Posted by: reformedmusings | August 11, 2008

Exploring KDE 4.1 and Enlightenment 0.17

I initially started using VMWare‘s VMWorkstation to run a Windows XP virtual machine (VM) under Kubuntu Linux in order to run a few complex Windows programs that have no corresponding Linux applications and don’t run under wine. VMWorkstation isn’t free or cheap, but it is very powerful and flexible. It has worked very well for my initial purpose. Although I still have a dual boot setup with WinXP on a separate hard drive, I haven’t booted to the Windows drive in well over a year. That’s how well the VM has performed.

Lately, though, I’ve expanded my explorations of other Ubuntu Linux desktops. KDE 4.1 has been released, and I built a quick virtual machine to check it out. Kubuntu 8.04.1 has a live CD available with the KDE 4.0 desktop, which can then be updated from the repositories to 4.1. To access the latest KDE elements, you need to include the following repository in the third-party software tab of Adept (or Synaptic) after installing from the live CD (see here for more details):

deb hardy main

The update the database from the terminal:

sudo aptitude update

The install and update went very smoothly. However, VMWare Tools did not install host file sharing correctly in the guest. More on that in another post. You can also install KDE 4.1 to run as an alternative with your current desktop after adding the KDE 4 repository by typing in the terminal:

sudo aptitude install kubuntu-kde4-desktop

This will allow you to choose either the KDE 3 (or any current desktop) and KDE 4 from the options button on your login screen. KDE 3 applications don’t look very good under KDE 4, especially the fonts, but you can add support for them with:

sudo aptitude install gtk-qt-engine-kde4

If you don’t like using the terminal, all this can be done from the GUI in Adept, Synaptic, or KPackage, the latter being my favorite.

UPDATE 8/11/2008: There is a new beta version of Enlightenment 0.17 available today. The beta cannot be easily (or at all) updated from the alpha version. The alpha version should be avoided at this point. Its dependencies are now broken and it will leave your system a mess. The Enlightenment part of this post has been rewritten for the beta version.

I found that the Enlightenment 0.17 beta window manager is available for Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy). This desktop is designed by Italian artist Luca D.M. and has absolutely stunning artwork. My only complaint is that it is based on Gnome, for which I really don’t care. I initially installed OpenGEU over KDE 4.1 from the e17 repositories as explained here. In short, add the following repositories to the third-party tab of Adept (or Synaptic):

deb hardy e17
deb hardy opengeu

Then add the window manager by typing this in the terminal:

sudo aptitude update
sudo aptitude install opengeu-desktop

That identical process will also install Enlightenment over Gnome as well. It worked fine over KDE 4.1, but left the menus packed with Gnome and KDE applications, as well as e17 utilities. Eek. I liked Enlightenment enough to create its own virtual machine (VM) and install from the live CD. That proceeded without issue. But again, VMWare Tools failed to install the host file-sharing module in the Linux guest.

After getting the Enlightenment VM up and running, I returned to the KDE 4.1 VM to clean the Gnome and Enlightenment stuff out. I consulted this post for advice on how to proceed. Here are the steps that I took in the terminal to get back to a pure and functional KDE 4.1 environment:

sudo aptitude remove e17
sudo aptitude remove gdm
sudo dpkg-reconfigure kdm-kde4

Don’t forget that last step, otherwise the KDE 4 desktop won’t work right. That cleaned up most of the stuff, after which I restarted that VM. I had to remove some individual Gnome apps like Brasero, Eclare, Exhibit, Mirage, Catfish, gedit, and gnumeric to rid the system of all evidence of Gnome stuff. I used aptitude from the console to do the heavy lifting:

sudo aptitude remove brasero eclare exhibit mirage catfish gedit gnumeric

The KDE 4.1 VM is back to its pure self.

