KDE at its very best!

Recently, there were some thoughts on where KDE is going, and  related to that what’s the driving force behind it in terms of the pillars of KDE. Albeit it is true our development model changed significantly, I’m not convinced that it’s all about git.

No, I rather believe that it is the excitement about the KDE that makes it stand out – KDE as a community if you wish, but also KDE as a software project.

Going back to the late nineties, I was developing small games for DOS (Turpo Pascal, anyone? Snake and Gorillas in QBasic? :-) ) and also for Windows. At around that time, Linux got also a bit more popular so that I finally had a SuSE 6.0 in my hands. I installed it and was able to run KDE 2, iirc (?). It certainly was interesting, but then I also wasn’t involved in any free software projects, so it also wasn’t that a big deal.

Still, I started to look into how to develop GUI applications for Linux. Since under Windows I used MFC (oh well, now it’s out, but you know, I quickly got back on the right track) I found Qt quite nice (for CPoint you had QPoint, for CDialog a QDialog, and so on). As I used KDE in Linux, I started to change small things like an Emoticon preview in Kopete (one of my first contributions?), or some wizards for KDevelop in 2003. These were projects that were fairly easy to compile and run. Still, what might seem so little was a huge success for the following reason:

More or less still being child, getting in touch with C++, KDE, and all the tools around it was completely new. CVS? Never heard about it before, and anyways, what was a version control system? How it worked with the mailing lists. With entering a bug. Compiling kdelibs: It took me more than 2 weeks to succeed (Which btw. to myself proves that even at that time it was really hard for a newbe to compile KDE, just like today). All in all, these were times where I learned a lot. I started to read the cvs-commit mailing list (around 400 mails a day, I read them almost all, more than 5 years long).

But that was not yet it. It continued like that for years. For instance, understanding how KIO slaves worked was just amazing. How all KDE components integrate into and interact with each other. There were a lot of parts where KDE was simply the best in terms of the software technology it provided and created.

To me, this was KDE at its best.

In my opinion, KDE followed this route for a long time, also with KDE4. I even say KDE still follows this way today.

But it’s much harder to get excited about it. Why? Think of yourself as seeing snow for the first time. It’s just awesome, you’re excited and can’t believe how awesome this is. Or maybe also New Years eve with nicely looking fireworks coming. It’s something you simply can’t wait for enough. Kind of like a small child… This is the excitement KDE raised in lots of us. Getting a new KDE release was totally something I wanted. I saw the improvements everywhere. What also helped a lot was the detailed commit digest Derek Kite worked on so hard each week, showing what was going on even with detailed discussions and screenshots (today the KDE commit digest is mostly an auto-generated list of commits, which I already have through the KDE commit filter).

Today, I know all the details. All the KDE technology. Of course, it got even better over time, and certainly still is an immensely powerful technology. But I’m not that much excited about it anymore.

I believe this in itself is not an issue. For exactly this reason, developers come and go, leaving room for other developers to implement their ideas. It helps the project to stay young and agile.

It is often said, the KDE has grown up. This is certainly a good thing for instance in terms of the KDE e.V. supporting the KDE project as much as possible, or the KDE Free Qt Foundation that helps us to make sure Qt will always be freely available to us, or a strong background in legal issues.

At the same time, it is a very bad thing in terms of getting people excited about KDE. We need developers with freaky ideas who just sit down and implement new features (btw., this is very much true for all free software projects). For instance, why has no one come up with a better KXmlGui concept? I’m sure it can be done better!

Where does that put us? Is there really no cool stuff in KDE?

Well, the reason for this post is to show that we did not loose what once was cool. In fact, we see it every day. For instance, yesterday I was using Dolphin and had to change a lot between subfolders in the same level (e.g. from some_folder/foo to some_folder/bar and so on). I accidentally used the mouse wheel over “foo”, and whohooo! You can switch to the next folder just by scrolling with the mouse wheel over the navigation bar. This is immensely useful, and in fact, this is why KDE shines also today, it’s just not so visible to users and maybe also to developers. You now may say that it’s just some little detail. But this is exactly it: Yesterday I was totally amazed by how cool this is, just like 10 years back from now… Therefore, I say, this still is

KDE at its very Best!

Getting people excited about KDE is what defines KDE’s future, not git.

