I’ve been a Linux desktop user since 2000 and in 2003 I switched to it completely, having wiped Windows XP away from my hard drive. So through this decade I’ve been solving my average users’ problems in Linux, setting up sound, network, multimedia, localization and all other vital stuff. And through all these years there was a battle between KDE and GNOME lovers. Surely there have been always a number of folks with IceWM, Fluxbox and other niche and simple desktops, but most of us used either GNOME or KDE. The battle still goes on, but many things have changed since the early 2000-s.
I can’t say that I love KDE and hate GNOME, but if you reverse it than it’s not true either way. I try to be fair and impersonal and if one DE is really good, I just use it. Nearly in 2004 KDE 3 rocked and I used it everyday and was quite happy with it. GNOME was too simple and lacked many useful features, starting from inability to setup user interface like you want it and going forth to the lack of PPP graphical tool. However I was curious about GNOME developing and tried every new release, particularly by installing unstable Fedora versions with the most fresh GNOME. Then, uhh… you know what happened in January 2008. KDE 4 was released! It looked great but was almost unusable. To be frank, KDE team warned about that and asked everybody to wait for a more mature KDE 4 release. OK, there it was – 4.1 in summer 2008. It was a hole lot better, but still sucked. KDE 4.2 was even more better and feature-rich but still sucked. KDE 4.3 rocked out and has really awesome desktop, but it still sucked since you started using them for productive work. KDE 4.4 was almost perfectly polished, it made everybody’s jaw fall down, but it still sucked. The same thing with 4.5. So by the last 2 years I became a well experienced and happy GNOME user. Since KDE looks really awesome and offers cutting-edge desktop features, I constantly have been giving it one try after another. This was quite simple in OpenSUSE, where you have 1-click installation functionality. I pursued myself that KDE is kicking and I can use it then. But every time it was an epic fail. So I’m still with GNOME. So what is so sucking about KDE? Let me explain.
I like to do some productive work on my PC. I download and edit digital photos, retouch them, organize them. Sometimes I draw in vector drawing program. I do some layouts for printing. I type text, prepare different text-based projects. Surely I use Internet heavily, including web browsing, direct connecting inside my area, downloading torrents, communicating with friends. I listen to music and watch videos.
When I try to use KDE 4 for these purposes, I’m in trouble. I have Radeon HD 4730 video card and it has troubles with KDE’s desktop effects. They work but are very slow. So I have to turn them off. When you have no effects you also don’t have windows’ shadows. KDE uses light theme and sometimes I can’t distinguish one window from another because window frame is very thin. If I use dark theme, then some apps look ugly, especially GTK2 apps. So the desktop looks non-uniform. And it sucks, since I want it to be ideal. I’m a perfectionist. In GNOME compiz works perfectly with my Radeon.
As you can see, I have to use GTK2 applications in KDE. Here they look more or less ‘native’ (like with oxygen-molecule theme), but they are also slower. Why? First, Oxygen-molecule theme is quite heavy. Second, the system is slower in general, because KDE 4 have troubles with screen redrawing (even without any effects). Third, KDE 4 indexes all your hard drive in background and it slows things down. More than that, GTK2 apps still look like aliens and you can always tell, that they are not KDE apps.
I tried to solve this problem by switching to Qt4 apps whenever possible. I switched to Opera and Rekonq for web browsing, EiskaltDC++ for direct connect network, Kopete for IM. But what about text processing? There is only one office suite based on Qt4 – Koffice 2. It’s still on early stage of development and is not really usable. Kword doesn’t open MS Word documents decently (OO Writer does) and doesn’t have full spell check support (OO Writer does). The GIMP doesn’t like any replacement either. It’s QT4-competitor – Krita – is sluggish, unstable and lacks many features for retouching. The same for Inkscape. And there are lots of such examples…
Just look: most of productive tools for Linux are based on GTK2 toolkit and look native in GNOME. More than that, they launch faster and are more responsive in GNOME. I use OpenOffice.org heavily and I notice it every day. I also notice that more and more people run away from KDE 4, because it looks great but is hardly usable for given tasks. Just another example. I installed Skype and want to call to another person. First of all, I do Skype test call in order to make sure that my mike is working. It doesn’t. I go to Skype settings, but they redirect me to local PulseAudio setup. OK, I go to System Settings > Multimedia and search for my mike. I raise it to the top of the list, thus giving it the highest priority. It has to work now, but it doesn’t. You know why? Because even before I installed KDE, I set my sound settings in GNOME’s pulseaudio mixer and since them KDE ignores any changes in its systemsettings. I had to go to GNOME, choose my mike as an input device and relogin back to KDE . What happened if I had no experience with computer and just wanted to call via Skype in KDE? I would say some bad words…
So here we come to conclusion. Apart from KDE 4 kicking design and awesome Plasma desktop, it is made by hackers and for hackers. KDE looks better than OS X, but it is intended for people with technical background. KDE is feature-rich, but it doesn’t have an environment of productive third-party apps that will fit into desktop. KDE is very sensitive to PC hardware, especially Intel and AMD video chips.
By the way, it looks quite odd when you show KDE 4 to Windows user. The first impression is very positive, but when he starts working with your desktop, some questions appear. Such as: «you have very good gaming video chip, then why there are such terrible lags when I minimize a window?» The answer is: because this is KDE 4.
P.S. All applications based on recent Qt4 version borrow GTK2 style when launched in GNOME. There are no slowdowns at all.