Open Source

10 reasons to make KDE 4.5 your desktop of choice

Despite a rocky start, KDE 4 has come out on top. Jack Wallen offers a stellar review of the vastly improved KDE 4.5.

If you've followed the trials and tribulations of the KDE Desktop Environment, you know how rough a go the 4.x iteration had. Upon launch, KDE 4 was a horrible mess of bugs, poor performance, and less-than-stellar features. It was looking like without a huge win, KDE would fade into the history books as nothing more than a desktop that tried to give GNOME a run for its money. It's amazing what a few minor releases will do to improve a desktop environment.

From the early releases to the current 4.5 release, KDE has made serious strides toward becoming of the most well designed, user-friendly desktops available. If you don't believe me, take a look at these reasons why KDE 4.5 should be your desktop.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Performance

Once KDE left the tried-and-true 3.5 branch and began itself anew, the performance was horrible. On lesser machines, KDE 4.0 would drag to a crawl. That is not the case with 4.5. The KDE development team has made huge strides in not only matching but surpassing the GNOME desktop in terms of performance. KDE 4.5 is fast... as fast as any other desktop that matches it feature for feature. The only way to go a faster route is to adopt a lighter, performance-centric window manager like Fluxbox or an even lighter weight desktop like Xfce4.

2: Stability

KDE 4.5 has finally reached the point in its release where it feels, from top to bottom, as stable as any other desktop. No more will you get the feeling your desktop is going to blow at any minute. Just in the move from 4.4 to 4.5, there were 16,022 bugs fixed. That's a LOT of bugs.  And it shows. That giant effort on the part of the developers paid off in full. The difference between KDE 4.4 and 4.5 is astounding in terms of stability.

3: Activities

This is one of those features that many people simply won't use. But for those who do use it, Activities is a whole new way to approach the desktop that takes organization to another level. Now you can associate desktops with activities and have multiple activities on a single workspace. You can associate applications or files with Activities so that you have specific files or instances of applications on a specific activity. This makes the Linux desktop a muli-level, mult-dimensional desktop that no other desktop can even come close to replicating.

4: Desktop effects

Gone is the need to rely on Compiz as a compositor for the desktop. KDE now has an effective, built-in compositor that can almost match Compiz. With 4.5, this feature is incredibly stable and isn't nearly the performance hog it was. If you like your eye candy but are not a fan of rolling Compiz into KDE, then KDE 4.5 is exactly what you need.

5: Window tiling

Much to the chagrin of Windows 7 users, Microsoft didn't invent tiling windows. Neither did Linux, for that matter. But both operating systems have this feature. KDE 4.5 brings an effective, highly configurable window tiling feature that allows you to tile in different manners as well as configure specific windows as floating windows. This is yet another feature that users are going to either love or hate, but those who love it will appreciate how easy tiling makes it to organize the desktop, as well as how configurable KDE's tiling window feature is.

6: Notification area

Of all the operating systems I have used, I have to say the new KDE 4.5 notification area is one of the cleanest and easiest to use. The KDE development team has done a great job tightly integrating the notification area into the KDE panel. Of course, a mention of the notification area must also include a mention of the notification system. KDE has revised the way warnings and notifications are presented to the user. No more single message bubble or popup. Now the notifications come in the form of a clean progress indicator that allows the user to delete any or all of the notifications. This system is unobtrusive and efficient. And not only are event notifications displayed in this manner, Plasma Widgets notifications are too.

7: Netbook interface

The new release of KDE for Netbooks offers a ton of improvements, most of which users won't directly see as much as they will notice in the form of serious performance enhancements. The KDE Netbook interface is fast and sleek and now includes better support for touchscreen interfaces.

8: Plasmoids

The Plasmoids have finally reached a level of usability where one can actually see why KDE has continued to include them in the product. This is especially so with the social networking tools and the monitoring tool. There are Plasmoids to monitor (and display) Web pages so you can keep up to date on your favorite pages (or just know when a change is made to the page) and plenty of other tools. But the big difference in 4.5 is that the Plasmoids are far more stable and functional than ever before.

