A Review: A week with KDE Applications, Round 1December 12, 2006 at 11:02 pm | Posted in amarok, KDE, Koffice, Konqueror, Kontact, kopete, ktorrent, Review | 9 Comments
I like many love KDE, but like many I’ve also complained about most of the KDE apps. Personally i loathe the naming of most Linux apps. It’s gnu this and K that and gtk this and qt that. Overall i just want nice look and feel, a seamless environment to work in, and most of all quality applications. So even being a mostly KDE user, I’ve stuck with Gaim, Thunderbird, Firefox, Gimp, OpenOffice, Opera, Azureus, and just apps from all over the place.
I’ve complained about Konqueror as a web browser, and Krita as graphics editor, and I’ve shyed away from Koffice altogether and figured I wasn’t giving this suite enough of a chance. So for a week, I’ve dedicated myself to KDE applications in their native environment. The results have been in some ways surprisingly good, in others tortuously bad. But all in all this is my review. I hope this attracts some more people to trying out not only KDE but to Linux as well, and on the off chance of any KDE developers read this, here’s a heads up for things you’re missing out on.
I’ll start this off with what should be the centerpiece of any modern OS; the office suite. OpenOffice has always been the suite of choice for Linux users. And we’ve all compared Openoffice to Ms Office, and OpenOffice, just doesn’t cut it. As much as we’d like it to, it doesn’t. And I’ll get my conclusion out of the way upfront, when comparing Koffice to OpenOffice, Koffice just doesn’t cut it, but it does have some clear advantages that MSOffice and Openoffice could learn from.
Much like Kontact, the Koffice Workspace container is a joy. The container holding space for Krita, Kword, Kspread, and the other various Koffice apps makes organization and work flow a ton easier. It kills clutter. I’m glad to continually see KDE using container applications and tabbed menus in a plethora of areas outside of web browsing for increased productivity.
Secondly, it’s integration into Konqueror is also a joy. Being able to open Kword documents right in your web browser (much like IE with MS office files, or Firefox with the ODF and PDF viewer plugins), saves time. Unlike IE and Firefox though (and this is for the Konqueror really), it’s integration into Konqueror as a file manager is also grand.
Where it does succeed over open office is speed. It’s faster coming up from a cold start, even after OpenOffice has had all its memory options configured properly. Openoffice may start quicker from quickstarter, unfortunately OO.o’s quickstarter doesn’t work in KDE and add on KDE-quickstarters for OpenOffice don’t work so well.
Also the memory load is signifiganly lighter, something OpenOffice will have to work on, and hopefully something that will be continually maintained as Koffice grows.
I can say this about OpenOffice as much as i can Koffice, both need better templates, flat out. Making generic documents should be a breeze. Now while someone like myself don’t mind spending extra time doing basic formatnig of a document, it does add to productivity. The templates currently included simply are not enough.
Koffice also lacks MSOffice format support. Lets admit it. MS Office is a solid product. While i don’t agree with product lock in or necessarily like Microsoft, their office suite is dominant, and it’s one of few products that i think deserves it’s dominance. While open formats i think should be the default saving option for these apps, the ability to open and edit, and even create documents using these formats is important in today’s world. Both in a personal sense and a professional one. Somehow Sun has noticed this, KDE has not.
Even while typing this document up in Kword, the application froze and would not unfreeze and I had to terminate the application. Unlike OpenOffice and unlike MSOffice, there was no crash recovery. Not a bit. This is a key feature this application is missing. A grammar checker would also be nice as well. In terms of usability, a better looking icon set that stands out a bit more and that represents the functions a bit better on first glance would also appreciated.
A note for the future development of Koffice, Msoffice 2007′s gui is going to rock the office suite world, i hope to god by Koffice 2.0 you put a ton of effort in GUI redesign, you might want to consider features MS Office 2007 will be including as well, such as a contextual spellchecker and the ability to publish directly to blogs. I would also like to see Quanta Plus added into the Koffice Workspace.
Koffice fails as a usable suite IMO, but they get tons of points for innovation in usability from their their container application. They also get points for being lightweight, but it simply must be a lot more functional for it to get noticed though. Alternatives to including some form of scripting within their Word and Spread app, like MS Office does with VB macro’s would also be greatly appreciated.
