Xfce 4.8 Schedule Changes

  • January 26, 2010
  • Jannis Pohlmann

As the Xfce release manager, I’d prefer to be the bringer of good news. Unfortunately, we have to make some adjustments with regards to the Xfce 4.8 release schedule.

You may well remember last year’s chaos with the 4.6 release date. We’re trying our best not to repeat that and if it should happen again, we’ll at least keep you posted about the issues as good as we can.

So, what’s the deal with 4.8?

One thing that hasn’t changed much is that our development team is very small. A hobby project of this size requires a certain amount of time to be invested by each individual developer. Time not everyone has as much has he would like to dedicate to Xfce.

Today, Brian announced his absence for the coming months due to his new job, leaving 2-3 of our core components (xfdesktop, xfconf and xfce4-session) more or less unmaintained (aside from bugfixes). The good news is that Jérôme (who has recently started to improve xfce4-settings and port xfce4-session to libxfce4ui) and Daniel (the maintainer of the thunar-shares-plugin) have offered their help with xfdesktop and xfce4-session.

Brian is not the only one having little time at hand though. I’m preparing myself for my final university exams, so ideally I’d be sticking my nose into lecture notes all day long. I still have the time to write mails like this but there hasn’t been much activity around thunar and related projects lately.

Again, I’m really happy to see people volunteering to help because that’s what we need right now. There’s a lot left to do before we can release 4.8. Let me get to that now.

As some of might have heard, thunar was ported to GIO this summer. Through GVfs, GIO brings new features such as SMB, SFTP, FTP browsing which some people use one a daily basis already. Now, GVfs has turned out to be problematic for us for various reasons. At first it shipped a HAL-based volume monitor with a hard-coded dependency on gnome-mount. Today it ships a volume monitor based on gnome-disk-utility (uses DeviceKit-disks itself) which proves to be inconsistent and somewhat incompatible to the HAL mounting code in exo.

The result: thunar-volman (not part of the core but important for thunar nonetheless) and xfdesktop will have to be ported to udev (the mounting being done with GIO, ideally). I’ve started working on this but this is far from being finished.

Question to the other developers: Didn’t xfce4-session use HAL for logging out and stuff? We might have to look into replacing those portions of code with something based on ConsoleKit, I guess?

HAL/udev is not the only issue however. With Xfce 4.8 we’ll be replacing libxfcegui4 with a new library called libxfce4ui. Not all core applications (again, xfdesktop being one of them, I think) have been ported to it yet. In most cases, this is no big deal and probably could be resolved within a few days though.

Then we have garcon, the much improved menu library that is supposed to replace libxfce4menu. At the time of writing the only feature it is lacking that is crucial for 4.8 is file system monitoring. We’ll probably implement basic monitoring like we had in libxfce4menu. Work on this hasn’t started yet.

Also, xfdesktop needs to be ported not only from ThunarVFS/HAL to GIO/udev but also from libxfce4menu to garcon.

So, as you can see there is quite a lot of work ahead of us. Taking into account the little free time some of us have these days, we’ve decided to postpone the 4.8 release until June 12th instead of April 12th. The entire release phase in our schedule has been moved by two months in time, as you can see on the official schedule wiki page:


To be honest, I wouldn’t consider this new date fixed either. It all depends on how much we can do until the feature freeze on April 1st. I’m optimistic that meeting the deadlines is possible though.

For all of you who can’t wait until June, try out our development releases which are announced on http://identi.ca/xfce. I have at least something good to share: For a few weeks now I’ve been running Fedora 12 with a mixture of Xfce 4.6 packages and development package from the upcoming 4.8 series and the new components have proven to be very stable already.

I’m especially happy about the new panel which works almost flawlessly (except for a few dual head issues) and not only supports real transparency and more comfortable launcher creation based on garcon, but is also compatible to panel plugins written for Xfce 4.6. (Good work, Nick!)

So, I guess this is it. A mixture of good and bad. I hope nobody is too disappointed. As always, we’re doing the best we can.


The download manager is in the wild

  • January 24, 2010
  • Mike Massonnet
So it's finally done, it took very long, but it's done. The download manager I once had in mind is taking off into the wildness :-) Of course it took long because I never did something with it, writing a front-end to wget/curl isn't interesting -- who cares about downloading HTTP/FTP files when the web browser handles it for you anyway -- and reusing GVFS doesn't make sense cause really you don't want to download from your trash:// or whatever proto:// and again only HTTP/FTP is not interesting. Not at all. I have come across Uget and other very good projects but most of them are either writing the code to handle the protocol like HTTP and/or are looking forward to handle more interesting protocols like BitTorrent. I think it's a very tough job that demands too much for a one-maintainer project. Recently I saw the new release of aria2 that comes with an XML-RPC interface and this took all my interest during 4 days. I believe this utility is very promising and I had really like to write the good and user-friendly XML-RPC GUI client that it seems to be missing!