9: Applications

Across the board, the KDE applications have received plenty of attention. The only exception is KOffice, which has received plenty of work, but the new release was not ready for 4.5. (It will drop with the next release.) Included with the updates to the applications is the WebKIT, which allows users to have a Konqueror browser with a WebKIT rendering engine. The speed increase is quite noticeable (especially when dealing with JavaScript). But all around, the improvements to the KDE applications help make KDE 4.5 a far superior experience to any 4.x release, as well as on par (and superior in many ways) to GNOME.

10: Overall look

When you boot into the KDE 4.5 desktop, you will instantly see a highly polished, professional-looking desktop. KDE 4.5 is modern without lacking a professional look and feel suitable for business. The KDE desktop look and feel should appeal to a wide range of users from home to business and everything in between.

Give it a try...

Are you intrigued? Don't you want to go out and have at KDE 4.5 now? To be honest, I was a big skeptic at first. But the improvements made to KDE in 4.5 have me sold on this desktop. The activities alone help me to be far more organized -- and that's worth the price of admission.


About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

32 comments
Jaqui
Jaqui

1) performance, KDE 4.5 is as bad at performance as it ever was. it is tied with GNOME for uselessness it's so slow. [ only Windows and Macos are worse. ] 2) stability is a bonus? if the danged thing wasn't stable, they should have NEVER released it. 3) ahh yes, the new FF 4 tabbed thing in a desktop. and as useless on the desktop as it is in a browser. 5) tiling of windows is always nice, to bad the PLASMOID desktop design makes it suck. 6) ahh yes, the most irritating thing is the notification that files were deleted, or copied. that can't be turned off, because KDE4 is about uselessness. 8) sorry, but the entire plasmoid design paradigm they used is useless. there is not one redeaming feature of the plasmoids. 9) ahh yes, the kde apps that lost 75% of their functionality in the switch rom the kde 3 to kde4 series. and have yet to get it back. not something to be used as a reason to use kde 4 10) translation: your system will be so busy with useless eye candy effect compositing that it will be slow responding to you, making it impossible for you to get any work done in a timely fashion. might as well load VISTA onto a pentium @ 100 MHz with only 256 mb ram folks, you will be waiting that long for kde to figure out that you clicked a mouse button on the menu. seriously the KDE devs rewrote absolutely everything, and created 8 new resource hungry services that are REQUIRED for it to be running. all in all, it is the most technically bad bit of design, pig manure smells wonderfull in comparison.

