After playing around with various distributions and desktop environments, I finally made my decision on my preferred environment: KDE it is. Here is my reasoning, and some advice on how to run GDK (Gnome) applications peacefully under KDE.

Why KDE? Because (1) it’s easier to customize, and (2) more like Windows. Let me elaborate:

(1) Maybe I didn’t do things right, but the ability to configure look and feel, font sizes, widget sizes was quite awkward in Gnome. While it is possible to select a specific Theme, it’s quite difficult to fine-tune it without editing configuration files. Well, I don’t mind editing the configuration file for my mail server, because I often access my mail server through a ssh session. But for a system with the only purpuse of giving me graphical access, I’d rather have the ability to fine-tune the system quickly and efficiently within this system. On that account, KDE beats Gnome by far.

(2)Windows… I am not a big fan of Microsoft, and I think they do a bad job on the server side. But they do understand the desktop! There are few things that I miss on Windows (like multiple desktops), and I gut used to their keybindings, and am unwilling to learn something new without a good reason. So I was pleased to see that KDE supported the Windows-Key right out of the box.

Gnome apps under KDE

My biggest struggle was to get Gnome apps look right under KDE. And I am dependent on Gnome (or more acurately, GTK) apps, specifically Firefox, Gimp and Eclipse.

I tried Debian and Suse, and on both distributions the fonts were huge, and the empty space around widgets unproportionally wide, eating up all my real estate. I tried to tinker with the gtk configuration files (.gtkrc and .gtkrc-2.0), but eventually gave up (I’ll tell you why later on).

For a while, I was limping along with workarounds. I used a different Firefox Theme. It didn’t look great, but saved me real estate. I was using the Motif version of Eclipse. Again, it saved me real estate, but it looked horrible

Suse screws up Gnome

When I tried to find some advice online once more, I finally found out why I didn’t go anywhere by editing my .gtkrc files: Suse designed their own hook to make sure Gnome applications would look good under KDE – but they didn’t take users changing the widget set into account, and screwed things up. How to fix it is documented here. Essentially, you have to edit /opt/kde3/bin/startkde to allow the .gtkrc file to be picked up! It looks like an ugly hack to me, but at least it works.

Now I set my .gtkrc and .gtkrc-2.0 files to use the “Simple” theme, and things started to look much, much better! The fonts were still a little too big for my taste, but I could fix that by adding the following entry to my .gtkrc* files: gtk-font-name = "Sans 7".

Now I feel that my Linux System is truly usable on a daily basis, but fixing these things made quite a difference. I hope these notes will be useful for somebody – including myself the next time I set up a Linux box.