KDE 4 under FreeBSD, (Not So) Final Thoughts

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The Bad Things

Like most new software releases, KDE 4 has its share of bugs. Some bugs are platform-specific, some are related to issues within KDE, and others are just plain weird. I’ll attempt to categorize each here, separating them into FreeBSD-related and KDE-specific. As with the previous section, this is based entirely off of memory. I’ve been testing a few OSes on a spare drive, and inadvertently removed what screen shots I remembered to take. Please accept my apologies. When I get around to adding KDE 4 to Ubuntu, I’ll be sure to add those shots here where applicable.

KDE Specific

This section covers Bad Things (or things I just didn’t like) that are specific to KDE 4.2. For the things that I didn’t like but were tied specifically to FreeBSD, keep reading.


The system configuration (under “System Configuration,” fancy that!) has been revised extensively from the Control Center of KDE 3 and prior fame. The options are nicely categorized and appear vaguely like those you might expect to find in Vista or Windows 7. Unfortunately, you’re going to need a lot of time and a little luck to find whatever specific option you’re looking for. Some things make sense, like visual effects which affect the desktop–they’re placed under Desktop Settings–and some things really need a bit of revision. For example, changing the single-click behavior to double-click isn’t under any obvious location until you start digging around menus and sub-menus (I think it was under mouse–or was that Window Behavior?). Other things should be moved off to a separate category; again, like visual effects, which should have their own menu item.

There also isn’t much consistency in the dialog windows. Some windows have an Apply button but not all do. Some have an Apply but it doesn’t appear to work. Others, if you dig around long enough, have a close button but no apply. It’s little things like this which I find frustrating.


Dolphin was probably the most consistent of all the KDE applications and system windows. I felt that Dolphin itself received a great deal more polish than anything else in KDE 4 but there are a few systems that happen to come pretty close (System Configuration, for one). Unfortunately, Dolphin isn’t without its own quirks.

I discovered that while you can configure specific properties for each of the individual view settings–like details, thumbnails, or list views–there’s no way to set a specific setting as the default view Dolphin should start with (I couldn’t find it). Setting the view and closing Dolphin via the close button didn’t work, either. However, closing Dolphin via File -> Close appeared to work and my preferred view setting persisted after that.

Another slight annoyance in Dolphin cropped up when I was using it to browse through a directory. I was disappointed to find that the selection box for mousing over directory entities while in the details view doesn’t extend all the way across the view port. I’ll have to get a screen shot of this to better explain; however, picture a list of items like you might find in Windows Explorer (from Vista, not XP, because XP is similar to Dolphin in this regard). If you mouse over one, you’ll find that the box to select that particular file or directory extends mostly or entirely across the containing frame. While the lack of a full selection box isn’t an issue in Windows XP (and earlier), for some reason I found its absence to be a slight annoyance in Dolphin. Yet, in list view, the selection box is there. I’d love a compromise where the selection box extends across the filename column but stops when the date, permissions, owner, and other such properties are listed (allowing one to click off to the side to de-select anything currently selected).

The funny thing is that I have no idea why the small selection box for files and directories annoyed me with Dolphin. Typically, its presence is what annoys me the most. I’m getting soft in my “old” age (I’m not even in my 30s yet… so much for that excuse). Perhaps it’s just something I’ll have to play with.

Dolphin Redux? The File Open/Save Dialog

While I loved the new file open/save dialogs and all the options you’re given access to (you have a slider to resize the icons on the fly–how cool is that?), there is one thing that annoys me. I’ll put it in bold print to make it obvious: You SHOULD NOT be able to open files with a single click in open/save while holding shift to select more than one. I’m sorry, I realize this is a feature inherited from KDE 3 and probably earlier, but it is really annoying. If I have to find a blank spot in the dialog so I can click and then drag to highlight the files I want–but making sure not to accidentally click one lest I open something I wasn’t expecting to–something is wrong. The single-click to activate feature of KDE 4 messes very nicely with the entire desktop environment–until you run into a file open/save dialog. I guess this isn’t so much an issue with KDE 4 as it’s something inherited from earlier versions, but it is really annoying. What’s worse is that I couldn’t figure out why the application kept opening whatever I clicked. I figured I had set the system up to accept two clicks for activation. Then, I remembered that KDE 4 didn’t launch correctly in FreeBSD, so it bypassed the usual set up wizard that provides you with a means to select your preferred mouse behavior.