So what do I think of these desktops? As much as I hate to admit it, I really don’t like KDE 4.1. I tried 4.0 when it came out, but it had only rudimentary functionality. KDE 4.1 looks nice and works better in some areas, but the task bar is way to big. You can see some screenshots here, however the actual release does not look exactly like or have most of the functionality shown in the screenshots. Here’s how mine installed:

KDE 4.1 Desktop as installed

KDE 4.1 Desktop as installed

Few working Plasmoids are available out of the box, nor could they be added with the plasmoid add utility (it pretended to add them, but did not actually do so). I could not find a way to reorder the system tray, position its elements differently than the installed default, or resize the application launcher.  Although desktop effects were enabled, some did not work. Net result is that my install doesn’t look or work much like the screenshots. That was very disappointing. Also, the new application launcher design is less functional for me than the one in KDE 3.5.9. For reference, here’s a capture of my current desktop, which uses the excellent compiz-fusion for its composite window manager:

KDE 3.5.9 Desktop under Compiz-Fusion

KDE 3.5.9 Desktop under Compiz-Fusion w/custom wallpaper

Notice the double row on the bottom bar, with the application launcher, desktop pager, time/date, and trash can spanning the rows. Everything else spaces out nicely in two rows. This is far more functional than the bar in 4.1 with one huge row which isn’t yet configurable.

In case you’re wondering, my wallpaper is a photograph I took last year of Moraine Lake in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. It has to be one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth. The story behind that picture is worthy of a post of its own.

Back to reality. KDE 4.1 still lacks most of the beloved functionality of KDE 3.5.9, in addition to having limited configurability–a strong point in 3.5.9. I understand how Linux development works and that the world is their beta tester, but my main Linux system is a mission-critical resource. I’ll continue to play with 4.1 in the VM, but it will be quite a while before I trust it for my daily needs. I love the KDE applications, most of which I think are generally superior to their Gnome counterparts, but I have serious reservations about where KDE 4 is headed or even when it might get there. I guess that time will tell.

Enlightenment, on the other hand, is visually stimulating and even the alpha version seems fully functional. You can see screenshots from the alpha version here, but they don’t do the window manager justice. That’s because the desktop elements are almost all animated, and unlike KDE 4.1, they all work. Here’s how my alpha version looked with some application menus visible:

OpenGEU Desktop

OpenGEU alpha version desktop

The sun in the background even emits a sunbeam periodically. All the menu buttons have animation as well and ripple as you move the mouse across them. The desktop trays have far more plugins available than KDE 4.1 has plasmoids, although the system would lock up tight if I played too long with the tray plugins at any one stretch. After all, it is an alpha version. Items in the trays are fully configurable and can be rearranged using drag-and-drop on the desktop itself. Despite the beautiful appearance, animation, and composite window effects, Enlightenment is designed to be light on your resources (similar to XFCE) and it is very fast. Here’s a screenshot of the new beta version:

Enlightenment beta 1 desktop

OpenGEU beta 1 desktop

Being simply a window manager, Enlightenment doesn’t integrate a full slate of its own applications. Instead, it includes the Gnome application and desktop suite on which it is built. I found it best to install Enlightenment over Ubuntu, which is based on Gnome, from the repositories as I described above for install over KDE 4. These apps integrate nicely with the E17 themes. Despite my dislike of most Gnome applications, I am seriously considering going to Enlightenment 0.17 on my primary system when it stabilized further. The greatest compliment that I can pay Enlightenment 0.17 is that is makes the underlying Gnome almost palatable. I’ll be monitoring its development closely.

Virtual machines are a great way to try different things to either see how you like them or simply to see if they work as advertised. Since your hardware is virtualized in the guest, a VM install will not tell you anything about an operating system’s compatibility with your hardware. Fortunately, most Linux distributions have Live CDs available which will enable you to determine hardware compatibility before you commit to installing them on your hard drive. You can test things in a VM that you would never try on your primary system. If something doesn’t work out or goes horribly wrong, you can either revert to a previous snapshot of the VM (which you should always make before making major changes) or just delete the VM and start over. No harm, no foul. You can also isolate a VM completely from access to the host’s data for both security and safety, or share the data you choose with it.

I’ll be tracking the development of both KDE 4.1 and Enlightenment 0.17, expecting good things from both. In the meantime, I’m sticking with my current KDE 3.5.9 desktop under Compiz-Fusion.



  1. […] beta with the Enlightenment 0.17 (also known as e17) in a virtual machine. You can read those posts here, here, and here. The major drawback for me is that the OpenGEU desktop is based on Gnome, and […]

  2. […] in the meantime. I installed the software in a VMWare Workstation virtual machine running Gnome-based Enlightenment 0.17 over a KDE 3.5.9 base install. Yeah, I know, it’s a bit of a mess, but it was laying around […]

  3. […] highlight up front. Kubuntu 8.10 uses the new KDE 4.1.2 desktop. I talked a bit about KDE 4.1 in this post and was not overly impressed then. So, we’ll see how does it works in a full-production […]

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