1. 33
  1. 13

    I have never understood why KDE isn’t the default VM for any serious linux distribution. It feels so much more professional than anything else.

    Every time I see it, it makes me want to run Linux on the desktop again.

    1. 11

      I suspect because:

      1. IIRC Gnome has a lot more funding/momentum
      2. Plasma suffers from a lot of papercuts

      Regarding the second reason: Plasma overall looks pretty nice, at least at first glance. Once you start using it, you’ll notice a lot of UI inconsistencies (misaligned UI elements, having to go through 15 layers of settings, unclear icons, applications using radically different styles, etc) and rather lackluster KDE first-party applications. Gnome takes a radically different approach, and having used both (and using Gnome currently), I prefer Gnome precisely because of its consistency.

      1. 14

        There’s also a lot of politics involved. Most of the Linux desktop ecosystem is still driven by RedHat and they employ a lot of FSF evangalists. GNOME had GNU in its name and was originally created because of the FSF’s objections to Qt (prior to its license change) and that led to Red Hat preferring it.

        1. 6

          Plus GNOME and all its core components are truly community FLOSS projects, whereas Qt is a corporate, for-profit project which the Qt company happens to also provide as open source (but where you’re seriously railroaded into buying their ridiculously expensive licenses if you try to do anything serious with it or need stable releases).

          1. 7

            No one ever talks about cinnamon mint but I really like it. It looks exactly like all the screenshots in the article. Some of the customisation is maybe a little less convenient but I have always managed to get things looking exactly how I want them to and I am hardly a linux power user (recent windows refugee). Given that it seems the majority of arguments for plasma are that it is more user friendly and easier to customise, I would be interested to hear people’s opinions on cinnamon vs plasma. I had mobile plasma on my pinephone for a day or two but it was too glitchy and I ended up switching to Mobian. This is not a criticism of plasma, rather an admission that I have not really used it and have no first hand knowledge.

            1. 7

              I have not used either in anger but there’s also a C/C++ split with GTK vs Qt-based things. C is a truly horrible language for application development. Modern C++ is a mediocre language for application development. Both have some support for higher-level languages (GTK is used by Mono, for example, and GNOME also has Vala) but both are losing out to things like Electron that give you JavaScript / TypeScript environments and neither has anything like the developer base of iOS (Objective-C/Swift) or Android (Java/Kotlin).

              1. 4

                As an unrelated sidenote, C is also a decent binding language, which matters when you are trying to use one of those frameworks from a language that is not C/C++. I wish Qt had a well-maintained C interface.

                1. 8

                  I don’t really agree there. C is an adequate binding language if you are writing something like an image decoder, where your interface is expressed as functions that take buffers. It’s pretty terrible for something with a rich interface that needs to pass complex types across the boundary, which is the case for GUI toolkits.

                  For example, consider something like ICU’s UText interface, for exposing character storage representations for things like regex matching. It is a C interface that defines a structure that you must create with a bunch of callback functions defined as function pointers. One of the functions is required to set up a pointer in the struct to contain the next set of characters, either by copying from your internal representation into a static buffer in the structure or providing a pointer and setting the length to allow direct access to a contiguous run of characters in your internal representation. Automatically bridging this from a higher-level language is incredibly hard.

                  Or consider any of the delegate interfaces in OpenStep, which in C would be a void* and a struct containing a load of function pointers. Bridging this with a type-safe language is probably possible to do automatically but it loses type safety at the interfaces.

                  C interfaces don’t contain anything at the source level to describe memory ownership. If a function takes a char*, is that a pointer to a C string, or a pointer to a buffer whose length is specified elsewhere? Is the callee responsible for freeing it or the caller? With C++, smart pointers can convey this information and so binding generators can use it. Something like SWIG or Sol3 can get the ownership semantics right with no additional information.

                  Objective-C is a much better language for transparent bridging. Python, Ruby, and even Rust can transparently consume Objective-C APIs because it provides a single memory ownership model (everything is reference counted) and rich introspection functionality.

                  1. 2

                    Fair enough. I haven’t really been looking at Objective-C headers as a binding source. I agree that C’s interface is anemic. I was thinking more from an ABI perspective, ie. C++ interfaces tend to be more reliant on inlining, or have weird things like exceptions, as well as being totally compiler dependent. Note how for instance SWIG still generates a C interface with autogenerated glue. Also the full abi is defined in like 15 pages. So while it’s hard to make a high-level to high-level interface in C, you can manually compensate from the target language; with C++ you need a large amount of compiler support to even get started. Maybe Obj-C strikes a balance there, I haven’t really looked into it much. Can you call Obj-C from C? If not, it’s gonna be a hard sell to a project as a “secondary api” like llvm-c, because you don’t even get the larger group of C users.