It has to be said: widgets suck. I never used widgets in Windows Vista (or Win 7), and the longest I have ever even tried to use widgets was back with SuperKaramba in KDE 3.5. They seem nifty for a while, and they might actually seduce you into believing they have even the most remote sense of utility. Make no mistake about it: you’re not going to be looking at your desktop if you’re really using your computer. Your screen is going to have application windows open all over it. The only time I ever see my desktop is if I’m browsing (I browse with Firefox windowed) or typing up something fairly quick. Beyond that, the only other people I have seen who tend to leave parts of their desktop visible are those who are too computer illiterate to figure out what the maximize button does. (Or people who have multiple monitors and haven’t yet found a good use to fill them all up yet–but let’s be honest here, if you have more than one monitor, you’re going to be doing something with them both. Why would you have two in the first place? To admire your desktop? No. You bought that second one to do work, or your boss felt you weren’t playing enough Solitare.) Do some people actually use widgets? You bet, and I’m not one of them.

Now, the overwhelming majority of desktop widgets available in KDE 4 are absolutely useless. I can think of two that have some use: The sticky note widget and the desktop icon widget. Maybe one of the clock or system monitor widgets might be of use. The others? Hardly. If they have a use, their scope of utility extends no further than the taskbar. End of story.

In fairness, I did rave a little bit about the desktop widget (excuse me, folder view widget), but now it’s time for the rant. I can summarize this gripe in a single question:

Why did you have to remove the concept of desktop icons?

No, really. Why? They weren’t hurting anyone. Plus, look how many people are running really light weight window managers like Fluxbox, Openbox, XFCE, Enlightenment, and so on who actively look for and acquire applications that draw desktop icons for them based on whatever the contents of ~/Desktop is. I think that speaks for itself. People like desktop icons. We don’t know why, we just do. Maybe it’s because it gives us some sort of brain dead activity to spend our time with whenever we’ve saved too much rubbish to our desktop, and we can no longer find anything because we have about 50 snippets of code, 10 phone numbers (all in individual text files) that we promised we’d add to our phone directory but never did, zillions of miscellaneous .zip/.tar.gz/whatever-popular-archive-format-you-can-think-of files that were supposed to go to a dedicated download directory but we changed our mind on a whim to make it “easier to locate” even though the download folder might be D:\downloads, ~/downloads, /stuff/downloads, or any permutation of the three (save for the drive letter–here’s lookin’ at you, DOS), a couple of program icons for applications that we actually use even though we don’t actually launch the application from them, a handful of program icons for applications we had to have and installed but never got around to removing the crap they stuffed onto the desktop even though they didn’t ask, and a single trash can/recycle bin.

That, friends, is why we like desktop icons. Just say “no” to widgets.

The Taskbar

I don’t have many gripes about the KDE 4 taskbar. It does exactly what it’s told–except when it doesn’t. Its display is a little buggy at times and the desktop redraw doesn’t always catch the taskbar if something bad happens. It is pretty buggy and the fonts don’t always behave if your distribution doesn’t come with nice sans-serif fonts (like FreeBSD). Oh, and don’t expect it to redraw correctly if you change the window themes, either. It usually does, but when it doesn’t, it can look pretty ugly.

The Application Menu

Here is another sore spot when it comes to application consistency. Certain features, like the tabs at the bottom for “Favorites,” “Computer,” and the likes are activated by mouse overs–this is a good things, and it’s intuitive. Other features, like the actual menu items themselves don’t activate at all until clicked. Or maybe they do–I couldn’t find the setting. Ideally, navigation should be reasonably consistent with both the design of the rest of the system and general expectations of the user. If the user expects a menu to expand with a mouse-over, the menu should expand.

