The ongoing competition between GNOME and KDE for the hearts, minds, and pixels of Linux is now far enough along that we’re seeing books about these desktop environments. While programmer’s books about KDE and GNOME (and their underlying toolkits Qt and Gtk) have been available for a while, the arrival of end-user-oriented books in this area is a relatively new phenomenon, and a welcome milestone in the maturing of Linux as a platform.
Press K to Start
Into this situation steps Dennis Powell’s Practical KDE (PKDE), one of the first books from a major publisher specifically for the KDE user. Better yet is the fact that Powell combines a comfortable presentation style with a steady focus on real-world users and what they want to accomplish with a computer. PKDE includes 38 chapters, nearly all of which are conspicuously task-centric. Powell covers acquiring, installing, and configuring KDE, as well as working with KDE and other programs, such as office suites and databases, mail programs, browsers, file managers, and even the games that come with KDE. He also mentions some non-KDE programs and techniques that should be of considerable interest to even the most diehard KDE user. In fact, Powell covers so many aspects of being a KDE user that it’s hard to imagine what else one could add.
One aspect of PKDE that we like was how thoroughly it treats configuration and customization issues. Even experienced users can easily fall into the trap of not exploring the available options for tailoring a complex modern user interface to their needs. Powell covers the basic components of KDE, such as the task bar, the panel, the desktop and KFM (the K file manager) so thoroughly that he gives the reader no excuse for not getting the most out of KDE.
About the only negative comments one could make about PKDE are that it’s perilously close to becoming outdated, thanks to the imminent arrival of KDE 2.0, and that Powell’s writing style can be somewhat “high maintenance” in places. The author makes liberal use of humor and attitude, which is refreshing, given how dry many computer books are today. But he wanders close enough to the edge in places, such as when he speculates on what makes some people like WordPerfect and others hate it (“genetic[s]? as a result of upbringing?”), that he could easily run afoul of a reader’s mood.
What’s Not There
To Powell’s credit (and the reader’s benefit), he doesn’t spend a lot of time on issues that the average desktop PC user won’t care about, like program development. He does include one relatively short chapter on programming for KDE and the Qt widget toolkit it’s based on, but he doesn’t attempt to provide more than a brief overview. This shows good judgment, as that’s a topic that can overwhelm a book like this without providing nearly enough information for programmers.
If you’re using KDE as your primary desktop environment, and you feel that you’re not using it to its (or your own) full potential, Practical KDE would be an excellent start to remedying that situation.