nwallette
nwallette

"Linux" is not like Windows. It is not a single project, developed in unison, and released together. It is made up of many parts: - The Boot Manager - The code that handles the transition between the hardware self-test and bootstrap procedures, and the OS itself. It's very small -- as small as 512 bytes, but typically around 1MB or so at most. Most common examples include LILO and GRUB. - The Kernel - The code that is truly the "operating system", handling the communication between bare stupid hardware and the software making use of it. This is technically the only part that is really "Linux", and is typically around 1-10MB in size. It contains the basic memory and process managers, and drivers -- although the drivers can be separate loadable modules (files) instead. The modules necessary to access the disk and file system MUST be compiled-in, at a bare minimum. No useful work is done with the kernel alone. BSD is an alternative Linux-like kernel, for example. - The GNU tools - This is the meat of a Linux install. It includes the shell, all the commands (ls, mv, ps, top, gcc, etc..), and the bits and pieces that make the kernel do anything other than move electrons around. Technically, you could replace this part with a completely new set of tools and it would still be Linux, because the kernel is still The Linux Kernel, not NTKRNL, not Mach, not Minix. This is a difficult thing for some people to wrap their minds around, and is not immediately obvious if you're new to the modular nature of alternative OSes. Consider this: With some back-end code changes, you could theoretically spawn the Windows GUI, the Mac OS GUI, or just some single-purpose application in place of init, BASH, etc. Still Linux under the hood. This is why someone familiar with Linux can quickly learn Solaris, HPUX, or any other UNIX. The tools are similar, and the user only interacts with the interface, not the kernel itself. - X Windows - This is a framework (in its 11th iteration, hence "X11") that handles all the necessary dirty work required to present a graphical user interface. Video drivers (though these *can* be integrated into the kernel itself, they can also be separate and loaded only in GUI mode), screen buffering (drawing a composite of the screen in memory, then moving that memory to the video hardware), collision management (what happens when you move windows around, covering parts of the desktop or other windows, and what to do when previously-covered areas need to be re-drawn now that they are exposed again), mouse and keyboard input, display management (is the display going to local hardware, or are we going to package up those commands, shuttle them over the network, and display them on some other system?) etc. X11 is pretty much universal on any Linux that has a GUI, but there are a couple separate projects implementing it -- namely X.org, and xFree86. X is entirely optional. You can have a purely command-line system, or you can have some other application that talks directly to the video hardware and handles all the housekeeping itself. In practice, the only time X isn't used for the GUI is in the case of a simple, single-purpose application, like a standalone video playback package. Most desktop environments are built over X11 -- afterall, why reinvent the wheel? - The desktop environment (also called the window manager) - This is the graphical user interface as seen by the user. Gnome and KDE are the big two, but others (Fluxbox, XFCE, TWM, Enlightenment, etc.) are frequently used when the user wants something lightweight or specialized, without the overhead of a general-purpose full-featured operating environment. The desktop environment is like Windows Explorer, the Start menu, and the Windows Desktop, all rolled into one. Again, it's built on TOP of X11, so it doesn't need to be concerned with handling video hardware or input hardware -- therefore, all window managers support, and are supported by, the same hardware. The window manager's primary tasks are to define what the windows look like, present the user with a way to start applications, manage virtual desktops, and configure the look and feel - including the resolution -- but, again, X actually finds out what resolutions and refresh rates are possible, then passes that info on for the desktop and user to deal with. The window manager is what determines if your windows are blue, have transparent title bars, whether they can be minimized or maximized, how the user closes them (red X in the top right, or a menu option by right-clicking the title, for e.g.) This modular nature allows any of the preceding parts to be replaced by any other part. As long as the interface between layers is consistent, the implementation itself is negotiable. This makes Linux extremely versatile, and is why it can be used for any purpose -- a cell phone, a dedicated device (like a DSL modem or router), an appliance (like a Blu-ray player or ATM), a netbook, a tablet, a laptop, a PC, a supercomputer, or a cluster. You can chose which parts to include, and which to leave out. Of course, with this flexibility comes complexity. You can never guarantee anyone else's Linux looks and behaves like your Linux. This is where "Distributions" come in. Distributions are lump sums. Examples include Gentoo, Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, SUSE, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, CentOS, Mint... The companies (or foundations) that release distributions grab the freely-available source code for all of the pieces above, create a baseline build from them, then handle the release of versions. Some are organized such that distributions are "stable", so when you say "I need MegaLinux version 12", that implies kernel 2.6.x.y, BASH v.3.x.y or better, the configuration files will be stored in /etc/megaconfig/so-and-so, there will be a package manager that can install software distributed from ".mega" files and ensure that all required libraries are available, and that security updates and bug fixes are presented to the user by way of messages at login, and a little balloon by the clock. It's the "glue" between all the pieces, even though all the pieces are really the same ones in both Ubuntu and Slackware. Hope this helps clear up some confusion.

