Exploring Desktop Environments — 4

As anticipated, evaluating desktop environment (DE) options to break away from GTK is much about trading one set of paper cuts for another.

The emphasis is not that these DEs are bad. All have potential. The quandary is which collection of paper cuts hurt the least.

There were no high expectations about using a window manager as a starting point, but the option was explored.

LXQt is a promising project that one wants to do well yet lacks some features. There is obvious talent and skill behind the project. Hopefully the software continues to improve. A challenge with LXQt is adding software to create a productive environment. An alluring approach is to use LXQt as a base with a careful selection of KDE software. The challenge is selecting KDE packages without a boat load of dependencies. LXQt is designed to support the xdg-desktop-portal front end service, but not all Qt software supports that option, leaving users stuck with two different types of file picker dialogs. This does not create a consistent user experience.

After much sweat equity KDE looks appealing but has several paper cuts. Included is the loss of control of configuration files. Hardly the end of the world but annoying. The panel menus do not seem easily configurable, such as removing hard-coded submenus. There is no option to configure the menu popup delay — not palatable for people with unsteady hands. Dolphin is an above average file manager lacking a few features that existed in Konqueror more than a decade ago yet is quite usable. That root warning banner needs to go. Konqueror can still be used as a file manager but there no longer is support for profiles to distinguish file management and web browsing.

KDE is a quagmire of dependencies — trying to selectively install certain packages is futile without rebuilding everything from scratch. Useful features from the KDE 3 days that have been dropped or ignored feels like a regression. KDE is a smidgen less snappy and responsive than TDE. Anything dependent on Akonadi is a path to primal screaming.

Little things like disruptive mouse wheel cycling, tooltips, mouseover popups, and disappearing panels tend to wear a person down and quashes enthusiasm. Unwanted tooltips, mouseover popups, and mouse wheel cycling are personal pet peeves — proverbial fingernails on the chalkboard. Such irritants are one reason for moving away from GTK.

Some of the KDE paper cuts have been resolved. For example, the slow launching on some systems seems to have been partly related to CPU frequency governing. There are too many background services but little by little that is being controlled.

For the most part KDE has been tamed here in local testing. The remaining paper cuts are frustrating because outside anything infected with Akonadi, KDE is mostly enjoyable to use.

The Trinity Desktop Environment (TDE) offers much but requires retooling build scripts and patching remnant bugs. TDE remains mired in the tradition of building mega packages rather than modular. This is one thing the KDE folks finally addressed. TDE lacks a large selection of themes although the tools are available to create custom themes. The default TDE looks like a previous era desktop but that kind of appearance is accepted and not important here. Important is the desktop is functional with no direct dependencies on GTK and no overhead with backend tools such as Akonadi or Baloo.

TDE seems to be a sane choice. Yet the more TDE is tested the more that paper cuts from previous days surface and reveal they are not yet resolved. TDE does not seem well tested to coexist with other DEs. Kate lacks features like word count and sorting selected text — available with the Plasma Kate and desirable features for any writer. Conversely, config files are organized and TDE is doggone fast and snappy. TDE has no tooltips, mouseover popup, and mouse wheel cycling issues. Brush away cobwebs inside the cranium and likely TDE can be patched and tweaked. Some minor bugs could be ignored. Short term there will be notable effort to retool build scripts and patching.

What next?

This has been a revealing but arduous journey. All of the DEs have paper cuts. There are many skilled and talented people contributing to these projects. The challenge is the old proverb of not letting perfect be the enemy of good.

Is there a way to mix and match environments and software to create a usable blend? That more or less is what people do with bare bone window manager environments or LXQt. Yet the more that KDE packages are installed the more that TDE becomes a proverbial black sheep — relegated to being installed in /opt purgatory. There are dozens of bin files in TDE with the same names as KDE. By lack of popularity that forces TDE out of /usr space.

Launching KDE software inside TDE introduces issues. Examples include interfaces defaulting to flat icons and running KDE software inside TDE seems to sometimes cause session logouts to stall or hang. Perhaps these are configuration oversights.

The next step is discover and test what can be mixed and matched without commotion. Or pick one of the DEs and live with that particular set of paper cuts.

Important is installing the XDG xdg-desktop-portal front end service from KDE or LXQt packages to avoid the GTK file picker dialog in supported GTK3 apps. TDE does not offer the same support but has some kind of old hack to use TDE file picker dialogs with GTK software.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General, Migrate

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