What is so exciting about aria2? In case you know the project you don't have to read, but it is worth mentionning the features of this small utility. It supports HTTP(s)/FTP but also BitTorrent and Metalinks. It is widely customizable for each specific protocol. It can download one file by splitting it into several pieces and using multiple connections and even mix HTTP URIs with BitTorrent and by the same time upload to BitTorrent peers what has been downloaded through HTTP. So this has to be the perfect candidate to write a nice download manager, hasn't it?

The client is a very first version that I intended to code name draft although the release assistant on xfce.org doesn't allow this. Instead it will take the more neutral road of 0.1.0 to 0.1.1 etc until 0.2.0 followed by stable fix releases.

Why draft? Simple. It's being written with a higher level language than C but not even Vala :-) High-level languages are a great deal when starting a new application, as you can type more and get more, instead of typing like a dog for a rocking hot, well lousy, window. Since I do like Ruby, it's being written in Ruby currently, and it depends on the ruby-gnome2 project for the bindings. To get a picture, a main file to open a window takes 3 lines. Of course the final version is meant to be written in Vala/C, but I still need to convince myself that Vala+libsoup isn't an option that is going to waste too much time. Also at first glance libsoup looks easy to use, it allows to build XML-RPC requests, to request the HTTP bodies and to send messages, but it is not an XML-RPC client and you never know how well the Vala bindings will play. This means extra attention for small things. Starting an application from scratch with such constraints are usually a big time-killer therefore using like in this case an existing XML-RPC client is very important. The GUI is done with Glade in GtkBuilder format and reusing it into a new language will be pretty easy.

So what's next? I'll just wait for some feedback see what the audience thinks about it, if at all, and polish here and there. Keep tuned for the next update.

Comparing gtk+ and Qt applications

  • January 17, 2010
  • Josh Saddler

I've been on the hunt for Qt/KDE applications that do the job of the gtk+ equivalents I use.

That's a tall order, as I'm used to the way my gtk+ applications look, feel, and behave in Xfce. Trying to learn something that may do things completely differently can be very frustrating. Heck, it can be annoying even when 98% of the time the app does just what you want it to. That last 2% can push you over the edge.

Part of learning the ropes with KDE4 is finding which application does what. Yes, I could just keep using all my existing gtk+ applications with little or no difference in look'n'feel, thanks to QtCurve. But that would deprive me of the chance to try out the many, many other apps available in the FOSS world. I'd miss out on all the fun if I focused on applications written for just one toolkit. This post examines the differences between certain gtk+ and Qt programs.

Obviously, these are my subjective experiences. Everyone has their own preferences. Using and writing about all these different applications has really helped me take a look at what exactly I like to see in an application. What I expect it to do out-of-the-box, and what kind of tweaks it offers so that I can tailor it to my needs. Actually, reviewing Qt apps has helped me in my search for gtk+ equivalents, too. I've been spending more time examining user interfaces on their own merits, instead of discarding apps from consideration based solely on their widget toolkit.

The applications listed here all work equally well in Xfce and KDE, so if it operates in one environment, it operates in the other. If it fails in one, it fails in the other. It's a fairly level playing field, except that I'm coming from an Xfce background, which means I'm just not used to how some things are done on the "other side of the tracks." I've tried to keep that in mind as I jump from app to app.


For audio playback, in Xfce I use Decibel. Its playlist support isn't all that great, and it can't do additions by genre (or suggest/smart-add tracks) but overall it's fast and easy to use. I've tried other gtk+ apps like Rhythmbox and Exaile, but while I like the ideas behind them, their user interfaces are just a bit too busy to be useful. Players like Listen or Songbird are also too complicated (and dependency-bloated).

I need some kind of happy medium between the sparse simplicity of Decibel and the clutter that is Rhythmbox, Banshee, Exaile, et al. Bluemindo, Consonance, and some of the MPD front-ends come close, but don't quite make the connection for me.

Speaking of MPD: while it has many, many front-ends, I totally dislike the whole client-server model. I don't stream anything over the network, so setting up a server on a single box, with all the weird configuration that entails, is just too much. Plus MPD still can't play audio CDs, so I don't bother with anything that uses it, whether gtk+ or Qt.

Elsewhere in the player spectrum, there's XMMS and its derivatives. I used Audacious for a long time until it quit working a few years ago, then moved to Decibel and haven't looked back. However, as much as it's a pain to add tracks in the Winamp lookalikes, I can use them fairly quickly and find where everything's located, since I used Winamp for years back in my Windows days.

It's hard for me to find a player that feels usable on a day-to-day basis. Both when I just quickly want to throw some tracks in the queue and when I want to spend some time arranging a playlist. Those are the two big tests of a player's usefulness. There are lots of KDE/Qt media players available, so I've started sampling them.

JuK: Meh. I don't like the UI. None of the modes are intuitive, even after days of playing with it. That left sidebar is killing me. Totally unhelpful.

