was because in KDE I could set it to be only 3 pixels wide, which was great when you’re fighting for every single pixel on the screen – whereas in Gnome, it’d be a large button that’d take away too much space to merit using it. That’s my example, and I’m sure other people could think of better ones, although I really must stress – on a 800×600 pixel resolution screen this was a great help. Heh, I just remembered that the reason I stopped using KDE on that computer was because some of the configuration boxes wouldn’t fit on the screen.

Anyway, I personally don’t think that it is possible to satisfy everyone in the way that Gnome tries to, hoping that people will all come to work in the same ways. I do however see great value in Gnome, I think that it is a very easy to use desktop – unfortunately the user is restricted a lot, that’s it’s downside. But for most people, it doesn’t matter – and that currently describes myself. Even I am willing to put up with what I openly consider restrictions, in preference to a desktop that feels nice and is straightforward to use.

I’m hoping that KDE 4 will have the changes that I need to move back to it. But, perhaps more importantly – I don’t see any reason why Gnome couldn’t be option intensive while maintaining its ease of use, and why KDE couldn’t become more streamlined and ‘hide’ its advanced settings somewhere less in your face. All it takes is having basic configurability seperated from the advanced options that are generally conceived to be less used.

Anyway, that’s a big ongoing rant that I’ve had for a long time, I hope I’ve done it justice.

Chris Hayes / cbhworld



  1. khiz said,

    A blog… well, you clearly want comments or you wouldn’t have a blog, would you? And you don’t want a conversation or you’d be using email, so I’ll be as complete as possible while remaining concise. You’ll be glad to know, I won’t lower my normal level of literacy to be inline with the average blog post.

    Yay, it’s this rant again. Firstly, if you happen to have a tiny screen resolution so very small that even the arrow-less GNOME panel hide buttons are too big for you and if autohide also doesn’t fit your purposes, it would still be trivial to get gnome-panel’s source and make the buttons smaller (incidentally, I measure the arrow-less GNOME ones to be 12 pixels wide at their largest).

    I recently found need to use KDE briefly and – despite everyone telling me how feature-filled it is – I really found very little in the way of xorg.conf editing tools. Perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough. To set bit depth, xorg.conf has a line in Section “Screen” that is DefaultDepth. Believe it or not, that can be changed from the 24 it’s on for me to another number that may be more what you’re after. You also define a Subsection “Display” for the depth and modes you want. Something like this:
    Subsection “Display”
    Depth 8
    Modes “1280×1024” “1024×768” “800×600” “640×480”
    For something more short-term, you can start a new X-server with the -depth option. Incidentally, I didn’t use the internet to find that out, I used the man pages and my own xorg.conf. But I guess I’m more up on this kind of thing having poured through xorg.confs from half a dozen different distros trying to recover various X-servers from a plethora of different errors.

    So, in defense of CLIs… I really like the terminal and I think it’s completely backwards to think a DE should take absolutely every task away from it. That’s not really the Unix way, but I don’t think many people pay any heed to all the fantastic CLI design that Unix has when they’re making GUIs. They just try and cover up the console with Windows-inspired interfaces. I’ve never seen a good balance of CLI and GUI, and until I do I’ll keep running a DE with (let’s see…) three terminal emulator windows open. It usually gets to half a dozen after a few hours. The point is, Unix’s terminal design was really good. Piping and filters are really good, but there’s no such thing in current GUIs as far as I’ve seen. GNOME and KDE shouldn’t be covering up the CLI like it’s some kind of embarrassment because it’s one of the things that makes Linux so much better than Windows… surely you of all people understand that?

    Right, the options problem. As I mentioned before, I really don’t think KDE has as many options as it’s famed for. Yeah, their window manager has a great number of settings despite not being able to match the setup I’ve made for myself in GNOME (focus on mouse over, raise only on clicking the title-bar or the mouse’s back button). Admittedly, it took a few more apps than just GNOME’s and metacity to achieve, but it’s how I like it. I do think GNOME is somewhat lacking in options, but only somewhat. Metacity is perhaps a little minimal, and could really do with a lot more settings, but GNOME is otherwise fairly good at it – especially the latest versions. I believe 2.18 even has an interface to set the bit-depth (albeit probably only from those defined in xorg.conf). While I’m here, I’d just like to point out how stupid and annoying it is when people quote the idea that the GNOME devs want to reduce the DE to a single button that says “Do What I Want”. That’s plainly moronic, so much so I’m not even going to bother explaining why.

    So, to summarise: the point of a DE is -not- to remove all need for the CLI, it is to complement the CLI. The idea of getting rid of the need for the terminal is one that’s come from Windows (which has such a horrific CLI that it’s easy to see why they don’t make much use of it), it’s not relevant in Linux, don’t get caught up in the stupid Windows/Mac copy-catting. Right… enough said. Nice to read the rant in full, sorry to try and debunk most of it.

  2. cbhworld said,

    Ah, finally got around to responding, Khiz.
    I see some merit in what you’re saying Khiz, however I think some of your reply seemed to be about defending the CLI – which isn’t something that concerns me because I understand the value of it. My main point about the command line was that people shouldn’t feel forced to use it, graphical tools should be available that sufficiently allow for the users to carry out the general configuration of their desktop / hardware easily.
    As far as my examples go. I admit that the xorg struggle on Gnome probably wasn’t a Gnome issue – thinking back, I can’t remember KDE having much in the way of X manipulation tools either now. However, the Gnome panel versus the KDE panel I stand by as a valid point, and you really can’t honestly suggest to most users that they should go through hundreds of lines of source code – without a clue what they are doing or even where – and hack it to work the way they want it to. That’s okay for your very advanced user/developer – but I think it’s unfair to force that on anyone, even the developer. The point again here is that nothings wrong with hacking on the code – but it shouldn’t be a necessity.
    And as you’ve said at the end (and we’ve had this rant quite a few times now), indeed – the purpose of the desktop environment is not to replace, completely and absolute, the command line – however people should never feel like they have to use it for general usage of their computer. Where you draw the line of ‘general’ is debatable.
    Anyway, you call this Windows/Mac copy catting, to my knowledge there’s a good terminal in Mac OS X – bash. Even if I used Mac OS X, I’d use the terminal – it’s got the power that only the command line has – but the point is that other people consider it usable without it. And interestingly, Windows seem to be attempting to revive the command line a little bit with the powershell (or whatever it’s called) stuff.

    Chris Hayes / cbhworld

  3. Becccccca said,

    La lalalal alaaaaa laaaaa, Linux.

    see, i can be an intelectual tooooo.

    You guys are Nerdz, >_>

  4. cbhworld said,

    Thanks for that insightful contribution, Becca ^_^

    Chris Hayes / cbhworld

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