                    1. 6

                      Also the full abi is defined in like 15

                      That’s a blessing and a curse. It’s also an exaggeration, the SysV x86-64 psABI is 68 pages. On x86-32 there are subtle differences in calling convention between Linux, FreeBSD, and macOS, for example, and Windows is completely different. Bitfields are implementation dependent and so you need to either avoid them or understand what the target compiler does. All of this adds up to embedding a lot of a C compiler in your other language, or just generating C and delegating to the C compiler.

                      Even ignoring all of that, the fact that the ABI is so small is a problem because it means that the ABI doesn’t fully specify everything. Yes, I can look at a C function definition and know from reading a 68-page doc how to lower the arguments for x86-64 but I don’t know anything about who owns the pointers. Subtyping relationships are not exposed.

                      To give a trivial example from POSIX, the connect function takes three arguments: int, const struct sockaddr, and socklen_t. Nothing in this tells me:

                      • That the second argument is never actually a pointer to a sockaddr structure, it is a pointer to some other structure that starts with the same fields as the sockaddr.
                      • That the third argument must be the size of the real structure that I point to with the second argument.
                      • That the second parameter is not captured and I remain responsible for freeing it (you could assume this from const and you’d be right most of the time).
                      • That the first parameter is not an arbitrary integer, it must be a file descriptor (and for it to actually work, that file descriptor must be a socket).

                      I need to know all of these things to be able to bridge from another language. The C header tells me none of these.

                      Apple worked around a lot of these problems with CoreFoundation by adding annotations that basically expose the Objective-C object and ownership model into C. Both Microsoft and Apple worked around it for their core libraries by providing IDL files (in completely different formats) that describe their interfaces.

                      So while it’s hard to make a high-level to high-level interface in C, you can manually compensate from the target language; with C++ you need a large amount of compiler support to even get started

                      You do for C as well. Parsing C header files and extracting enough information to be able to reliably expose everything with anything less than a full C compiler is not going to work and every tool that I’ve seen that tries fails in exciting ways. But that isn’t enough.

                      In contrast, embedding something like clang’s libraries is sufficient for bridging a modern C++ or Objective-C codebase because all of the information that you need is present in the header files.

                      Can you call Obj-C from C?

                      Yes. Objective-C methods are invoked by calling objc_msgSend with the receiver as the first parameter and the selector as the second. The Objective-C runtime provides an API for looking up selectors from their name. Many years ago, I wrote a trivial libClang tool that took an Objective-C header and emitted a C header that exposed all of the methods as static inline functions. I can’t remember what I did with it but it was on the order of 100 lines of code, so rewriting it would be pretty trivial.

                      If not, it’s gonna be a hard sell to a project as a “secondary api” like llvm-c, because you don’t even get the larger group of C users.

                      There are fewer C programmers than C++ programmers these days. This is one of the problems that projects like Linux and FreeBSD have attracting new talent: the intersection between good programmers and people who choose C over C++ is rapidly shrinking and includes very few people under the age of 35.

                      LLVM has llvm-c for two reasons. The most important one is that it’s a stable ABI. LLVM does not have a policy of providing a stable ABI for any of the C++ classes. This is a design decision that is completely orthogonal to the language. There’s been discussion about making llvm-c a thin (machine-generated) wrapper around a stable C++ interface to core LLVM functionality. That’s probably the direction that the project will go eventually, once someone bothers to do the work.

                      1. 1

                        I’ve been discounting memory management because it can be foisted off onto the user. On the other hand something like register or memory passing or how x86-64 uses SSE regs for doubles cannot be done by the user unless you want to manually generate calling code in memory.

                        You do for C as well. Parsing C header files and extracting enough information to be able to reliably expose everything with anything less than a full C compiler is not going to work and every tool that I’ve seen that tries fails in exciting ways. But that isn’t enough.

                        Sure but there again you can foist things off onto the user. For instance, D only recently gained a proper C header frontend; until now it got along fine enough by just manually declaring extern(C) functions. I believe JNI and CFFI do the same. It’s annoying but it’s possible, which is more than can be said for many C++ bindings.

                        There are fewer C programmers than C++ programmers these days.

                        I meant C as a secondary API, ie. C++ as primary then C as auxiliary, as opposed to Objective-C as auxiliary.