Amarok: Yup, the heavyweight. The program that's gone through polarizing changes to its UI and features in the 1.x/2.x release series. Can't say I care for it -- it was far too complicated. Felt like it took the worst UI design aspects of Listen, Songbird, Banshee, and slapped 'em together. Plus it was slow. I don't have a large collection of music on my laptop; less than ten albums. The library is tiny, but Amarok is always pig-slow to startup and search through my files. Plus Amarok required many libraries that take a long time to compile. Not worth it. Akarok just isn't right for me.

QMMP: This is familiar to an old winamp/xmms/audacious user, but very dated. I don't like the idea of skins anymore. I want applications to smoothly integrate with my desktop theme -- using native widgets, whether gtk+ or Qt. There's no "default to native Qt widgets" setting, unfortunately. But it plays media as expected. There's a wealth of built-in plugins that offer everything I need for playback and information display. Just like the good ol' days of Winamp, XMMS, and Audacious.

QMMP is the player I'll stick with for the time being, as I can't find anything with a UI that's not too simple or too complex. What I'd like is a Qt app with a couple of configurable panes and album cover support -- something like Decibel or Consonance, but capable of more than just adding music by album or artist.

Kmix: an applet for volume control. It has the quick functionality that I'm accustomed to in Xfce4's volume control, in that I can hover over the applet and scroll the mousewheel to change volume without needing to click. Very handy. However, the icon and "sound wave" meter are so tiny it's very hard to tell the volume has been changed without clicking to check the level. When opening Kmix as a standalone application, it's the most confusing frontend I've ever seen to alsamixer. Seriously, its UI is crap, even after adjusting the display options to minimize the clutter.

That screenshot in the above link represents a best-case scenario, and even that's totally unintuitive. The icons also don't always make sense -- take that first one at the top of the "Master" control. It's a mini slider switch. Looks like it should do something, right? Yeah, just keep grabbing at it, then realizing that it won't actually do something. I could go on, but I'll stop there. There are some icons I just have to ignore.

Fortunately, my needs are simple; I don't need many displayed controls. I don't even use the laptop's builtin microphone, and only rarely use headphones. "Master" and "PCM" are the only things I really care about.

On the positive side, sometime after installing Kmix (so it's possibly related) I now have an on-screen volume indicator when I use my laptop volume buttons! The last time I saw this was in an ancient version of Ubuntu, so it's quite a treat to have the buttons actually work and get integrated into my desktop. Love it!

Now I just need a working on-screen display for my LCD brightness level. I do get a popup, but it doesn't always move the level meter when I adjust brightness, in KDE and Xfce. At least I'm halfway there: things appear on the screen when I push buttons. Good start.


Ark. In Xfce, I use Xarchiver to work with tarballs, zipfiles, etc. I've also played with Squeeze in the past, but found it rather unstable. Back in my Gnome days I used the ubiquitous file roller. There are a few different gtk+ archive managers I've used, and generally liked their UIs.

Ark seems to be the standard (possibly only) Qt archive manager in Portage. Sadly, it would not work: it said it did not have the necessary permissions to create archives in my own home folder! This was a show-stopper, so after a few half-hearted debugging attemps I unmerged it and went back to Xarchiver. Under KDE, Xarchiver sorts the archive in reverse, with files at the top and folders at the end, but this is a minor change to expected functionality. It still does everything else it's supposed to.

Plasma-emergelog: a plasmoid I found on the official KDE overlay. Prints emerge.log output from the last few merges; can be pretty useful. It's even written by a fellow Gentoo developer.

Dolphin: as filemanagers go, this one is okay. Once I disabled some of the hover mojo, enabled double-click activation, and added an "Up" arrow, it works like any other FM I've used. That is, with one key exception: the unending annoyance that is the location bar! I like having an editable location; it's much faster for me to type the location than it is to keep clicking backwards and forwards though the filesystem. However, the location bar doesn't seem to be persistent. Every time I open a new Dolphin window, I always have to click View -> Navigation Bar -> Editable location. My setting is never permanently saved. Is this a bug or a feature? It's driving me crazy!

The search bar is interesting, but useless. I intend to remove resource and space-sucking hogs like Nepomuk, Strigi, and anything else that uses the "semantic desktop." Maybe one of these days the semantic desktop will matter, and our tools for using it will improve, but for me, that day is a long way off.

I can't find one good desktop search framework for any environment, KDE, Xfce, or Gnome. Beagle, tracker, Strigi, you name it. In my experience they're just too slow and bloated.

Konsole: an acceptable terminal, though I may be going back to Xfce Terminal soon. Konsole does everything I need it to except make use of middle-click functionality. I can't middle click a URL to have it open up in a new Firefox tab, for example. This is something I do constantly -- whenever I run an eix query, I usually open up the application's homepage, which just needs a middle click in Xfce Terminal. It's a two step process in Konsole; I first have to right-click the URL, then choose "Open Link." I miss the middle-click so much I'll probably go back to Terminal. Now that my gtk+ widgets all look like native Qt apps, it's not like I'd notice a difference. The color schemes are the same, the fonts, are the same, they can both do tabs . . .


