Testing Desktop Managers

As I have mentioned here before I have been predomiantly using KDE 3.5 for my main desktop for sometime now. The last couple of days have seen me experimenting with some alternatives. I installed Fedora 9 with KDE 4.1.2 and Xfce 4.4.2. This isn’t the first time I have used KDE 4 and I have used older versions of Xfce. Neither have previously tempted me to move away from KDE 3.5 though.

KDE 4.1.2

My earlier experiences with KDE 4 had me deciding it wasn’t ready for everyday use. It is difficult to pinpoint particular issues that support this but it is the general feeling from using it. A good desktop manager will disappear, at least to the extent that it doesn’t get in your way when you are working. However if you are spending more time trying to get past the desktop than you spend in your apps there is a problem. So here are a couple of the issues I found.

The new menu format feels slow and clunky. I found using it with a mouse difficult and with the keyboard it was inconsistent. I had set up shortcuts in my Fedora 8 KDE 3.5 system and found the way to set them up here was similar. However they didn’t work. There were saved and could be edited but there was no response when I tried them. In 3.5 there was an extra step to use multiple keys which doesn’t seem to exist here so that may be the problem. After a short time I had reset the menu to the classic menu which helped a little. The help screens still refer to the previous versions too.

I didn’t like the look of Firefox and found a post on the Fedora Forums which describes how to make Firefox use the current KDE theme. This helped a lot. Open Office had a strange problem where icons on the toolbar disappeared unless the mouse was over them. I haven’t got around to look into that yet.

I found KDE to be a bit slow too although it is faster than the 4.0 I tried sometime ago. It is also much more stable. Maybe 4.2 will be more usable.

Xfce 4.4.2

Xfce is a light weight desktop that is quite minimalist when compared to KDE and Gnome. It certainly runs faster and uses less resources. This makes it useful on older computers and when you want to run resource intensive apps like video editors. I had used older versions and found them a little too basic for my liking. Also Xfce is less customisable than KDE. They always seemed stable and fast but I never kept them as my default desktop.

After using KDE 4 Xfce looked very simple and that isn’t a bad thing. Everything I have tried works with little attention. I haven’t worked out how to set up shortcuts yet. Also I haven’t found a theme I prefer but that is a small concern. It seems stable and is the fastest I have tried on this computer. My early impressions are that I could live with Xfce which is something I haven’t thought of older versions.

So Where Does That Leave Me?

My preferred desktop manager is still KDE 3.5. Undoubtably this is partly due to being familiar and therefore comfortable with it but even more due to the fact it is mature. KDE 4.1.2 is not quite there. Maybe 4.2 will do it for me. I look forward to trying it sometime soon. Xfce has come a long way and could become my choice when I update my everyday system from Fedora 8. I will install Compiz on it soon and see how that goes.

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