Why I abandoned GNU/Linux on the desktop

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:

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.

19 Comments

  1. Omar Alejandro Silva

    27 May 2017 at 08:39

    At home we have two eeepc and a Sony Vaio which went old. With winxp they worked well, win7 was too heavy for both netbooks, the Vaio Laptop had no proper display driver, windows updates are time consuming and make the os even heavier. Higher windows versions are out of range for those machines, I hate their graphical interfaces and everything senseless changed and hidden. So I don´t want Windows any more. My thought is that my computers didn´t change, my needs didn´t change, I want to do what I did before with winxp. And I don´t want to be part of the consumer race buying and buying. I have the machines, they can do their job, they just need a suited os, a light distro capable of doing the same as winxp. So my choice are light distros like Lubuntu and Pupi Linux. It´s true, sometimes linux problems can be a nightmare, linux is not for everybody. The biggest problem I had was online-video streaming, Lubuntu and Pupi Linux do it well. Using a windowmanager like i3wm and opening programs as in the old days with a dos-filemanager I save even more ram and can watch online videos in HD. So I have for example in one machine one linux distro with i3wm just for watching videos alongside another linux distro with a classical desktop.

  2. Notice that after 15 years you spent using linux, you still haven”t figured out the basics, namely the excellence of the Bazaar, the non-issue of fragmentation, and the choice of a stable distribution and desktop environment to stick with.

    As a suggestion, given that you seem more experience on red-hat derived distros, you could stick with fedora as a permanent solution, which is a major, well-supported and standard distro rather than a niche, then pick a DE on top of it. Since you liked KDE3, you may want to look into Trinity DE, which is a maintained and cared-for fork of KDE3.

    • Funny, you claim that I have not figured out the basics, but provide no evidence for it. Did you read the article in the first place? The desktop OS market is divided between Windows and macOS, while the mobile OS market is dived between Android and iOS. You may find a major distribution among the plethora of GNU/Linux distributions, but it will still be a niche desktop OS, and major software companies do not develop tools for an OS with less than 2% of market share. Whether you like it or not, we live in a world where people use Word to co-author documents, Illustrator to design logos, Lightroom to develop pictures, etc. Try using LibreOffice to co-author documents, Inkscape to design logos, or digiKam to develop pictures… You will do half the work in twice the time. If you have time to waste, be my guest, but I do not. GNU/Linux is still my preferred choice as a server OS, but as a desktop OS I am better off with macOS.

  3. Artur Oliveira

    31 October 2015 at 19:37

    “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.” … Nop, you are not the only one …

  4. Frankly I’m running Mac OS X on a home built PC.. I could use Linux, but with Linux, there are just too many flavours and options. I would say that I like OpenSuse.. I use Opensuse for a file server.
    But as something that I would use every day, I prefer Mac OS X… And Windows… NEVER.. Not in a Million Years.

  5. >Arch Linux ships by default with KDE 4
    Something looks a bit off here… Arch ships with no DE/WM whatsoever. (And if I recall it was the same when this post was made.) Have you remained to Mac OS X?

  6. Carl Stephenson

    21 May 2014 at 18:08

    Interesting post. I just found myself going back to Windows after using only linux for the past 10 years. There are just too many services and programs that do a better job in the Windows world.

  7. I’ve been using Linux for 30+ years, have gone thru all the changes using both KDE and GNOME, but GNOM3, after a year’s use has left me frustrated to the point where I’m abandoning it in favor of XFCE.

  8. Why not Windows? 🙂

    With dual boot Windows + Ubuntu I have all range of tools and capabilities as user of multimedia and software developer.

    Mac OS x for me is rather fifth leg for dog, unless I start developing for iOS. But thats another story

    • Alessandro Rossini

      28 June 2013 at 22:19

      I could write an entire post explaining why I prefer a Mac with OS X over a PC with Windows 7, but I just have time for a quick answer. My main argument is that I can have in one OS all range of capabilities and tools for playing and working that you have in two OSes. All other arguments depend on needs and taste eventually, so I avoid them on purpose. And just in case you wonder about my recent experience with Windows: I had to use a Dell laptop with Windows 7 as my only business laptop for the last six months, until I gave up and switched back to my MacBook Air with OS X.

