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KDE 4 Changes

Figure 1 shows the KDE 4 OpenSUSE desktop. The only immediately visible new feature is the down arrow on the Taskbar next to the digital clock. (The lock icon does what you think it does.) Clicking the down arrow takes you to a shutdown option menu.

KDE 4 is the long-awaited new version of the KDE window manager. I've wanted to see it in action for quite some time—under circumstances in which my desktop environment wasn't at risk if I installed a beta. Now that I've seen it, I think I could have waited a bit longer, at least until the user interface issues had been resolved.

Figure 1

Figure 1 KDE 4 OpenSUSE desktop.

Menus and User Interface

The KDE 4 menu setup (see Figure 2) is the biggest usability improvement over KDE 3x. I've detested the hierarchical menus with sideways extensions since I first saw them in early Macs. In KDE 4, they've been replaced by a hierarchical menu setup where each level is a panel array of applications or folder sets of applications. A new menu search feature is a tremendous timesaver.

Figure 2

Figure 2 Menu panel.

When you hover the mouse pointer over a tab, the menu changes to show the next level of the menu hierarchy. In effect, you select the first and second levels at the same time. The right-pointing arrows on the menu take you farther down in the tree; if there's no arrow next to a menu label, that's an application.

Figure 3 shows what happens after you select a menu item. Notice the arrow in the vertical bar on the left; clicking it returns you to a previous level in the menu hierarchy.

Figure 3

Figure 3 Third-level menu display.

The Rest of KDE 4

Other than the new menu structure, I'm not happy with KDE 4. (By contrast, I'm very happy with v3.59 on Debian.)

You can't install applications directly to the Taskbar via right-click; instead, you have to find and right-click the menu entry. You also have to use the File Manager to create desktop application launcher icons or folders. (However, the SUSE KDE people retained the Applications tab on icon properties, something the Kubuntu KDE people or the KDE developers should have done.)

The File Manager doesn't support "Run as root" right-click action. This didn't help when I tried to install Guest Additions, which adds the clipboard and shared folder capability without which a virtual OS is a doorstop on the desktop. That's why my instructions in the Guest Additions part of the "Setup in VirtualBox" section can be summarized as "Extract VBoxLinuxAdditions.run to /home/username and run the script as root in a terminal"—for something that should be possible to do via GUI.

I dropped a bunch of images on the desktop from KSnapshot, figuring on scooping them up and dragging/dropping them into the folder I created afterwards. However, drag-and-drop does not work—not even for dumping icons into the Trash folder.

I tried resizing the desktop and panel icons in Appearance > System Settings, since they took more screen real estate than I wanted. Everything accepted the new icon sizes, but nothing changed. Controls such as horizontal and vertical icon spacing don't exist. Controls for cleaning up desktop icon alignment are limited to horizontal and vertical alignment.

The very useful KDE Control Center application, which gathers all the KDE settings in one place, is unavailable in KDE 4/OpenSUSE.

The digital clock is attractive, but you can't choose font sizes to reduce the excessive real estate it requires in the Taskbar.

I think that summarizes my problem with KDE 4: It takes away choices, some of which are required for system maintenance or to get things working. I really like the new look, but I don't like the reduction in usability, and I don't see any reason why usability should be compromised to get a new look.

Apparently I wasn't the only unhappy person. This blog reports that fixes are starting to happen in KDE 4.1-beta. They are, but you can't run it in OpenSUSE yet. I expect KDE 4.2+ to be as good as KDE 3.5x, and I look forward to using it when it adds to desktop usability, instead of subtracting.

If you're a KDE user, I recommend getting the GNOME version and installing KDE 3.5-whatever separately.

Program Installation and System Maintenance

Yet Another Setup Tool (YaST) is the catchall application where most system things have been bundled together as a single control application. My past experience with YaST has been very good. Functionality enabled through YaST worked well and was easy to use. It hasn't changed for the better here—long downloads when some files are installed, tens of megs of dependencies. You'll probably notice download speeds in the 60–80KB range. OpenSUSE isn't at fault; the problem is underprovisioned servers.

Installing Additional Software and Multimedia Apps

Find the repositories you want to add. Then follow these steps:

  1. Click Start > Computer (on the bottom tab) > YaST > Software > Software Management.
  2. On the YaST 2 window's top menu, choose Repositories > Repository Manager and click the Add button.
  3. Click the Community Repositories button to get to a check-off list of community repositories. Select the ones you want and click OK.

Alternatively, in the Media Type screen, click the radio button corresponding to the repository you want to install from the list. If you're pasting an online source, it's easiest to select Specify URL, copy/paste a repository name (such as OpenOffice.org STABLE) from the list on the Additional YaST Package Repositories page, and then copy/paste the corresponding URL from the hyperlink matching your OpenSUSE/SLED version. Click Next.

