It's coming! KDE 2.0 is close to a final release, which many KDE users have been eagerly anticipating for quite a while now. KDE 2.0, the next incarnation of the K Desktop Environment, is certainly worth the wait. On Oct. 12, the first Release Candidate of KDE 2.0 was offered to the general public, with the announcement that the final release would be available on Oct. 23.
Let me make it known that I am not a KDE user. I've never much cared for KDE myself, and I’ve preferred the GNOME desktop over KDE ever since I started using Linux. But I must also admit that the new KDE may make a convert of me, and let me explain why.
A fresh look
The KDE 2.0 interface contains a fresh look that, while somewhat similar to the old KDE look, is much more pleasing. Everything has been improved, including the splash screen on startup, the icons, and the overall feel. The older KDE did not provide as much eye candy as GNOME did, but its resemblance to the Windows look and feel was intentional. It was meant to provide a comfortable transition for Windows users to the Linux desktop. Although KDE was limited in what you could do with its look and feel in previous incarnations, KDE 2.0 has improved on the whole concept. It gives new users more eye candy and flexibility with their desktops. By default, KDE 2.0 is still a familiar environment for new Linux converts and former Windows users, but it allows for more experimentation than the older KDE.
In addition, KDE 2.0 provides you with Kandalf, the little wizard who will give you some handy tips on your KDE system. By default, Kandalf appears the first time you log in to KDE to provide you with the wizard's useful tips. These include informational tidbits about KDE's history as well as suggestions on how to get more power out of your KDE system.
The theme engine behind KDE 2.0 is greatly improved. Everything can be customized. KDE 2.0 benefits from Qt's style engine, which allows graphic designers and end users to create their own widget sets. The widget sets can control everything from the scroll bar and buttons to menu bars, and much more. This is a great enhancement over the previous KDE themes, which were extremely limited.
However enticing this may be, the greatest thing about KDE 2.0's theming possibilities is the ability to use GTK themes. GTK is the underlying engine used in GNOME, which means that KDE 2.0 users can now use GNOME themes. This feature gives KDE users even more flexibility to customize the look and feel of their desktop.
The panel at the bottom of the screen is much nicer, as well. KDE 2.0 lets you resize your icons (Tiny, Normal, or Large), increasing or reducing the panel accordingly. Applets are classified as trusted or available, and you can specify which applets to load. The trusted applets appear to be those that come with KDE, while the available applets are those applets KDE finds but that didn't come with your KDE 2.0 installation. Examples include other KDE applets and standard X applets.
The KOffice suite
KDE 2.0 also comes with the KOffice suite. KOffice provides a full office suite that is quite powerful, and it is completely open source and free. It includes KWord, a word processor; KSpread, a spreadsheet application; KIllustrator, a vector drawing application; KPresenter, a presentation program; and KChart, a diagram application.
The KOffice suite uses its own native file format, which is XML-based. However, it currently does not support other popular file formats, such as Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, StarOffice, and so forth. Work on filters for these proprietary formats is in progress, so we should see that support in the future. As it stands right now, KWord can save files only in the native KWord format, ASCII text, and HTML.
KOffice doesn't provide as many powerful features as other office suites, such as Microsoft Office or WordPerfect Office, but it will be able to accomplish what most users want. But, as with all things in Linux, you can still take advantage of the other alternatives, like StarOffice (or the newly released OpenOffice), WordPerfect Office 2000 for Linux, ApplixWare, and so forth.
Konqueror is perhaps the most exciting part of KDE 2.0. Konqueror is the replacement for KDE's previous file manager, KFM. But Konqueror is much more than just a file manager. It also acts as a document viewer for KDE 2.0 and a full-fledged Web browser. For those Linux users disenchanted with Netscape (and there are many!), Konqueror is the answer.
Sound impressive? It is. Beyond even this, Konqueror uses a network transparency level that provides seamless support for browsing NFS shares, Samba shares under Linux, or file and print sharing under Windows computers, as well as remote FTP directory browsing.
For those waiting on Mozilla to replace Netscape as the next great browser for the Linux desktop, consider Konqueror instead. It still has a few issues (for example, it displays style sheets a little differently than Netscape does), but whether this is a Konqueror issue or a Netscape issue is unclear. (After all, Netscape reads style sheets differently from Internet Explorer as well.) Konqueror, as presented in KDE 2.0, is a true Web browser with some amazing capabilities. And those who prefer GNOME don't need to feel left out, because Konqueror works just as well under GNOME as it does under KDE.
Another extremely rewarding feature in Konqueror is its ability to read your Netscape bookmarks. For us longtime Linux users who had to use Netscape as our browser, this is a very good thing. With Konqueror, you can place new bookmarks into Konqueror’s bookmark file, yet read your Netscape bookmarks by simply selecting them from the Konqueror menu. There is no need to convert, translate, or start a new bookmark file, which makes Konqueror an ideal drop-in replacement.