Kbluetooth: Bluetooth manager for KDE. In Xfce, I use Blueman, which gets the job done. It mostly has a unified user interface. But I can't actually browse my phone in a filemanager, since Thunar lacks support for that. Even using Gigolo isn't enough -- I'd have to install various FUSE packages to get support for opening the obex:/// location from Blueman, or use Nautilus. Neither are acceptable.

I can't browse my phone using Kbluetooth, either. I can send and receive pictures, but sending (from the phone) requires a laborious, slow process of selecting each file and stepping through several menus. Sending items to the phone from the laptop is much faster, as I can use the normal file picker.

Also, I couldn't get a unified preference/usage window to popup for Kbluetooth. I had to do lots of right clicking on the panel applet, and every setting requires a new window. Rather annoying.

One other annoyance was the fact that every time I wanted to receive a file from my phone, Kbluetooth opened KWallet. Can't it just read my PIN from secure location in the filesystem? I think that's what Blueman does, maybe someplace in /etc/, just like wicd and wpa_supplicant do for WLAN passwords.

I still need a good Bluetooth client that lets me browse my phone directly in a file manager of some kind.

WiFi: turns out that by reemerging solid with +wicd, it enables support for wicd, which I already have installed. I haven't seen how this works, though. Wicd was already listed in the program autostart menu; I just had to change the command so that it launches the tray applet and doesn't just run the background daemon.

Regardless of any special Solid integration, however that works, since wicd operates normally, it may remove
the need to install some other network connection manager. I'm quite comfortable with wicd, and it'd be nice if I didn't have to setup a new configuration for a new app every time I switch desktop environments.


Kblogger: client that supports multiple blogging APIs, including LiveJournal support. I found this client in the kde overlay. However, it doesn't actually work with LJ. It can't add post tags, nor can it retrieve existing tags. Trying to do so kills the application. Very buggy. I gave up and unmerged it.

Blokkal: another multi-blogging client with LiveJournal support. Does everything I want it to for LiveJournal. Minor annoyance: I can't just type my LiveJournal password into Blokkal, but instead have to first enter the password for KWallet. But that's probably a more secure method of storing it locally, right? Still, it's an extra step that I don't have to take when using gtk+ clients like Drivel or LogJam.


The next big writing application to find is a word processor: something that's fast, easy-to-use, and doesn't require hours of downloading and compiling. KWord seems to be the most well-known office application, but the reviews I've read so far indicate that it tends to run a bit slow, though not as bad as OpenOffice. That's a positive sign, so I'll give KWord a shot.

On the lighter side, FocusWriter seems to be a Qt clone of PyRoom, which is a free gtk+ version of WriteRoom for the Mac. I wrote an ebuild for PyRoom a year ago; it's been one of my very favorite and most useful applications. I do need a distraction-free writing environment, so I'm glad to see that there's an equivalent application for KDE/Qt.

Other office software I need to investigate: spreadsheets, finance trackers, and email clients.

And another thing . . .

I notice that it can take a long time for newly installed applications to show up in the Kicker menu, or to disappear after I've uninstalled them. Why is that? Is something not scanning /usr/share/applications when it needs to? I usually have to logout if I want to see the menu updated.

Thunar-volman and the deprecation of HAL in Xfce

  • January 16, 2010
  • Jannis Pohlmann

Last week I started looking at thunar-volman (a program that performs certain actions when new devices are plugged in) with the goal to make it compatible with the latest release of thunar which uses GIO instead of ThunarVFS for almost everything that takes place under the hood.

Until now, volume management (monitoring and mounting) in Xfce was done through HAL, the hardware abstraction layer that is currently being deprecated and dropped by major distributions. The functionality previously provided by HAL has been moved into udev, udisks (formerly known as DeviceKit-disks) and upower (formerly known as DeviceKit-power).

Volume management is transparently supported by GIO, meaning that applications don’t have to worry about the backend implementation. It should, in theory, not matter whether HAL is used or udev/udisks. Unsurprisingly, in reality, things are not that trivial, mainly for two reasons:

  1. Due to its focus on file management, GIO only supports monitoring and detecting storage devices (DVD drives, USB sticks etc.). There is no way to be notified when e.g. a digital camera or a portable media player is plugged in. This is critical for the functionality of thunar-volman which until now supported everything from cameras, media players, blank CDs/DVDs, audio CDs, PDAs and printers to input devices like keyboards, mice and tablets.
  2. Mounting volumes with udisks seems to be somewhat incompatible with HAL. I tried to mount volumes with thunar-volman and exo-mount (both implemented on top of HAL) and was for the root password upon unmounting in Thunar (using GIO and gnome-disk-utility/DeviceKit-disks). It seems like volumes mounted with HAL are assumed to be mounted by a different than the current user and thus, require root privileges to be unmounted.

HAL being deprecated and somewhat incompatible with udisks, what are the consequences for Xfce, and for thunar and thunar-volman in particular?

