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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.