Open Source

KDE 4.8 minor tweaks, major improvement

Jack Wallen takes a look at KDE 4.8. Will the latest release of this powerful KDE Linux desktop bring him back to KDE?

Warning: Preface Alert!

I have to start this post by making a fairly bold statement, one that goes against the grain of every other pundit, media personality, and journalist opinion.

It is an exciting time for the Linux desktop. How can I make such a bold statement when so many are kvetching about the state of GNOME 3 and Ubuntu Unity? Simple -- the Linux desktop has more unique variety now than ever before. We have desktops breaking ground, we have standard-issue desktops bringing to the fore newer and better features, and we have the tried and true unique desktops that have helped to define open source and the Linux desktop experience. And as much as I've dogged Ubuntu Unity and GNOME 3, I am proud to say they are part of the Linux experience. With them our future is incredibly bright and will only continue to grow and become something no other platform has.

Now, with that out of the way, it's time to move on to the topic du jour. KDE 4.8

Recently the KDE desktop was upated to 4.8. The last time I played on the KDE landscape was 4.6 and I was quite impressed with what the KDE team had brought to table. With 4.8 they have made some major updates and enough minor tweaks to the Plasma Workspace to really smack the user upside the head with "wow".

Some of the new features include:

  • 6 Window Switcher layouts to choose from (using Alt+Tab)
  • Redesigned Adaptive Power Management settings
  • Faster and more elegant file loading in Dolphin
  • New Windowing tricks
  • Easier image scrolling in Gwenview
  • Much improved and more stable KMail
  • Vast stability improvements throughout
  • A new framework (ksecretservice) for sharing passwords and data between applications securely
  • New Qt plasma widgets

The Adaptive Power Management settings might be the most unique of all new features. This power management tool adapts to the user's current activity and can be fine-tuned by the user.

Of course we all know how it is with adding new features to a desktop that could better benefit from improvements under the hood. Well, the KDE development team obviously took that into consideration when working on 4.8; because 4.8 is about as stable a release as I have seen from the KDE team. Here are my real-world observations that have lead me to make that statement:

Increased overall performance: KDE 4.8 seems to want to think it is XFCE and so it performs remarkably faster than previous iterations. This even holds true when special effects are turned on and heavily used. In fact, it's almost hard to compare 4.8 to previous iterations, simply because it is that much faster. Increased stability throughout: This applies to both KDE and non-KDE applications as well as widgets and activities. The 4.8 release really feels solid -- no matter what tasks you're putting the desktop through, you know it's going to remain strong and not flake out. Numerous UI improvements: KDE 4.x had been making serious leaps forward with improving the UI design. The 4.8 release puts in place many smaller tweaks that combine together to make for a much improved and unified experience. All applications also enjoy a unified look and feel. Very classy (see Figure above left; click images to enlarge). Default Activities: There are finally a few default activities created out of the box. By default you will find a desktop icon activity, photos activity, search and launch, and a new activity. There is also a button on the panel that can be clicked to open the Activity Switcher (see Figure at right). I should preface this by saying I am a big fan of the KDE Activities feature. With this tool, it is incredibly easy to have a very organized desktop. The improvements 4.8 bring make this task even easier. Special Effects: There isn't much new to the special effects category, but the performance improvement to all effects and to the desktop when effects are used is palpable. Even when using wobbly windows, transparencies, and desktop cube effects, you will not see even the slightest hit on performance.

In the end

Ultimately I can't say KDE 4.8 would ever drag me away from my favorite desktop -- Enlightenment. But I can honestly say this release of KDE has come the closest to any other desktop (in the last couple of years) to make me think, "Maybe this is the one!"

For any Linux desktop user looking for a more traditional desktop -- one with loads of modern features -- you owe it to yourself to give KDE 4.8 a try. It's light years ahead of where it was when it originally released and far more in-line with what the average user is accustomed to.

KDE 4.8 might be the finest KDE release to date. Give this one a try and let us all know your reaction.

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.