    • Constantine Kharlamov

      30 June 2015 at 21:08

      The more I’m using GNU/Linux, the more I am afraid that one day my employer would tell me to use Windows®—I am living in a little city. Fortunately, I am quickly grow as a developer, and this day I could just go to a freelance.

      Why don’t just use Windows®? This question makes me smiling—I don’t even know where to start, there’s just a bunch of reasons, and wherever I’d begin, I am surely would miss something.

      To make it short, I’ll just leave here a list of everything that comes to my mind while I am writing this: tiling manager, compose key with ready-to-go combinations from github, «proc» filesystem (imagine here one more list of features that comes from the «/proc/», otherwise it would be even longer text), a package manager (just tell me it is “just a minute longer for soft installing”—hell not! Shall I provide here one more list of features that appears from that?), multiple virtual desktops, bash (I’m tired writing this, but I could turn it into one more list of really useful features), always working std[in/err/out] (if anybody doesn’t know, Windows® disables it for graphical applications. I could suppose that there is a hack to turn it off, but it is the more global problem than just an app you developing—you can not just run application that works wrong, and for which you have no a source code—or don’t want to tackle with it—to quickly figure out what’s wrong), semi-development utils like ldd, «strace» (which wouldn’t just work in Windows® for the prev. reason), missing restrictions for special and case different symbols in path/file names, an ability to restore the system (a knowledge required, though) from almost whatever errors you could do, and which would be fatal to Windows®.

      The next two things I separated—these comes into play only if you developing for GNU/Linux: the idea to have a generic file descriptor for different things like network socket, unix socket, file, serial port plus much more conscious API with comparison to Windows®.(oooh, how many headache I have had when ported my application to Windows® because of the two things…)

      UPD: but please note α) I mention only things I remember at the moment. After I wrote this, I still have coming thoughts of more and more differences—like a good file manager (Dolphin) in comparison to Windows®, but I’ve a feeling x→∞, where «x» is a list of features I could recall. β) For a few things of the list are workarounds—like separate app for Compose key, and the new powershell against bash—but… Well, I have to tell that I tried for development reasons once to switch to Windows®, but failed; and I can tell you, that workarounds which are known to me are just lame.

  9. Alexander Hoem Rosbach

    26 October 2012 at 17:08

    Why not skip desktop environment entirely? I’m not happy with the state of neither gnome3 nor unity, and have never been a KDE user. So I decided to go for a window manager only setup, and must say that I’m quite happy with it. I’m running Archlinux, which has no default desktop environment (doesn’t even ship with Xorg), and currently I run the tiling window manager i3 (https://i3wm.org/) with SLiM as display manager. This way I’ll get my “desktop environment” fitted to my personal requirements and preferences.

    i3 is highly configurable, but ships with a satisfactory config, though if you want something even more configurable then xmonad might be a good choice. The configuration is done through haskell code and gives you the full power of the language to define your setup.

    It saddens me that the major desktop environments have failed us as much as they have and sincerely hope that they once again will reach a level that we’re satisfied with.

    • After watching a video Eric S Raymond using i3, I’m impressed with it and wondered if there was anything like that for Mac OS X.
      No doubt that if I was using Linux, I would be considering it.

      The new KDE plasma is getting my notice as well. It seems better and uses less resources than Gnome3 does.

  10. I was using KDE since pre 1.0 times (~year 2000). On my experience 2.x were the best releases. 3.0 was good and then something really bad happened. For last 3 years I’m using OSX and I still miss power-features of KDE (window/desktop management), but a brief attempt to use KDE4 ended up nowhere.
    IMHO KDE has some kind of project leadership problem…

  11. Piotr Kaźmierczak

    27 September 2012 at 19:59

    huh, kind of like reading myself two years ago…

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