I’ve written a lengthy review of Kontact before, and frankly i love the application. You can read my review of this application here:
The problem with my review was that i was far too love struck. It does have short comings. A nice integrated backend would be wonderful, much like Outlook/Exchange. Kolab would seem to be the logical choice IMO as a groupware server and Kontact and Kolab play well together, but further integration between the two would be wonderful to give added functionality. Also a tie in to a directory server would be nice as well for the backend to give a well rounded enterprise level implementation, but that’s another discussion.
The fact that you must create your own file structure as you add-on email accounts is horrid. Every e-mail application out there handles organizing multiple accounts better by default, though it is something easily worked around. The compose function i think should be more advanced as well, possibly incorporating Kword as an option for an editor and support for kspread tables and such.
I can’t knock the app all that much. RSS management, newsgroup management, easily integrated spam protection and anti-virus, support for palm pilots, calendaring and address books, pgp encryption, there’s enough to this app to give it a thumbs up. Where as on an enterprise level, this application wouldn’t be enough, on a personal and small business level it oohs and ahhs.
as a web browser
There’s a token few who swear by Konqueror, most just complain about it. Here I’m speaking strictly as a web browser. I’ve used it several times and always backed away because the look and feel was so foreign. I’ve done the same with Opera. But like Opera, after a little bit of use, it begins to grow on you.
The good is, it has a faster cold start than Opera 9 and Firefox 2.0 and is a decently fast browser that passes the ACID2 test, something Opera has done for a while and Firefox3.0 alpha has just accomplished..and that IE still lags on. I was pleased to see not only a built in adblocker, but an up to date list of many ad domains to block be default giving me a clean browsing experience without having to download and install anything.
The ability to switch from folder to website in a tabulated format is also quite welcoming. KDE has proven with every app I’ve reviewed so far, to cut down on clutter. Which is good, considering unfortunately that they don’t treat separate desktops as truly separate. Something that does annoy me.
The ability to locate plugins from other browsers, such as Java, Flash, mplayer, etc is also superb. Konqueror tends to handles these things with less hassle than Opera and Firefox on my system.
The down side, is while it is “decently fast”, it’s still slower than FF2.0 and Opera9 in rendering pages. This is even after Ipv6 is turned off. It’s not unbearable by any means, and still a joy to use.
The tabs are ugly. Every browser puts the close X for the tabs on the right side. IE, Firefox, Opera, all of them. Even Safari. So why not Konq? Secondly, Konq cannot handle site icons in the tabs and he tab X at the same time. Quite disappointing, even if only for aesthetic purposes. Seeing the site icon i feel allows for quicker navigation for many.
Though a lot comes with this browser, it would still be nice for the community to provide better plugin support and an easier way of managing plugins. One of the reasons I’ve stuck with Firefox over opera is just the enormous plugin library. It’s also a shame Konqueror isn’t themable beyond the KDE system theme.
Font support seems to be lacking for some reason as well, and tweaking fonts just makes a mess of things. Digg.com for instance looks far too small and the titles of new entries runs int o the digg graphic on the left hand side. Google looks far too small, while the forums i look at look far too big. Not sure the reasoning for this, but I can’t seem to fix it.
It also fails in terms of download management. Firefox has a nice neat little window for all it’s downloads. Opera, has it’s own tab (though good management, the flipping to the tab every time you download something is annoying). Firefox’s extension Download Status bar, which ads a status bar at the bottom of the window to show you you’re downloads is honestly preferred. You get the view them, but they’re not intrusive on your activities. Konqueror handles downloads far too much like IE with a separate window for each file you’re downloading. It’s highly annoying and could use much improvement.
as a file manager
As a file manager I consider Konqueror great. The side bars for amarok, the metabar, file browsing all very nice. Directories open with a comprable speed of other file managers. It’s decently light weight, though could probably use some work in this regard. The ability to view files directly in Konqueror is great, be them PDFs, txt files, Koffice documents, etc. After using TabbyFileManager in windows for quite sometime, it’s nice to see a tabulated file manager take precedence in a desktop environment.