33 comments
djsesso
djsesso

I actually switched from gnome to KDE and I haven't looked back.

mikep
mikep

Windows 8 is going to "uglify to the max" all you ever knew about computers and software, nothing sexy there. Gnome has always been disjointed in that it is modular, therefore not totally consistent at all levels, Unity is just a PITA and any talk of flash is soon to be relegated to the archives as old junk because Adobe has finally yielded to the better standard, thanks to Steve Jobs flipping them the birdie, and chosen to cease its further development and ODM's will soon enough be providing better OSS support for their drivers, which can only make for vastly improved graphics at all levels. With the negatives dealt with, KDE is about as slick, functional, feature rich and functional as any savvy user could ever need, and it is light years ahead of its closest cloners, Microsoft, who claim to innovate, but can only imitate. It's time to face the music, KDE is the most advanced Linux Desktop Environment and it will excel to far greater levels in the future, distancing itself further is it speeds ahead. I haven't seen gnome do this yet.... http://www.muktware.com/news/3248/first-kde-tablet-announced

wa7qzr
wa7qzr

The Linux world seems to have devolved (the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics at work, no doubt), into a pattern of change for change sake and that, perhaps, has soured me towards experiencing any excitement about this latest shiny thing to appear on the Linux scene. I have an extra Dell Optiplex GX 280 that contains a Nvidia card, a big hard drive and a lot of RAM. It has Mageia 1 on it right now, but I never use it for anything serious, so, that might be a good platform for an experimental installation of KDE 4.8. From viewing the screen shots though, I don't think I'm going to be very impressed. Are the KDE developers losing their sight? The icons and such are all huge! they also have sort-of a creepy look to me. I've never liked the look of the icon themes adopted for KDE4. Why is it that desktop developers obsess about "buzz phrases"? "New Activity!" Com'on. I write an article, compose a poem, code an assembly language subroutine, assemble a collage. None of which is particularly active, unless you're a finger. No, I'm becoming less and less impressed by superficiality. If 4.8 is truly faster than it's predecessors, that would be good for it's users who, no doubt, are doing nothing serious with their computers except waiting with baited breath for KDE 5! I personally have given-up on the Gnomes (since 3) and KDEs (since 4). My simple, unobtrusive, dual-head, Xfce-4.6.2 desktop serves me quite well. I have plenty of room to work. I use the familiar & functional "eye-candy" of Cairo-Dock, Compiz, and Screenlets. Plus, and I don't have to suffer the distractions of new looks with every major release. My desktop has looked (and worked) essentially the same since Fedora 7 was initially released. So, having said all that, I think I'll get back to herding my dinosaurs and chiseling myself a new set of summer tires out of a nice block of North-Western granite. Later, I may code-up an assembly language subroutine to operate the latest switch I added to my HO train layout.

gregscales
gregscales

From the photos, I didn't spot multiple desktops. I'm still on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, for me the Gnome2 desktop included with 10.04 is perfect. I used to use KDE back in the day, but have been using Gnome for quite a while now. I HAVE to have at least four desktops ...

Adam S
Adam S

Nothing in the screen shots makes me anxious to try KDE 4.8. I've pretty much left Linux because I live in the browser and Flash and video performance wasn't up to par in Unity and Gnome. Aesthetics matter. The Linxu community seems to have a hard time understanding or accepting this. KDE 4.8 still looks like it is stuck in the last decade. There isn't much to convince me to take the time to give Linux another go. Maybe a video would be better.

smiley97111
smiley97111

I've been grumblin' around trying to figure out how to get a hardware upgrade out of my "no budget" for a couple of months now and haven't been happy with my Kubuntu performance since the KDE 4.x upgrade. Admittedly I'm running a Dual-core 1.2GHz system that is maxed at 2GB RAM but faster performance is always a fantasy, eh? Almost got pushed over the edge to trying to LXDE. We'll have to see now. Smiley

paulfx1
paulfx1

Do you think you can run it on a machine with 22MB of RAM? I did just that recently with a machine here that runs Fluxbox. My RAM modules flaked out and it still got me to my desktop. So I ran htop to see what the problem was. I thought it was acting a little sluggishly ... That machine is a dedicated CNC controller so I don't need all kinds of flashy whiz bang junk going on with it. Ruins my latency scores for doing real time applications. That box also boots up in 16 seconds, which isn't bad for a 1 GHz P3. 49 total processes in X Window.