Edit (imho): I would like to add something here. When reading these kind of blogs, you may get the impression that KDE is getting a less and less attractive platform, or that KDE is kind of dying. This is absolutely not the case. Quite contrary: With KDE’s foundation libraries, and applications being about to released on top of the KDE Frameworks 5 libraries, KDE can certainly make the statement that the project and its software will definitely be available and certainly just as strong in 10 years from now. I have absolutely no doubt that you can count on that. And that is a really cool thing only few free software projects can claim! Let’s talk about it again in 2024 :-)

PS: On a unrelated note, KDE currently runs the End of Year 2014 Fundraiser. Support is very much welcome!

13 thoughts on “KDE at its very best!

  1. Just wanted to say that I remember those days too. I used KDE back around 1999/2000 and you describe the feeling pretty well.

    One thing I will say… and I hope no one takes offense to this… But I think the community and developers from that time have something that the current does not. A certain amount of “political correctness” have, I think, had an adverse effect on things.

    I don’t see people speaking freely like they once did. Everyone’s too afraid to offend everyone else. The community of old was a wellspring of enthusiasm and ideas. But most of all, there was plenty of criticism. Criticism is a good thing. Nowadays it seems like everyone walks on eggshells. Take a look at kde’s VDG, their charter is not to criticize, but to be welcoming of all ideas. Sorry, but some ideas are stupid and it should be pointed out, otherwise you end up with a disjointed mess.

    This mindset has seemed to get much worse in recent years, and it has had a negative impact.

    Just my two cents.

    1. Just a clarifier, that is far from the VDG’s charter. In fact the VDG has been explicit in welcoming constructive criticism. What’s not welcome is destructive, unhelpful, scorched-earth criticism that does little more than destroy motivation and leaves us no better off than we were before. There are many effective ways to weed out bad ideas beyond simply calling them stupid.

    2. Same.

      I miss the times when writing a critic post in a public forum, leaded to a discussion, maybe even a harsh rebuke, but not to a deleted/edited post.
      Then came people thinking that kindness is more important than freedom of expression. And misunderstanding kindness with flattery.

      When I was first involved with KDE, I was happy and proud to be a member of such a community. That’s no more the case, and it’s very sad to me.

  2. That was a good read.

    I also think we’re in a pretty good place with KDE; this release has been cautious gradual and safe; we’ve made the experience a good one but at the cost of some excitement.

    Keep up the awesome work with Kate, the frameworks release is looking very sharp.

  3. I’m a Linux user for a long time ago, over a decade. I’ve started with Gnome, but after I tried KDE I couldn’t turn back. And every year I give a try to other desktop environments, but only for a few days, because I always miss this great piece of software you guys built.
    Just now, I was reading your post on Planet KDE RSS and I tried that Dolphin tip of scrolling the mouse wheel over the navigation bar. Wow, I know what you mean when you talk about excitement. How great are this little, but useful, things? KDE rules!
    P.S. I already give my contribution to the fundraising and I’m waiting for a postcard . :)

    1. I am glad you liked the feature. I submitted quite a few years ago, but I knew from the start that its discoverability was low. I haven’t been able to contribute much to KDE, but I am glad to hear what I did was appreciated.

  4. My first time with GNU/Linux and KDE 3 desktop was with redHat 7.3, at my university computer lab. At that time i was using djgpp (on a Win98SE OS) to learn how to code in c.
    The first time i logged in KDE 3 feels like i was teleported into the future. All the things was useful, beautiful and amazing, although a little strange, as the applications didn’t have .exe at the end of the name lol.
    But the thing that really makes me fall in love with free software (and never go back to use windows again as my daily OS) was kdevelop. djgpp was like a toy compared to it!