I really don’t have much to complain about here. If this was a standalone file manager i would complain about a slow cold start, but its not so i guess it’s excusable, but working on the speed of the startup time should be on the KDE dev’s list. This may be specific to Kubuntu, but kdemultimedia should be pre-installed as well. I don’t like jumping through hoops to get the ability to preview my media files within the file manager to work. All in all my favorite file managers have beeen Thunar, Windows, and even Mac OS Finder. Windows for IE integration and the navigation ability through the title bar (just like Konq), Thunar for sheer lightweight navigation but it is a bit hard on the eyes, and Finder for pure organization. I’d say Konqueror ties with all of them to some degree, except Thunar.
This is honestly my favorite torrent application next to utorrent. It’s lightweight and simple and most importantly, it can all be managed in one window. After using tons of linux torrent apps that used a separate window for every download, i eventually switched to azureus, and while that came with a lot of features, it also came with a lot of bloat. I needed to get away from java built apps, but still have the usefullness i was after, and I’ve found that in Ktorrent.
So kudos to a lightweight, non-java based torrent app with a built in ipfliter.
I have two minor complaints. There’s no way to tell where you downloaded a particular torrent once the download has began. This is not good for people who do a ton of seeding and leaching and maintain large upload and/or download queues. Thank god most of my stuff goes in a small selection of folders.
Lastly, the icon sucks. Yes, i mean to be harsh, it sucks. It’s the only icon i feel 100% compelled to change every time i see it. Amazing that people can create an app this awesome and can’t come up with something more creative than Christmas colored up and down arrows for a torrent application.
Here’s an application i want to love, but just can’t. Kopete has the slickest gui of all chatting apps in Linux I feel. Scrolling through the buddy list feel more natural, if that makes any sense. The buttons are all well done and fit well from the system theme. The chat styles make reading a lot less harsh on the eyes. The ability to import Adium chat styles is also a huge plus in my book, as Adium and Trillian i feel are the 2 applications that Linux apps really need to add up to.
Since this was originally built for MSN, it comes with camera support. There’s plugins for Skype, there’s experimental jingle support for voice chat over Gtalk and a nice selection of smilie themes to chose from.
Unfortunately i find it unusable. There’s a lack of support for aim chat rooms, which i love. I’ve kept my name in the same aim chat room for years and going without that sucks. I really hope the aim/icq and jabber support really increases on this end.
Some think this is minor, but it annoys me. Kopete is the only messenger I’ve come across that will not allow me to add myself to my buddy list. I like checking my own away and available status and how i might appear to others, i like having my names on my list, just in case my password got compromised and someone logged onto an account of mine, now i can see when they come on.
Also the default buddy icons when the buddy list can’t find one for the particular user, yes those odd mannequin looking blue heads. They need to go. This is the one app i would adore if it did all i needed it to, but until then, I’m stuck with Gaim and aMSN.
The devs might want to consider Myspace messenger integration as well.
This is an application that Windows and Mac users wish they could have. There’s been plenty of articles on it so I’ll make this brief as possible. Coming packed with features such as, builtin search feature for your music library, last.fm connectivity and reporting, lyric and wikipedia band info fetching, support for mp3 player, the ability to display album art, and a newly builtin music store that is chock full of DRM free music. Add a nice GUI and the ability to learn what you like in your playlist the most, and you have one top notch music application.
But here’s something most reviews don’t do. Knock it. Amarok is great but it’s not perfect. All Linux apps made to handle large libraries of music files, are frankly, slow to import the library, and slow to cold start regardless of library size. AmaroK is no different in this regard. Maybe the guys at Itunes, or Winamp, foobar, or even Microsoft could give a hand here. (kidding).
Also, my next problem isn’t so much with the application but Linux sound card drivers. In Macs and in Windows music sounds louder, crisper, even on crappy speakers, than it does in linux.
Great app, but still room for improvement.
Overall: KDE apps get a B in my grade book. Almost perfect IMO, but not quite there. And i’m sure we all know it’s easier to drop to a C, than to raise yourself up to that A. Lets hope KDE4 fulfills the hype and fills in the gaps.
The next review will be on Quanta Plus, K3b, Krita, and Kaffine.