Sunday, September 25, 2011

Who cares about users and distributions anyway?

As distribution developer, some of our most important tasks are
  • making packages work together nicely
  • and selecting "stable" package version sets for a broader audience
On the whole, this is appreciated also by "upstream", i.e. the software authors and the development communities. Every now and then, however, things just become slightly crazy, leading first to frustrated Gentoo devs, then to a lot of frustrated users.
  • Bad example number 1: Amarok.  Do you still remember the note that "you may lose your database on stable upgrade from KDE 4.4 to KDE 4.6" in the KDE 4.6 upgrade guide? Well, that note was the end result of quite some discussion, and (at least as far as I know) Debian stable users ended up with the same database mess. So what actually happened here? Simple, KDE 4.4 was for the Amarok developers so far in the past that they did not even consider an upgrade path. Every complaint that the upgrade was broken got a boilerplate response "The problem is fixed in the new version", although what upstream actually understood as fix (and may indeed have been an improvement) introduced the upgrade trouble in the first place...
  • Bad example number 2: KDEPIM. Right now there are very different opinions on whether Akonadi-based KDEPIM-4.7 is already ripe for mass consumption. Well, you'd say, if there are any doubts about that, how about at least fixing regressions and keeping KDEPIM-4.4 in a working state for a bit more time? Alas, the old version is now officially declared unmaintained, and the first bad regression has appeared with KDE-4.7.1. Discussion on IRC with one of the KDEPIM developers led me to this exchange...
    [12:42:12] <dilfridge> xxxx: re bug 279432 - please, please reconsider and have at least a look at it... we still have users with a lot of problems with kmail2, and it would be great if we could support kmail1 / 2  in parallel for a while
    [12:42:12] <bugbot> KDE bug 279432 in kontact (mail) "Error while uploading message (unexpected end of data) when applying filters" [Normal,Resolved: unmaintained]
    [12:44:01] <dilfridge> I can help testing since I see the problem myself
    [13:30:29] <xxxx> dilfridge: you can help by writting a patch for it
    [13:30:58] <dilfridge> indeed, I can... problem is that I'm not familiar at all with the code
    [13:32:09] <dilfridge> I would not even know what parts are interacting there... kdepimlibs, kioslaves...
    [13:40:31] <xxxx> note that using online imap with kmail1 never worked correctly
    [16:22:02] <dilfridge> xxxx: maybe, but I've never used online imap and have the same problem :|
    [end of conversation]
    I talked to a colleague about that and got the response that in addition to focussing on KDEPIM-4.7, "the KDEPIM guys are now paid for doing the mobile version, desktop comes second". WHAT? Something's seriously warping priorities here, I mean, I like to sometimes check my e-mail with my mobile, but without a working desktop mail application I would probably not even have an e-mail account!
Summary of all this rant: If you're an upstream developer, please remember that what you consider stable is probably not the most conservative, end user-friendly estimation. People are using older versions, distributions are packaging older, "ripened" versions, and also these need some minimum support and upgrade paths! Otherwise, your users might just go away...


  1. Exactly my thoughts!
    After third re-adding of my imap accounts (because was not able to send mail thru them) and after nepomuk eating all of my cpu resources (and manually killing the darn thing), I am now a happy user of claws-mail!
    And no! I don`t miss semantic desktop at all!

  2. I agree. I used to love KMail/KDEPIM in KDE 3 - it did everything I wanted perfectly.

    But then, when KDE4 came out, things started to break, and it was frustrating to use. I ended up setting up an internal IMAP server, and later jumping ship, not really wanting to have the dependencies that KDEPIM imposed.

    It's a shame they broke such a wonderful project, and almost four years later is still did not get it in proper working condition :(

  3. Kmail is an email program? I assumed it was a graphical tool for displaying all of the possible Akonadi error messages depending on which button you push. If it could also send email that would be a nice additional feature.

