So now that I have decided I’ll install Arch on Jen’s laptop, what DE should I install with it? I know I said I wanted to use KDE 4.2.1 (and I still do), but I’ve been thinking. Unfortunately. There’s a lot to be said for both of them.
One of the main selling points of the KDE4 release is, undoubtedly, looks. Microsoft and Apple are really sexy-fying their OS, and KDE4 now looks just as good. Just look at these screenshots.
This is how the latest build of Windows 7 looks out of the box:
Windows 7 Beta: Default look
Now, you may argue about the quality of the OS, or non-free software, and I’d agree, but damn if that doesn’t look great.
Let’s have a look at the latest OS X (Leopard):
Mac OS X Leopard: Default look
That’s polished, shiny, and professional. I don’t think Macs offer enough value for money, but Apple knows what’s beautiful and what’s not.
So how does KDE 4.2.1 measure up?
KDE 4.2: Default look
Very well, actually. You get the same sense of polished sleekness when you compare KDE to OS X and Windows 7.
By contrast, this is what the latest GNOME (2.26) looks like:
Gnome 2.26: Default look
That doesn’t look good! And yes, I know that look is easily changed. I know that, because everybody does it. That screenshot of a default GNOME screenshot comes straight from the official homepage, because it’s the only one I could find. No-one in their right mind leaves their GNOME looking like that. I suggest having a look around the various screenshot threads in the distribution forums…there are beautiful GNOME screenshots everywhere. It’s easy to change the theme and the icons, but out of the box, it’s fugly.
Why is that important? Because alternative themes and icons are more often than not done by amateurs. Which means they can be incomplete, or have flaws where text is unreadable in certain cases, or not maintained anymore. I know, I’ve been there…I’ve changed many icon names or symlinks or .gtkrc files so that icons would show up properly. You can’t expect that from the average user.
KDE has other advantages too, not in the least that it’s more actively developed. Yes, KDE 4.0 broke almost everything, but every release since has been more stable, faster, and generally better. The GNOME devs on the other hand seem quite content with just polishing their DE a bit every six months. The biggest item in the GNOME 2.26 changelog is that Brasero is now included by default. Six months ago, the hot topic was the new tabs in Nautilus. The overal impression is that GNOME is lagging behind KDE, and that the gap is widening.
Ironically, GNOME’s biggest drawback is also it’s biggest strength. GNOME is a finished product. It works, it’s stable, and it holds no surprises. No matter how much KDE is improving, it’s stability is not quite at GNOME levels, nor is it as bugfree. Considering how young KDE4 is, it’s only normal that this is the case, but that doesn’t make it less true.
Another point in GNOME’s favour are the applications. There are tons of GTK-apps out there, with multiple choices for every possible purpose. Don’t like Rhythmbox? Try Banshee, or Exaile, or gmusicbrowser, or QuodLibet, or Consonance, or one of the many, many mpd clients. Nautilus does nothing for you? Thunar or PCmanFM or even emelfm2 can help you out. The list goes on and on and on.
And Firefox uses GTK, which is a huge point in GNOME’s favour. There has been talk of a Qt version of Firefox in August last year, but it has been dead quiet since.
Application support in KDE on the other hand is a bit spotty. When KDE switched to Qt4, all the third party developers of KDE software had to follow, and many of those still aren’t finished. To name a few: Amarok and Ktorrent were rather fast, but have to keep updating to get the functionality at the same level as the previous versions, and to squash bugs; digiKam 10.0 has only just been released, Kaffeine is still in svn and taking longer than expected, and does anybody know what the hell is happening with k3B? The last entry on the website mentions a KDE4 port, but it’s dated May 2008. Of course it’s lead developer is very busy with Nepomuk, but considering k3b wasn’t just the best burning software in KDE, but the best in Linux period, this is a rather big gap in KDE’s application list.
In the end, it’s easy to have a desktop environment with just GNOME/GTK applications, but at the moment, it’s a bit of a pain to do the same with KDE/Qt. Worst scenario: you end up with a mixed GTK/Qt3/Qt4 desktop, which looks absolutely horrible.
I honestly have no idea. I find myself going back and forth on this one. The safe and easy choice would be GNOME, the pretty and challenging one would be KDE.
I think I’ll just take the challenge, and see if things work out. In five minutes, I’ll probably think something else.