So for the past three days, I attempted to switch to KDE4. Again.

My longtime readers surely remember the last time I attempted this and, a few months later, my return to KDE3. I just couldn’t get things to work quite right for me, and eventually threw in the towel and went back to a ten-year-old rock-solid desktop environment because I knew it would work.

Time has marched on, and it’s always kind of a pain to track, compile, and update source code for the hundreds of software packages that make up a full desktop system. I thought that, heck, KDE4 is now on version 4.9 and has five years of maturity behind it. I had used the Kubuntu distribution in the past with good success, but heard that Mint was a better (and now more popular) distribution. So I downloaded Mint, installed it, and set to work reconfiguring my system and my daily workflow to use KDE4.

The result? Much sadness and frustration.

I spend the majority of my working day reading and writing email messages, checking my calendar for appointments, and managing a complicated and always-changing task list. Yes, I could do all of these things right on the web, in Gmail and Google Calendar. But the interface just isn’t all that great, and I really like the desktop integration KDE gives me: I get alerts that pop up, I can hit a key to compose a new email, and I don’t have to migrate 15 years (yes, really) of email history that currently consumes about 25GB of archived disk space. So, at least for now, KDE is the right answer for me.

Unfortunately the KDE personal information management (PIM) module is still in an unbelievably crappy state. It uses the oft-cursed Akonadi indexing database and the all-but-useless Nepomuk search engine, neither of which are optional or can be disabled. Their awful names aside, these two pieces of software are critical parts of the KDE4 foundation and almost universally disliked by end users. The developers of the KDE system are totally in love with them and refuse to change PIM so it doesn’t require them.

Add to that the weird bugs like the fact that once you’ve configured dual monitors (which I have, of course), the next time you login the system has forgotten the settings and you have to do it all again. Every time.

In the end, after three solid days of frustration, I found that my shiny new KDE4 system just wasn’t useable for me. My mail kept crashing and had to be re-indexed (a process taking close to an hour each time), and it’s nearly impossible to “share” the environment across multiple systems, which is critical for me because I have an office computer, a home computer, and several laptops– all of which need access to the same set of data. KDE4 just isn’t designed for that, and no amount of coaxing and clever filesystem trickery could make it work well.

Perhaps most shocking of all, the flagship email software, KMail, has no support for auto-completion of email addresses in the “To:” box of a new message. Unbelievable. You have to click in the “To:” box, then click the “Select” button to the right… that opens a search dialog for your address book, from which you can start to type a name and select it from a list. Click the name and the dialog closes, populating the “To:” box. Now you want a second address? Rinse and repeat. It’s such a huge pain when I’m used to just typing the first few letters of a name, hitting Enter to accept it, and Tab to start a new name. I mean, doesn’t every email program in the world do it that way? Not KDE4’s KMail.

As my annoyance continued to mount, I even went so far as to recompile the entire KDE3 PIM package from scratch inside my KDE4 system. If the plan had worked, I would have a crazy Frankenstein system with mostly KDE4 except the email and calendar stuff, which would be KDE3. The mail useability was so bad I was willing to accept this. But in the end, the two systems didn’t play well together and I had to give up the attempt.

Finally I threw up my hands in despair, wiped Mint from the system, and rebuilt it as KDE3. Back to my old friend again. It’s a pain to maintain, but gosh darn it, at least I can write an email in a sensible way. Maybe someday KDE4 will finally reach a state that’s on par with KDE3, but that day isn’t today.