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KDE Free (Updated March 2011)

Kicking The KDE Habit

A few months ago I dropped Kubuntu and KDE as my desktop and switched to Arch Linux with an Openbox desktop. I’ve used KDE for years and thought highly of it, but they lost me with KDE 4. But I still had quite a few KDE apps I used in Openbox. With the recent KDE 4.4 update, KDE went from bad to worse, making Akonadi truly required, Nepomuk more troublesome, breaking some of my apps, and other problems. So I decided to drop all KDE dependency. Despite some of the fine KDE apps I still think highly of, like Krusader and Kmail, I simply don’t want all the overhead required to run them.

So for the last couple of weeks I’ve been finding replacements for the last of my KDE apps, particularly Kate, Kmail, Krusader, and k3b. I thought I would share what I found to replace these and other apps, and why I like them. I’ve written about some of these before but I’ll try to make this a fairly complete list in itself. After trying various apps, these are the ones I chose. All of these are in the Arch repositories (my PCManFM mod is in the AUR).

Arch Linux
I already wrote about My Big Move To Arch and The Followup. Briefly, I really like the Arch way of doing things. Rolling release means there are no upgrades to do every year. Instead anytime you update packages you get the very latest. Occassionally this will break something. I find it’s good to do an update when I’m prepared to spend a few minutes addressing any issues. It’s also good to have a system backup. But in general I like fixing things a little at a time, instead of upgrading the whole system as is done with Ubuntu releases. I also like having access to the latest packages, and Arch has a great community build system for apps that aren’t included in the official repos. So I’m very happy with Arch and I highly recommend it for anyone reasonably familiar with a distro like Ubuntu who wants to run a more customized, faster system.

UPDATE: Since writing the above, I discovered a serious flaw in Arch Linux which tempers my recommendation of it, especially for those who desire a reasonable level of security. My full review of Arch Linux is also available.

Openbox and LXDE
LXDE is a great desktop which includes Openbox as its window manager, and some lightweight apps. You can also just use Openbox by itself and install other components to go with it. You edit XML files to construct your menu and add shortcut keys to do whatever you like, and add any components you want. For example, I use the excellent lxpanel as my taskbar in Openbox. It works and looks a lot like KDE3’s taskbar.

After asking around, I decided to give Claws Mail a try as a replacement for the very capable Kmail. I am extremely pleased with it, and in some ways like it better than Kmail. It has most of Kmail’s features. It handles HTML email a bit differently – can’t send it, and converts incoming to text. This works pretty well. There is also a plugin that allows you to display HTML email but I haven’t tried that – no need. It has very capable filtering, account handling, and a great UI.

Note: If you switch from Kmail, you can transfer your email as follows. Save a copy of your ~/.kde/share/apps/kmail/mail folder. Rename all the mail files in it (using your favorite rename utility) so they have simple names like “001”, “002”, etc. Claws doesn’t seem to like the semicolons and such that Kmail uses for filenames. Then, in Claws select File|Add Mailbox and specify the copy of your mail folder. All the mail will appear in Claws – look in the “cur” subfolders for the messages. Drag or copy the messages from there to your Claws mailbox folders. Then you can right-click on the mailbox you added and select Remove Mailbox. All done! Claws can also read the vcard address book format exported by Kmail, or saved in ~/.kde/share/apps/kabc

PCMan File Manager
This FM, which is the default for the LXDE desktop, is the one I finally chose after reviewing a bunch of File Managers. It has support for multiple tabs which I find very useful. It does not have twin-pane like Krusader, but I find that less important, and I didn’t care for the other twin-pane FMs I reviewed. One thing I missed in PCMan is user-definable functions. So I have written a mod for PCMan which adds these in a very flexible way, and also fixes a few other issues and bugs I encountered. With that mod in place, I’m very happy with this FM. It is simpler than Krusader, but I didn’t actually use most of the functions in Krusader, so it’s nice having a cleaner UI. This runs a lot like the Konqueror FM in KDE3. Thunar is also a notable mention – a simpler FM with a clean UI.

Geany and Bluefish
Geany is an amazing editor and IDE – seems to include everything! Blows Kate away. I just needed the dark themes for it so I didn’t go blind. Bluefish is also excellent – a very Kate-like syntax-highlighting editor. Before Geany was suggested on the Arch Forums I was very glad to find this editor, with a recently released version 2, because I wasn’t sure what I’d find to replace Kate. It has some excellent features and some improvements on Kate as well. It’s an almost perfect editor. You might also check out SciTE as another alternative to Kate.

