I have experimented with GNU/Linux in dual boot with Windows from 1997 to 2000, and I have had GNU/Linux only installed on any of my computers, both at home and at work, since 2001. I have changed distribution relatively often—3 years with Red Hat (now Fedora), 2 years with Mandrake (now Mandriva), few weeks with SuSE (now openSUSE), 1 year with Slackware (don’t ask…), 3 years with Gentoo, few weeks with Debian and 6 years with Kubuntu—but I have not changed desktop environment that much—1 year with FVWM ’95 (those were the days…), 1 year with Enlightenment, 1 year with GNOME 1, and 12 years with KDE.
I have been a loyal KDE user, contributor and advocate since the release of KDE 2.0. I have donated 100 EUR to the KDE e.V. organisation each year since the announcement of the “Join the Game” campaign. Last but not least, I acknowledged the KDE community in my PhD thesis (at the end of the Preface, page xi). This was just in case anybody wonders about my credentials as a GNU/Linux and KDE user…
Unfortunately, KDE does not satisfy my needs anymore, and I was forced to look into other solutions. This post attempts to explain why I came to this decision, and I hope that the GNU/Linux and KDE communities will perceive this as a constructive critic.
KDE 4.0 was released before it had reached feature parity with KDE 3.5. This is because KDE developers intended KDE 4.0 as a technological preview aimed at developers, testers and early adopters only. However, the majority of KDE users did not understand that, which is legitimate considering that .0 means at least feature complete in any other project. As a consequence, many KDE users (including Linus Torvalds) found themselves with a desktop environment which was just half-baked, and eventually ditched KDE.
I expected KDE developers to adopt a more conservative release strategy in future major (point) upgrades, but apparently, they did not learn any lesson. In fact, KDE 4.4 was released together with a new version of KAddressBook which was rewritten from scratch and based on the Akonadi storage service. The new version introduced several regressions compared to the previous version shipped with KDE 4.3. As a consequence, once again, many KDE users found themselves with a half-baked KDE PIM suite, and eventually ditched KDE.
This time also my frustration started to mount. I wrote two verbose posts on the KDE forum to question this release management and propose a system of bounties for bug fixing. These two initiatives triggered a lively discussion in the community, but in the end, nothing happened.
KDE 4.9 was released one month ago. There are still many small nuisances with it, especially with the KDE PIM suite. And do not blame me or the packagers, please. Try to access an IMAP e-mail account with an unstable Internet connection: in the best case, Akonadi will spam the KDE notification system with connection error messages, which will eventually crash KNotify; in the worst case, Akonadi itself will crash. Try also to synchronise contacts and calendars with Google or any other well known social network: if you manage to make it work, consider yourself lucky if you do not have any loss of information.
Despite these years-old bugs, KDE developers keep spending resources on applications the world could probably do without, like the Rekonq browser and the Calligra office suite. Sometimes I ask myself if KDE developers use these applications for real, and apparently, the answer is that some do not: as you can notice in the official screenshot for the KDE 4.9 release, some prefer Chrome and LibreOffice over Rekonq and Calligra, which is not surprising at all. I often read complaints about the lack of resources to maintain the KDE project. Why not focusing on fewer applications of higher quality rather than more applications of questionable quality then?
I tried to look into other distributions and desktop environments, but the situation seems to be even more tragic. Let us have a look at the top ten distributions on Distrowatch:
- Linux Mint, which is a fork of Ubuntu, which in turn is based on Debian, ships by default with Cinnamon, which is a fork of GNOME 3
- Ubuntu, which as mentioned is based on Debian, ships by default with Unity
- Mageia, which is a fork of Mandriva, which in turn is a fork of Red Hat, ships by default with KDE 4
- Fedora ships by default with GNOME 3
- openSUSE ships by default with KDE 4
- Debian (Wheezy) ships by default with XFCE
- Arch Linux ships by default with KDE 4
- CentOS, which is a fork of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, ships by default with GNOME 2
- Puppy Linux (seriously?) ships by default with EDE
And these are just ten distributions out of hundreds, as well as just seven desktop environments out of tens—among which I cannot resist mentioning Trinity, which is a fork of KDE 3…
Am I the only one thinking that this fragmentation is beyond ridiculous? The developers of these distributions and desktop environments are spending massive amounts of resources to develop redundant software and compete on a mere 2% of market share. Why not focusing on fewer distributions and desktop environments of higher quality rather than more distributions and desktop environments of questionable quality then?
Maybe there is a question of ego, or maybe there is a problem with the bazaar itself. But the fact remains: GNU/Linux has missed all the chances to become a mainstream desktop operating system, and I do not want to use a niche operating system anymore. This was a difficult decision, and I am sorry for that, but I need something that just works, and I need it now.
So long GNU/Linux, so long KDE, you served me well.
My new desktop operating system? Mac OS X. Do I love it? No, I hate it at times, but I will come back to that another day.