‣ Gianmarco Gargiulo  ⁣⁣
October 10, 2021

KDE: a love and hate relationship
My criticism over KDE software (that I absolutely love)

KDE is a community dedicated to making free and open source software, it’s very well known in the world of Linux and Free software and it has made many famous pieces of software such as the Plasma desktop environment, Krita for drawing and painting, Kdenlive for video editing, Kate for text editing and coding, Dolphin for file management, etc.

Konqi, KDE’s mascot, art by Tyson Tan

KDE software in general is designed to be complex and easily customizable while still being intuitive, especially if you’re used to Windows and Windows applications (this analogy will become more evident later on), and while looking very nice and modern.

KDE Plasma

You can tell that I am a KDE fan (not fanboy), I use a lot of their products. You may have seen me using Plasma in some screenshots or on some of my videos together with many of the KDE Gear apps (that’s how they call their set of apps nowadays). Although that doesn’t mean I don’t have any criticism towards them, I have quite a few, so let’s start right away with this statement: KDE is kinda like the Microsoft of the free and open source world.

Stability

Stability doesn’t really seem to be their best focus. Plasma and many KDE apps constantly shit themselves with bugs or crashes that always seem to either persist with updates or to be replaced with new ones. For example virtually every time I login my desktop background becomes plain black, forcing me to killall plasmashell && plasmashell. It also often shows some weird graphical glitches, including some that could probably even induce epilepsy. KSysGuard often crashes when I close it, giving me a notification saying that a random “segmentation fault” caused it to crash. A very recurring bug lately is that kglobalaccel5, the process responsible for the Plasma key bindings, would start to freak out and cause lags and modifier keys to keep registering as pressed whenever I turned on my drawing tablet and started to hover the pen over its surface, making the system pretty much unusable unless I SSHed into it to kill the process.

KRunner glitching out

Plasma animations just chillin'

VLC having a seizure

But to be fair there are examples of apps that were once very buggy that have been improved dramatically, such as Kdenlive which was basically a meme in the past, as you can see from this screenshot I took last year or something (still ran Kubuntu, wow /s).

Kdenlive back in the day

Performance

Even though this might be an issue only to users of potato computers like me, KDE’s window manager and compositor KWin often causes frame drops and the already mentioned graphical glitches. Also some particularly heavy KDE applications suck a bit too much memory. You might think that something like the Plasma shell might be bloated because it uses 200MB of memory or something, but remember that it’s a full desktop environment with panels, widgets, etc. so it’s quite normal; also in recent years Plasma’s RAM usage has gotten a lot slimmer and is now comparable to well known lightweight desktops such as XFCE, but I’m still not super sure about its CPU usage.

Some KDE apps using too much RAM

Elisa isn’t really an heavy app since it’s just a music player, but my hypotesis of why it uses 80 megs might have to do with the next point.

Inconsistent interfaces

This one really makes them look like Microsoft! KDE Gear doesn’t have a precise UI/UX style that’s used consistently across all applications, there’s three of them: KDE Frameworks, Kirigami and MauiKit.

The three horsemen of inconsistency

KDE Frameworks

This is the oldschool UI framework that they’ve used for probably more than a decade. KDE Frameworks apps generally have a very traditional experience with a menubar and toolbars that could vary based on the current context, for example some options may appear only if you have a document open, and also has many classic controls that you can build into Qt applications (relatable if you’ve ever tried Qt Designer). This is used in very desktop-centric applications such as Dolphin, Kate, Kdenlive, Krita, Gwenview, KMail, Konsole, KSysGuard, etc.

Example KDE Frameworks app

Gwenview

Dolphin

KMail

This is my favorite of the bunch since it’s traditional and decently customizable, although I sorta understand why they want to move away from this style for their universal apps that are supposed to be used on phones as well. In my dreamOS there’s this traditional desktop metaphor but also adapted to mobile devices.

Kirigami

Kirigami was their first attempt (2016) at a so called convergent UI framework, which means that it can be adapted to multiple kinds of devices (man, I really hate smartphones). They have a hamburger menu button in the top left along with other buttons on a single toolbar, they also have side menus, UI elements generally look big and touch-friendly and on mobile it has an Android-like floating action button and the buttons from the top bar get moved to the bottom, a sane design decision. Kirigami is used in apps like KClock, NeoChat, Discover, System Settings, Elisa, Alligator, Kaidan, KWeather, Plasma Camera, etc.