The menu size is also rather small given the number of applications and categories it contains. The size of menu icons are rather large, and it is difficult to see more than three or four of them at a time. Maybe there’s a way to scale the icons in the menu. I didn’t look. That part annoyed me.

The third thing that annoyed me most about the KDE 4 application menu was the Vista-like “I’m going to pop out menus in only one place, not expand them like nearly every other sensible context menu does in most other environments.” That was something I hated about Vista (and Vista SP3–I mean, Windows 7). If I click on a menu, I probably want it to expand. I don’t want it to fill up the box, I don’t want to have to navigate backwards by clicking some obscure three-stories-high back arrow button (a good idea but it should really work with a mouse-over). The Vista-esque notion of expanding menus only within the application menu and not allowing them to extend outside? It’s frustrating, but I imagine that I could get used to it. I do admit that the application menu looks really nice, and it looks much nicer than Vista/Win 7.

The search feature? Yes, I know about that. It works pretty well, even if you don’t really know what application name to search for. Perhaps the KDE developers want us to use that. Frankly, though, if I’m looking for something with the mouse, I’m not going to be compelled to use the keyboard. I may as well just stick with the terminal (which I’ve done before) to launch something if I can’t find it. At least I know find works magic.

The Bad Things (Because of FreeBSD)

Some artifacts surfaced as a result of FreeBSD-specific issues. Whether these problems were the result of the KDE porting process or underlying issues (i.e. drivers) is probably moot; they presented themselves as show-stopping problems that persuaded me to drop KDE 4 entirely–at least under FreeBSD.


KDM is typically used as the login manager for KDE in environments that aren’t using GDM or Gnome. I prefer to use KDE, and since KDM is a part of KDE, it makes more sense to use it for handling login management. I’ve also found in the past that KDM generally provides more superficial configurations although its functionality isn’t too dissimilar to GDM.

Coaxing KDM into working was almost impossible. I managed at one point to convince it to handle my login session, but after changing a few settings, KDM would die with client session errors, restart, and terminate any attempt to launch my X session. This is a FreeBSD specific bug. As I discovered from a Google search on the topic, it can be caused by anything from an error in KDM’s configuration, a problem with a setting somewhere in ~/.kde4, or a mistake in the build process. I suspect it was probably the latter.

Miscellaneous Window Issues

There is an ongoing problem with the FreeBSD NVIDIA drivers that seems to affect a large number of cards. Although the one in my desktop system is a 7xxx series and is claimed to work well, I noticed severe frame rate drops when resizing Konsole. Most other windows would resize normally.

System Configuration

After using KDE 4 for about two hours, I began to notice a few unusual and inexplicable things. First, several options in the System Configuration window would freeze whenever I attempted to open them. This issue appeared after I enabled dbus and hald when I was following the KDE documentation on enabling sound in FreeBSD. Oddly, the issue persisted even after I disabled both services.


KDE 4 certainly is very presentable, attractive, and represents a well made evolution over KDE 3. There are a lot of features still missing (it’s beta, remember?), the environment is still quite buggy, and some behaviors remain fairly inconsistent. This will change in the coming months, no doubt. For everyone who happens to be a fan of KDE, 4.x looks very promising.

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3 Responses to “KDE 4 under FreeBSD, (Not So) Final Thoughts”

  • Very nice review and well done.

    I may have to fire up my old VM of FreeBSD one day and maybe have a peak. ;)

  • Benjamin writes:

    I’d really recommend giving KDE a try with a Linux distro rather than FreeBSD. While KDE 4 is still in beta, the FreeBSD port is much more bug ridden. It isn’t necessarily any less stable but there are a number of features that don’t exactly work in FreeBSD. Having said that, though, I’m tempted to switch my Gentoo file server back to FreeBSD for many of the reasons I’ve mentioned in previous posts; FreeBSD is a much better server platform.

  • After seeing your screenie I’m going to have to fire up my VM and run it through Ubuntu.

    It looks REAAAALLLLY nice.

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