  4. Probably other upstream project also behave like that. Lately, also GNOME. But this KDE attitude pushed me away from KDE. This attitude is summarized very well here:

  5. lol..
    I just migrated from KDE4 to Xfce (after about 7 years of daily use). Everything feels SO much snappier!
    I was sick of KDE pulling in just about everything without allowing to NOT pull it in (virtuoso, mysql for amarok, etc etc).
    Before migrating I tried disabling selectively akonadi and nepomuk to avoid non-necessary slowdowns and added disk cruft. Result? After logging in *3* notifications show up saying "Nepomuk is not running". Went to disable nepomuk notifications in the settings -> notifications still there. KDE4 is simply not doing the job as a desktop manager.
    As for emails, I moved to google mail a long time ago, no more need to use desktop clients =)

  6. I spent all of yesterday evening working on an Ubuntu box that my in-laws use for (open) libreoffice and web browsing.

    Basically, any and all KDE apps were mysteriously crashing every now and again. I eventually fixed it by tracking it down to a failed upgrade of my Soprano user-database, leading to Nepomuk losing the rag, eating the CPU and generally flailing around. This includes programs with no semantic desktop integration at all (and includes many of the competing apt frontends that Kubuntu ships with ... )

    Eventually I just ran
    >> find ~/.kde -iname "*nepomuk*" -exec rm {} \;
    >> find ~/.kde -iname "*soprano*" -exec rm {} \;
    as all of the many people with the same error message (down to the package versions) said that this was the only working fix. What a total mess.

    As for KDE in Gentoo, I really have no interest.
    I honestly don't know what the KDE guys are / were thinking, but they have made a real balls of the entire project.

    At least it looks pretty[!]

  7. I'm frustrated as hell with all the KDEPIM changes. Akonadi was a disaster for a long time and moreover a BAD idea. For years I've been able to simply edit the SIMPLE flat text configuration files and save the SIMPLE data directories for individual apps and port them between distributions using SIMPLE tarballs. Now I can't even find the akonadi database. What rules does it follow? How do you export and backup data? How can you edit the low-level configuration for unusual situation? Nada, Zip no information, not even an announcement that the devs were going to make this major step. Needless to say, I'm ticked. KMail for my two cents is the best email client out there, but now it's so fancy and so "tied" to akonadi and all the other PIM stuff you can't use it independently.

    Ray K.

  8. Clementine rocks. It looks and feels clean and solid. Amarok looks and feels like a dog's breakfast. It is a mess trying to do too much at once.

    Thanks for the heads up on kMail. I'm coming back to Linux desktop for my main dev box. I was going to switch from Thunderbird to KMail but when I looked at it, it was like Amarok: trying to do too much and tied/hard wired into too much other crap. I wanted to see some other recent opinions and this seems to sum it up rather nicely. And to see that the KDE devs don't seem to care and are more focused on mobile.... not a good sign.

    And don't get me started on KWallet. Whoever came up with that and made it active by default needs a swift kick in the balls. What a useless piece of crap. I have used computers for 25 years and I have never needed some 'get in the way all the time' horse crap app to store my passwords. First thing I try to do is disable it but sometimes forget after an install and then it screws up my wireless passwords till I disable it and delete its directories. I even saw some KDE forum admin try and tell someone Kwallet is important for success. WTF? He literally said 'important for success'. ???

    I looked at xfce and am mulling it over... but I am too used to how KDE works to really want to switch. However I have installed the Thunar file manager from it. It makes Dolphin look stupid... or more precisely like the Thunar devs listened to people about how a file manager should display files so that they are easy to look over. I have always hated any of the KDE files managers including Dolphin. One thing Microsoft did right in my opinion is their file manager. It is very well designed and easy to use. I don't see why people are trying to do it so differently aside maybe from misplaced fanboy-ism to Linux.

    It may seem like I don't like KDE, but I like it better than the competition, and it works pretty good mostly. Except for where the developers 'go off' and start developing for themselves and their self importance instead of for what the end users really need or want. Change for change sake and constantly adding unneeded "improvements" is not a good thing (I'm looking at YOU Amarok monkeys). And making an email app do EVERYTHING means it probably does everything meh.