Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Can KDE Save a Dying Windows Platform?

I want to start by telling a story. Bare with me.

Once upon a time there was a software engineer. He wrote code, windows code, embedded firmware. He was happy. Then one day a new project is put before him, a project unlike any other he had encountered. It was going to require all new hardware, and the features, wow. Something like this is going to require a full blown Operating System not the usual rinky dink assembly program.

Research leads to the inevitable conclusion, Linux. Further Research leads to a graphical toolkit called Qt (pronounced “Cute”.) A request was made and granted for a new workstation to create a new Linux development environment, after all the windows development machine was far too mission critical to muck about with dual booting and virtual machines.

This engineer had some Linux experience on the desktop, having a PC or two running it on and off for the last couple of years. He picked his favorite distribution and after a bit more research had a fully working development machine up and running a chair swivel away from his usual trusty machine. The choices made for this workstation would have a lasting effect on this engineer. KDE for the desktop, with Kdevelop as the IDE won out over Gnome and Eclipse. It stood to reason that if he was developing with Qt, a desktop made atop the Qt libraries was appropriate. Even with the incomplete KDE cross compiling documentation it was fun to work on.

Fast forward, the product is designed, operating system compiled, drivers tweaked, application software is written, units are built, tested and released to production. During this time a funny thing happened, Windows disappeared from the engineer's home PCs completely. The research requirements were so much that many an evening he could be found at his desk until the wee hours of the morning going over documentation, compiling newer kernels, and generally pushing Linux as hard as he could.

When the morning came he would go back to his office and he noticed he swiveled his chair less and less towards the Windows PC. So much so in fact, he decided he should do something about it, He designated it the email machine. That would ensure he used it more frequently. While using it he missed the simplicity and stability (especially the Stability) of his Linux box. No amount of cygwin or virtual machine tweaking was satisfactory. Every open source application that was cross compatible was deployed, Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice, and the rest, but still it was not enough. Eventually he gave in to dual booting to enable him to use his favorite tools. But the sad truth is, an embedded engineer needs Windows. There are just too many specialized tools for programming devices, analyzing signals, and device drivers that are Windows only and no amount of Wine-ing will do.

His only hope was that he knew Qt was cross compatible with Windows Linux and Mac, and there was talk that someday, KDE was to be ported to Windows. So he waited.

Well, KDE4 was announced and there was much joy. Betas were released and there was much bitching. KDE4.0.0 was released and there again was much joy (and still a little bitching). More importantly an actual honest to goodness Windows port is released.

Here follows that engineer's report.

I could hardly wait. Download the KDE for Windows Installer. (Link is to the Stable version)
(For this review I went with the bleeding edge unstable version 0.8.6 beta4 marked 1/28/08)

Note the disclaimer.

KDE on Windows is mostly in an alpha state, so not suitable for day to day use yet.

My first thought was “1.6 Megabytes, wow that is some port.” Followed by "oh, I see, it's a cygwin-like installer." Hmm, what to install? When in doubt grab it all. Pick a Mirror, I have no preference, I picked a KDE mirror in the US. You have the choice of User or Developer package installation, naturally I chose developer. This gives you all kinds of goodies like Mingw, Qt, Qdesigner, and other development tools.

Ok downloading packages, this may take a while..........

Hours later, Installing Packages this too may take a while, but don't leave because a few packages have installers themselves requiring you to click next, next, next, finish.

All right finished in a blazing 4 hours.

Follow the post install instructions from the KDE guys. Again note the disclaimer:

Disclaimer These are early days for KDE4 on Windows, some programs work better than others and some fail to run altogether.

Never mind all that, lets see what works.

What Works:

Quite a lot actually. See below for Screenshots of included apps that work. Almost all the apps shipped "work". Two are all but useless due to bugs. The rest seem to function perfectly as long as you don't need to refer to Help. Fortunately most apps have an online help while this bug gets ironed out.

What doesn't work?

Sound, at least on my setup there was no sound, any application that tried to make a peep instead produced this error message. Most Apps let you disable sound.

