I’ve been using Kubuntu Linux on my laptop for about three months now. I figured that a really slick GUI and a good package manager would be nice. We’ve been using KDE, Gnome, and XFCE on several computers at home and in the office for a couple of years now, and I’ve always had an affinity for KDE – probably since 2.0 in the late nineties. Even 10 years ago KDE had the cleanest look of all of the available window managers. Graphics hardware has really made advances since then, particularly in the area of dedicated graphics processing. It’s about time that this technology is finally being widely adopted on pc hardware. Mainly driven by the gamer industry, we common folk benefit by cheaper and better GPU’s which allow us to have such video wonders as subpixel rendering and multi-layer compositing.
As I’ve said, the laptop has become one of the workhorses for a small IT and web consultancy. Graphics, the whole office suite, development tools, security tools, you get the idea. Mature programs like KMail and KOrganizer are nicely incorporated into Kontact to provide for email, calendaring, to-do, feed reader, etc. Word processing, spreadsheet, desktop publishing, and the like, are handled with KOffice, KDE’s very own comprehensive office suite. With loads of native tools for web development like Quanta Plus And with KOffice application KPlato, most of the software needs of our small business are met with core KDE applications.
Business aside, I had to install Compiz for all of the eye-candy, manipulations and 3-D rendering of the virtual desktop environment – besides, it adds many functional and useful enhancements that are a must for a system that gets 10 – 14 hours of use daily. I’ve not really had to jump through any hoops to get excellent results, but the integration between the K Desktop Environment version 3.3.8 and the effects rendering through Compiz has not been as tight as I would like.
Enter KDE 4.0
One of the first things I noticed was the efforts of the Oxygen team, on the 4.0 desktop. This graphic and usability overhaul really showcases the high end talent that open source projects can muster. The next thing I took a shine too was the tight integration of a strigi desktop search / katapult hybrid called KRunner that allows one to search the desktop for documents, emails, the internet, and more. Programs can even be launched from this applet just by entering the first few letters that the program starts with.
Everyone is a fan of conveniently accessible widgets for weather, calendar, rss feed, and myriad other Plasmods, as they are called in KDE 4.0. A quick control + F12 desaturates the main desktop and brings to focus this widget layer which is, until invoked, invisible. This Dashboard is a convenient place to access all of your frequented tidbits of information and notes over the course of the day.
Another powerful implementation of the desktop search mentioned earlier is used in Plasma’s KickOff feature which is now the default in place of K menu. Simply click the K icon and start typing. Relevant applications appear in a list as you are typing allowing for the quick execution of the programs that you want to run without navigating through three of four menu levels. KickOff also allows for quick access to your Favorites folder, frequently used applications, one click access to all of the media attached to your system, a recently used items history and a logoff button. These icons are conveniently located under a menu that is going to be different to most KDE users – especially those that have never used Suse Linux.
One of the issues with KDE 3.5.8 and Compiz is virtual desktop management. You can typically use KDE or compiz to manage the number of virtual desktops. Each one has its differences- it really depends you work needs. Compiz handling does not work with programs like karm when configured for auto-desktop tracking, for instance. I’ll spare the idiosyncrasies of both methods of virtual desktop rendering, but, suffice to say, KDE 4.0 seeks to remove problems like this by integrating the effects of these rendering techniques directly into KDE through KWin instead of the effects running as an aside with compiz, or other similar rendering engines. Since KWin has been an integral part of KDE from conception, the convergence of effects and desktop is finally a seamless one. The “Present Windows” feature is but one of the viewing tools now at your fingertips that allow you to see what programs are open and to easily visualize them, whether you have 2 windows open or 20.
The Dolphin File Manager, like all aspects of KDE 4.0, is a blend of style and functionality. From file, folder, and media previews, to easily customized primary, secondary, and even tertiary program access based on file type through mouse and keyboard key combinations, Dolphin is a powerful addition to the KDE arsenal.
Talented people and thoughtful design are the prominent benchmarks of this latest release of the K Desktop Environment. With the union of stunning graphic effects, solid core programs, and unparalleled usability, KDE 4.0 promises to help usher the Linux Desktop into the mainstream.
KDE 4.0 is scheduled for Official Release on January 11th, 2008. These, and other, screenshots, along with more information about KDE 4.0 can be found at http://www.kde.org/announcements/4.0/guide.php