After playing with Gnome 3 under Fedora 16 and openSUSE 12.1, which made me a happy GNU/Linux user. I tried to see the issues people have with Gnome 3, most issues are not about 'status-quo' these issues are genuine so I looked at the alternative and tried to see how suitable is the second most popular Desktop Environment, KDE, for a Gnome user. I am writing this review as an average user. Advanced users know what they need - they are like mountaineers, they don't much care about such things. So, let's see how good is Fedora 16 KDE for an average Gnome user.
Gnome 3 Is In The Same Boat As KDE
The beauty of Linux is 'diversity'. You can have what you want as you are not stuck in the one-size-fits all model. There are couple of DEs (desktop environments) you can try if you are not happy with the one that comes with your OS. Fortunately, most leading distros, including Ubuntu, Fedora and openSUSE come with almost all the top DEs to choose from. Gnome and KDE are the most popular ones.
KDE made the same radical UI switch with KDE 4.x branch that Gnome is doing with 3.x branch. Honestly speaking Gnome did need this change as it was getting too stale and was not ready for the next-generation devices which are touch enabled. Gnome 3 is facing the same kind of opposition that KDE 4.x was facing. Unfortunately, it was noticed that a lot of users moved away from KDE post 4.x, so Gnome is running the same risk.
Linus Torvalds has never been a big Gnome fan, and his recent statement that Gnome 3 is a 'holy mess' further exposed the issues 'in-the-making' Gnome 3 is facing. The insult was added to the injury when another Linux leader Greg KH, who happens to work with Novell, the largest contributor to Gnome, said that he was also not happy with Gnome 3 and may use KDE 4.
So, let's see what KDE has to offer to those unsatisfied Gnome 3 users or to those 'long-time' KDE lovers.
Gnome User Trying KDE
I must admit that I am mainly an Ubuntu user. But I do dabble with other distros from time to time. I use what works for me and what I can help others with -- Ubuntu cuts it out for me. Ever since Ubuntu came out with Unity and I faced dramatic decrease in productivity and increase in frustration due to Global Menu I tried to play with KDE. I have had mixed experience with KDE and I will try to highlight the pros of KDE which may help a Gnome user to stay with Linux and not switch back to Windows just because of Gnome 3 Shell or Unity. I will also point out the problems that I face with KDE and which is keeping me away from KDE.
I installed the live KDE version of Fedora 16 on my Dell XPS and will be also testing it on my main PC which has proprietary Nvidia GTX 470 card. The first thing that I did after installation was to enable RPM Fusion and Livna repositories so that I can install applications, software packages which were not included in the main repositories of Fedora due to licensing and patent issues.
Fedora and openSUSE don't include technologies that make fonts look better due to, again, bogus software patents. In order to make fonts look good you will need to install freetype freeword packages. I will recommend installing freetype freeworld if you are facing issues with font rendering. Open the terminal and as root run this command:
yum install freetype-freeworld
It will install the needed fonts. Now go to System Settings > Application Appearance and tweak the Fonts settings:
Restart and you will have 'pixel-perfect' fonts.
Packages, packages and packages
Fedora 16 KDE comes with Apper (earlier known as PackageKit) to install and remove packages. Under Ubuntu there is Software Center for Gnome and Moun Suite for KDE which is quite polished and gives a pleasant user experience. There is nothing as such under KDE with Fedora so I downloaded my favorite Ailurus. Ailurus is like Ubuntu Software Center on steroids. It allows you to do more than just installing applications. It also shows you the command to install that application using the terminal; you can manage your repositories from here and do many other administrative tasks such as cleaning up cached RPMs.
Ailurus also allows you to take a snapshot of the applications/packages installed and then if you are somone who plays a lot with your system and want to revert to what was installed on your PC yesterday you can easily do that using Ailurus. It also shows you the changes made since that snapshot was created. You can play with Ailurus and I trust you will find it an extremely useful tool.
Fedora 16 KDE comes with an office suite (under Fedora Gnome it doesn't come with LibreOffice, and you have to install it manually) which includes Kword for word processing. Kword is an office suite like LibreOffice with a different approach. You may like it over LibreOffice, if you still want LibreOffice you can use Ailurus and install it.
KDE has almost all the alternatives of Gnome apps. For mail client they have Kmail instead of Evolution or Thunderbird. I prefer Thunderbird over Kmail as Thunderbird allows me to create profile and when I upgrade or want to use the same data on different machines I can simply import that profile and all the 'settings' will be imported including various accounts. Under Kmail, I have to do everything from scratch and giving I am using couple of email accounts Kmail is not practical for me. Also since I keep the mail folder out of home (as it is around 20GB), Thunderbird makes the job easier as compared to Kmail. But, if you want you can install Thunderbird on KDE, which I have done.
So, I installed GIMP, VLC, Amarok, Liferea, Firefox on Fedora 16 and I was good to go - no more struggle with 'global menus' or fading in fading out windows. Everything is right there either on the top panel or the bottom panel. Yes, I did have to install libxine plugins for Amarok to play patent encumbent MP3 tracks.