                        Yes. Objective-C methods are invoked by calling objc_msgSend with the receiver as the first parameter and the selector as the second. The Objective-C runtime provides an API for looking up selectors from their name.

                        I don’t know the requirements for deploying with the ObjC runtime. Still, nice!

                        1. 2

                          I’ve been discounting memory management because it can be foisted off onto the user.

                          That’s true only if you’re bridging two languages with manual memory management, which is not the common case for interop. If you are exposing a library to a language with a GC, automatic reference counting, or ownership-based memory management then you need to handle this. Or you end up with an interop layer that everyone hates (e.g JNI).

                          Sure but there again you can foist things off onto the user. For instance, D only recently gained a proper C header frontend; until now it got along fine enough by just manually declaring extern(C) functions. I believe JNI and CFFI do the same. It’s annoying but it’s possible, which is more than can be said for many C++ bindings.

                          Which works for simple cases. For some counterexamples, C has _Complex types, which typically follow different rules for argument passing and returning to structures of the same layout (though they sometimes don’t, depending on the ABI). Most languages don’t adopt this stupidity and so you need to make sure that your custom C parser can express some C complex type. The same applies if you want to define bitfields in C structures in another language, or if the C structure that you’re exposing uses packed pagmas or attributes, uses _Alignas, and so on. There’s a phenomenal amount of complexity that you can punt on if you want to handle only trivial cases, but then you’re using a very restricted subset of C.

                          JNI doesn’t allow calling arbitrary C functions, it requires that you write C functions that implement native methods on a Java object. This scopes the problem such that the JVM needs to be able to handle calling only C functions that use Java types (8 to 64-bit signed integers or pointers) as arguments return values. These can then call back into the JVM to access fields, call methods, allocate objects, and so on. If you want to return a C structure into Java then you must create a buffer to store it and an object that owns the buffer and exposes native methods for accessing the fields. It’s pretty easy to use JNI to expose Java classes into other languages that don’t run in the JVM, it’s much harder to use it to expose C libraries into Java (and that’s why everyone who uses it hates it).

                          I meant C as a secondary API, ie. C++ as primary then C as auxiliary, as opposed to Objective-C as auxiliary.

                          If you have a stable C++ API, then bridging C++ provides you more semantic information for your compat layer than a C wrapper around the stable C++ API would. Take a look at Sol3 for an example: it can expose C++ objects directly into Lua, with correct memory management, without any C wrappers. C++ libraries often conflate a C API with an ABI-stable API but this is not necessary.

                          I don’t know the requirements for deploying with the ObjC runtime. Still, nice!

                          The requirements for the runtime are pretty small but for it to be useful you want a decent implementation of at least the Foundation framework, which provides types like arrays, dictionaries, and strings. That’s a bit harder.

                          1. 2

                            I don’t know. I feel like you massively overvalue the importance of memory management and undervalue the importance of binding generation and calling convention compatibility. For instance, as far as I can tell sol3 requires manual binding of function pointers to create method calls that can be called from Lua. From where I’m standing, I don’t actually save anything effort-wise over a C binding here!

                            Fair enough, I didn’t know that about JNI. But that’s actually a good example of the notion that a binding language needs to have a good semantic match with its target. C has an adequate to poor semantic match on memory management and any sort of higher-kinded functions, but it’s decent on data structure expressiveness and very terse, and it’s very easy to get basic support working quick. C++ has mangling, a not just platform-dependent but compiler-dependent ABI with lots of details, headers that often use advanced C++ features (I’ve literally never seen a C API that uses _Complex - or bitfields) and still probably requires memory management glue.

                            Remember that the context here was Qt vs GTK! Getting GTK bound to any vaguely C-like language (let’s say any language with a libc binding) to the point where you can make calls is very easy - no matter what your memory management is. At most it makes it a bit awkward. Getting Qt bound is an epic odyssey.

                            1. 4

                              I feel like you massively overvalue the importance of memory management and undervalue the importance of binding generation and calling convention compatibility

                              I’m coming from the perspective of having written interop layers for a few languages at this point. Calling conventions are by far the easiest thing to do. In increasing levels of difficulty, the problems are:

                              • Exposing functions.
                              • Exposing plain data types.
                              • Bridging string and array / dictionary types.
                              • Correctly managing memory between two languages.
                              • Exposing general-purpose rich types (things with methods that you can call).
                              • Exposing rich types in both directions.

                              C only seems easy because C<->C interop requires a huge amount of boilerplate and so C programmers have a very low bar for what ‘transparent interoperability’ means.