KDE Control Center
The KDE Control Center is the "central nervous system" of your KDE desktop. This program enables you to configure all of the various aspects of your desktop, from how it looks to how it handles the hardware available on your computer. The main display is split into two primary frames. The right frame displays the information on whatever section you have selected, while the left frame alternates between the Index (a tree-style view of all the configurable components), a search dialog box, and a help system that will display help on whatever item you have selected in the Index.
If you look in the FileBrowsing folder, you will see two sub-items: File Associations and File Manager. File Associations lets you specify which programs respond to applications. This helps Konqueror determine which program to use to open a specific file type. If you go further into the list, you can assign filename patterns to certain descriptions and an application preference list. For instance, you can assign *.pdf and *.PDF (remember, Linux is case-sensitive) to an application class called pdf. You can then assign the class a description, such as PDF Document, and define the Application Preference Order. The first application in the list is the preferred application to use. For instance, you may first define Adobe's Acrobat Reader as the preferred application, with the PS and PDF Viewer as a secondary preference. You’ll find all these options on the General tab for the file type. On the Embedding tab, you can determine whether Konqueror will open the file in the embedded viewer or a separate viewer by left-clicking on the file in the Konqueror view.
With the File Manager setting, you can define some of Konqueror’s default behavior. You can specify the home URL for Konqueror, choosing a local directory or remote Web site. By default, the home URL is simply a tilde (~), which means if you click on the Home icon, you will be taken to the user's home directory. You can also determine the font size, type, and color (using the Appearance tab); set the Trash properties (using the Trash tab); and use the Other tab to specify what the preferred terminal program is for use within Konqueror.
On the Information tab, you can collect all kinds of information on your computer. The Block Devices setting will show you the mount information on your system from local hard drive partitions to CD-ROMs, floppy devices, and Samba or NFS mounted shares, including the current mount point, the size, how much is free, and a percentage indicating how full the device is. You can also determine the mount commands for each mountable file system. As with KDE 2.0's predecessor, you can obtain information on all of your other hardware devices here, including the processor, sound, memory, or PCI cards.
The LookNFeel section is where you will see the most interesting items, however. Here, you customize how your KDE desktop will look. For example, you can define the background for your desktop and whether each virtual desktop will have the same background or its own. In addition, you can change the colors of your desktop. Simply select colors from a predetermined list to make your desktop look like Windows, the original KDE desktop, BeOS, or Solaris CDE, among other choices. You can even add your own color schemes.
Built right into this section is a font manager and browser that will let you see what the various fonts installed on your system look like. Then, you can go to the Font section and define default fonts for desktop icons, the file manager, window titles, and more.
The General section lets you define how mouse clicks act on your desktop. You can select what the left, right, and middle buttons do. You can choose to assign a mouse click to display the Desktop menu, the Window List menu, or even the Application menu. If you come from a Window Maker or BlackBox background, you’ll appreciate being able to assign a mouse click to pulling up your entire applications menu, instead of being forced to click the K button on your panel.
In the Key Bindings section, you can specify how your keyboard works with your desktop. By default, KDE comes with some standard key bindings; for example, you press [Ctrl][Alt][Esc] to close a window or [Ctrl][Alt][Del] to log out. If you want, you can customize the key bindings to make your KDE desktop more closely resemble the GNOME desktop or any other window manager you may have been using previously.
The Style section enables you to define your widget styles and themes. You can select different widget sets and themes—even GTK themes! KDE 2.0 comes with some nice defaults that allow you to make your system look more like Windows, CDE, Motif, and others. For even more themes, visit the KDE themes Web site.
While I have tried previous beta versions of KDE, specifically the 1.94 version, the 2.0 Release Candidate is quite stable. I’ve encountered only a few problems. In KWord, parts of the text sometimes disappear when I use the scroll bar. Also, when I log out of the desktop, it reports one or two crash errors that seem to be relatively harmless. Other than that, KDE 2.0 is quite stable.
For me, the most exciting part of this release is Konqueror, and I think many others will agree. Konqueror is an exceptional replacement for Netscape. While I think Mozilla holds a lot of promise, Konqueror has already delivered exceptional quality and functionality.
While I still prefer GNOME to KDE personally, KDE 2.0 is a huge step forward for the Linux desktop. The polish the KDE team has provided is something that we can all be grateful for. All future Linux distributions that include KDE 2.0 will be something to reckon with. Once again, in the true spirit of Linux, we have something far more stable and far more appealing than any alternate operating system can provide. With all the excitement and energy around GNOME these days, it will be nice to see some attention returning to the KDE team. They deserve congratulations on a job well done.
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Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.