Rick S._z
Rick S._z

And got into it so far that I have started WRITING bits of code for KDE and Qt. But I'm not going to flame Gnome or the Toolkit- in Linux, we have a choice of desktops, and I LIKE having a choice. Long ago, when I wanted File Sizes in the Gnome/GTK FileChooser? I made the first code submission for that one, too. :)

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

A simple setup with just X11 and the xmonad window manager works great for me. Why burden the system with all that overhead? For what?

paulfx1
paulfx1

I run Gnome on any distro that I can't get KDE 3.5 out of its repository, if it is just a desktop system. Mostly all I want a Window Manager to do is draw boxes on my screen. About all X Window is good for is having multiple terminals open at once on my screen. Mr. Jobs has left the technology industry for a career in the fertilizer business. Long may he prosper in his new field! So whatever his opinions were they are past tense today. With all this speeding ahead that must mean the KDE team knows they are no where near where they think they should be. I have to agree with that assessment. I think they are actually moving further away, not closer to where they should be.

Rick S._z
Rick S._z

Go into KDE "system settings" (the App with the wrench/screwdriver icon). "Application Appearance" --> "Icons" consists of two tabs ("Theme" and "Advanced"). The "Size" selection is in the upper right of the Panel. The Left half of the panel contains 6 group names, allowing you to set different sizes for different types of icons. The last group, named "All Icons" lets you zap all sizes at once. I agree with you -- the 4.6 Oxygen Icons are too flat and boxy. But don't forget, kde-look contains huge numbers of alternate icon Themes. Since you're using Mageia (a Mandriva fork), you might find the MIB-Ossigeno icons to be well-integrated. And more stylish.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Want to trade for my 9600? The 9600 has perfect drivers and works perfect in Linux.

Rick S._z
Rick S._z

Minimizing App Windows to 'expose' other Applications, or dragging your mouse all the way down to the Taskbar, is so ... Windoze. To work efficiently, I give every application I'm running a desktop of it's own, at full size (1920x1200, BTW). I have my Desktops in rows of 5 desktop each, 100% KDE. There's a 'pager', which you may invoke with a keyboard shortcut if you want to. But using screen edges, set with "very fast" switching is usually even quicker. I also have 'vertical scroll' on my mouse set to switch desktops. (Not just between the two desktops stacked on top of each other- it invokes the pager. The limitation, right now, for doing it that way is that I have to be sitting on a sliver of desktop background -- not inside an application, because all the applications actually USE scroll/up scroll down inside the applications. But this problem is going away, if you buy a nice mouse. As you know, Gnome desktop is largely written using functions provided in the GTK Toolkit. (And so is Firefox on Linux.) KDE is written using fuction provided by the 'Qt' toolkit - that's pronounced 'Cute', and has nothing to do with Apple's QuickTime ;) Anyway we've just modified the next Version of Qt to handle mice with LOTS of buttons (about 27 buttons, plus the 4 wheel-scrolling directions). KDE-next will almost certainly let you use ANY mouse button to be a Window Manager shortcut shortcut. So, if you've got a Razer Naga, or a Logitech multi-button gamer mouse (my own is G700), you'll be able to use high-numbered mouse buttons to switch desktops -- without losing your place on the screen. But KDE's Window Manager "kwin" has been supporting multiple desktops for years; it's pretty much the same set of features which "Compiz" provides in your Gnome 2.x configuration.

paulfx1
paulfx1

Your 4 heads and 8 arms? I don't know about some of you crack babies today, really I don't!

Ryalsbane
Ryalsbane

How can you say "browser and flash" and "performance" in the same breath? In my experience, when it comes to browser based applications and performance it's just not there, regardless of the OS or UI. I hate them and most end users I talk to do too. If that is what the next decade holds, then I'll stick with the last one thank you! "Sexy"? I'm way more concerned with function and performance than appearance. Sexy does not contribute to getting the job done. It's just a marketing hook. Never mind that your sword broke the first time you crossed steel with the enemy and ended up as fertilizer for the flowers, your sword was way fancier than his.

