Replacing KDE applications

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.

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KDE 4 Fanboys: seriously, knock it off.

When I say “I’m looking for a way to make KDE 3.5.10 work on Slackware 13″ or “I’m looking for applications to replace the ones I’ve gotten used to using in KDE, since I won’t be installing KDE going forward”, what does that mean to you?

I know what it means to me… it means I’m looking for some procedural help to accomplish a task, help from some other technically minded individuals who may offer some useful suggestions on how to make something work.

It means I’m looking for ideas for what kind of applications to try, since the open source universe is a big one, and while I try out and use and write about a lot of apps, there’s no way for me to be up on EVERYTHING.

To me, both of those things seem pretty clear and apparent. But based on what I keep seeing in response to things like that, I guess they somehow aren’t that clear.

So, to clarify, here’s what questions like that DO NOT mean.

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Upgrading from KDE 4.2.4 to KDE 3.5.10 in Slackware 13

So a few days ago, Slackware 13.0 was released. Unfortunately, Patrick Volkerding greatly deviated from the basic philosophy to which he’s faithfully adhered for years with nearly every release — one of stability, simplicity, and only including elements in the distro that are thoroughly tested and functional — and replaced the highly stable, robust, and fully tested KDE 3.5.10 with the much less stable, buggy, half-baked and in fact barely usable KDE 4.2.4.

I wrote the other day that I considered this a minimum of a year or so premature, and had decided sight unseen that this was a bad decision, based on my extensive attempts at using KDE 4 releases as recent as 4.3 (on OpenSUSE 11.1).

Turns out I was right. KDE 4.2.4 on Slackware 13 is a disaster. I did a full install of Slackware 13 last night on VirtualBox and found KDE 4.2.4 to be just as unusable on Slackware as I had found it to be in Kubuntu when I tried it out a couple of months ago. Not surprising, since I didn’t expect that Patrick would have been fixing the massive usability issues intrinsic to KDE 4 just by including it in a Slackware release; that just isn’t a realistic expectation. Still, I had to get a baseline, and that baseline was about what I had expected.

Then, I set about finding a way to upgrade KDE 4.2.4 to KDE 3.5.10 on Slackware 13. I was successful in this today, and here is my writeup of how I did it.
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The first time I’ve ever been disappointed by Slackware

DISCLAIMER: Be prepared. There is whining ahead. I want to preface this by saying that I’m not interested in having a discussion about why I don’t gush with love over KDE 4, and I’m not particularly interested in suggestions for forcing it to work for me. This post is more about me wrapping my head around planning for how my use of Linux is going to change now that I’m going to have to re-think a lot of things about what has been my favorite Linux distro for years.

Why I’m disappointed

I guess I probably shouldn’t be too surprised, because I knew that Pat Volkerding has been working with my least favorite desktop environment and it’s been in /current for a while now.

But I guess a part of me still was holding out a childish hope that KDE4 was going to be included in /testing only, and that the default version of KDE for the Slackware 13.0 release would be KDE 3.5.10, the last decent release of that desktop environment. Given Patrick’s tendency to play it safe in regular Slackware releases and stick with only stable, fully-developed and thoroughly tested applications and desktop environments, I would have thought that something like KDE 4 — a desktop environment that’s still easily a year’s worth of hard development away from being a suitable replacement for KDE 3 — would be back-burnered in Slackware in favor of what is known to work and work well.

I probably shouldn’t be upset about this; it’s Linux… if I don’t like it, I can just make my own distro, right? If I want to spend the hours and hours it’ll take for that, sure. Well, I’m not to the point of making my own distro yet. But this does mean I’m going to have to significantly change my Linux usage, starting with replacing a bunch of stuff.

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How to set up sound in Slackware

I was looking around for ideas for something to write up today, so I asked a friend of mine about his most recent Slackware setup experience. He told me, “my sound isn’t working at the moment, but I really haven’t delved into that at all”.

Which got me thinking. This is a common question among people who are using Slackware and aren’t that intimately familiar with it. I know, this has been written up about a billion times, but not here, and it’s a nice basic HOWTO that I think really belongs on Linux Critic.

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Briefly: How to change from command line only at boot to a graphical login manager in Slackware

When I first started using Linux, I used Red Hat and Mandrake, both of which booted into a graphical environment by default.

One of the first things I noticed about Slackware when I first installed it was the fact that it booted into a command line only interface by default. From there, I had to log in, and if I wanted a GUI, I had to type “startx” and then it’d start X-windows and go into whatever my default window manager was.

I remember being a little confused about this at first; it wasn’t a problem, but I knew there had to be a way to change that. I figured I’d write up a brief few paragraphs on that subject, since I ended up having to dig around the web some at first to figure that out.

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KDE4

For those of you who may be reading this that are expecting a review, you might as well stop reading right now. This is not a review, this is a rant.

I want to like KDE4.  I really do.

But every time I’ve tried it the experience just makes me furious. The entire time I’m struggling with it, I’m thinking “THIS? THIS is what they dumped KDE3.5 in favor of? THIS?”.

I can appreciate moving to Qt4. I can understand the excitement — as someone who has worked as a developer — of developers drooling over a new set of tools and the enthusiasm of “Wow, we can do some REALLY COOL STUFF with this!!!!”. I can understand the appeal of “let’s dump the entire codeset and start from scratch, rather than just migrate KDE3.5 over to Qt4″.

But from every time I’ve played around with KDE4 with the intention of forcing myself to use it for a while to “get used to it”, I abandon it after less than two days. Why? Because it’s garbage, at least at this point.

I know, the common response is “you just don’t like it because it’s different!”. It is different, but that’s not my problem with it. I don’t like it because I can’t DO anything with it. Seriously. The KDE developers have gone off their rockers. I can appreciate the eye candy, but if you are transitioning from KDE3.5 to KDE4.2, you’ll be losing 80% of what you’re used to being able to do with your desktop environment.

And I’m not a GNOME fanboi either. I dislike GNOME, even when it’s relatively well-implemented, like in Ubuntu. It seems like with every release, the GNOME people remove more functionality from their product. I don’t like that kind of philosophy. I want options, damn it! There’s almost nothing more frustrating to me than to click on “preferences” for something and find only two options in there, and NOTHING about the relatively simple thing I want to do.

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Ubuntu screenshot time

Just another quick blurb. I’ve uploaded a screenshot of my laptop as it appears now that I’ve tweaked my Ubuntu installation to the way I like it.

I’m more of a KDE 3.5 kind of guy, so I rearrange GNOME to have the main stuff (panels/toolbars whathaveyou) a bit more like I’m used to, but I still like the way this looks so far.

I’m still learning where things are in Ubuntu (well, GNOME, mostly, since that’s the main thing that’s different for me here), but one thing that has struck me is how impressive the speed is. Remember, before this, I was running Slackware 12.0 on this exact same laptop, and I was using Fluxbox as my window manager — not exactly a visually heavy system.

So for me to say that Ubuntu runs pretty snappy on this laptop is saying a lot, and I’m not much of a fan of the bloat in GNOME, so I think that’s significant.

To be fair, I think what this says is how well the Canonical people have their act together at optimizing GNOME for their project. Nice job, guys. Coming from a Slackware guy, I’m here saying that I’m not only impressed with the setup process, but I’m impressed with the performance so far too.