The KDE - Gnome Challenge

The past couple of years i've been experimenting with my desktop alot. When i started using Fedora, i stuck with Gnome until i found XMonad. Then i did alot of the initial work of getting it to integrate into Gnome. After watching my desktop break on updates and alot of the tools i was using at the time completely junk out on me, like hamster-applet, not to mention being plagued by evolution, i decided enough was enough, and i switched to KDE. Watching every component in the desktop get rewritten every six months with less features each time was making it hard to just get XMonad up and running.

After getting things up and going, and seeing how KDE 4.2 was stable enough to get some work done, i thought i could commit myself to using it. For a while, it seemed to work, but i realized i wasn't using half the features coming in. The incremental improvements were nice, and i saw the beginnings of a very interesting foundation that had alot of potential. But then since the past few months, lots of little issues started creeping up. Every time i would suspend my laptop, resuming it would take longer and longer before i got control of the keyboard back. Sometimes the only button that would be reactivated was the handy power button. Going into standby would take longer and longer. Leaving an X session running for more than a couple of days would get really slowly. The kicker panel that used to show up instantly started to take seconds and then minutes even to show up. It would also break the focus in weird ways. All the akonadi bits would start to get in the way. The panel would graphically glitch all the time making itself less than useless. I wanted my desktop back.

If i were a KDE or Gnome developer, i would have been thrilled to have the chance to be able to dogfood and fix alot of these bugs. My current role is a system administrator, though, and all of these things just get in the way of solving problems fast so i don't miss my deadlines. I don't mean this criticism as something bad about any of the decisions of the developers or the Fedora package maintainers, but simply, this is why it didn't work out for me.

Instead, i decided to set a different sort of challenge for myself. After watching the challenge between Ryan Rix and Mel Chua to use each other's favourite desktops, i challenge people to start with their own minimal desktop. This does not mean starting with XFCE or LXDE and calling it quits, though those are both two fine projects unto themselves. I mean, start from scratch with just your own .xinitrc file. Then put in everything you need. Figure it all out for yourself. Do this for a month and see if your survive. It's sort of like that intial Linux challenge. Can you use that for a month as a sole OS.

Over the next while, i think i'm going to post updates on some of the different components i'm using to build up my desktop. I've been using tools following the suckless principles as starters and exploring all the different options.

5 flames:

nicu zei

Touched on the LXDE/Xfce thing :D
Still, I don't find workable for me building the desktop from pieces for a whole month, I have a lot of work to get done.

Yankee zei

I couldn't avoid that, it wouldn't have been fair. They are out there and legitimate alternatives, and if you're looking to get away from the Gnome/KDE hegemony, they are quite good.

That said, you'd be very surprised how little you really need from your DE that isn't a google or two away, if you're motivated.

Peter zei

I have tried them all, XFCE, LXDE, E16/17, KDE, Gnome, bare xinitrc
I would have been most happy with xinitrc if it wasn't the fact that at the end I start ALL gnome things for normal work of the laptop:
gnome-settings-daemon for the theming to work, gnome-power-manager for the battery and suspend/hibernate, tint for panel, openbox for window manager, nautilus or thunar for file manager (yes, I can use midnight commander, but i find it tedious for mount ssh shares manually all the time, it is much easier with nautilus! and faster once you configure the share it is always there one click away). This said there are lots and lots of useful gnome applets like revelation for passwords and tomboy for synchronized notes. This plus the fact that i constantly have Firefox running and it is proven to be the most memory hungry application on Linux desktop makes the switch from Gnome to xinitrc pointless for me. Also the music / radio player - I use rhuthmbox, I could use mpd with some simple frontend but guess what - it takes more CPU cycles when the file is not in the format it lies it makes transcoding on the go, I could use mplayer but then the GUIs suck for big collections. I also have to start something for he multimedia keys to work.
All this and at the end I have no CPU cycles spared nor RAM. So sorry to say it but yeah, it is pointless to live with xinitrc only. Unless one starts X just to use gvim and firefox only. Which I know some dudes (probably some gals too) do, but I am not one of them:)
Oh and by the way I have notices funny thing on Gnome desktop screen shots - the application launchers on the panel matches the notification icons in the panel for lots of people. Isn't this waste of space? So I switched to dockbarX and I am very happy with it. This is related as of talking about optimizing the desktop - less icons less distractions:)

Kevin Kofler zei

I pretty much agree with what Peter said above, except that my complete desktop environment of choice is KDE, not GNOME.

Manually configuring one's own xinitrc reminds me of the computing stone age and I'd miss many of KDE's features (and probably end up rewriting a poor copy of startkde in that month). It also strikes me as a gigantic waste of time: KDE just works for me, I don't have any need to build my own desktop environment.

Yankee zei

I'm going to say you both have it wrong. Very wrong. The point is that nautilus is already heavy. Tomboy is way to heavy. GNote is ok, but there's an emacs mode for that that's far more sophisticated. Using Rythmbox is asking for trouble. The same goes for pretty much everything KDE. If you use 80% of the features KDE or Gnome offers, please don't stop using it.

If you use maybe 5 or 10% like i've been doing, it's time to reevaluate why you need all the excess baggage. Granted, i would rather not customize my own .xinitrc, but it's easier and more reliable than the chinese finger trap gnome-session has been. When it comes down to it, adding autostart programs in KDE is dropping +x scripts in various directories. MPD is far more robust than anything i've seen graphical, and you can pick any front end you want. Multimedia keys are one line of code in my xmonad configuration.

When i say optimisation, i don't mean optimising just what i see and what i work with. I mean optimising it by not doing stupid things from the start. I pick the tool that does the job i need, and maybe we can have a talk about how to offer a cohesive easy to use desktop composed of these tools in the future.