Let us, for a moment, assume Xfce 4.8 and thunar 1.0 were released as they are today, with thunar using GIO (and udisks instead of HAL in all major Linux distributions) and the rest (like thunar-volman and exo-mount) depending on HAL. As mentioned before, exo-mount and thunar wouldn’t work together in multi-user setups. Thunar would no longer detect cameras, PDAs, audio CDs, blank disks, mice, keyboards, tablets, media players and thunar-volman would end up being completely useless, as it is not detecting devices by itself. I think it is safe to say that this is not what we want.

In the following, I will focus on how to deal with thunar-volman. The rest of Xfce faces a similar roadmap, however. With regards to thunar-volman, there are (at least) three sane options:

  1. Drop thunar-volman and only support auto-mounting storage devices from now on, directly implemented in thunar. What is very obvious about this solution is that a lot of possibly useful functionality is lost.
  2. Port thunar-volman to (g)udev/udisks/GIO and make it a standalone daemon so that thunar no longer has to spawn it when new devices are plugged in. The advantage of this approach is that thunar only needs to depend on GIO and doesn’t have to implement the device detection part.
  3. Port thunar-volman to (g)udev/udisks/GIO as described above and make thunar depend on (g)udev for device detection. Spawn thunar-volman when devices are added/removed. The advantage over the previous approach is that thunar-volman doesn’t have to run permanently as a daemon. The additional thunar dependency on (g)udev could be seen as a disadvantage but on the other hand, it basically replaces another (HAL).

Now, everyone knows that programmers are lazy people. So, in the hope of being able to save some work, I started a survey on the usage of thunar-volman. The idea was to find out which of its features are used most and whether there are some that nobody really cares about. Here are the results:

                                                        Feature   #Users   Percentage 
                        Mount removable drives when hot-plugged       86        92.5%
                            Mount removable media when inserted       83        89.2%
                           Browse removable media when inserted       69        74.2%
             Cameras: Import digital photographs when connected       31        33.3%
                          Play video CDs and DVDs when inserted       31        33.3%
                                   Play audio CDs when inserted       30        32.3%
                 Burn a CD or DVD when a blank disc is inserted       21        22.6%
        Portable Media Players: Play music files when connected       11        11.8%
                      Auto-run programs on new drives and media        7         7.5%
        Automatically run a program when a printer is connected        7         7.5%
                        Auto-open files on new drives and media        6         6.5%
                               Sync Palm devices when connected        5         5.4%
  Automatically run a program when an USB keyboard is connected        3         3.2%
     Automatically run a program when an USB mouse is connected        3         3.2%
         Automatically run a program when a tabled is connected        2         2.2%
                          Sync Pocket PC devices when connected        2         2.2%
                Thunar Volume Manager Usage Survey with 93 participants

According to the results of this survey, auto-mounting and browsing of removable drives and media have highest priority among the 93 participating thunar-volman users. This more or less covers the functionality we could cover with GIO alone (plus automatically running a program when new drives and media are inserted). However, a third of the users also use thunar-volman for importing photographs from digital cameras and for playing video and audio CDs as well as DVDs automatically. Almost a 25 percent of all users use thunar-volman to start their favorite burning software when a blank CD or DVD is inserted. Slightly more than 10 percent want thunar-volman to start playing music on portable media players when they are plugged in. Printers and Palms are also somewhat relevant.

This survey confirms my expectations that handling storage devices alone is not enough even though they clearly are the most important use case for thunar-volman. Our users seem to like the flexibility of thunar-volman and make use of it. This disqualifies option 1 and leaves us with options 2 and 3. I’m inclined to avoid another daemon and go for number 3.

In preparation for porting thunar and thunar-volman to udev/udisks/GIO, I’ve created a wiki page to collect information about how we can reliably distinguish the different device types based on udev properties: http://wiki.xfce.org/dev/thunar-volman-udev. If you have blue-ray disks, video CDs, a digital camera, a Pocket PC, a Palm, a USB printer or a graphics tablet, you could make me very happy if you inserted them or plugged them in and sent me the output of udevadm info --export-db to my Xfce email address together with a short hint what devices you’ve plugged in. Alternatively, you can paste/upload the output somewhere on the internet and comment on this blog post, and thereby help making future versions of Xfce better.


More KDE 4

  • January 12, 2010
  • Josh Saddler


It's been several days since I installed KDE 4.

I've been using it off and on, experimenting with Arora and Dolphin. I'm just starting to sample the applications available for Qt/KDE.

Blokkal: an extendable blogging client for KDE4

One thing I did discover earlier tonight was a blogging client called Blokkal. This client caught my eye because it supports the LiveJournal protocol, which makes it one of about three (?) actively developed LJ clients on the internet. The others were all discontinued years ago, and their ebuilds have been removed from Portage. Sure, the source code is still available, but it's tough to integrate features such as tags, userpic management, and various other LJ service improvements. Or they come with heavy Gnome dependencies, as in the case of BloGTK and Drivel. (Yeah, I still think in terms of "how much will this weight down my Xfce desktop.)

