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.
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.