Blinken - Simon unfortunately requires Sound to be playable.

As does KLetres:

MimeTypes for Dolphin and Konqueror.
(I may have missed something and am investigating)

Dolphin is the new Filemanager for KDE and it looks very nice, however It could not run any executables, view any pictures or play and music. It browsed my directories just fine after complaining about not being able to open ~ directory. After setting up my home directory it stopped complaining. But not being able to do anything but browse was disapointing.

Konqueror – KDE's Swiss Army Knife, Web Browser, File Manager, FTP Client, Embedded File Viewer, Etc ... Unfortunately on my Windows box it is reduced to a Web Browser (without Flash support) and a Menu Explorer (without being able to launch anything.)

What is missing?

Besides the things mentioned above. Koffice the KDE Office Suite, Amarok Media Player, Kontact PIM Suite including Kmail, Kopete Instant Messenger. KDEVELOP!!!!!!! These are still being worked on for KDE4, so no real surprise their not ready for Windows yet.

Help Functions on all programs are broken.

So what's the answer?
Can KDE save the dying windows platform?

Not Quite Yet, but they are making a damn fine start of it.
I know I will be pitching in to help them out with new KDE Windows apps and I won't be alone. Qt is already a powerful Windows Toolkit but the KDE family of Applications are a welcome addition. Amarok is coming along nicely, and as soon as KMail, and KDevelop gets up and running, I will have to re-evaluate.


Kwrite – Notepad Replacement.

Kate – KDE Advanced Text Editor, the brains behind my favorite IDE Kdevelop. Syntax Highlighting and Code Folding is working perfectly.

Kfind – KDE File Search Tool – I didn't expect this to work but what do you know it does.

Kig- Figure Editor

PixelTool - Zoom tool

Konqueror Web Browser, Nice to see the Konq on XP too bad about the flash and it doesn't seem to support Gmail.

Kworld Clock – It's a Clock for the whole world.


KAlgebra - Math Education Tool

Kalzium – Periodic Table educational Software

Kbruch – Learn Fractions and Decimal Conversions

Kgeography – World Geography and Capitals

KPercentage - Percentage Study Tool

Kstars – Internet Connected Observtory one click to retrieve gorgeous pics of distant galaxies as well as Wikipedia and Nasa Pages.

Ktuberling – Mr Potato Head for KDE shown here in Space mode

Kturtle – LOGO Educational Programming Environment.

KTouch - KDE Touch Typing Tutor

Parley – Language Phrase Teacher, No files loaded.

Marble – The Earth on your desktop.

KwordQuiz – Flashcard and Q & A Study Tool

Kmplot - Matematical Plotting Tool


Katomic – Connect Molecules in this Puzzle Game.

Kanagram - Anagram game

Bovo – Tic Tac Toe on Steroids

Kbattleship - KDE sunk my battleship

Kblackbox – I hate this Game and I refuse to describe it.

Kbounce – KDE's Version of Jeezball

KHangman - Hangman for KDE

Klines – Make Lines of 5 or more but don't block your path

KmahJong – KDE Mahjong, The Art Department has been working overtime.

Kmines - KDE MineSweeper

Knetwalk – Get those computers on the Net as fast as you can. This game is like Crack, You have been warned.

Kolf – Minature Golf, This is the fugliest of the KDE games.

Konquest - Galactic Conquest

Kpatience – Several Different Solitaire Card Games

Kreversi – Reversi or Othello finally with fullscreen scaling.

Kshinen – Cross between Tetris and Mahjong

Ksudoku – Sudoku except on your PC

KspaceDuel – Another game I was never very fond of.

Ksquares – You remember that game where you draw a grid of dots and take turns connecting them, this is it without all that drawing and paper.

Lskat – Another Card Game

Kriki – K Yatzee again without the paper.

Kfourlines – Konnect Four was taken I guess.

Kjumping cube – Dice Game, I don't get it.

SameGame - Remove Groups of the same color.

Kgoldrunner - Oh Yeah Lode Runner.


UPDATE: Some people have taken issue with the Title of this post. Here is my response.

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