pgit
pgit

I had such serious problems with KDE 4.5 allegedly "stable" to the point my computer became unusable. I had to reinstall from scratch. (after trying some major surgery to revert to 4.4) I agree with the wallpaper/activities issues mentioned above. But I absolutely love activities and tried desperately to use them under KDE 4.4 and 4.5. For different reasons each was unusable. 4.5 had a major bug (in kde's bugzilla, I am participating) in that it multiplies activities by itself from boot to boot. resulting in several hundred activities clogging the system after a mere 3 log ins. I have used KDE since the beginning, ca 1998. I have bashed gnome all that time up to about 3 weeks ago, when I tested the upcoming gnome 3. I am switching to gnome when 3 comes out, it is that much of a game changer in how you use a computer. One huge bonus is activities can be created and destroyed on the fly. In KDE you have to set how many activities you want and run them all every time you log in whether you intend to use them all or not. Gnome3 gives you a simple button... click-->new activity. Click again and it's gone. There's much more to gnome3 that is so drastically different from any previous model that I believe it will change the direction Microsoft moves in the future, in order to take advantage of these innovations. I have been a hard-headed take no prisoners KDE fanatic for years. I wouldn't change to gnome for trivial reasons. Gnome3 is already far more stable than the 'official" KDE 4.5 I had to wipe the HD to clean up after, and it's far from complete so far as things like pagers, menus and other trim. I have been using it for work, nevertheless. KDE 4.5 is cool, and short of the activity deal breaker was otherwise very good, they did squash a lot of bugs. But gnome3 is just too cool not to make it my DE of choice.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Compiz had unnecessarily steep requirements. You needed a modern card. Even an Integrated card was a no no. This always seemed dumb, I can play 3D games on my 32mb SiS integrated graphics, but I can't have my Windows wobble when I move them??? Does KDE's implementation fix that?

Kent Lion
Kent Lion

Just what we need, another "good" flavor of Linux. What's the fascination in working with multiple desktops and apps? All it takes is math to figure out that the most inefficient (time-consuming, error prone) way of doing anything is "multi-tasking". At some point, the overhead of jumping from task to task instead of completing one job before you work on the next can cost more than the actual production. Doing actual work (as opposed to monitoring multiple "things") on multiple desktops, is like eating, talking on the phone, disciplining the kids in the back seat, putting on mascara and driving, all at the same time; you're not really giving the necessary attention to everything (if anything) you're doing. 16,022 bugs in one revision suggests something that needs to be redone from scratch. Anything that has 16,022 band-aids on it is on its way to becoming so convoluted that no-one can get their mind around it. If all the people working on all the flavors of Linux would get together and come up with 3 or 4 really friendly, secure, efficient ones (e.g., one for people who want to get useful work done, one for people who monitor multiple environments or processes, one for computers that do work unattended, one for people who just use a computer to kill time...), the Linux world might actually dethrone the current "standard".

parnote
parnote

I'm not sure why #3, "Activities," is even in here. The desktop activities is probably one of the worse thought out things about KDE 4.5. Under KDE 3.5, you could choose to have a different wallpaper on each desktop, without any difficulty at all. Under KDE 4.5, your wallpaper now becomes inseparably tied to your freaking desktop activity. Sure you can have a different activity for each desktop. But if you have a common set of KDE4 Widgets that you want to display on all desktops, you will take a performance hit because you will have to run multiple instances of those widgets, one instance on each of your desktops, equal to the number of desktops you have set up. So, if you are running 4 virtual desktops, you will have to run each widget 4 times; 8 times if you have 8 virtual desktops. Simply separating the wallpaper from the desktop activities would go a LONG way to making activities much more flexible, and allow you to utilize them with much more efficiency. Oh ... and don't go trying to make a suggestion to or criticize the KDE developers. That is one hostile bunch, and they have gotten into very, very heated flame wars over this very topic with users who simply went to their bug/feature site to make this suggestion (for separating wallpapers from the desktop activity container). Reading through those exchanges, you will will find more drama than any daytime soap opera.

kevaburg
kevaburg

Wasn't that used in "Back to the Future"? That might have been a good article had I understood it! Sorry, but nothing you have written has made enough sense to me that I will change my current platform......

Rob C
Rob C

If your article was aimed at those who had previously tried KDE, they could very well be intrigued. However if your article is aimed at those that know nothing about KDE, then those people (eg me), would be puzzled, but not intrigued enough to try it. You have given no compelling reason(s) for us to try it. I suppose those that are intrigued by nice effects, may be interested, but the practical people will be curious as to how many applications are available, and how do they stack up to applications available for other version of Linux. Rob, PS what is your main OS ?

pgit
pgit

I right clicked on the "i" in the system tray and un-checked some of the notifications, ie shut them off. I prefer the progress bar when copying/moving files, for eg. So turning off that kind of notification in the centralized notifications area makes the system revert to the 'old' behavior.