CFWhitman
CFWhitman

Flash performance not being up to par is the result of Adobe not providing any hardware acceleration for Linux Flash (although I imagine they think we should be grateful that Linux Flash exists at all). KDE's aesthetics are pretty similar to those of Windows 7. If there is another GUI that looks more "up to date" you might want to mention what it is. Of course this is coming from someone who tends a bit toward minimalist desktops and uses Xfce, Fluxbox, IceWM, and/or Openbox (with some forays into Enlightenment 17). I'm not that concerned with the "up to date" look, but I don't see where it's missing in KDE.

smiley97111
smiley97111

I did it. Had to enable backports which I wasn't willing to do before, a bit scary, that. KDE4.8 is a very noticeable improvement in speed on old hardware. I've got two workstations that are 64bit, though just barely. My home office system. http://www.pmaco.net/?q=smiley-newberg-carlton And another at the Newberg Downtown Coalition's offices is powered by a Pentium-D which is possibly Intel's first 64bit offering in a desktop processor. KDE4.8 upgrade has slaked my desire for a hardware upgrade for another year. You can list me in the "happy camper" category now. :-) Smiley

paulfx1
paulfx1

I'm in KDE 3.5.10 now. It is nice.

Rick S._z
Rick S._z

Although KDE-Next will be happy to run on top of either XCB or Xlib, (or OSX or MS-Windows too, our highest-performance platform will consist of the Window Manager being Window Manager, Compositor, and Display Server in a single process. It will be able to translate X11 drawing primitives with abut the same efficiency as running X11 natively (i.e., almost no additional overhead), but the big payoff appears when the Client Applications are themselves running as Wayland- aware programs. Qt Version 5, which will be out in just a few months, provides runtime "plugins" for the platform-level interfaces. To some extent, KWin (the Window manager/compositor) will take advantage of Wayland auto-magically. But, in order to achieve the highest possible performance, we will be doing some Wayland specific coding in KWin -- making it Wayland-aware when Wayland is available, and "downgrading" into the alternative XCB or XLIB code paths when we have to. Modern video cards are smart, the X11 protocol (even with extensions such as "COMPOSITE") doesn't take full advantage of their capabilities.

Adam S
Adam S

I can say it because it matters. I guess you and your circle have never used Chrome on Windows. Flash and web apps perform quite well with this combination, in my experience. If your experience is limited to Linux, I can understand your point of view. I agree with you: looks are no substitute for functionality. This is what explains celebrity marriages and subsequent divorces, but doesn't keep them from happening. Windows and OSX are the supermodels with everything at their disposal to help them look good and go fast in a fast-paced world, while Linux is the homely dweeb who can get things done behind the scenes, but isn't appreciated because he only wears t-shirts with inside jokes written on them and drives a hatchback. In general, people are attracted to and appreciate beauty. Once Linux makes it to Level: Ambercrombie & Fitch, I'll be back.

paulfx1
paulfx1

Everyone here knows that style over substance is the law of the land! Why can't you just be shallow and superficial like the rest of us are? Is that a new phone you have? Oh! Oh! Oh!

Adam S
Adam S

I understand from where the performance issues stem. I was just stating the reasons for my reluctance to come back to Linux as my mainstay OS. KDE's similarities to Windows 7's aesthetics end at transparent objects. There is little cohesiveness in KDE. I see windows with menus, others without. Logos are where you'd expect to find hide/restore/close buttons. Some have title bars, others do not. In the screenshots in the artical, all of the windows have a gradient background while Firefox is flat. Also, there are these big, fat icons at the bottom of the screen, while the scroll bars are disproportionately skinny. Some scroll bars are flat while others are touched by the gradient. After listing and rereading these criticisms, I realized you're probably going to consider them nitpicking and superficial, which is exactly my point: the Linux community doesn't care about aesthetics. It firmly believes in its noble cause above all else: freedom. And this freedom shows in the screenshots of heterogeneous application designs. That's fine with me. I'm just putting it out there why I won't be trying KDE based on what I'm seeing. I don't see anything that is worth my time and which will enhance my overall user experience.

nwallette
nwallette

I always wonder how it went when someone talks about doing something future-tense.

nwallette
nwallette

Does this mean multiple monitors will finally work without all the hackery? If I ever see xorg.conf and xrandr again, it'll be too soon. I've lost my taskbar on KDE more times than I care to count.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

That sounds promising, but it looks like there are no plans as yet to bring Wayland to FreeBSD.

