Product Review: The K Desktop Environment, Version 1.0

At the risk of sounding like a surfer, KDE was the sharpest, coolest window display I had ever seen on any operating system.
  • Developer: KDE Project Team

  • URL:

  • Price: free

  • Reviewer: Bill Cunningham

Everyone's done a double-take at one time or another. For me, they can be the result of seeing a European sports car, a pretty girl or a UFO. I did a double-take on catching sight of a Linux window manager recently.

About a month ago, I received a S.u.S.E. flyer in the mail. The flyer had a screenshot of a new window manager called KDE, the K Desktop Environment, up and running. At the risk of sounding like a surfer, KDE was the sharpest, coolest window display I had ever seen on any operating system. I wanted my Linux desktop to look exactly like that.

Figure 1 is the screenshot that sold me. Compared to KDE, my old standby, FVWM, looked downright humble. I vowed to get KDE as soon as possible.

Figure 1. KDE Screenshot

A Yahoo search led me to the KDE project's page at The web site has extensive documentation that I won't recite here. A slide show at summarizes the whole project quite nicely.

What is it?

KDE is primarily a complete, windows-based graphical operating environment for UNIX platforms. The KDE Core, also called kdebase, comes with a highly configurable window manager, control panel, file manager and virtual terminal. A user can download and install just the core package and be up and running in fine style. All your original X Window System applications will still work as before.

However, to fully benefit from KDE, one can additionally install specialized, interoperative application suites from any or all of these functional areas:

  • multimedia

  • graphics

  • utilities

  • games

  • networking

  • system administration

More will surely appear in the future.

These applications were designed to be highly interoperable. At first, I wanted only the basic desktop. It proved to be so powerful and easy to use that I quickly decided to get the multimedia package. These applications work equally well. Inevitably, I will have all the KDE packages by Christmas.

First Impressions

In my experience so far, KDE seems to be quite solid. The basic desktop takes about five seconds longer to come up than FVWM did (I have a P-133, 32MB RAM). Once up, however, the applications run noticeably quicker than comparable, older applications under FVWM. The applications are sharp-looking and responsive. Memory usage seems to be no more than non-KDE applications use. On my system, I had Netscape, the Applix word processor, one kvt and an active PPP connection running simultaneously before I saw any swapping. Even then, I had about 66% of my 16MB swap space still free. This is about the same system usage required by FVWM.


Working with FVWM is sort of like ice skating on a vast, frozen lake. With KDE, I can have fun on my computer for hours changing the background pattern, moving scrollbars around and fiddling with the controls. Sure, all this was possible with FVWM, but who ever had time to figure out how? With KDE, every aspect of the desktop's appearance is configurable with a couple of mouse clicks.

Who is Shipping with KDE?

Linux distributions from all over the world are now shipping with KDE. Here are some of the latest:

  • German companies S.u.S.E GmbH, Delix Computer GmbH and Chip Extra Magazine

  • Caldera OpenLinux 1.2

  • PTS Linux

  • Eurielec 98 and COX-Red Hat 5.0 (Spanish)

  • Dream (French computer magazine)

  • Turkuaz (Turkish Linux distribution)

  • Connectiva (Brazilian-Portuguese)

  • Linux Mandrake

  • Walnut Creek's FreeBSD 2.2.7

  • InfoMagic

  • Stampede

  • LinuxPPC 1998 (PowerPC)

  • MkLinux (Power Macintosh)

New Linux users will probably use KDE as their X interface from the beginning. The following information is for users who would like to switch to KDE from another window manager.

The only warning I would make at this point is that KDE is somewhat large. Together, kdebase and kdelibs take up about 20MB once installed. The kdesupport package was another 4MB installed, and multimedia added 5.4MB. For most hard drives, these numbers are a drop in the bucket. I would even go so far as to say that KDE is worth buying a new hard drive for, if yours is getting full. With a complete Slackware installation, a whole year's worth of FTP downloaded applications and KDE, my 1.5GB hard drive is only 25% full.