KClock on the desktop

KClock on mobile

NeoChat

Discover

Phonebook

I believe this makes sense on mobile, not on desktop and y’all know already how much I hate mobile UIs on desktop applications, but all of the Kirigami apps I’ve tried on Android look very janky and don’t seem to work properly. I wish I had a PinePhone with Plasma Mobile to try them out there and see if it’s any better, but for now my opinion for Kirigami is good concept (mobile) but poor execution.

MauiKit

This one confuses me a bit: it’s mobile-first like Kirigami but it seems like an alternate project with an esthetic that’s quite different from the Breeze theme that KDE has been maintaining and trying to keep consistent since the introduction of Plasma 5 in 2014. It doesn’t really feel like part of the KDE product line, but they have MauiKit apps in their applications list on their website so I guess they are official after all. They have a top bar with a centered set of buttons (could be tabs, a breadcrumb directory thingy, etc.) and other buttons on the left and right, a left menu with some shortcuts, other touch-friendly elements and centered modal windows. MauiKit is used in apps like Index, Nota, Station, VVave, Pix, Clip, Buho, Shelf and Communicator. Yes, these are literally all of the MauiKit apps in existence, or at least that are officially endorsed by the Maui Project.

Index

Nota

Station

Pix

This looks to be the best for mobile but also the worst for desktop, mainly for the general layout being too touch-friendly and because they feel incomplete for a desktop-class experience. At least Kirigami had some tought for mouse and keyboard put into it. I’ve tried a few of these on Android and they seem decent but not quite right, I am not sure why. They should definitely make the esthetic more consistent with other KDE stuff and NOT push this to their main desktop apps, otherwise I will switch DE and app set all together.

Duplicate applications

KDE Gear has over 200 applications to choose from, you might say “That’s great! But what’s so bad about it?”. A lot of these apps are kind of duplicates, as in some apps perform almost exactly the same tasks, so some of them don’t really have a reason to exist. Here’s a few examples.

Kompare VS KDiff3

Just look at these two programs. They’re both file and folder comparing and merging utilities, but the one on the right looks as if it’s a rather old app when compared to the other one, which also shows the new Breeze theme in the screenshot, meaning that the left one was created more recently and that it’s being maintained with more attention. So why don’t you just get rid of KDiff3?

Skanpage VS Skanlite

Same thing here: why do you keep two scanner apps that do the exact same thing except that one is newer and most probably has more features than the other!?

Akregator VS Alligator

In this example the left one is a classic desktop app, while the other is a newer convergent app made with Kirigami. Can’t you just keep Alligator? Actually I think that’s a bad idea since Akregator has a decent desktop UX anyway.

How many media players???

For fuck’s sake, what’s with this many media players!? Is there really a need to keep all 6 of them? I could understand having a music player with its own library à la iTunes and a multi-purpose media player that can play anything, but this is just ridiculous!

Peruse VS… Peruse?

OK, this is just weird. A comic book reader and a comic book creator that share the same name but that are two different applications?

They’re actually one app but I guess they were too lazy to update their applications page to show them as one item instead of two.

“Dead” applications

There’s quite a lot of apps and games that haven’t been updated in forever, so they still have old icons from the Oxygen era (sometimes from even earlier times) or that retain old concepts and workflows such as Konqueror, which comes from the era of web browsers that were also file managers like fricking Windows 98, or Trojita, a mail client right from the early 2000s.

Also look at the following picture: KWave is an audio editing app that I’ve never heard of and that’s so out of date that its website looks like as if it was never updated in the last 10 years, still rocking Plasma 4 screenshots, despite it saying at the bottom “Last update was on Monday, Jul 06, 2020”.

Conclusions

As you can see KDE software is plagued with all of these issues, but despite everything I still think that they make the best free and open source software out there. I really hope they’ll address all of these problems in the future, especially the stability issues, and they’ve always tried their best to improve their products and it shows as they’ve added so much polish and customizability with time.

So is KDE complete garbage? Absolutely not, most of their software is still of really high quality and I wouldn’t know where to look without them. Did they deserve the success they’ve had in recent years? Definitely, they’ve put a lot of effort into bringing more and more people to the world of Linux and Free software, I probably wouldn’t have switched to Linux without the Plasma desktop and all of the KDE apps, and I can’t wait to see what they will do next.

KDE: a love and hate relationship, published on October 10, 2021.
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