Quick Thoughts on Amarok 2.0

December 27, 2008

I’d like to more thoroughly review Amarok 2.0 later, but I have a few initial impressions as well as an explanation of why I can’t give the full review now. I was very pleased to hear that Amarok 2.0 had finally been released and I have been awaiting it for some time now. I had heard stories of people not liking the new interface, but I didn’t have much of an opinion on it because I hadn’t used it.

Amarok 2.0 installed just fine out of Portage, the Gentoo package manager, though it is currently masked so you will need to unmask it if you wish to install it.

The first thing I noticed was that the interface did look a bit cluttered. The three columns simply take up too much space and maximizing Amarok is not really my thing. However, you can simply collapse the column which shows you collection information and whatnot when you aren’t using it. It seems they have also done away with the mini-player, which is a real shame because I liked that a lot. I am hoping they just haven’t implemented it yet. After collapsing that column I had absolutely zero problems with the interface and I like it just as much as the old one.

Now, when Amarok scanned my collection it was going along great until it seemed to basically freeze for several minutes. I suspect it was getting hung up on my folder which has roughly 1600 songs in it. This was only a problem because it locked up the rest of the player, and had the same annoying bug when it would check my collection for updates. I’m sure they will fix this in a future release so I don’t consider that a big deal.

Also, I like the feature which lets you drag an entire album onto the playlist, which I don’t think was present in Amarok 1.x. Searching for music, adding it to the playlist, and playing it is just as easy and speedy as with previous releases of Amarok so there’s not much more to say about that.

Finally, here is the main problem I had with Amarok 2.0 and truthfully the problem is more with KDE 4.1 than Amarok. As some of you may know Amarok now uses KDE’s audio backend (Phonon). Apparently doing so renders my Linux audio usage back to the old days where only one application could use the sound card at a time. This is particularly problematic because I use applications such as Pidgin, which play a noise when I receive a new message, or simply having Amarok open seems to prevent Firefox from playing the audio in a YouTube video. I find this to be intolerable to the point that I had to switch back to Amarok 1.x until this issue is resolved. I have had numerous other issues with Phonon as well… such as it trying to use EsounD even though I don’t even have it configured. I know that sound in Linux is a mess and that is a real shame because I loves me some good audio.

Overall I am really looking foward to Amarok 2.0 more than ever, and I hope that the bugs inΒ  both Amarok and KDE are worked out shortly πŸ™‚ .

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My Thoughts on KDE 4.1

December 15, 2008

For the past few days I have been using KDE 4.1 exclusively. In fact, I uninstalled most of my KDE 3.5 applications because I wanted to get a real feel for what KDE 4.1 can do. Now, even the KDE development team would agree that it is not 100% complete. By that I mean it does not have every feature from KDE 3.5, but it certainly seems pretty darn close. In terms of fancy screens shots the KDE team has done a nice job of this so I point you here to see some of the magic.

The Good

First, I will talk about what I really like about KDE 4.1. The new look and feel on KDE is certainly a welcome improvement. Lots of various things have animations such as selecting things in the new KMenu and changing between settings in different dialogs. These transitions provide not only some nice eye candy for onlookers, but serve to show the user that they are changing contexts. I think this is very important especially for new users to help ease them into the environment. Also, KDE 4.1 supports some compositing features, but I was not able to test those due to issues with my graphics card/X. It does seem to suppose an alternate rendering scheme which seems use the CPU, but my processor is not fast enough to make it run smoothly.

Also, a lot of my favorite KDE apps have been ported. Specially, Akregator, Kpdf (now called Okular), Kwallet, and many more. Akregator and Okular have a nice new appearance, and it is good to see them with a new look.

Screenshot of Okular

Screenshot of Okular

Just as before KDE has a helpful System Settings feature which allows you to change quite a few useful settings and configure all or most of the things KDE 3.5 used to allow for. Thankfully, KDE has switched away from artsd, which I could never get to work, and with the new Phonon backend it can use any number of audio backends such as xine or gstreammer.

From my limited interaction with dolphin, the file manager,Β  I like what I see. It is intuitive to use and has a number of different views for you to use when trying to get through your files. It also has another interesting feature that I noticed. It lets you tag and leaves comments about your files and folders. In fact, you can even rate them. This ties in with the “Nepomuk Semantic Desktop” which, if enabled, allows you to search your file system based on the tags and whatnot that you assign to your files. I must admit that I do most of my file management with a terminal still, but I think that feature has definite advantages if you like the graphical approach. For instance, say you have lots of photos in different folders. You could tag them and have a much easier way to locate them 2 or 3 years down the road.

I don’t really use konqueror, but it is still alive and well. I can’t say much more than that because I haven’t used it enough to have an opinion either way πŸ™‚ .

The Not So Good

On the other side of things, if you require every last feature from KDE 3.5 than KDE 4.1 is not for you because they haven’t all been implemented yet. For instance, it does not support setting the background on a dual screen setup such that it spans both screens. A little work with GIMP “fixed” that problem for me by splitting the picture in half and setting each screen to each half, but that is a bit impractical.

Also, for whatever reason, the compositing effects were not working so well and enabling them was a bit of a pain. I’m not sure whether to pin this on KDE or whole ATI graphics drivers issue when it comes to X.

The plasmids, the new KDE widgets,Β  are a really cool idea, but some of it is a bit frustrating. As an example, I accidentally deleted the main bar with KMenu/Pager/etc, and it took me about 30 minutes to an hour to get everything back in working order. I think these minor bugs and annoyances will be worked out in future releases, but it was disappointing just the same.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, I am extremely happy with KDE 4.1. I have been looking forward to KDE 4 and 4.1 does anything but disappoint. In fact, I’m switching over to use it as my primary desktop environment on both my laptop and desktop machines. KDE 4.1 is not for everyone though, specifically those who are waiting for every last feature of KDE 3.5. Some things in KDE 4.1 take a little getting used to and some have complained about this. I don’t mind however, because ultimately I like what the KDE team has done, and sometimes I think people get very stuck in their ways and don’t want to move away from “the way it used to be”. KDE 4.1 doesn’t completely redfine desktop environments, but it sure does give them a fresh new look πŸ™‚ . KDE 4.1 levaes me eagerly awaiting KDE 4.2!


KDE 4.1

December 11, 2008

I recently had the chance to play with KDE 4.1 and it has impressed me enough that I wish to install it on my Gentoo setup. I would be lying if I said I didn’t like all of the eye candy it has. However, it also feels more snappy than KDE 3.5 which I currently run. Also, I have a strange setup where I forward my entire desktop session over ssh and KDE 4.1 does much better with this than KDE 3.5.

I can’t wait to get it setup on my desktop machine and play around with it some more πŸ™‚ .