So finding out that there's a native client that supports LJ was quite a treat. Blokkal also supports many other blog APIs, but I don't use 'em, so the only draw is the LJ integration.

Writing the ebuild

My next step was to write an ebuild for Blokkal, since a quick check of the Portage archives didn't turn up any ebuilds. Thus I began my plunge into the source code of the app and reading the stated requirements on the homepage.

Blokkal has a CMake-based build system, and it lists kdelibs, KDE PIM libraries, and the Phonon library as its requirements.

The first step of writing the ebuild was to get the basic header stuff (HOMEPAGE, SRC_URI, etc.) out of the way, then add the raw deps.


I was initially a bit unsure of the PIM library listing, as we have in Portage both kdepimlibs and libkdepim. The first was closer to the Debian package name, so I took a chance that this was the correct one. After that, a few quick eix checks on the rest of the packages sorted out the likely names, and then it was on to the source code to see what was a runtime dep, and what was a buildtime dep.

Turns out that with one exception, DEPEND was the same as RDEPEND, so that saved time. I initially had kdelibs as an explicit DEP, but Jonathan Callen (ABCD on IRC) kindly corrected me, as it's already in kde4-base.eclass. (Thanks to him and wired for answering some of my inquries.)


Eclasses were the next step: which eclass should be used to get proper background dependencies, source configuration, compilation, and installation? The KDE and Qt teams have been very good about eclasses over the years; most ebuilds inheriting them don't need much in the way of actual code lines -- no need to duplicate anything when the eclass does the work for you.

There are a few different KDE4 eclasses available in the tree, and I had to read through 'em all to guess which one was most appropriate. Other KDE applications in Portage don't need many lines of code; the various eclasses do all the heavy lifting. I jumped on IRC to confirm my choice of kde4-base.eclass, then ran the emerge, only to be met by compile failure!

Compiling and running

I suspected it was an error I've run (and fixed) before, and sure enough, it was: I just had to redefine ${S} since the package download is Blokkal-0.2.1, but the ebuild is blokkal-0.2.1 in lowercase. I'd gotten ${MY_P} right elsewhere in the ebuild; just forgot this one thing.

After the fix, it compiled just fine, started up just fine, and I added my account . . . only to discover that I couldn't log in. Something was missing . . . but what?

I took another look at Blokkal's source code. There were a few kwallet headers and kwalletmanager references that implied another runtime dependency was needed. I added kwallet to the ebuild's RDEPs, recompiled, and finally got the popup window asking for the password. Now I could login to my account and do some Blokkal UI configuration.

Try it out

Since the ebuild is finished, why not try out Blokkal? Get the ebuild here.

Coming up

So there you have it: another step in my KDE4 odyssey. I expect to get my hands on some themes, multimedia applications, office/writing tools, and more.

Obligatory screenshots

Here's my current desktop, which mostly shows off the "Naked" plasma theme and my desktop widgets:

Clean and naked

For comparison, here's one with a couple of open applications. This shows how well gtk+ applications are integrated into KDE, thanks to the QtCurve style. In the background is Dolphin (Qt4) and in the foreground is Abiword 2.8.1. (From the ebuild I wrote for it)


On KDE 4.3.3

  • January 7, 2010
  • Josh Saddler

I finally did it: I compiled and installed KDE4 on my laptop on the 5th. Took all night. Hours and hours, but it was ready the next morning, with nary a compile failure. Which is good, since it is the stable branch and all. But wait . . . KDE?

Why KDE?

In a word, SLiM. Sometime in mid-December I caught an X11 update that made SLiM stop working. Or maybe it was something else. My theory is it was the xinit update that dropped twm, xclock, and xterm from the required runtime deps. So abruptly SLiM stopped working, and I couldn't login graphically; I just got errors saying "Couldn't execute login command" with nothing else in my logs. Forums didn't help. I could run startx manually, but that's a pain. Not suitable for a laptop shared with my wife. I unmerged SLiM and started looking around for alternatives. GDM is one, but it drags in a bunch of Gnome dependencies. XDM is just ugly and unconfigurable, and lacks the appropriate shutdown/restart/suspend actions. KDM was the last candidate. Yes, it had lots of KDE dependencies, but I figured that if I installed KDE4, then it wouldn't have as many deps, right?

Yeah, I know, it's like: "But . . . aren't you an Xfce guy? Don't you exclusively use gtk+ environments (including Gnome in years past)? Don't you hate heavyweight crap or endless C++ compiling?"

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I know. But here's the thing: after initially getting excited about Aaron Seigo's (now canceled) upcoming talk on KDE at SCALE, I then found out that Camp KDE will be right here in San Diego, just a few miles from where I live. So I started thinking -- now that things have settled down since the disastrous 4.0/4.1/4.2 days, maybe . . . maybe it would be worth experiencing directly what "the future" is all about, according to the hype machine. I'm thinking of visiting Camp KDE, so I thought if I do, I should have some knowledge of how KDE currently works.

