The Continued Improvement of KDE

25 04 2006

The Continued Improvement of KDE
I’ve written before about the fairly detailed advances that have been occurring in the KDE desktop environment. This past week I got a chance to test out a few more, and for me the environment gets better and better with each passing week.
USB Device Support
One could argue this is better attributable to Kernel level and OS-level improvements, but history has seen that desktop enhancements often lag far behind kernel and OS changes. In this case, they’re moving forward hand in hand.
I use several ‘external’ USB devices that I connect to either yawl or to hunter. These consist of any of the following:

  • A 256 meg pen drive (used for ‘hot’ backups of databases while at events)
  • A generic 190gig external USB drive for backups and general storage
  • an Olympus C-770 camera
  • A Palm Treo-650
  • An Apple iPod

Traditionally, using ‘removable’ filesystem devices under Linux would involve much finagling of automounting device confifgurations, as well as the ‘Pray and Pull’ approach to disconnection. It might disconnect cleanly, it might not.
With the switch to devfs in the 2.6 Linux kernel, USB devices are mounted and unmounted automatically upon detection. I have been able, without doing any filesystem tuning, to simply jack in any of the above devices, and both of my machines mount the device immediately. Under KDE, the devices even show up on the desktop as an active icon, and I’ve configured KDE to automatically open the device in a file browse window upon detection. This makes moving pictures and other items on and off the drives a breeze. A simple drag and drop. For camera operations, this is sufficient, but read on for considerations for other devices.
iPod support in Amarok
The Apple iPod is an unusual device. It does function as a USB drive, and shows up on the filesystem with appropriate file structures and the like, but it’s really not meant to be manipulated as a filesystem directly. Music is stored in ‘numbered’ directories, with cryptic names on each. Not very helpful when simply browsing with a filesystem view. Fortunately, some bright lights have come up with a great interim system.
I had originally been using GTKPod as a tool for working with the iPod, but I found the interface less than intuitive, and it didn’t integrate well with the rest of my desktop. It was a typical standalone Gnome app, with only the faintest nods to the concept of desktop interaction and interface sharing.
When confronted with “Hm how am I going to sync my music collection to my iPod”, I noticed in the Amarok window a selection for ‘media devices’. And sure enough, in there, there was the iPod, available for synchronizing. I went through my already selected playlists (I use Amarok constantly), selected a handful of new songs, and said “Add these to media device queue”. Once they were all set, I simply clicked “Synchronize”, and the system connected up to the iPod properly, synced the music over to it, and shut down cleanly. Total time, about 8 seconds.
My understanding is this is similar to how iTunes works (I’ve only run it briefly – my exposure to it under Windows only brought up feelings of ‘bulky, slow, unintuitive, and not native. Looks like an Apple port’, and after that I didn’t bother. With Amarok, I’m using my own music collection via a tool that is an absolute joy to use (Amarok). The iPod synchronizing is just icing on the cake, but a pleasant find nonetheless.
A good desktop
All in all, the KDE desktop simply continues to improve and improve and improve more. Yes, some of these functions are things that others have been doing for a while. But when was the last time anything really revolutionary was done in the desktop environment? The gap between the ‘stable, consistent Windows desktop’, the ‘warm and fuzzy and friendly mac desktop’, and the opensource rogue of KDE is far narrower than many would say. At the moment, I’d put the useability, capability, and flexibility of KDE over the Mac, and in many ways, far over Windows as well.

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7 responses

25 04 2006
Duncan Hill

Yeah, AmaroK is a very very nice app – I use it fairly religiously for my music listening needs. I -think- they’re even looking at extending the MP3 player support to more gadgets than just the iPod. Did you know there’s also a Ruby scripting engine in AmaroK? 🙂

One statement I read/heard/saw somewhere was that the reputed ease of use of the Windows or Mac interfaces is based on actually using the interface for a while, and getting over the learning curve. I’d say the same applies to KDE these days – it’s not inherently difficult to use, it just has a learning curve of its own.
I’ve been using KDE since somewhere back around version 2.0. It’s come a long way since then, and 4.0 is looking even sweeter on both the eye-candy front (which I’m not too fussed about) and the functionality front.
On the revolutionary front, look at http://appeal.kde.org/wiki/Projects for some info on what they’re trying to do to the interface – not totally revolutionary like XGL might be, but still nice.

25 04 2006
dbs

I’d even be careful calling it a ‘learning curve’. Everyone knows windows (or at least sort of knows it). I find it’s interface very confusing and annoying after not using it for a while. So the people who kick and scream about ‘non standard interfaces’ are, as you say, simply yelling that ‘it’s not like windows, so it must be bad.’
This is the fight that all non-windows systems must put up with, day in and day out, and as long as microsoft continues it’s world dominating tactics, it’s going to be very very hard to change that.

25 04 2006
Duncan Hill

Don’t disagree 🙂 If you sat a novice, never used a computer novice, never touched a GUI novice, at any of the three interfaces (I won’t even consider TWM, CDE etc :>), they’d have the same level of confusion at first for any of them (N-SWAG). My grandfather still gets confused by Windows mind you, and he’s been using it for a few years. I dare not try to switch him to KDE, even with KDE’s chameleon features (ie, Mac toolbar, double-click etc).

25 04 2006
JB

So, a KDE question for you (I poked at Kubuntu for a while and went back to Ubuntu, finding KDE’s bells and whistles annoying and overblown, and not finding the ‘turn this crap off’ switch before I timed out) : K’s desktop manager – can you set it up to wrap around? If I have a 3×3 grid of desktops, I want to go from 1>2>3>1 or 1>4>7>1.
I’ve not found how to do this in gnome/(metacity? Whatever the fuck they call the desktop manager), and if someone knows how to do it in K, I’ll take another look at it.
(FVWM2, cool. Virtue (OS X), cool. Gnome or K, nope. Very annoying.)

25 04 2006
dbs

K’s desktop manager – can you set it up to wrap around?
I’m not sure exactly what you mean here. I work in a 1×4 grid, and I use control-tab to flip desktops when rotating through my grid. hit it once, it goes to the next one. If I’m on ‘4’, it wraps to ‘1’ when i hit it. I’ve never tried it with a grid of desktops.
Does that help?

25 04 2006
JB

Does that help?
A bit.
What I mean is that I have 9 destops in a 3×3 grid:
1 2 3
4 5 6
7 8 9
because putting them in a 1×9 would take a lot longer to get from 1-5 than it does with them gridded.
Without the wrap from (1>3, 2>8, 1>7, 7>9, etc), there are still 4 desktops between 1 and 9, and that’s annoying.
That I’ve not been able to get gnome to do this has been my single bigest complaint – at least about their documentation, if not their implementation.

25 04 2006
dbs

One last question. When you say ‘wrap’ – what do you mean? Hot key motion? Mouse auto-flip?
For my own case, I always use control-number to change desktops. So communications (mail, irc, etc) are on desktop one. Eclipse dev environment is on desktop two, image editing (if happening) is on desktop 3, and 4 is usually used for some static monitoring thing that I can look at when on the phone (SETI stats, Nagios configuarion, etc)
To flip screens, I just do ‘control-1’ or ‘control-4’. Direct jump 🙂

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