Those of you who have been following my Linux Critic blog know that I’ve been on an app-hunt to replace some of the applications to which I’ve grown used to in KDE, mostly so that I can break my ties with that desktop and move forward completely without it. So far I’ve had some measure of success in this task, so I thought I’d do a writeup in case anyone else out there is moving on from KDE and needs some ideas about how to do that.
Finding replacement apps: It’s like switching from Windows to Linux all over again
It feels like I just did this, even though I’ve been running Linux as my primary OS since around 2002. When I decided to stop using KDE recently, I was surprised to find how many KDE applications on which I had become dependent, and how little idea I had what to use as alternatives. Some of them are little and therefore easily replaced, but others that are more full-featured have been quite a challenge. Here’s a sampling of the ones I’ve been working on lately.
Konqueror File Manager
This one is quite possibly the hardest one I’ve had to replace. Anyone out there who has grown accustomed to the power and flexibility of Konqueror File Manager can attest that it’s very difficult to settle on something else once you’ve used it for any length of time.
Fortunately for me, there are many file managers out there for Linux, so I had options a-plenty, but none quite so robust as Konqueror, so I simply found that I had to compromise a number of things in the process. In the end, no single file manager fit my needs, so I replaced Konqueror with two: Thunar and XFE. I chose these two ultimately because they both have a tree-view in the left-pane and a folder/file view in the right-pane, and they both let you type your path into an address/location bar instead of clicking through a bunch of breadcrumbs (I hate file managers that only give you breadcrumbs).
Thunar is pretty, and simple, and has some nice features like thumbnail previews of image files, and it’s very lightweight when compared to Konqueror (but face it, just about ANY file manager is lightweight when compared to Konqueror). For most file management tasks, Thunar does pretty well, with the only thing I really miss out of it being the lack of tabs. One complaint I have about Thunar is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to turn off the stupid delete confirmation dialogue.
Really? Seriously? I know that shouldn’t drive me nuts, but come on. It makes me feel like I’m using Windows 98 again. In fact, in my testing, I also gave PCManFM a try, and that one even has tabs… but it too had no way to disable the delete confirmation dialogue.
I have what I consider to be very simple tests to determine whether a file manager doesn’t suck, and this is one of them. It’s not a complicated thing.
So, when I get tired of that particular FAIL in Thunar, I switch to XFE. XFE is lightning fast, very Konqueror-like in its flexibility and power, but it has a couple of annoyances as well. XFE also doesn’t have tabs, but I discovered that pretty much everywhere, and I can live with that if I have to, but some basic behavior in XFE bugs me.
Example: You just copied a bunch of files into the clipboard and you navigate to the folder into which you wish to paste them. If that folder is full, anywhere you right-click to paste just shows the context-menu for the file in that spot. Basically put, if there’s no white space for you to right-click on, there’s no way to paste into that folder, aside from going up a level and right-clicking ON that folder and selecting paste.
Like the delete confirmation stupid I mentioned above, this is a little thing that should not bother me that much, but it does. I found myself getting burned by this simple behavior time and time again, and it eventually frustrates me and slows me down so much (I’m used to flying through file management tasks with Konqueror) that I close XFE and go back to Thunar.
I actually really like XFE in nearly every other way… the fact that it has an integrated editor (“xfw”) and the myriad configuration options in the “Preferences” give me lots of ways to make it do what I want it to do.
However, I have discovered, unsurprisingly, that replacing Konqueror is a tough task. In the end, what I have is a pair of applications (Thunar and XFE) that I alternate between based on whichever one happens to be annoying me the most at any given time. This may change down the road, of course. Maybe Thunar will end up with tabs and a way to shut off the “HAY STUPID, ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DELEET THAT?” dialogue, and maybe the XFE devs will make some of its rather counter-intuitive behavior here and there (like I described above with copying and pasting) go away. Or, maybe some friendly reader here will pipe in and say “hey! Why don’t you try $XYZ? It’s just like Konqueror, but BETTER!” and suggest something that I never ran across that is a critic’s dream of a file manager. Who knows?
I’ve written on switching to Thunderbird before, but I felt it relevant to mention it here, given the rest of the discusssion.
Kontact is a full-featured “personal information manager”, not just a mail client. The only other all-in-one such app that does everything that Kontact does out-of-the-box that I found in the open source universe was Evolution, and my recent experiences with Evolution have been less than happy, so I looked elsewhere. What I discovered was that Thunderbird had improved quite a bit over the past few years since I last tried it, and since there are more add-ons for it than you can shake a proverbial stick at, I thought that I might be able to get it to do at least a few of the things I wanted, namely Google calendaring and tasks on top of just POP mail.
I was right. With the Lightning add-on, I had a really nice integrated calendar, and I found out that it can talk to Google for calendaring (which is one up on Kontact… I had to do some pretty goofy stuff to get Kontact to do that even in a half-assed fashion, as opposed to Thunderbird with Lightning, a “full-assed” solution).
So for me anyway, Thunderbird with one simple add-on was enough for me to replace Kontact. It’s a solid mail client, and installing one add-on didn’t impact its performance by any measurable amount, and it added some great calendaring functionality, so I’m pretty happy with the results of this alternative.
Amarok, like Konqueror, was another hard one to replace. While there are tons of open source music player applications out there, most of them are pretty feature-light. In fact, most of the ones I tested that liked to pretend to be “full featured” turned out to be less usable than even the lightweight XMMS. While there’s nothing wrong with XMMS, when you compare it to Amarok, it’s like comparing a compact economy car to a Cadillac. Yes, both will get you to where you’re going and they both do their stated job well, but when you’re used to the Cadillac, going to the compact economy car will leave you feeling short-changed.
So I tried a fair number of music players out there, including (but not limited to) Songbird, Banshee, Rhythmbox, and Audacious, and found that none of them were an adequate replacement for Amarok. I’d almost given up, but I had one more to try, and I’m glad I did try it. That one was Exaile.
Exaile is practically a GTK+ implementation of Amarok, it’s so close in form and function. It organizes your music library with a simple tree on the left, has an integrated album cover manager, sane buttons for controls, a big queue list that can be loaded simply by right-clicking on an artist, album, or song and selecting “append to current”, and the ability to create playlists very quickly and easily.
I haven’t found a replacement for K3b yet. Brasero is the one people always suggest, but I just find it a lot less intuitive than K3b. I can live with it, I suppose, but I’m still in the process of searching when it comes to DVD/CD burning.
Like K3b, I haven’t found a replacement for Quanta yet. Bluefish is the one everyone suggests as an alternative to Quanta, but there really is no comparison. Granted, I don’t do a huge amount of web authoring, but I have grown very attached to Quanta for writing my Linux Critic articles, since I prefer to just write in straight-up HTML rather than use the WYSIWYG editor in WordPress, and Bluefish doesn’t even come close to making that process as fast and as slick as Quanta does. So I’m still looking in this particular department as well.
A resource I need to use more
One thing I should mention, for anyone else out there that is also going through something similar, is a great place on the web to find alternates to various applications. Osalt.com has a huge list of applications to suggest if one is looking for another option for anything.
For example, just digging around a bit to look for Quanta alternatives yields this page which lists a fair number of applications I still have yet to try, so obviously I need to spend more time on that site in my endeavoring to replace KDE applications.
I’ll write up an update if or when I make any more progress in this task!