Past and present

The last time I ran KDE was back in late 2004 or early 2005. As far as I remember, it wasn't even on Gentoo, but on other LiveCDs and distributions. I still have an old Knoppix CD from 5 or 6 years ago lying around -- and that was KDE3-based. Given Plasma and all the other new buzzwords and technologies and new paradigms, I figured it was about time to see how things have progressed.

Or stayed put.


True to form, KDE4 still makes configuration this massively complex, insanely arcane art. You need an engineering degree to wade through the simplest of configuration menus, even when right-clicking on an item in your panel -- if you can find it, that is. The dialogs are very inscrutable; it makes navigation difficult. All these weird arrows and spaces and popup panels in the default theme, not even something with extra bling.

One of the first things I did was turn off that stupid window-that-is-not-a-window on the desktop, so that I wasn't distracted by all the flashy Plasma widgets. After that, I spent a half hour trying to tweak the font settings. I discovered that buried in the Antialiasing dialog are the actual hinting and RGB subpixel hinting configs that I was looking for, though there's a catch. You can actually disable (that is gray out) the AA option, which makes you unable to get to the stuff below it. BUT, as long as you've tweaked your hinting settings before exiting that subdialog, that's okay! You just have to re-enable AA to get into the hinting subdialog. Stupid, I know. The Xfce way is much, much better; all three options are exposed top-level.

After making my desktop readable with Verdana fonts, it was time to start poking around. And around and around and around -- it's easier to navigate the Windows Control Center than KDE CC. Things haven't changed there in 6 years. It's especially bad when you get to the properties of your Qt theme, in this case, QtCurve. Several dozen confounding lines popped up in the right box, dizzying amounts of tweaks that should in no way be exposed to the end user. Seriously, just let the theme author set 'em and forget about 'em. If there need to be variants...don't expose every last line of optional code to the user.

Integrating gtk+ apps

Despite some initial setbacks, I decided it was time to start installing a few more packages. See, I wanted a bare minimum install, which turned out to be 74 packages for kdebase-startkde and kdm. That's after tweaking my USE flags for half an hour to whittle the dependencies down. Yeah, that's the bare minimum -- I was at only about 470, 480 total packages for my very minimal Xfce environment. I like my laptops to run lean.

Then I added qtcurve-qt4, gtk-engines-qt, and kcm_gtk, since without the unfortunately ~arch kcm_gtk, it's not possible to have your gtk+ apps use your Qt theme. This needs to be rectified; the gtk+ module should be stabilized ASAP, given that everything else is stable. Once in place though, even Firefox behaved nicely with my Qt theme. Very nice.

After fleeing from the QtCurve controls, installing kcm_gtk, and restarting KDE, I was able to get my gtk+ apps integrated nicely with KDE. That's one area that KDE4 beats Xfce and Gnome, at least in Gentoo. We don't have a "Make your Qt apps look like native gtk apps" gtk+ engine in Portage.

Packages: webbrowser

I still needed a file manager and a webbrowser, so I decided to install Konqueror, having used it in years past. It turns out that Konqueror doesn't have dual-functionality anymore; it's just a webbrowser. A webbrowser that can't use Flash until you install kde-base/nsplugins, FYI.

Konqueror startup is much better than it was 5 years ago. It's still kinda slow, but not as slow as Firefox! The downside is that when running, it tends to be a bit slower since it doesn't have the nice Adblock features that the Firefox extension offers. Yes, it can kind of do Adblock with lists, but as far as I could tell, it was still downloading all the "blocked" content and rendering it, but just making it invisible via CSS or some such mojo. It's still doing all the processing of heavy Flash and Javascript, but where you can't see it. Contrast that with never downloading blocked content in the first place.

Speaking of Adblock, I think the main reason why I'm still on Firefox is that there's not a single Adblock implementation that has the functionality of the Firefox version: making it easy to right click on anything, Flash, iframe, image, text, etc, and add it to the blacklist with a simple click. Nothing else even comes close, and I've tried almost all the gtk+ webkit browsers out there. None of them can do it. Which is too bad; I love webkit's speed and rendering accuracy, but no browser that uses it has integrated an easy-to-use constantly-configurable Adblock plugin. Maybe Arora, Rekonq, or some other Qt browser can, but I'm not holding my breath.

Packages: file manager

So I'm still on the lookout for a good Qt webbrowser, and a file manager while I'm at it. Supposedly Dolphin is the new Konqueror, but the jury is still out on its dependencies because of weird USE blocks. I've been sticking with Thunar, which now looks good in QtCurve, except for the icons. I get a lot of default blank icons even with the help of kcm_gtk. For some reason, despite activating the right setting, the KDE icon theme isn't fully integrated with Thunar. I'll give Dolphin another shot tomorrow.

