Rating KDE Applications: Great to Not too Good

KDE applications run from the second to none to those to avoid at all costs.

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Posted December 30, 2015

Bruce Byfield

On the Manjaro mail forum, a thread is rating KDE applications into three categories: second to none, decent, and better uninstalled and replaced.

Despite the modern proliferation of desktop environments, such a rating could only be done with GNOME or KDE. No other desktops have encouraged as extensive ecosystems of applications, and, in fact, most modern desktops borrow from GNOME.

In fact, several GNOME users have told me that, for them, looking at KDE is like looking a different operating system. Remembering that comment has me thinking of what my own ratings would be:

Better De-Installed and Replaced

My list of KDE's worst applications echoes those on the Manjaro forum, centering on how KDE handles personal information. The Plasma desktop abstracts personal information into its own sub-system Akonadi and a database, but while in theory the idea is convenient, the practice is frequently a disaster.

Akonadi's basic setup is straightforward enough. However, the diagnostic tool that is supposed to help solve configuration problems is a checklist of problems, each of which is explained in a single, often obscure line, and none of which provides any explanation of how or where to correct problems. As a result, setting up a calendar or mail can be a challenge that requires long hours on the Internet instead of being routine.

A similar problem occurs with the KWallet password manager. By default, KDE attempts to use it to manage email accounts, but in practice, it fails to act as it is supposed to, and often requires manual re- entry of its password each time that mail is checked, no matter how the settings are changed.

The problems with Akonadi and KWallet are rounded off by the vagaries of KMail. Feature- wise, KMail should be one of KDE's best of breed, with easy tools for creating mail filters or sending encrypted messages. However, KMail's designers have the knack of making simple actions appear bewilderingly complex. Even worse, it has problems accurately counting the number of unread messages in each folder, while deleting messages frequently displays a message announcing that KMail is broken, and stops displaying the contents of a folder until users click on another folder then return to the original. For all its promise, KMail is barely usable, and seems to be the first app that users replace.

The Decent Foundation

One of KDE's strengths is its basic applications. The Kate text editor, the Konsole virtual console, the Dolphin file manager, the Gwenview image viewer -- each of these applications can match any alternative feature for feature. Just as important, each can be customized by plugins or built-in features to an extent that few substitutes can match.

In fact, in the case of file managers, KDE supports not only Dolphin but Krusader, which some rate even more highly than Dolphin.

These basic applications include Kontact, a notable exception to the weakness of KDE's personal information apps. Kontact is a shell for email, as well as calendars, to-do lists, personal notes, and news feeds. Although each of these utilities is available as a separate application, having them grouped together, each a single click away, is convenient. The one flaw is that Kontact itself is far less configurable than most KDE applications, requiring only the designated apps and offering no way to rearrange them in its shell.

Second to None

Many of the best KDE applications follow what I call a completist philosophy. That is, they cram every conceivably relevant feature into the interface, rather than just the most common ones, as GNOME applications tend to do.

For example, the Amarok music player is designed not just to play tracks and create play lists, but to create a listening experience that is simultaneously traditional and modern. On the one hand, it grabs Wikipedia entries to take the place of liner notes in a traditional album and collects cover art. On the other hand, it includes plug-ins for online music services and podcasts. It is an app for those who are serious about sound.

Similarly, digiKam started off as a camera manager and has morphed into a editing suite of inter-connected programs, while K3B combines all the options for burning DVDs and other external media with the most complete set of features for ripping individual tracks ever. Often overlooked but also completist is Marble, which uses OpenStreetMap to provide a de-centralized, more than adequate replacement for Google Maps.

However, not all of KDE's first rate applications are completist. Klipper is simply what on every desktop should have had long ago -- a multi-entry, configurable clipboard, while Okular is the most fully-featured PDF reader in free software, with a much more coherent interface than Acrobat itself.

But if I had to pick the single best KDE application, it would be Krita. On the Manjaro mail forum, several commenters rejected Krita along with the rest of Calligra Suite. Ignoring Calligra Suite is a mistake in itself, since it includes some modern thinking about office suites, as well as the Kexi database, but to overlook Krita is to overlook one of the most acclaimed pieces of free software today. Designed in collaboration with professional artists, Krita is being recognized as one of the best graphic tools available -- proprietary or free -- and does all that GIMP does and more.

Setting the Standard

I have no experience with the video editor Kdenlive, but from second hand reports, it might be fit into the second to none category. Probably, too, many of KDE's utilities, such as KSnapshot, KAddressBook, and KCalendar, should be classified as decent.

However, no matter what applications or utility are included, what this list shows is the strength of most of the KDE ecosystem. While I have used KDE as my main desktop environment for more than six years, I only truly appreciated how well-rounded the KDE ecosystem has become while making the list. Except for a handful of problems, KDE provides a consistent, often excellent standard all around -- which explains why it is the desktop to which I always return.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Tags: Linux, KDE, Open Source App

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