SubgeniusD
SubgeniusD

Re #10 - I'm still using 4.4.3 and plasma-desktop = 26.2 MBs and 25 MBs shared out of 4 Gigs. CPU -1%. Perfectly acceptable resource usage. I have my own issues with KDE 4 (as with all desktop software) but all in all it's decent and functional. It's not Xfce but runs smooth and crisp. Sounds like you need to upgrade to hardware manufactured in the 21st Century.

Jaqui
Jaqui

- The Kernel - The code that is truly the "operating system" makes me laugh the Kernel, the project called LINUX, is the operating. no system the GNU tools is the SYSTEM. no GNU tools, you are trying to work in REAL MODE with the kernel. and no tools to use to add modules to the kernel, no tools to add / remove software, nothing. though that case will never happen, you cannot build the Linux package without the GNU system, it is utterly dependent on it. The GNU system doesn't care which kernel powers it though.

itadmin
itadmin

Thanks. This really addresses the basics. Put it up somewhere as an easy reference.

pgit
pgit

Next time I get asked, or need to explain the basics of a Linux system I'll just hand out a link to your explanation here. Knowing something is one thing, putting it across so clearly, in so few words (you wasted none!) and so the target audience can't possibly get it wrong... the epitome of writing as a form of communication. I seriously suggest you look into writing professionally. Tech writing, demystification, perhaps writing articles of a column somewhere, not everyone possesses talent like this. Especially if it took you less than 30 minutes to write the above. If you hammered that straight out top to bottom without rethinking anything, in as long as it took to type (< 10 minutes?) then you really, really should be writing professionally...

Silverlokk
Silverlokk

A newbie would do well to read your explanation. I do have an issue with this though: <quote> BSD is an alternative Linux-like kernel, for example. </quote> If anything, Linux is a BSD-like kernel. BSD was already a fairly mature kernel when Torvalds started work on Linux. BSD is close cousins with Solaris and maybe AIX (gotta check my copy of the Unix family tree).

Jaqui
Jaqui

did they get rid of that "assinine" menu bar thing? did they actually pull themselves out of the useless mindset that has been entrenched and create a UNIFIED control panel for GNOME settings? [ bet they still make you chase around to the stupid menu bar thing ] GNOME is as badly designed as ever if the menu bar is still there.

JedTheKrampus
JedTheKrampus

My ATI Radeon HD 4350 graphics card can run some of the KDE 4.6 Kwin effects, but not all of them, and due to driver stability issues or misconfiguration of some sort, KDE sometimes crashes. tl;dr: Maybe. Try it!

SubgeniusD
SubgeniusD

"What's the fascination in working with multiple desktops and apps? --- you're not really giving the necessary attention to everything (if anything) you're doing." I even use multiple desktops with my Win 7 Pro installs - http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/cc817881.aspx - Just working on a word doc with a browser open while listening to music through an audio player is much simpler on multiple desktops rather than a single cluttered up desktop. Focus and concentration on single tasks is quite simple and easy. You can switch DTs with mouse or keyboard. Try it first before jumping to conclusions. "Anything that has 16,022 band-aids on it is on its way to becoming so convoluted that no-one can get their mind around it." Like any Windows release? More like 16 million "band-aids"-lol. "If all the people working on all the flavors of Linux would get together..." There is no such thing as a "Linux Community". It's a loose, widely divergent aggregate of groups using a (more or less) common kernel with extremely varied purposes and goals. Most have no interest in "getting together" and never will. Device drivers is the baseline issue with being a minority OS. As long as we can run fairly new hardware most of us could care less about market share or the opinions of non-Linux users. But that's the rub - low user base = driver issues = new user frustration = lower user base = worse driver issues ....on and on. But for fairly new hardware Mandriva, Linux Mint, PCLinuxOS, SuSe are all close to prime time. A switch from XP to Mandriva is as easy as a switch from XP to Win 7.

Jaqui
Jaqui

KDE 4 was only about eye candy, any claim of other intent is a blatant lie, the presentation of KDE 4 proves that it's only eye candy focused.

SubgeniusD
SubgeniusD

A simple Window Manager popular with geeks running older hardware. There's also kind of a geek-chic involved. These are the guys who are in the terminal all the time and switch to Fluxbox in lazy moments. You know - "DEs are just a load of useless eyecandy for noobs" mentality.

