Friday, July 29, 2005

Playing With Distros

The last few days I've been trying out Kubuntu and Fedora Core, whereas my distribution of choice has been SuSE since version 6 or so. I thought I'd comment on the experience. Incidentally, this is not a review, it's just some uneducated comments about installing and setting up those distributions. So no posting this on Slashdot and then flaming me, ok?


First impressions: Text mode installation - does the job, but looks pretty ugly: bad. Didn't ask me which packages I wanted to install - just went ahead and put a default set on: not sure if that's good or bad. Detected my dell laptop display without asking me any questions: good. KDE's defaults didn't look very nice: indifferent - I've never found a distribution which makes KDE look nice yet. Had a nice KDE network control panel: good. Couldn't work out how to make my wireless card work: bad. Didn't give me a root password, and I had to use another computer to google for the answer: bad. The fonts looked ugly - it wasn't using the freetype bytecode interpreter: bad. Plugged in my memory stick and it appeared on the desktop with a sensible name: good (SuSE doesn't put it on the screen, and calls it something like usb-p0-0023932746593249). Couldn't find many nice GUI tools to set things up with: bad.

Fedora Core

Nicest installer I've seen: very good. Nice boot screen: good, but not as good as SuSE - you still get a lot of text before it goes graphical. Needed me to select the laptop display: indifferent - until Kubuntu I wouldn't have expected any different. Default setup of KDE actually looks reasonably nice, although I still needed to fiddle with a lot of settings to make it look really nice: ok. Fonts look as good as SuSE: good. Uses RPMs: good (since that's what I'm used to). Uses firefox and evolution instead of konqueror and kontact by default: bad.

Overall FC4 just feels like a much more professionally put together system than Kubuntu. Which means the choice is between FC4 and SuSE. I think SuSE probably does things slightly better than Fedora, but Fedora has to advantage of being a bit more open, so there's perhaps a chance I could contribute to making it better.

So, I'm currently posting this while using FC4, although I'll probably put my SuSE hard drive back in before too long, since all my work is on it. But it is very tempting to change to FC4, as it's a lot better than I was expecting. The only thing I'm not sure about yet is how well supported KDE is on it. I liked having KDE in /opt/kde3 on SuSE, but on FC4 it's all mixed in with everything else. Which is probably more correct, but it complicates things a bit.

And I noticed that I'm listed down the side of planetkde now. So hi to everyone reading the planet!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Who am I?

You can see who I really am by looking at my personal website at, but how am I involved with KDE?

My first foray into the KDE world was when I was a student at Warwick University. I don't remember which version it was, but I wasn't impressed. I had a slow computer, and KDE made it crawl. So I used fvwm, and only used my linux box for playing with, and used Windows for everything else. I even bought legal copies of Windows for my machine, although most other stuff I was using was pirated. Then eventually I decided that I should be using legal copies of all my software, but I couldn't afford it. So I wiped my computer and installed SuSE Linux, which I could afford. It came with KDE as the default desktop environment, and it was much nicer than what I'd seen a few years before.

I now use Linux with KDE on my main computer, and only boot up my Windows machine when I need to do Flash development or use Embedded Visual C++ (although with MTASC and other such tools I rarely need to use Flash MX any more). KDE has been improving in leaps and bounds, and when I switch to a Windows machine I'm always amazed at how clunky and inefficient it is. And these days, desipite having a four year old laptop, my system still flies!

I've been delving around inside the code of KDE for a while, but I'm a Java programmer at heart so I've never got too far with it yet. I've fixed a few things here and there, but nothing spectacular. But I regularly read a few of the mailing lists, and keep checking out the commit digests and things like that, to keep up to speed with what's going on. Half the problem is knowing where to start - there are so many things I'd like to do with KDE, but I have very little time as I have my own web design and software development company to run as well. And now there's the added stumbling block of not wanting to work too much on KDE 3 when KDE 4 is around the corner. So I should just set up another machine to play with KDE 4 on, but I don't have the money either...

...because I'm moving to Canada soon, to get married to the most amazing girl I've ever known. Which will boost the number of North American KDE developers considerably! (The moving, not the marrying. Obviously.)

So, what kind of stuff am I interested in doing to KDE? Consistency, usability, beauty, performance. Which in my mind, are all inextricably linked. If a system isn't consistent, beautiful or performant (is that a word?) it isn't usable. If it's not usable it doesn't have good performance (because you take too long working out how to do stuff). BUT... to make a system usable doesn't, to me, just mean that newcomers will find it easy to use. I've been using computers for years, and I want KDE to be usable to me too. So that's the million Canadian dollar question - how do we do that?

I don't know.

Friday, July 22, 2005