                              For instance, as far as I can tell sol3 requires manual binding of function pointers to create method calls that can be called from Lua. From where I’m standing, I don’t actually save anything effort-wise over a C binding here!

                              It does, because it’s an EDSL in C++, but that code could be mechanically generated (and if reflection makes it into C++23 then it can be generated from within C++). If you pass a C++ shared_ptr<T> to Sol3, then it will correctly deallocate the underlying object once neither Lua nor C++ reference it any longer. This is incredibly important for any non-trivial binding.

                              Remember that the context here was Qt vs GTK! Getting GTK bound to any vaguely C-like language (let’s say any language with a libc binding) to the point where you can make calls is very easy - no matter what your memory management is.

                              Most languages are not ‘vaguely C-like’. If you want to use GTK from Python, or C#, how do you manage memory? Someone has had to write bindings that do the right thing for you. From my vague memory, it uses GObject, which uses C macros to define objects and to manage reference counts. This means that whoever manages the binding layer has had to interop with C macros (which are far harder to get to work than C++ templates - we have templates working for the Verona C++ interop layer but we’re punting on C macros for now and will support a limited subset of them later). This typically requires hand writing code at the boundary, which is something that you really want to avoid.

                              Last time I looked at Qt, they were in the process of moving from their own smart pointer types to C++11 ones but in both cases as long as your binding layers knows how to handle smart pointers (which really just means knowing how to instantiate C++ templates and call methods on them) then it’s trivial. If you’re a tool like SWIG, then you just spit out C++ code and make the C++ compiler handle all of this for you. If you’re something more like the Verona interop layer then you embed a C++ parser / AST generator / codegen path and make it do it for you.

                              1. 1

                                I’m coming from the perspective of having written interop layers for a few languages at this point.

                                Yeah … same? I think it’s just that I tend to be obsessed with variations on C-like languages, which colors my perception. You sound like you’re a lot more broad in your interests.

                                C only seems easy because C<->C interop requires a huge amount of boilerplate and so C programmers have a very low bar for what ‘transparent interoperability’ means.

                                I don’t agree. Memory management is annoying, sure, and having to look up string ownership for every call gets old quick, but for a stateful UI like GTK you can usually even just let it leak. I mean, how many widgets does a typical app need? Grab heaptrack, identify a few sites of concern and jam frees in there, and move on with your life. It’s possible to do it shittily easily, and I value that a lot.

                                If you’re a tool like SWIG, then you just spit out C++ code and make the C++ compiler handle all of this for you.

                                Hey, no shade on SWIG. SWIG is great, I love it.

                                From my vague memory, it uses GObject, which uses C macros to define objects and to manage reference counts. This means that whoever manages the binding layer has had to interop with C macros

                                Nah, it’s really only a few macros, and they do fairly straightforward things. Last time I did GTK, I just wrote those by hand. I tend to make binders that do 90% of the work - the easy parts - and not worry about the rest, because that conserves total effort. With C that works out because functions usually take structs by pointer, so if there’s a weird struct that doesn’t generate I can just define a close-enough facsimile and cast it, and if there’s a weird function I define it. With C++ everything is much more interdependent - if you have a bug in the vtable layout, there’s nothing you can do except fix it.

                                When I’ll eventually want Qt in my current language, I’ll probably turn to SWIG. It’s what I used in Jerboa. But it’s an extra step to kludge in, that I don’t particularly look forward to. If I just want a quick UI with minimal effort, GTK is the only game in town.

                                edit: For instance, I just kludged this together in half an hour: https://gist.github.com/FeepingCreature/6fa2d3b47c6eb30a55846e18f7e0e84c This is the first time I’ve tried touching the GTK headers on this language. It’s exposed issues in the compiler, it’s full of hacks, and until the last second I didn’t really expect it to work. But stupid as it is, it does work. I’m not gonna do Qt for comparison, because I want to go to bed soon, but I feel it’s not gonna be half an hour. Now to be fair, I already had a C header importer around, and that’s a lot of time sunk into that that C++ doesn’t get. But also, I would not have attempted to write even a kludgy C++ header parser, because I know that I would have given up halfway through. And most importantly - that kludgy C header importer was already practically useful after a good day of work.

                                edit: If there’s a spectrum of “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly” to “minimal distance of zero to cool thing”, I’m heavily on the right side. I think that might be the personality difference at play here? For me, a binding generator is purely a tool to get at a juicy library that I want to use. There’s no love of the craft lost there.