Jaqui
Jaqui

all Linux apps work on ALL Liux distros. unless the developer of the app was stupid and wrote distro centric customizations into their code.

neondiet
neondiet

I've tried out KDE 4 a couple of times in recent years and I don't get plasmoids at all. What's the point of them? How are they meant to make me more productive over using standard apps in standard windows with a decent notification system? They look pretty, and it's a shame the rest of KDE doesn't share the same look, but I don't see how they improve usability. I've scoured YouTube to see if anyone has an enlightening demo, but no one shows how they work well with normal daily use when they have to share the screen with regular KDE apps and windows. The inclusion of webkit should make a big difference. I felt like a second class web citizen last time I gave KDE 4 a spin, and that was what pushed me over the edge and led me to abandon it.

SubgeniusD
SubgeniusD

contain far too many native apps to list in a short article. http://www.kde.org/applications/ By "versions of Linux" I assume you mean "alternate Linux desktop enviroments". GNOME has slightly more, Xfce has fewer but still a lot and so does Enlightenment. It's possible to even run native apps from other DEs if you install the proper libraries (although they sometimes don't display perfectly) so comparing volume of available apps among the various DEs isn't particularly useful.

yorkshirepudding
yorkshirepudding

As above - is this an OS or a plug-in to provide a desktop to an existing OS?

Jaqui
Jaqui

you need to include akonadai, and very other BACKGROUND service kde 4 added to your system to total the real resource usage of it. they made 6 or 7 different background services, all absolutely required for kde 4, doing away with the dcop service in the process to replace 1 with all of the others.

pgit
pgit

From what I have seen, they have consolidated the config tools, it looks a lot like 'systemsettings' in KDE. I also don't see any menus on the task bar along the top of the screen. There is one link on the upper right that displays the logged-in user's name, and the menu that comes up looks mostly like a way to handle on line communications. The gnome config center is the only item no associated with instant messaging, network status etc. Of course this is pre-beta, and admittedly incomplete. (but still very usable) There may yet be menus on the task manager, but for now one goes to a zoom-out view of all open activities, that has 'favorites' and 'recent documents' areas. Opening and closing apps, and managing activities are done in this view. At the moment there is no context for customizing things here. (and adding favorites was a chore, the code here is incomplete) I disagree somewhat as to KDE 4 being solely about the eye candy. Unfortunately what it is about is horribly buggy and may never be ready for 'prime time.' I refer to "semantic desktop," nepomuk and strigi. They are supposed to help organize work on a much more logical basis than dividing everything into folders. I prefer KDE 4 over KDE 3 now. Wasn't the case until the stable 4.4.3 was out. I absolutely despise gnome as it is now. 3 is going to be drastically different, or so it appears from this early look.

Peter Ridgers
Peter Ridgers

To switch from XP to Mandriva rather than Win 7 - It costs so much less and you don't have to throw away your 5 year old PC - now that's a good contribution to saving the planet.

cjc5447
cjc5447

Either this is a troll or you are incredibly stupid. Either way your post was a waste of everyone's time.

Jaqui
Jaqui

really bad code on their part. they took KHTML [ the KDE rendering engine ] for LINUX and made it so it doesn't compile on Linux. then when they were called incompetent on it they seem to have addressed it, but the fact remains, they were so incompetent that a NATIVE Linux tool wouldn't run on Linux. means nothing they have done can be considered usable. edit to add: I know it wouldn't build on Linux and they were called incompetent on it, I called them incompetent in a comment to their devs myself. :D

Slayer_
Slayer_

Would make it easier for multicore processors would it now?

pgit
pgit

Good riddance, dcop. It's always screwed up desktop environment access when you've logged in remotely when the DE isn't logged in on the local machine. I always had to provide users with a script to reset dcop if they encountered troubles. BTW there's a package that can be removed, which will prevent akonadi from starting. Stinks that it is necessary for PIM apps to work, but then I never used any of the KDE PIM apps anyway.

SubgeniusD
SubgeniusD

She needs to formulate these comments _before_ hitting the bottle so hard LOL

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