Adam S
Adam S

It sounds like you're top dog of your company and a bachelor to boot. Awesome. I don't like Flash, but it is a fact of life when dealing with a small to medium organization and kids. Many free, online, educational games and videos are Flash. It is unavoidable in my case. I am always looking to ditch Flash, but that doesn't look like it will be possible any time soon.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

If you're looking for sexy, Flash is the meth-addicted prostitute with infectious diseases.

paulfx1
paulfx1

Replying to: "I'm not mature enough to use Linux and free myself. You're right. I'll stick with being shackled to my toy computer and let you spend the extra time you'll save from the extreme performance of KDE 4.8 building x against y to the nth power to your heart's content. Perhaps you can clean your monocle and sip your wine while you're dining in the exclusive Linux Country Club as well. To each his own." I'm always right. I see one thing Microsoft has taught you well was how to try to spread FUD. What extra time? Just because some things can be done in Linux in no way obligates you to doing them. In the 17 years I have run Linux I have *HAD* to perform only two mandatory maintenance tasks. Everything else I have ever done has always been at my own discretion. because I can! Fair chance you are spending more time trying to keep your toy OS running than I am working with Linux. Why Linux could use the Energizer Bunny as its mascot but EverReady might take exception to that. Because Linux just keeps going, and going, and going ... I setup Linux on one system and ran it for over 8 years straight until the capacitors on the motherboard gave out, popped the HDD out of it, put it into another machine and it still ran! Try doing that with your toy OS. I doubt you'd get too far. If Ron Popeil made an OS it'd be Linux. Just set it, and forget it! Only trouble there is Adam hasn't quite figured out how to set it up yet. For me taking the trouble to learn has paid me dividends over the years. We sip sherry at the country club! Except for Linus, he chugs craft beer. Linux is user friendly, it is just choosy about who its friends are. Ask yourself why you are not worthy.

Adam S
Adam S

I'm not mature enough to use Linux and free myself. You're right. I'll stick with being shackled to my toy computer and let you spend the extra time you'll save from the extreme performance of KDE 4.8 building x against y to the nth power to your heart's content. Perhaps you can clean your monocle and sip your wine while you're dining in the exclusive Linux Country Club as well. To each his own.

paulfx1
paulfx1

Just so you know your statement, "I want to USE my computer, not constantly tweak it." flies in the face of the very definition of what a modern computer is. A general purpose, reprogrammable, data processing device. What that means in a nutshell is computers are deliberately designed with the ability to be reconfigured for a variety of tasks. There were earlier computers that were not like this. They were designed and built special purpose for specific tasks. Virtually all computers in existence today are of the modern variety. Or did you mean you wanted to quit abusing methamphetamine? A noble gesture but possibly the wrong forum to address that issue. In any event it is clear to me that you are not Linux material. You haven't the will, and quite possibly the wherewithal to run Linux. Maybe if you mature, and accept some modicum of personal responsibility you will attain a level of proficiency where you may begin to use Linux. Freedom isn't for everyone. Liberty is only a right if hard fought for through constant vigilance and supreme effort. For the land of the free, and the home, of the, brave ... Play ball! Thank you. Good night. Signing off. Don't call us, we'll call you!

Adam S
Adam S

Thank you for the information. I'm sure to take it to heart and use it everyday. Oh, wait. No, I won't, because I want to USE my computer, not constantly tweak it. I could build x against y, indeed. Why not just learn programming, start coding applications from scratch and start solving all my Linux problems myself while I'm at it? I HAVE taken the time to educate myself on several issues just to get Linux running on various machines. Sometimes I was successful, others not so much. I've wasted hours, searching countless forums and articles, on seemingly simple problems with no straight-forward answers. That is not my idea of freedom-- being held hostage by the anarcho-communist structure of Linux. I'll exercise my freedom of choice and choose something that solves my problems sooner rather than later. If the Linux community can't tolerate ignorant users, then I'll stay blissful along with millions of others, thanks.

paulfx1
paulfx1

Firefox normally uses GTK and KDE uses QT libraries. So KDE does not always control Firefox. In order to do that you often need to edit your GTK theme. Or you could build Firefox against QT. You see in Linux you are not locked into one supplier. But then the onus of making the correct choice is on you. What the Linux community doesn't care about is ignorant users. So make some kind of an effort and educate yourself! Freedom isn't free. Or you can just keep sucking on whatever gets shoved down your throat.