Packages: terminal

Konsole works decently -- it doesn't start up as quickly as Xfce Terminal, but it does blend nicely with KDE (of course). Its configuration works just like the ol' Gnome terminal: instead of the simple, obvious "Edit Preferences" menu found in Xfce Terminal, you have to click "Edit current profile." Which means you have to know what a profile is, that you're using one, and that it has things you want to change in it. Still, Konsole is fairly configurable; I got it to my preferred white-on-black setup, with my fonts just how I like 'em. It did what I wanted it to after a bit, though I didn't find the option to disable "Scroll on output," which is annoying when I want to read a bit of emerge output in mid-compile. Minor nitpick; I'm otherwise satisfied.

Speed and desktop effects

Performance is another matter. Yes, I am running a mostly stable/some ~arch Intel graphics stack, on an X3100 IGP, but come on . . . I expect window moving, resizing, fading, and switching to be snappier! Once I enabled desktop compositing, it both helped and hindered window usage. The OpenGL renderer is faster than Xrender. Xrender is much slower at window fading and moving; there's lots of lag. However, the OpenGL renderer leads to buggy themes -- about half the Qt and Kwin themes are unusable because of serious visual glitches and artifacts that corrupt the widgets and buttons. This is present to some degree even in the default Oxygen/Ozone themes, and to a lesser extent in QtCurve. Sometimes widgets flash real fast or in weird colors when you mouse over 'em, sometimes they remain normal. It might just be Intel graphics code; who knows. It doesn't happen when using Xfwm4's Xrender compositing, though. Xfwm4's compositing is also very snappy, with no slowdown.

While there are some performance issues, and some OpenGL problems, I did discover something totally neat, something even my wife thinks is cute and wants on her Mac: the snow widget! KDE4 includes an awesome composite trick that brings weather onto your desktop. You can set it up so that there's gently-falling snowflakes behind all your windows. Awesome! So peaceful and cozy. If I take away one thing that gave me a good feeling from the experience, it was enabling the snow candy -- which isn't as hard to do as it was in Compiz, I might add. Mmm, snow.

What I really want now is some "rain" eyecandy that does the same thing. Or better yet, some kind of Plasma widget that sends rain/snow/wind/sunshine/etc. across my desktop depending on what the actual weather is in my area. Anyone heard of something like that? It'd probably have to tie in to accuweather.com or something. Man, that'd be sweet!

Panel widgets

Speaking of desktop widgets, while I haven't even scratched the surface of what Plasma can do, nor of all the thousands of Plasmoids out there, one widget that really bugs me is the clock in the panel. Seriously. What is up with this useless clock? Its only config options are "fonts," "timezone," and "timezone." Oh yes, and "timezone." Is there enough timezone yet? Apparently not. I can't even make it 12-hour, nor display the month/day in the format that I'd like. Even Xfce's not very-click-userfriendly clock at least gives me full display control by offering the time shell codes. Once I learned how they work, I set it up to my liking: %a, %b %d %l:%M%p, which results in Wed, Jan 06 11:47PM. I can't do that in KDE.

Heck, the menu that I get from clicking on the clock widget is not the same menu I get when going to the KDE CC and clicking the time dialog there. That's another HUGE gripe of mine against KDE over the years: so many different menus in so many different places, for the same option or really similar options. What I really don't like is right-clicking an object to see one menu, but then I see a totally different menu when left-clicking it. Oh man, you've just lost a lot of points in your UI design right there. The other thing in KDE that bothers me is the constant renaming of things. It's not always just "Properties" in the right-click menu, nor is it always easily accessible. Sometimes I have to scroll down to hit a horizontal arrow that exposes the "Properties" dialog or whatever it's called.

I don't think this is because it's an add-on application; this is all the stock KDE you get from emerging kdebase-startkde, not some random app from kde-look.org. Shouldn't there be more of a unified, easily accessible user interface? It feels like the right hand's not talking with the left hand throughout the desktop.


Still, I want to press on and learn the system. I want to get through it and use it long enough to really see if it works for me. There's also the school of thought that says that if I have to adapt myself to the tool in order to use it, then the tool itself is broken from the start. Something to think about.

There's also this whole "semantic desktop" framework that's part of KDE. I have no real idea what it is, how to use it, how many resources it consumes, or even if I want it. But it's something I want to try out . . . somehow.

Assuming that I do stick with KDE's foibles'n'gripes and take the time to get over the learning cliff, deal with all the pesky annoyances, and generally persevere . . . I'll need to install more applications to get a useful workspace. If I'm going to take the time to get a good dual-boot desktop environment going, I need something to make it productive. That means music and video players, spreadsheets, word processors, instant message apps, a mail client. (Oh, the horror of migrating yet again, having lived through the Thunderbird -> Claws move). CD players/rippers/burners. Printer utilities. Easy WiFI/networking controls. Power management tools.

All kinds of apps that I have some idea about, but only from "the other side of the fence," things I've only read about in the gtk+ world. On the other hand . . . as long as my existing gtk+ apps are integrated visually into KDE (thanks to QtCurve) and "just work," maybe I don't need to duplicate my entire Xfce environment?

Still, suggestions and feedback are very much appreciated.