Category Archives: KDE

Is the KDE 5 desktop stable enough for normal users?

This not a rant! I just want to share some concerns about the quality of the current KDE desktop and its deployment to normal users.

I upraded to KDE 5 by upgrading from Fedora 21 to Fedora 22. I did this rapidly on four laptops because I liked the new fresh look. Two of them I use heavily for personal work. The plasma version in use was 5.3. But after some weeks of work I collected a long list of heavy issues with that desktop. They all showed up doing very general things. Especially problematic are multi screen configurations. Things you usually do when you plug in and plug off your laptop from the display at your working place.

Here is a (incomplete) list of issues I currently face with the plasma desktop 5.4

  • Attaching and removing screens from the laptop does not change the screen configuration. That means attached screens get not actived and removed screens not deactivated. Usually I have to reconfigure the screens manually in systemsettings. Afterwards killing and restarting plasmashell is required, exspecially to get rid of disconnected screens. If that does not help I usually try restarting kwin too, although I’m not sure that helps. Multi-screen switching somewhat worked with plasma-5.4 but broke again with a kdeframework upgrade. If you have configure multiple panels in a multi monitor setting you can find them jump around (even stacking) if you change anything in the screen positioning. If you attach a new screen and activate it, sometimes plasma moves on to the new screen (good!) but the old screen gets black. I can move windows onto it but there is no plasma running in its background (bad). But that is relatively small bug.
  • As not all applications have been moved to KDE 5 yet, some of them use kdewallet4 and some use kdewallet5. This means that you are asked for a password to open the wallet twice in the same session – and those passwords can be different! Even if you know that you often have to try one password and after that the other one. Since the last updates the kdewallet5 password window can be visually distinguished from the kdewallet4 one what helps me with that. This is not a real bug but very very uncomfortable for users.
  • The digital clock applet just stops and shows an old time.
  • The digital clock applet will never show another timezone than UTC if UTC is your system timezone, no matter what timezone you configure in its settings. Really I never had so much problems getting the correct time displayed on my desktop – because I had not find out that the system time ist the problem.
  • The window taskbar gets out of sync with the application windows. That means you can click on firefox in the taskbar and what open up is a dolphin window (or no window at all).You see taskbar entries for applications you have closed and you miss them for ones you have opened.
    When you have two screens with two taskbars each of them configured to show only the windows of the current screen -> windows get mixed up and are shown in the wrong taskbar. Worst: Sometimes the taskbar(s) do not work at all. Praise the “Show windows” desktop effect, it saves your day.
  • krunner will sometimes not execute commands. In that case I have to restart plasmashell via terminal.Very annoying because I have to do that often.
  • krunner sometimes does not appear at all (maybe fixed in 5.4)
  • If you have two screens with two identical panels, sometimes applets in one of the panels will not be able to show a plasma popup on one of them. That means if you have a application starters on your right and left screen, the application starter just works on the left one. (maybe fixed in 5.4)
  • After having changed the screen positioning the plasma applets do not recognize that and do open somewhere on the screen and not beside the panel (maybe fixed in 5.4)
  • Moving plasma pannels between screens works only with patience and it is really messy. This becomes a problem in conjunction with the issues making panels jumping around on screens in dynamic multi-screen configurations.
  • On three systems with intel based graphics of different generations I did not find one with a opengl version and interface combination which did not sometime create a garbled screen. I know that the linux graphic stack is a nightmare and the fault is likely in there exspecially as Fedora is on its bleedings edge side. But this was better in plasma 4.
  • UPDATED: File search in dolphin does not work at all. It never finds anything.

This is the situation now – and it is much better than it was when Fedora 22 came out with Plasma 5.3.

I found the following additional heavy problems in the plasma 5.3 desktop (which has been shipped out to end users by various distributions):

  • Migration from kdewallet4 to kdewallet5 lets you enter a password for the new wallet. Unfortunatly the password you enter did not work to open the new wallet afterwards. I had this on three systems and I’m sure I did not make a typo three times. The problem got fixed afterwards but the systems upgraded with that bug are somewhat of broken. There is no obvious way to get a new working system wallet.
  • Plasma animations running long start to eat up one CPU core completly. This means if the network applet tries to connect too long or telepathy tries to connect to IM accounts with broken down servers (making the panel icon spin all the time) you burn your laptop battery. Oh – and do not do long file transfers with dolphin because the progress spinner in the panel will fight with the copy process for cpu cycles. This bug has been fixed in 5.4 but people report to still see it occasionally.
  • Too many windows caused plasma to eat one CPU core too. I often work with several firefox windows. The second one usually made the whole desktop slow and made plasmashell burn half the cpu power. The problem went away when the window was minimized. So you were not supposed to have more than a few windows open in plasma 5.3. I think system memory is something that can limit the amount of open windows – your desktop should not.

That bugs made me step away from KDE until plasma 5.4 was pushed out in Fedora. The last time I did that was during the KDE 4.0, 4.1 time frame.

These are just the bugs I was able to clearly identify and reproduce. I had many more problems. SDDM was some kind of a nightmare when it became the default for KDE. I had heavy problems with it in a multi screen setup and I could not login into a second session. I had to fall back to kdm several times. Luckily the heavy problems have been mostly sorted out in recent updates. Ktelepathy is another area where I had my problems. I migrated to it from pidgin mostly because plasma 5 did not support the old sysicons anymore. Ktp has its issues exspecially when using the OTR plugin and having contacts that are logged on several computers (sending and receiving messages does not always work). I hope to get into good working order by not using OTR anymore and with the latest updates. It still has a preference for crashing plasma when using the contact list applet. Since three weeks its systemsettings module crashed when I tried to modify a specific IM account of mine. Well, I had to delete and recreate it.

