Archive for March, 2009

Why silence is better than 10 reasons

31st March 2009

This is a deconstruction of 10 reasons why GNOME is better than KDE, which is pretty obviously a piece of flame-bait. Wallen basically says as much at the start of the article. But I’m in the mood for dissecting arguments.

I would like to say right now that this is not a “10 reasons why KDE is better than GNOME” article. That would be inane. I have many GNOMEy friends, and no intention of trying to convert any of them. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that any one of you can come up with both 10 things KDE does better than GNOME and 10 things GNOME does better than KDE.

Instead, this is an excercise in deconstructing an argument. Critical thinking, if you will. Because Wallen completely failed to come up with 10 reasons for anything.

So, lets start at the top. “1. KDE 4”. I’m not really sure there’s anything to say about this, other than that the entire paragraph is simply a collection of unsupported statements (with no narrative to connect them). He doesn’t provide a single example to support any of his attacks (including ‘KDE was (and is) the first-ever “Microsofting” of the Linux desktop’ and KDE 4 was “painfully worthless”). OK, let’s move on.

“2. Start Menu”. Well, using Microsoft terminology when ‘”Microsofting” the Linux desktop’ was mentioned in the previous paragraph was probably intentional, but not helpful to any argument, really. We get “It should be pretty obvious” and “It should also be fairly obvious” almost straight off the bat. Chalk one down for unsupported statements.

There’s possibly a valid criticism about Kickoff and the lack of KDE 3’s quick menu applets being made in here, but it’s difficult to disentangle from the ad hominem attacks. And he probably has a point about discoverability of things like how to change the menu to “classic” style. Not that I believe such a thing is both possible and discoverable in any other desktop, so I’m not sure it really advances his original argument about one desktop being “better” than the other.

In “3: Nautilus vs. Dolphin”, he actually doesn’t compare Dolphin to Nautilus. He compares Dolphin to Konqueror, and the latter still functions as a file manager in KDE 4. OK, that first statement wasn’t entirely true. He says that Nautilus is Dolphin, but stable (and makes a reference to Dropbox that appears to bear no relation to anything else). That brings the number of potentially valid criticisms in this article up to about 3 (the arguments in section 2 were hazy).

He also says that users will find most of the features of Dolphin useless. And justifies this by mentioning one feature, possibly two if you count rating and tagging separately (Dolphin has more than three features, right?). One black mark next to “generalising from the specific”. And possibly “presenting exaggeration as fact”.

“4: Foundations”. I’m not sure why he picked this title. Qt 4 gets a passing mention (in the first sentence), and the only thing that is said about GTK+ is that there will be a version 3 soon. I guess you’re supposed to infer from context that this will break backwards compatibility. He also implies (but doesn’t say outright) that the port to Qt 4 was largely or solely because of the potential for a windows port. The reason was in fact because Qt 4 had a much-improved API, and Qt 3 was shortly to become unsupported by Trolltech (as was).

This section also has a fallacious comparison between GNOME 2.24, with it’s forward compatibility flags, and KDE 4 (a more sensible, although still not entirely accurate, comparison would be the as-yet-unreleased GNOME 2.30 with KDE 4). The thing is, he could probably have made a decent argument along the lines of GTK+3’s migration plan being better than QT 4’s, but he completely failed, largely by getting sidetracked with the Window port non-issue. Oh, and I’m really not sure what resources he believes are being diverted from the main project to work on the windows port. Or how KDE might go about forcing those people who insist on getting their favourite applications to run on Windows (as they did even back in KDE 3 days) to give up such an unworthy pursuit and return to the warm, fuzzy and – above all – morally superior fold of free unix-based operating systems.

Sorry, I seem to have had a nasty attack of sarcasm there. I’ll try not to let it happen again.

On the other hand, section four is possibly the most well-constructed section in terms of arguments. I had to remove the underpinning (the assumption that the move to Qt 4 was all about Windows) before the rest of the structure of the argument collapsed.

Oddly enough, in “5. Resources”, his one concession to KDE 4 (using fewer resources than KDE 3″ is highly disputed among those who measure such things in KDE. The rest of this section revolves around his decidedly unscientific comparison between the memory usage of KDE and GNOME (given the content of section 10, one has to assume that this means default installs of Fedora 10, but there is nothing to say so). He gets a difference of 10Mb when both desktops use more than 1.25Gb of RAM. That’s a 1% difference in memory usage. Apparently this means that “GNOME requires less hardware to run”. I’m not entirely sure where he intends to buy exactly 1.27Gb of RAM from (which, it seems, will run GNOME but not KDE – providing you don’t launch any other applications, of course). But, seriously, 1% is not a significant difference. Given that his measurement almost certainly includes kernel caches, and is probably based on the default installations of one particular distribution, it is almost certainly completely dwarfed by the error rate.

