At this point, the Trinity Desktop
Environment (TDE) hardly needs a conventional review. After all, as the
numbering of the new 3.5.13 release suggests, TDE is a continuation of the
KDE 3 series, and anyone who is even remotely interested must have seen the
basic desktop many times. Instead, TDE raises some questions. For instance,
how well can a desktop first
released nearly a decade ago adapt to modern computing? Just as
importantly, what are its chances of survival, and what directions might
its development take in the future? To judge from the new release, these
are important questions.
The latest version of TDE is available as packages for recent
releases of Debian, Ubuntu, Red Hat, and Fedora. However, packages for
releases made in the last month or so, such as Fedora 16, are not yet
available, while packages for Slackware, openSUSE and Mandriva are
mentioned as being in development. Alternatively, you can download a Kubuntu Live CD or build
TDE from source.
If you install TDE, note that its packages are not interchangeable with packages from other sources for the KDE 3 series. Nor can KDE 4 releases run them. Installing TDE requires dependencies not found in any version of mainstream KDE, including patched versions of the libcaldav and libcarddav libraries and the version of Qt3 that Trinity maintains as separate projects.
Thankfully, all Trinity packages have a -trinity suffix attached
to them, and the desktop maintain settings in a ~/.trinity
directory separate from the ~/.kde directory used by KDE 4, so TDE can coexist safely beside other versions of KDE. The largest problem you are likely to encounter is finding TDE at the login screen, where it is listed under "TDE" rather than "KDE" or "Trinity," as you might first expect.
For long time KDE users, TDE is a step back in time. The first login starts with the KPersonalizer wizard, complete with Konqi, the now seldom-used dragon mascot of KDE. However, this nostalgia is not an unalloyed delight.
The first impression is that TDE is generally faster than KDE 4. This impression waivers when you open KDE 4 apps and seems inconsistent when running applications not designed for a specific desktop, but the general impression remains for routine operations like logging in or out.
If you are familiar with the KDE 3 release series, the next thing you are
likely to notice is how little it has visibly changed, even though 3.5.13
is the third TDE release, 3.5.12 having been released in October 2010, and
3.5.11 in April 2010. Perhaps the most visible improvements in the 3.5.13
version, which was released November 1, is a Monitor and Display dialog
that supports multiple monitors, the option to run a KDE-4-style menu, and
a few themes. You have to go into the repositories to notice the addition
of a few TDE-specific applications, such as kbookreader,
kdbusnotification, kmymoney, and
most of the enhancements
in the new release are behind the scenes, and largely unnoticeable. Ranging
from bug-fixes to improvements in security, these enhancements are welcome,
but, to the casual eye, TDE seems pretty much identical to the last of the KDE 3 series.
Although interface differences are obvious, in terms of basic features TDE compares favorably with the latest KDE 4 releases. In fact, although rearrangement of configuration options make comparisons difficult, TDE's Control Center actually appears to have more administrative options than the latest KDE 4.7 release, especially for hardware peripherals. For many, an interface designed to the standards of a decade ago might seem at first a small price to pay for the speed and administration tools.
However, TDE also has some serious shortcomings. For example, according to the release notes, Bluetooth functionality is absent. So, too, is the ability to edit HTML messages and display images in KMail, which is the subject of a $2500 bounty.
TDE is also at an obvious disadvantage in its lack of counterparts to advanced KDE 4 features such as Folder Views and Activities. Nor does it integrate any online applications or services into the desktop, the way that an increasing number of desktop environments do.
In addition, TDE would benefit from the ability to migrate email, addresses, and settings from other versions of KDE. Non-KDE applications such as Firefox can be used interchangeably in TDE and KDE, but not KDE-specific applications. Start KMail in TDE, for example, and you have to configure it separately from other versions of the same application. Admittedly, migration of information might be difficult, since KDE 4 applications such as KMail and Amarok store information in databases, but, without some sort of assistance, TDE installations are practical mainly on a fresh machine or else as experiments not intended for serious work.
Even more seriously, while the last releases of the KDE 3 series had a
reputation for stability, TDE's patches seem to have taken a toll. Every
now and then on my Debian installation, TDE takes three or four times as
long as usual to log out. Random crashes also occur. For some reason, too, changing the theme creates a new panel on the left side of the screen, while logging in always starts the audio mixer.
Questions of viability
Judging by the ongoing complaints about the KDE 4 series, a market should
exist for a continuation of KDE 3. Yet, for some reason, TDE remains a
niche project. It has only four main developers, although, according to
project lead Timothy Pearson, others have reported bugs and submitted
patches. The same names appear over and over on TDE's mailing lists, and
the project's Community
Styles and Themes page includes just a single contribution.
Furthermore, in the last eleven months, the project's download page has averaged just 214 visits per month, with a high of 492 in February 2011. Even with the new release, this month's visits were only 252 with the month two-thirds over — and probably not all of those visits were followed by an installation.
Little wonder, then, that the project's home page includes a plea for help in every aspect of development. The current team has undertaken an ambitious project with limited resources, and is running hard just to stay in the same place.
That might lead to misgivings about TDE's viability, but there are some
other things to consider.
The project has managed to do three releases, with a fourth planned for April 2012. It has also successfully navigated major design decisions, avoiding switching to the Qt4 framework by taking over the maintenance of Qt3, and continuing to rely on DCOP, invoking D-Bus only when necessary for such operations as running KDE 4 applications.
Moreover, project members are well aware that much remains to be done. Asked about the priorities for the future, Pearson mentions a replacement for HAL, but emphasizes that the main concern will be bug-fixes. "TDE inherited a lot of bugs from KDE 3.5.10, and has added some of its own over the years," he acknowledged. The next release, he added, "is going to primarily be a bug fix release, although I imagine some new features will probably creep in between now and the release date."
Despite the challenges, Pearson remains optimistic that TDE will survive and define itself. Since forking from KDE 3, he said,
The two projects' goals have diverged significantly. We are not trying to compete with KDE 4 (or any other desktop for that matter) — instead, we are working on an alternative desktop environment with a different perspective on human-computer interaction compared to the environments currently available.
In other words, like Xfce, TDE is designed for those who view the desktop
primarily as a place from which to launch local applications. To those who
use online applications or services, or whose workflow now depends on
enhanced features like KDE 4's Activities and alternative desktop
arrangements, that may seem like an obsolete goal. Yet the continuing
mutter of controversy about KDE 4 suggests that there are at least some who
wish to continue working as they already have for a decade.
For these reasons, in its own quixotic way, TDE seems likely to struggle
on, at least for the immediate future. For those who were happy with KDE 3, and
opposed to the direction of KDE 4, the project seems a perfect opportunity for
getting involved and making a difference.
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