I'm curious what users out here who are using Linux in the classroom are doing about the many choices of desktop environments that are available. I had banked on using XFCE when/if we roll out more Ubuntu desktops, but I ran into a few snags. Using XFCE 4.8 on Ubuntu 11.04 has given me a little more food for thought. I like XFCE a lot, but I keep running into random bugs. Sometimes my system freezes, other times my mouse just locks up, and now and then my icons in my taskbar turn to white squares and nothing works, including the log out/shut down applet. I just get errors until I do a hard reboot.
KDE - I love KDE, but no thanks. I just don't feel it's stable enough to be in a production environment. It's magnitude of plasma widgets and stuff may look pretty, but I feel as though it is way too much for what I need and just isn't a good fit. Don't get me wrong, I love it, I'm just not feeling it as the main desktop environment in our scenario.
Gnome - Old faithful, but changing quite a bit. Unity is a terrific option and has served me so well it's hard to look away from it. However, Unity is new. Very new. This is scary... I'd rather choose something simpler and yet very effective to use that's been around for a while before I tinker with Unity. At the same token, I've had so few issues with Unity, it really does make me wonder if I should give it a try.
XFCE - As stated above, it works very well, but has given me some issues. Perhaps it just hates my CR-48 Google laptop? I don't know... but so far I'm not 100% convinced over it.
When I worked in a school that ran Linux (customised LTSP on Fedora 9) we ran KDE 3.5, but that was 3 years ago. We also ran some stand alone machines (Compaq PIIIs) on which we used IceWM.
If I was in a position to run Linux in the school environment today, I would most run either IceWM (most likely) or XFCE.
Some long and rambling background info will now follow. I've just upgraded my o/s at home. A couple of years ago I installed Mandriva 2009, but with a manually installed KDE 3.5, as there was no way KDE 4 was ready. Mandriva wasn't my choice; I've always been a Redhat or Fedora user, but the then current release, which I think was Fedora 11, would not support my hardware RAID. Strangely enough, Fedora 10 did. Anyway, I wanted an RPM based distro, so it was either SuSE or Mandriva, and since I've had previous bad experiences with SuSE, I chose Mandriva. It has been OK, apart from a few minor annoyances, specifically if you run the GUI as root. (There was a red flash as the GUI fired up, which I couldn't find. If you left the default red root wallpaper, you wouldn't notice this, but if you change the wallpaper you do.)
A couple of months ago, I decided to upgrade my o/s (but on the same hardware) and installed Fedora 14 and KDE 4. The KDE 4 was still not usable, IMO. There were many niggles; to cut a long story short, if you changed any of the default setting (especially icons), the taskbar didn't display correctly. As I had decided the time was right for KDE 4, I installed Mandriva 2010.2 and it was all OK (or so I thought). The annoying red flash was still there and noticeable too, as the default root wallpaper is blue. I did managed to find the cause this time and corrected it.
The real show stopper came when I tried to run dual monitors. If I want to watch streaming TV, I plug my TV into the PC, as it is not very comfortable to have us all clustered around the PC monitor. Under KDE 3.5 this was not an issue, it just worked. However with KDE 4, the TV picture breaks up so badly, it is unwatchable. The only remedy was to disable the PC monitor and just use the TV (ie one monitor).
So having again proven to myself the KDE 4 is not ready, I had the choice of either going back to KDE 3.5, which would be painful, or changing window managers. I decided to go IceWM, having had previous success with it.
So, if I was in a school with Linux desktops, it would be IceWM. KDE applications play very well with it. and it is very easy to create your own theme. Users could customise this, if they knew what they were doing, but since this involves using vi or similar to setup user specific configuration files, I doubt it would be a problem. I can't see many students having the nowse to do this, so the "corporate" environment would be preserved. In any case, you can lock IceWM down very easily.
I compiled my own as the default Mandiva rpm is icewm-light. This does not allow you to change anything from the defaults, and the clock, system manager, etc are disabled. There is one issue with IceWM. The temperature on the taskbar system monitor is always blank. It is trying to get the temperature from /proc/acpi/thermal_zone/??/temperature, but on Madriva this has been depreciated in favour of lm_sensors. Interestingly (or not!) the Mandriva compiled version still tries to read the temperature from the aforementioned place. This may or may not be an issue on other distros.
KDE 3.5 until KDE 4 came along - didn't like it so moved to Gnome, until very recently....
Originally Posted by Gatt
Gnome - Gave up straight away with Unity in the new Ubuntu 11.04 as I can't figure out how to use it!!
Like Gatt, I tried Unity, didn't understand it and gave up. However, I've re-visited Unity with a fresh install of Ubuntu and once you get used to it (after an hour or so) you'll appreciate how simple, uncluttered and logical it is. I'm a convert. I really, really like it now.
It operates so differently to Gnome or KDE that users are likely to be prejudiced and have negative views on it, which is a shame. I thought Canonical had made a huge mistake moving from Gnome, but I've changed my mind and think it's an excellent move.
There's some good demos on Youtube, well worth a 10 minute look to get used to the principles behind the interface.
Funnily enough I used vi today for the first time since about 1991 (on a Balance Transputer distributed system). My hatred for it was all in the mind, it's quite quick and easy once you get back into the swing of it.....