On my main PC which has built in audio as well as VIA sound-card it was a different story. KDE failed to play any music under Amarok, which ironically is the default music player of KDE and then I had to configure the prefered sounda card under Amarok. Something an average users won't know and should not be doing. This is a deal breaking if we are looking for attracting Windows users to make switch to GNU/Linux.
Once I am able to listen to music, I thought I was a happy Linux user, thanks to KDE.
What Should A Gnome User Expect From KDE
KDE can be an excellent alternatives for those who don't want Gnome 3 or Unity (personally I prefer Gnome 3 over Unity as it is more matured and has more customizations). I will also tell you that what I ended up using after playing with Gnome 3 Shell, Unity and KDE. KDE is more like Windows. There is no top panel, but the good news is you can customize KDE to look and feel like Gnome 2, with greater ease. You can drag and drop packages on the panels and onto the desktop. It's simple, futuristic, elegant yet familiar interface.
Here in the screenshots you can see that I have added a top panel, switched to classic menu and now have something similar to Gnome 2. You can drag and drop the most useful apps that you need.
Another difference in KDE 4 is that when you open the file manager it doesn't show you previews (of media such as image or movies) by default, in order to see preview you have to hit on the preview button every single time. If you know a way to enable preview by default please suggest.
Life Is Not A Bed of Roses, Neither Is KDE: Show stoppers
Printers. Unlike Gnome which easily detects the printers KDE did not detect my Photosmart Pre c410 printer. It was a cumbersome process to make openSUSE KDE detec the printer (I will write about it in a quick article). Unfortunately, it still doesn't detect it as scanner. So, I am not able to use scanner with openSUSE.
In a nutshell it's highly complicated for an average Gnome/Windows/Mac user to do simple tasks like setting up printer in Fedora 16 KDE. I did face issues with printer set-up in both Fedora 16 and openSUSE 12.1. Under Ubuntu Gnome, setting up printer is easier than putting butter on bread. So, from that point of view KDE, despite its familiar interface may pose may challenges for an average user who wants click-next solution. And that is fine, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to use a PC.
I think setting up printers is the most 'non-important' jobs and should be extremely easy. So, I will think twice before recommending KDE to anyone, even if everything else in KDE is amazing.
KDE can't detect my Samsung Galaxy Tab as an MTP device. It detects it as a USB UTP camera device and can't drag and drop files or create folders inside the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which means I can't put any data on my tablet using KDE, something I can easily do using Gnome 3. Literally, I can't use my Galaxy tab with KDE.
I hope KDE developers will try to find a solution to the problem as tablets are becoming increasingly popular. Without this ability, I can't use KDE.
Mayday, Mayday: We Are Crashing!
One of the most annoying thing under KDE is random crashes. After couple of years of development KDE 4.x is extremely unstable. I have yet to remember a session where I was not greeted by any crash message. Interestingly, while I was writing this review and wanted to install an app, Apper crashed.
Another annoying and non-smart issue with KDE is while installing something the authentication window (where you have to enter the password) is doesn't pop up. It opens under other windows which a casual user may miss. One would keep waiting for the pop-up window to pop while the installation program shows 'waiting for authentication'. I think it might make more sense if such windows pop-up over the other windows.
So, KDE developers, please fix it.
It depends heavily on who you are -- an average user or an advanced user. Fedora, as I stated before is a bleeding edge OS for advanced user. The ease of use which an average user may want is not there. On the other hand it is heaven for an advanced user who like to play with things. Same goes with KDE. Unlike Gnome's ease of user, KDE offers many more configurations options which makes it complicated to be used by an average user. So, the lethal combination of Fedora and KDE can be 'dream PC' for and advanced user but at the same time the same combination is a recopy for disappointment for an average user.
Personally, I think it may help the KDE team if they also offer features which average users need by default. The job of an OS/DE is to simplify computing and make it easier for user to use 'personal computers' for tasks without having to know everything about computers. KDE, while an excellent DE, falls short of that expectation.
If you are tired of Gnome 3/Unity (I won't even consider Unity as long as Global Menu is there), KDE can be a good alternative, but as I mentioned working with hardware can be a challenge and it simply won't detect any Android 3.x devices. It has a polished UI, which looks similar to Windows and can be customized to look like Gnome 2. But, there is a price to pay. KDE is very unstable. You will see crash reports every now and then -- get used to it.
Setting up hardware under KDE is very challenging, which makes it non-user friendly for an average use. KDE can also pose quite a challenge setting up the audio devices. Amarok, KDE's own music player may not play upon installation, you may have to change audio device settings, if you have sound cards on your PC other than the internal audio.
I do wish that KDE developers try to see what an average user wants and make things easier and make it work out of the box. If this is achieved, I think KDE and Gnome together can bring more Windows user to the GNU/Linux platform.
Will I recommend Fedora 16 KDE to my aunt? No. It's not made for her. Will I use Fedora 16 KDE? No. I don't want to waste my time in setting up hardware and struggle with printer when I can get it done with greater ease under Gnome/Ubuntu. Will I recommend Fedora KDE to you? It depends who you are. If you like to play with different technologies and you have time to make things work -- I will heavily recommend KDE. We need a lot of 'enthusiastic' KDE users who can help polish the great desktop environment which is KDE.
So, go ahead install Fedora 16 KDE on your PC and tell us how was your experience!