A package building service is available for developers. If you simply want to get their software, search the OpenSUSE Build Service.

Some popular applications are available on the Web via "one-click install." The theory is that you find the page, click the link. I tested this feature with KDE 4.1 beta 2, to see whether it had improved significantly for the purposes of this review. A warning came up with a long list of installed packages that would break if I went through with the install. The second "one-click install" I tried with multimedia also failed, as shown in Figure 4. This was supposed to be a semi-automated process. Unfortunately, it doesn't work.

Figure 4

Figure 4 One-click install? Yeah, right.

If you click Yes, a browser window opens and takes you to the OpenSUSE 11 multimedia page, where you can start downloading and installing codecs. Grab both Free and Restricted if you actually want to play what's out there. This is what the page says when you try "one-click install" to get the restricted ones:

To go through a simple wizard guiding you through the installation process of some additional multimedia codecs where necessary, simply click on one of the links below:

[snip]
 This will enable you to have:
 Flash
 Java
 Latest Amarok (with MP3 Support) for KDE, or Helix-Banshee for GNOME users
 Encrypted DVD (libdvdcss)
 Extra xine Codecs, for MPEG-4 etc. (libxine1)
 K3b with MP3 Support (k3b-codecs)
 Win 32 Codecs (w32codec-all)

Well, I tried it. Figure 5 shows the result.

Figure 5

Figure 5 Post-codecs installation via wizard.

This is one of many variations of an error message from Totem. It failed after reboot, too. FLV, MOV, MPG, WMV failed. I did get one AVI to play. Other AVIs wouldn't. On some, audio would play without video. Flash YouTube content would play, meaning that the Flash plug-in at least worked.

Not worth the time and effort. Linux multimedia is supposed to be easy to set up.

Scanner Configuration

If you're configuring a USB peripheral via VirtualBox, remember to right-click the USB icon on the guest VM window and select the checkbox to turn on access for the intended peripheral.

You get to scanning via Start > Computer (on the bottom tab) >YaST Control Center > Hardware > Scanners. I opened it. It detected my scanner. To make it find a driver, I clicked the Edit button and got a list of drivers with opinions on compatibility. I took the top option, which seemed to work. Installing XSane worked without a problem (other than lots of dependency downloads), and worked perfectly afterwards.

Printer Configuration

My printer is a Canon PIXMA iP3000. CUPS just got an iP3000 driver, which worked just fine in the KDE version of Kubuntu Hardy after I installed the unaccountably missing KDEPrint package and dependencies. No printer wizard, so I simply tried printing from a browser and found a menu that let me choose iP3000 or Print to File. I chose iP3000 and it printed on the first try. Previously, I'd been dependent on the third-party proprietary TurboPrint Linux driver package. So any usability problems in OpenSUSE 11 must be attributed to its printer implementation.

To get to printer options, click Start > Computer (on the bottom tab) > YaST Control Center > Hardware > Printers. Click the Add button to start the printer wizard. The wizard informs you that the printer drivers are not installed and asks whether you want to install them. The next thing you see is the YaST printer configuration screen with a dependencies download in progress, as shown in Figure 6. The printer wizard is typical, until it dumps you into the Printer Queue Edit Dialog shown in Figure 7.

Figure 6

Figure 6 Printer configuration process.

Figure 7

Figure 7 Printer Queue Edit Dialog window.

When you get to this point, here's what to do:

  1. If you aren't on the Basic Settings tab, click it.
  2. Click the Change Model button.
  3. Select your printer make and model from the list. Click OK.
  4. Select the driver from the list of one or more entries that are filled in when you return to the Printer Queue Edit Dialog window.
  5. Click Add Driver. Click Next.
  6. You'll end up back at the window shown earlier in Figure 6, but now with a new entry for your printer. Click the Print Test Page button. If the test page prints, click Finish. Your printer is installed.

Sounds easy, but it took me an hour to figure out which buttons to click, and in what order. The first time around, I did the obvious and found it didn't work. As Figure 8 shows, clicking the Help button didn't turn out to be very helpful.

Figure 8

Figure 8 Help isn't helpful.

Overall, print setup works okay, but isn't obvious at first (or second) glance. I'd give this a C- grade, based on my knowledge that it is possible to automate printer setup completely. Instead, I not only had to go through the wizard, but had to guess which buttons to use to get it to work after the wizard dumped me into the Printer Queue Edit Dialog window. The more common CUPS wizard-driven printer installation is a lot better. As you can see in the figures, plenty of empty space on the printer setup screens could have been filled in with explicit instructions.

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