Similar to Gwenview, GQView is a very capable image viewer. It’s folder view is great – actually an improvement on Gwenview in some ways. UPDATE: Geeqie, a fork and improvement of GQView (which is no longer being maintained?), is my new choice. It is available in Arch’s repositories.

While not a full replacement for all the functionality of Ocular, I found Evince to be a nice lightweight app that does all I wanted – it lets me view and print PDF files. ePDFviewer is also good.

I’ve already mentioned this replacement for Ark. However, it doesn’t seem to handle tar.xv. I also wrote Xtract which makes for quick archive extraction in any file manager.

A terrific replacement for KNotes – adds sticky notes to your desktop. Very similar to KNotes in functionality and appearance, and minimal dependencies.

This was my choice to replace Konsole. Has similar features and appearance – came highly recommended on the Arch Forums.

SMPlayer and VLC
My multimedia players, these do the job!

After reviewing a few of them, this was my replacement for KTorrent. A vast improvement!

GHex is Gnome’s hex editor, and it’s one the best IMO as a general, easy-to-use hex editor.

This gnome FTP client seems to survive on my system. Although I’ve tried others, I keep coming back to this because it ‘just works’.

A simple yet powerful desktop calculator.

Graveman And Asunder
I was planning to use Brasero as my replacement for k3b, but it couldn’t use my DVD drive correctly. Graveman, once I gave it the device name “/dev/scd0” in preferences, does the job. A nice lightweight burning app with almost no dependencies. Also, for CD ripping, which Graveman doesn’t include, Asunder is a nice lightweight app.

Import & xwd
Part of Imagemagick, the import command can be used to take desktop snapshots, similar to KSnapshot. It works great. I simply associated the following command with the “Print” key (Printscreen) in Openbox’s rc.xml:

bash -c "import /tmp/screenshot-$(date +%s).png"

When I press the PrintScreen key, the mouse cursor changes to a target. I click on the window I want and a snap is written to /tmp. Very slick. Import can do other things like take multiple snapshots, etc.

UPDATE: I had some problems with import leaving black areas on the snapshots, so I am now using X’s xwd instead, with the output piped through Imagemagick’s convert. In Openbox’s rc.xml:

  <keybind key="Print">
    <action name="Execute">
      <command>bash -c "xwd | convert - /tmp/screenshot-$(date +%s).png"</command>
  <keybind key="S-Print">
    <action name="Execute">
        <name>Snapshot with Frame</name>
      <command>bash -c "xwd -frame | convert - /tmp/screenshot-$(date +%s).png"</command>
  <keybind key="C-Print">
    <action name="Execute">
        <name>Snapshot Fullscreen</name>
      <command>bash -c "xwd -root | convert - /tmp/screenshot-$(date +%s).png"</command>

This makes the Printscreen key take a snapshot of window contents, Shift-Printscreen include the window frame, and Ctrl-Printscreen capture the whole screen.

I’ve mentioned Zim before as a personal desktop wiki. I still think its handy but a recent update messed up the theme handling and some other issues. I realized having my notes in plain text format is less volatile, so I’ve gone back to that. This was easy since Zim mostly uses a plain text format for storage. But Zim may still be worth checking out.

Similar to the old KDialog but much more capable, Zenity lets you add GUI dialogs to your scripts. A good guide is here.

XDiskusage, GDMap, and ncdu
These are good replacements for Filelight, each with its own benefits. ncdu works across ssh.

With these changes, I was finally able to remove kdelibs and all its junk – soprano, nepomuk, akonadi, strigi, phonon, etc. I am KDE free.


February 23, 2010 - Posted by | Tips


  1. Similar journey to me, it is just I’m struggling to remove all GTK+ dependencies from my system. My last GTK+ program is Firefox, which I use as a secondary browser. Once there is a good KDE/Qt browser, I’ll throw away Firefox and become a GTK+ free forever!

    Comment by fred | February 23, 2010

    • Interesting – why do you prefer to be free of GTK? Just wondering what you see as the key issues with it. I’m no great fan of GTK either. But being older and smaller it is less offensive overall to me.

      I’m also starting to like Firefox less. Going to be browser shopping soon. Arora is nice and light but I haven’t used it much. I keep it installed as a backup mostly.

      Comment by igurublog | February 23, 2010

  2. nice info, thanks for sharing.

    Comment by filesearch.web.id | March 7, 2010

  3. Great list of utils, thank you!

    Comment by Foo | November 13, 2012

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