Kubuntu Moves Forward: You Can't Please Everyone, All the Time
It's nearly a year since KDE released the KDE4 desktop. The initial roll-out was rocky for KDE, and while subsequent releases have brought ever increasing stability and enhancements, some KDE users feel it's not quite ready for daily use.
In the beginning the solution -- for the KDE project, and for distributions that ship with KDE, such as Kubuntu -- was fairly simple. Offer both the 3.5.x and 4.x versions, either as a installation option, or through repositories.
At some point, however, a disconnect has to come. Celeste Lyn Paul, a member of the KDE Human-Computer Interaction group, talks a bit about the decisions Kubuntu had to face as Hardy (and its 3.5 desktop option) gave way to Intrepid's 4.1.x only environment.
It's an unenviable position, both for KDE and the distributions that focus on it as the primary desktop. The differences between earlier KDE releases and the 4.0 release were so significant that the user interface (re-)learning curve understandably required more time. And as Paul states, the 4.0 release was more bleeding edge than usual. This meant that developers also had their own learning curve of sorts, and as each new tweak was applied, end users had at least minor adjustments to absorb.
Paul makes the observation, however, that KDE by nature has always been a bit more focused on "functional design" oriented early adopters -- as she puts it, a release doesn't have to be still "breathing and bleeding" but should be a fresh kill.
A distribution (indeed, any application) has an obligation to its users, especially in the transitional state that KDE was in when Hardy was released last spring. This is why, Paul says, Hardy offered both desktop versions through officially supported packages. When Intrepid was released in October, the Kubuntu team had to make the call -- and decided it was time to move forward. The KDE 3.5 desktop isn't disappearing tomorrow, but it isn't the future of the desktop environment anymore, either.
Unfortunately, according to Paul, Kubuntu decided to disable a few functions of the KDE 4.1.2 desktop in Intrepid because of some worrisome bugs. This aggravated some Kubuntu users.
Other Kubuntu users, though, had to come to terms with the fact that the older desktop release was only available through untrusted, third party sources. They either had to make the transition, or take their chances with packages that potentially could (and in some cases, did) damage their new Intrepid installations.
As someone who was annoyed with the initial KDE 4 rollout (I had been fooling with the 4.0 release since the alpha stages, which weren't as pretty, but seemed more stable than the January release), I've come to make peace with the eccentricities and appreciate the enhancements in the latest releases. However, I empathize with both sides. Change often is good, but changes should help get things done -- and there are a lot of different opinions on what changes help, hurt, or are merely annoying (and how positive or detrimental they are overall) in any desktop setting.
I also feel that the Kubuntu team has done -- and are doing -- what needs to be done to keep the distribution up to date, and to move both Kubuntu and KDE 4 forward. The team's decision won't make every user happy, but packaging both desktop versions (and maintaining every associated package and dependency required for system stability) would be a drain on human resources no project can afford.