I did not search for all of the listed bugs in bugzilla. The ones I search for I found there reported. The bugs are so obvious that I’m sure they are all reported. I’m not sure which bugs are caused by the distribution (Fedora). Maybe a few that I did not look for. I mostly can rule out that they are caused by old config files because I tried to fix them by deleting the old ones several times. The bugs show up even using fresh user accounts.

I find it very hard to work with the KDE desktop in its current state. Again, this is not a rant. I do not complain. I have no time to help development, I live with what I get. I’m sure developers to their best to enhance the situation. I can just say: This is the first time that I’m really not interested in updates because of new features or performance enhancements. I just wish myself bugfixes.

What puzzles me is that plasma desktop is widely reported to be a stable desktop

I have not seen a review of KDE (or a distribution using it) mentioning any of the problems I am seeing daily. This is somewhat of explainable: You will not find the bugs without really working with the desktop. You have to use it some days, do your work on it and plug your device on to different monitor. Unfortunatly I think most press reviewers do not do that. You can cope with the current KDE if you have just one screen, always a stable network connection and restart daily. You normaly do not work under such conditions, do you?

Would I’ve known that KDE 5 has so much rough edges – I just would not have installed it on my production systems. Fair enough. Oh – and I would not have upgraded my wifes computer who thanked me with “No more updates ever! This does not work at all!” And she was even right.

The reality is that I do not see how one could cope with current plasma desktop without good knowledge of the system and the ability to restart kwin, plasma or the whole session from the command line. In the same time I see this desktop being pushed out by many distributions to normal end-users. I personally often try to migrate normal people from Windows to a Linux Distribution. This often works quite well. But would I try to give one of them the current KDE desktop, I’m sure I would not succeed in freeing the person. My problem is: That’s what distriubtions currently do and I do not see one word of warning.

Either the problems I list are just happening to me – or users should be warned that they should currently stick with KDE 4.12 if they are neither experts nor brave. I consider plasma 5.4 somewhat useable for me, but in my opinion plasma 5.3 was too heavily broken. Nonetheless it was shipped by Kubuntu and Fedora. Fedora is a bleeding edge distribution (meaning that is okay), but Kubuntu is directed at less experienced users.

Nevertheless, especially because I had to switch desktops in the last months to get work done, I can only say that I still find KDE the desktop I like most. I just hope that it lets me use it more easily.

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An icon-only taskbar

I wanted to have the option the hide the text labels in the taskbar for quite some time now. I stumbled over bug 159480 recently and noticed that I’m not the only one. Sadly my patch for the task applet has been rejected by the maintainers, because they do not see enough value in this feature (you can follow the discussion on review-board). So I took the option to create and maintain a fork of the task applet with this option added. It is placed in playground and you can download it from kde-log.org.

This is the normal task applet as you now it, fetched from current KDE trunk. It has the option to show icons of running tasks only – you can have it looking as normal too. Here is the screenshot:

This is placed as “flexibletasks” in playground. If there is a feature for the task applet you always wanted to implement and try out – this is open for your contribution.

KDE’s onscreen keyboard

A big hello to all planetkde readers and authors. This is my first post here and it’s about my main current KDE project. Since KDE 4.4 the kdeplasma-addons package contains an onscreen keyboard. I decided to write one after I didn’t find a really useable keyboard for text input for a touchscreen-umpc. Well, I gave the umpc back. But the next time I buy a touchscreen device I want to have a nice keyboard for text input – that’s why I’m working on this. I never used the keyboard in 4.4 on a touchscreen – and I never got much feedback before its release.

keyboard-KDE4.4

Onscreen keyboard in KDE 4.4

Now I have to admit that the 4.4 version is not much useful for several reasons – but the good news is that this will all change in 4.5. This is the list of improvements I have already in place:

  • The speed and memory usage of the keyboard has been greatly enhanced. I completly rewrote all painting code for that. Marco Martin describes the difference between before and after like “between day and night”
  • You can press a button and drag your finger to another button after that. The key is acutally pressed when you lift your finger. That’s a feature you may know from mobile phones.
  • The key layout is not hardcoded anymore but provided by editable xml files. This means you can adjust the default layouts if you don’t like them
  • There are key layouts designed for small screens now. (Although they may need some polishing)

You may even call this KDE’s “new” onscreen keyboard. Marco made a screencast with it, see here: www.notmart.org/index.php/Software/On_screen_keyboard

keyboard-45-big

Onscreen keyboard of KDE 4.5 with full key layout

As many people will probably ask, I mention a feature the current keyboard already has. It does automatically adapt to the keyboard layout you are using. If you have activated a QWERTY-layout, it will show a QWERTY-keyboard. If you use DVORAK, it shows DVORAK. Quite neat, I think.

I ask all touchscreen users to try the new keyboard out. You can compile it from trunk, it will run inside of KDE 4.4. I may also provide a tar ball of the current source. I’m depending on your feedback for providing a rocking keyboard for KDE 4.5.

Especially the tablet- and mid-layouts need some attention. I don’t know whether I have included all needed keys or placed them logically. This is hard because with every language the keyboards look different. So my small layouts may be good for german users, but garbish for french ones. So try it out and if you have proposals for enhancements, tell me, I’ll try my best.

keyboard-45_mid

Keyboard for 4.5 showing the key layout for mids and phones

I better mention one problem the keyboard has. It will only work if you add the applet to the panel and open the keyboard as a popup. It will not work when you place it on your desktop. The simple reason is that it steals the keyboard focus when you click on it and have it on your desktop – so the keys are not send to the place you want it but to the applet itself. We don’t have a solution for this currently.