                2. 1

                  So does plasma support Electron/Swift/Java/Kotlin? I know electron applications run on my desktop so I assume you mean directly as part of the desktop. If so that is pretty cool. Please forgive my ignorance, desktop UI frameworks are way outside my usual area of expertise.

                3. 2

                  I only minimally use KDE on the computers at my university’s CS department, but I’ve been using cinnamon for almost four years now. I think that Plasma wins in the customizable aspect. There is just so many things that can be adjusted.

                  Cinnamon on the other hand feels far more polished, with fewer options for customization. I personally use cinnamon with Arch, but when I occasionally use Mint, the full desktop with all of mint’s applications is very cohesive and well thought out, though not without flaws.

                  I sometimes think that cinnamon isn’t evangelized as frequently because it’s well enough designed that it sort of fades into the background while using it

            2. 3

              I’ve used Cinnamon for years, but it inevitably breaks (or I break it). I recently looked into the alternatives again, and settled on KDE because it looked nice, it and Gnome are the two major players so things are more likely to Just Work, and it even had some functionality I wanted that Gnome didn’t. I hopped back to Cinnamon within the week, because yeah, the papercuts. Plasma looks beautiful in screenshots, and has a lot of nice-sounding features, but the moment you actually use it, you bang your face into something that shouldn’t be there. It reminded me of first trying KDE in the mid-2000s, and it was rather disappointing to feel they’ve been spinning in circles in a lot of ways. I guess that isn’t exactly uncommon for the Linux desktop though…

              1. 3

                I agree with your assessment of Plasma and GNOME (Shell). Plasma mostly looks fine, but every single time I use it–without fail–I find some buggy behavior almost immediately, and it’s always worse than just having misaligned labels on some UI elements, too. It’s more like I’ll check a setting checkbox and then go back and it’s unchecked, or I’ll try to put a panel on one or another edge of the screen and it’ll cause the main menu to open on the opposite edge like it looped around, or any other number of things that just don’t actually work right. Even after they caved on allowing a single-key desktop shortcut (i.e., using the Super key to open the main menu), it didn’t work right when I would plug/unplug my laptop from my desk monitors because of some weirdness around the lifecycle of the panels and the main menu button; I’d only be able to have the Super key work as a shortcut if it was plugged in or if it was not, but not both. That one was a little while ago, so maybe it’s better now.

                Ironically, Plasma seems to be all about “configuration” and having 10,000 knobs to tweak, but the only way it actually works reasonably well for me is if you don’t touch anything and use it exactly how the devs are dog-fooding it.

                The GNOME guys had the right idea when it came to stripping options, IMO. It’s an unpopular opinion in some corners, but I think it’s just smart to admit when you don’t have the resources to maintain a high bar of quality AND configurability. You have to pick one, and I think GNOME picked the right one.

              2. 5

                I have never understood why KDE isn’t the default VM for any serious linux distribution.

                Me neither, but I’m glad to hear it is the default desktop experience on the recently released Steam Deck.

                1. 3

                  Do SUSE/OpenSUSE not count as serious Linux distributions anymore?

                  It’s also the default for Manjaro as shipped by Pine64. (I think Manjaro overall has several variants… the one Pine64 ships is KDE-based.)

                  Garuda is also a serious Linux distribution, and KDE is their flagship.

                  1. 1

                    I tried to use Plasma multiple times on Arch Linux but every time I tried it turned out to be too unstable. The most annoying bug I remember was that kRunner often crashed after entering some letters, taking down the whole desktop session with it. In the end I stuck with Gnome because it was stable and looked consistent. I do like the concept of Plasma but I will avoid it on any machine I do serious work with.

                  2. 3

                    Looking forward to KUbuntu 22.04 LTS

                    1. 2

                      I used KDE 3 way back in the day, to show off how pretty my Linux distro was, but full knowing I couldn’t afford it, hardware-wise. It looked amazing and was very functional. I installed version 5.xx a few weeks ago, coming from dwm, and was stunned by how well it works. It even made me want to use Konqueror to browse the web, but that part wasn’t so successful.

                      Now, one thing I don’t understand… is it called “Plasma” now? Is it no longer the Kool Desktop Environment? Or is Plasma a subset of KDE?

                      1. 4

                        A few years ago they changed the names of things. KDE is now an umbrella name of the organization, and Plasma is the desktop “by KDE”. So, Konqueror, for example is “a KDE app” because it’s written and maintained by KDE people, but it can run on desktops other than Plasma.