The KDE 4 release series is nearly four years old. Yet many users still maintain that the KDE 3 series delivers a faster, more efficient, and more customizable desktop. However, their claims are rarely detailed, so the recent release of a new version of the Trinity Desktop Environment, the KDE 3 fork, seems a suitable time for an examination of the claim.
The last time I compared the two KDE versions, KDE 4 was still working out some of its rough spots, such as using Akonadi to manage personal information in a database. Similarly, although based on what was then eight year old technology, Trinity was still fine-tuning, adding such features as the ability to run KDE 4 applications.
Since then, however, both desktops have matured and added features. So how do they compare now in terms of speed, feature, and stability? It's time for a point-by-point look.
One of the main claims about the KDE 3 series is that it does everything more quickly than KDE 4. That claim seems more or less true, but depends on the apps that you are running.
On my main work station with sixteen gigabytes of RAM, the latest KDE desktop appears nine seconds after l log in. By contrast, Trinity is ready to use in five seconds. Logging out and returning to the log in screen usually takes nine seconds for KDE and seven for Trinity, but, depending on the apps I am running, either can take up to twenty-three seconds. What's more, Trinity seems more likely to have long delays than KDE (and to crash altogether during logout).
The speed that apps run at depends on the environment for which they are designed. With applications that aren't designed for a specific desktop, start times are inconsistent. In most cases, such as Firefox, the start times are equal. However, KDE opens LibreOffice in three seconds as opposed to Trinity's five. Yet KDE takes five seconds to open The GIMP to Trinity's three.
Both desktops open apps written for KDE 4 in about the same time. However, apps written for KDE 3, such as the Basket note program, seem to open twice as fast in Trinity than in KDE. However, comparisons may be misleading, because Trinity uses its own version of many programs, which may be tweaked for performance, and are not usable by KDE.
Verdict: Claims about Trinity's speed are exaggerated, but it is still faster than KDE in most cases. On an older computer with only one or two gigabytes of RAM, the difference in speed might be even greater.
Comparing desktop layouts is difficult, because KDE takes a more visual approach to customization features than Trinity, and a user accustomed to one may have trouble finding a particular feature in another. Moreover, KDE tries to extend the concept of the desktop, while Trinity's concept of the desktop remains largely unchanged from a decade ago. Much also depends on the options you choose.
Still, in general, Trinity seems designed equally for those who prefer desktop icons and menus. By contrast, KDE's default assumes users who start apps from the menus. Yet that said, by adding a Folder View, KDE users can have an icon-oriented desktop that functions similarly to Trinity's default.
In fact, if you choose, you can use several different icon sets at once, or else change them as you change tasks. The main difference is that Folder View controls are harder to learn than anything in Trinity; even after several years, I still fumble with them sometimes.
In addition, KDE offers far more features than Trinity. Unlike Trinity, KDE offers widgets on the desktop, which allows them to be considerably larger than when they are on the panel. As a result, you can easily create custom desktop views, such as an overview with a To Do and Calendar. If you are not adding icons to most of the desktop, such custom views are a handy way of using otherwise wasted space.
KDE also includes customizable hot spots, and a wide arrange of special effects for the desktop. Some of these are just eye-candy, but a number increase accessibility or add visual clues that reduce common irritations such as finding the active window among half a dozen.
Trinity does have an edge in some individual controls. For example, it allows you to select which file formats have a desktop preview, while KDE simply enables previews for all. But while KDE may lag in a few individual desktop controls, in general it allows a wider variety of work flows than Trinity.
Verdict: Some users might prefer the relative simplicity of Trinity, but in general the KDE desktop simply offers more possibilities. That means that in KDE, you have a greater chance of working exactly the way you want.