Posted by Brian @ 12:54 am on December 27th 2007

What Gnome needs to learn from KDE

I’ve been using KDE on the desktop since 2001. As any of my colleagues can attest, I’m pretty vocal about how much better I think KDE is than Gnome.

But maybe I’ve been wrong all those years. So about a week after Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) was released I decided to install the default Ubuntu – with Gnome as my window manager and see if I should be using Gnome instead of KDE.

I got a new laptop at the same time, one of those AMD Turion X2’s, so I also decided to install the 64bit version, knowing I was bound to hit some rocks. (I resolved not to blame Gnome for any 64bit rocks I might collide with, although the experience has been pretty good). As a side note, I also took Vista for a short spin since it came preinstalled on my laptop. The experience was truly awful. I’ve never used an operating system that got more in the way of me trying to get work done. No wonder people consider Windows XP an upgrade from Vista!

As expected with Ubuntu, the installer worked flawlessly and was finished in just a few minutes. I wish the installer would allow me to easily set up disk encryption but I had to do that manually later. My machine booted to its native 1440×900 resolution and I was able to check a box and download the Nvidia driver for my machine automatically. The eye candy is quite impressive in Gnome, but it’s not without issues. The 3d enhanced effects did slow my experience down and I’m quite sure there are some memory leaks as after a while the desktop just stopped working. I’m sure that the issues I experienced will be ironed out by the next LTS release. Pushing out a major graphics upgrade in a non-LTS release is exactly why I love Ubuntu. It’s a brilliant strategy that lets people like me who are willing to draw some blood hang out near the bleeding edge while letting folks like my dad and wife stick with a stable LTS release like Dapper.

I made the decision to turn off all the eye candy, which was extremely easy to do, and the OS became quite stable. The same can’t be said for my wireless, which requires multiple reboots to get working properly. I’ve heard through the grapevine that the problem lies with Intel, and again I’m confident that the community will work the issues out.

What I’ve discovered is that simplicity is Gnome’s strength. Gnome presents users an extremely limited number of options, and I think this approach has merit. It sometimes feels like the Gnome developers sometimes conflate simplicity with ease of use, two very different things. Take burning a CD, for example. After trying for about 20 minutes to burn a CD using Nautilus, the file browser/CD burning tool in Gnome, I gave up and installed K3B. The Nautilus interface was so simple I couldn’t find any options! I’ve got a few more gripes with Nautilus. It doesn’t appear possible to click and drag a box around files I want to select in list view, something I do quite frequently. Nautilus displays thumbnails for images and even the first few words of text files which is a really cool feature, only the thumbnail sizes are huge in comparison to folders and other icons. I don’t like the look – I find it ugly. Nautilus tells you how much space is free, but not how much space is used in the current directory unless you select files. And it displays far less information in a given amount of space than KDE’s file manager.

Evince is Ubuntu’s choice for a PDF viewer. Unfortunately, it fails to properly print PDFs that print beautifully using KPDF – in my case it added random garbage characters that were subtle enough that I may have missed them and gone off to an important meeting only to find my printout was gibberish. It seems quite slow to render compared to KPDF as well.

There are a number of missing features – printer selection for example lacks KDE’s ability to scan the local network for a printer, which I find a real time saver. Shift-Arrow changing windows and themes in Konsole make a big difference to my productivity. I don’t understand why it takes up to a half minute to pop up the calendar from the taskbar in Gnome when the calendar in KDE is instantaneous.

As far as 64bit goes, it’s been almost completely smooth sailing. The one problem is with our new Canon Pixma iP1800 printer, which I made sure had Linux drivers before I bought it. But it turns out that the people at Canon compiled only a 32bit version of the driver, and in this case, the 32bit driver will not work in a 64bit OS. So I get to wait until Canon decides to compile the driver in 64bit or release the source code. I’m mystified why a printer manufacturer wouldn’t simply release the source code to their printer drivers — they’d certainly sell more printers. Yet another reason why having the source code is crucial.

At the end of the day, most of my problems with Gnome come down to:
1) Not being able to do things the way I’m used to doing them
2) Lacking some key KDE features that I’ve grown to love and rely on
3) Not exposing enough choices

While I could manage with #1, the other two are deal-breakers. So I bid Gnome a pleasant “see you later” and return to KDE. After I’ve used the new KDE for a bit I may write a similar post as I’m sure there is as much or more for KDE to learn from Gnome.