Off week

I’m not doing a programming post this week. Sorry about that. Normally, I have things scheduled at least a week in advance, and that’s true now. But I’ve still decided to take the week off. Why? Upgrades. Specifically, I’ve been upgrading my main desktop.

I have two PCs, a desktop and a laptop, both running different flavors of Linux. The laptop runs Ubuntu (currently 12.04, because it’s old and I’m not particularly keen on running through the hassle of an Ubuntu upgrade, even an LTS one), and it’s not really a problem. The desktop, though, is where I’ve been bolder. It’s currently running Debian Testing, and that is where the problem lies.

If you don’t know, Debian has a three-way division of versions. There’s Stable, which is just what you’d expect; once it comes out, it’s pretty much fixed, only receiving the security fixes and the occasional backport. Testing—the one I’m using—is more up to date, at the risk of causing possible breakage. And then Unstable is the “raw” form, the absolute newest versions of almost everything, bugs or no bugs.

Packages (applications like LibreOffice or libraries like libpng) start off in Unstable with each new version. If nobody finds any critical bugs after a few days, and there’s no other reason to hold things up, then it moves into Testing. Every couple of years (give or take), Testing is “frozen”, and the new Stable is made from that. It’s a slick process…most of the time.

A few weeks ago, fate conspired to throw a wrench into this well-oiled machine. KDE, the desktop environment that I use on the Debian computer, started a major upgrade, from version 4 to version 5. (There’s a whole big change in branding, but I don’t care about the details. In my mind, it’s KDE 5, and that’s that.) This broke a lot of things, because KDE 5 uses new libraries, new modules, and even a few new applications. So I held off on updating that for a while.

But that’s not all. KDE, like many other parts of a working Linux system, is written in C++. And C++ has had some recent major changes itself, namely the C++11 update to the standard. With C++11 comes a new ABI. This goes all the way down the stack to the compiler, GCC, which implemented the new ABI as part of its own version 5 upgrade. That was a major change that would break more than a few things, so I held off on that update, too.

Earlier this week, though, I decided to take the plunge. The main reason that prompted this was some seemingly unrelated library update that broke the integration between KDE and GTK+ that made certain applications (like Iceweasel, Debian’s “de-branded” Firefox) look horribly out of place.

So I did it. Things broke, but I’ve been able to put most of them back together. KDE 5 is…not too bad, compared to 4. It’s early yet, so I’ll give it a little time before I come to a final decision. But my initial impression is that it’s what Windows 8 was trying to be. Like Windows 8, it changes a lot of things for no good reason, leaving users to find a way to put them back the way they were. But it’s nowhere near as bad as the transition from KDE 3 to 4, from what I’ve heard. It’s the combination of the KDE upgrade and the C++ ABI transition that made things so bad. Now, though, the worst is (hopefully) behind me, and I’ll be able to get back to regular posting next week.

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