  5. Coincidence i stumble upon this article. I’ve been steadily on the Linux track for some years now although i first got in contact with it in 1997. I got curious about it after reading positive articles about it at the time and ordered a retail box with manual of OpenSuse 6.0. I was heftily overwhelmed, being a Windows95 enthusiast and expecting the same level of ironed-out-design-and-operation. Blown away by the structural in-depth i was sucked into (which was not optional at that time, as a matter of fact, it still isn’t) i abandoned it and left it aside for some years. However, i was impressed with the KDE design of the time and the all-in-one software delivery of a repository concept, i just wasn’t ready yet.
    Keeping things short, i picked up again around 2008, PuppyLinux and later LinuxMint, slowly pushing Windows to the second position. Used lots of distro’s and WM’s during those years (of which i liked and still like Mate very much). However, the lack of integrated design manifesting itself in annoying and itching ways sort of pushed me in trying KDE again. I guess things came together when i was looking for a functional, active and above-puppy-level-design (read: no popping up terminal scripts all the time) portable Linux distro. Slax got me liking KDE again, but it seems to have stalled. Found Porteus some days ago and like it very much, and guess what; KDE got the better of me again; highly integrated and well functioning, the latter being discovered when i ran into some opengl/compositing problems, being integrated and standardised there were no 100 possibilities of compositors etc i had to look for. Found the answer the next day, and got my wobbely windows wobbeling again! Great desktop-look, Win7 style (who copied who?).
    Not sure though if it took me 18 years to like KDE or KDE 18 years to charm me? Anyone..?

  6. A late reply from a once-excited KDE user: Why KDE is less exciting now than in the 2000s:

    Simply put: It still hasn’t fully recovered from the chaos of the KDE4 switch.


    (1) I was as excited about the integration brought by kio, kparts etc. as a user as you were as a programmer. Konqueror, once a flagship of this integration, is now virtually unmaintained. Its years-old, minor bugs are unlikely to ever be fixed, and common features of other web and file browsers are unlikely to ever be added. I’m one of the few people still using it, but I probably wouldn’t switch to it if I probably wouldn’t switch to it if I saw it first today. (Granted, it’s not developed because it’s unpopular. Then again, it’s unpopular because it’s not developed.) [1]

    (2) KDE4’s new technologies such as Plasma and Akonadi are bloated, add complication, and seem solutions looking for problems to me. (Unlike KDE2’s new technologies which are the best thing since sliced bread.) KMail is still intolerably unstable since the switch to Akonadi. [2][3]

    (3) Plasma suffers from a textbook case of the inner-platform effect [4] (the base platform being Qt). Plasma widgets look differently from normal Qt widgets, in contrast to the once-legendary integration of KDE. [5][6] The overhead and eye-candy makes it much slower on low-end machines. Probably as a result of increased complexity, Plasma is still full of glitches, at least if you use a non-default Qt style.
    At the same time, while the goal of Plasma was to make it easy to implement any kind of UI, it doesn’t manage to be generic enough for this (e. g. a plasmoid can’t grow outside of a panel, like an OS X dock). No really new GUI actually emerged; probably there wasn’t a user demand for one either.

    (4) There are still numberous small regressions in the applications compared to KDE3 (e. g. [7]) and some only fixed recently ([8]). None of these are big problems in themselves, but they add up to regular annoyances. Still more often than in KDE3, in my experience.

    (5) Similarly, KDE4 introduced a number of concepts unfamiliar to users coming from other platforms, such as plasmoids, activities, or Akonadi. I run into situations regularly where I only know what to do because I’m tech-savvy AND I followed the development of KDE. This is not a problem for me, but it costs us users, which costs us developers, which costs me bugs.
    (E. g. KMail is acting up. Big deal, no program is bug-free, let’s restart it. I know I have to restart Akonadi too, but a user who is not a KDE geek can’t do better than restart the computer like in the Win98 days.)

    I’d really like to be excited for KDE again. But I’m afraid that it lost a lot of users with the current direction, which might also have cost it the critical number of developers needed to maintain all this complexity.

    [1] The case for Konqueror https://forum.kde.org/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=123782&p=329367
    [2] IMAP server disconnect leads to failure in mail retrieval/corrupt akonadi cache https://bugs.kde.org/show_bug.cgi?id=327513#c6
    [3] I have to ask twice to get my mail checked https://bugs.kde.org/show_bug.cgi?id=341338
    [4] Inner-platform effect http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inner_platform_effect
    [5] Plasma “Classic” Theme https://dot.kde.org/comment/60501#comment-60501
    [6] Choose Your Own Experience https://sessellift.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/choose-your-own-experience-this-time-its-for-real/#comment-465
    [7] Gwenview, What does middle-click do? https://bugs.kde.org/show_bug.cgi?id=337262#c14
    [8] Ark context menu https://bugs.kde.org/show_bug.cgi?id=179066

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