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.