“6. Clutter”. Half-way there. Showing the desktop folder, it seems, is cluttering the desktop. Despite this being what just about every other desktop implementation out there does. *shrugs*. Let’s play along, then. This is a reasonable argument, but made at the expense of ignoring the facts. The major one is that it takes one click to remove the item he’s complaining about. So, a second argument that required me to actually respond with a fact, rather than dismantle purely on the basis of fallacious reasoning.

“7: Customization”. Again, lots of unsupported statements. GNOME is almost infinitely customizable (how?); KDE 4 locks you down (in what way?). Nowhere does he give even one example of something that GNOME allows you to customise that KDE doesn’t. He talks about mouse menus, but this appears to be a comparison of KDE 4 with KDE 3 (and I’m not sure what he means by “mouse menus”, either). And saying that you can’t change the look of something except by using the very mechanism that allows you to change its look (theming, in this case) is… true. But completely besides the point.

“8: System Tray overkill”. This is a comparison of the default setups on Fedora 10, not of the default setups of the desktop environments in general. So this is an example of generalising from the specific.

Apart from that, not all of the items he lists are actually part of the system tray (the clock, for example, is actually an applet, not a system tray icon). And desktop shells can’t do anything about the system tray other than display what programs offer. The applets, on the other hand, can be removed – both in GNOME and KDE. The one valid argument in this is about the loading time of the system tray. I think that’s 4 valid arguments (that couldn’t be immediately dismissed by stating a single fact) in total so far.

“9: Default applications”. Konqueror has been the default web browser of KDE (although not necessarily of any given distribution’s installation of KDE) since KDE 2, as far as I’m aware. So quite where he got the idea that Konqi has suddenly moved into this role, I don’t know. KOffice 2 hasn’t even been released, so I doubt it’s the default anywhere (although I’ve heard that Fedora can be pretty bleeding edge). And Firefox isn’t the default browser in GNOME, it’s Epiphany. Although that does use the same rendering engine as Firefox. And I’m not sure GNOME really has a “default” office suite. Basically, Wallen is confusing desktop environment defaults with distribution defaults. Repeat after me: Fedora is not representative of all Linux distributions.

So that’s a mix of generalising from the specific and ignoring certain facts.

“10: KDE = Vista?”. I can sum this up as “people don’t like Vista, and I think KDE looks like Vista, ergo KDE sucks”. Unfair? Well, maybe. But saying that you can make KDE look like Vista by installing the right theme (I assume Emerald refers to a theme) does not an argument make. And I know that Vista is famed for being unstable (slightly unfairly, I have to say), but all software goes through an unstable phase (except possibly TeX) and that doesn’t make it like Vista. Or unlike Linux (as in GNU/Linux, not the kernel). And he still hasn’t presented a convincing argument (or an argument at all, for that matter) for KDE 4 not being flexible. Plasma was designed to be much more flexible than kicker/kdesktop, and Wallen has failed to provide any evidence that it has failed in those aims. Not that I’ve presented any evidence it has succeeded in them, but my aim is not to prove the worthiness of KDE 4 but to dismantle Wallen’s arguments.

Finally, Wallen makes the common mistake of assuming that KDE 4 = Plasma. Well, OK, Dolphin got a mention. Yes, it’s probably the most user-visible component of a KDE 4 desktop session, but KDE is primarily a software platform, and includes a desktop shell as part of that. So that’s generalising from the specific again.

Well, I found four reasonable arguments in there, plus a few more that were recognisable as arguments even if they could be countered with a simple fact (I can forgive people for not knowing all the pertinent facts :-P). But most of the rest didn’t form any coherent argument at all.

I think that’s enough from me. I suggest you all go read about logical fallacies now, so you can give fancy names to Wallen’s arguments.

This has been a public service broadcast on how not to argue your case.

[Post edited slightly at 21:26 GMT 2009-03-31]


16th March 2009

I discovered a new option in KMail for displaying email headers today.  I’m not sure how long it’s been there, but you can now select “Enterprise Headers” for your emails:

KMail with Enterprise Headers

KMail with Enterprise Headers

I quite like it, apart from the fact that you can’t have variable-width text in the header and fixed-width text in the body of the email.