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On the 25th of May 2011, KDE released the first beta of KDE SC 4.7.  As an ardent KDE fan – so prepare for this article to be horribly biased – I’ve hunted down the openSUSE packages and installed it on a test machine.  The test machine is a circa 2 year old Dell XPS M1330 laptop with 4GB of RAM and mobile NVIDA graphics running openSUSE 11.4.  

In the last couple of major releases of the 4.x release of KDE SC, the changes have been largely incremental.  In fact, it seems that Gnome and Ubuntu (separately but contemporaneously) have swapped places with KDE SC 4.  Previously it was Gnome that was the steady plodder making minor incremental changes through the 2.x series, building stability and only adding minor features.  However, with the recent releases of both Gnome Shell and the Unity desktop on Ubuntu, the Gnome/Ubuntu side of the desktop linux equation has made radical and controversial steps away from the well loved Gnome 2.x series, leaving KDE 4.x as the “steady as she goes” option.

Having said that, there are a few radical changes to KDE, but these are more under the hood than front and centre, so to the average user, KDE 4.7 may appear a little underwhelming.  However, there are some cool new additions, so let’s get on with it.

so what’s on the tin

The press release for the beta release sets out four new features of note:

  • KWin, Plasma’s window manager now supports OpenGL-ES 2.0, improving performance and deployability on mobile devices;
  • Dolphin, KDE’s flexible file manager has seen user interface improvements and now sports a better user experience for searching in files’ metadata;
  • KDM, KDE’s login manager now interfaces with the Grub2 bootloader;
  • Marble, the virtual globe now supports offline address search, especially making its mobile version more useful on the road.

I don’t have any devices to test the OpenGL-ES support on.  However, given the major moves in the industry to more mobile multitouch hardware platforms, it is encouraging that the KDE infrastructure is moving with the times.

Likewise, I don’t really have a use for marble when it is online, however, I’ve tried the offline mode.  I understand that there are supposed to be map packages for download, so you can use the offline features.  However, the dialog box that opens up when you go to download new maps has no content.  I don’t know if this is because none has yet been created, or whether this is a bug.  However, hopefully, this is working in future releases.

dolphin

dolpin default

The default set up in vanilla KDE has changed.  The aim being to remove clutter.  The menu bar has been removed and the right hand panel is hidden.  No functionality has been removed, only hidden.  However, this is not how it was set up when I first opened it up on my machine.  This may be as a result of how openSuse has packaged dolphin, or may be a hangover from my existing configuration.  Whilst this may provide a simpler interface, users are used to seeing a menubar, and the right panel provides context information in relation to files you are working on in an unobtrusive way.  The thing that worries me about this is the explanation for this decision on one of the developer’s blogs:

I did no scientific research about this, but I think first it was Microsoft with Windows Vista which started to put the menu bar into question for some applications

This is extraordinary. I know that KDE has UI expertise that it can draw on, so why aren’t these experts being consulted on UI decisions like this? Dolphin is a key element of the KDE desktop and you would hope that the default layout would be sound UI principles, rather than on the basis that everyone else is doing it.

kdm

This is a small, but nice change, which allows you to choose the default boot option on a restart.

kwin improvements

In addition to the support of OpenGL-ES, there have been a couple of other significant improvements to kwin.  Kwin is no longer just the bit of software that draws decorations around windows and allows you to organise them on the desktop.  Kwin also does all the compositing features that are available on the KDE desktop.

In recent times, however, window decorations themselves have been taking over the role of creating shadows under windows, and in the process improving the shadow rendering.  So there has been a divide between window decorations that provide these improved shadows (Oxygen, QtCurve and Aurorae) and window decorations that rely on the shadows provided as an effect in kwin.  In 4.7, shadowing has been moved directly into the compositor.  This means that shadows are unified across all elements of the desktop, including plasma elements.

kdepim/akonadi

Ever since the 4.x series came out, one of the goals of the kdepim project has been to migrate the pim suite of applications to the akonadi framework.  Akonadi is a central data store of pim related information.  The pim applications were finally ported in the 4.6 series, but the major distros retained the old non-akonadi version of the suite due to concerns about data migration with the new suite.  It appears that migration issues have been ironed out, and 4.7 is now “safe” for the mainstream.

On opening kmail up after loading 4.7, it asked me if I wanted to migrate my data to akonadi, or set up from scratch.  After choosing to migrate, it warned me that this could take some time, and then proceeded to migrate all my mail to akonadi.  After it finished, everything seemed as it was under the old system.  So all good so far.

Hopefully now, we will finally see more widespread use of akonadi across other applications.  The power of being able to access a data store of pim information from any application seems to be unlimited in this “social” age.

activities manager

activities manager

I don’t know if this is a “new” feature, or whether it has just been better exposed in the openSuse configuration of 4.7, but there is now an icon at the bottom left of my panel that opens the “Activities Manager”.  What’s more, there are three pre-made activities there – a “desktop icons” activity and “search and launch” and “photos” activities.  These are far more discoverable and give a clear indication of the purpose of activities and how they might be used.  I don’t know whether KDE or the openSuse packages should take the credit for this, but bravo. If you’ve read my previous posts on previous KDE releases, you will know that this has been a pet bugbear of mine for quite some time.

conclusions

In my view, 4.7 is looking like it’s going to be a solid release.  Nothing earth shattering in there, just delivering more polish, refinement and (in the case of akonadi) promises made some time ago.

30 Comments
  1. Gee, let’s not talk about the horribly difference that greeted long time KDE users when KDE4 was released.

    No thanks. You guys can keep KDE4 and Gnome(whatever). I’ll stick with KDE3/Trinity.


    • Larry:

      Gee, let’s not talk about the horribly difference that greeted long time KDE users when KDE4 was released.
      No thanks. You guys can keep KDE4 and Gnome(whatever). I’ll stick with KDE3/Trinity.

      I think we don’t talk about it because the rest of us got over it a long time ago. No, wait, I forgot, we’re supposed to whine about it every chance we get.

      Move on dude.

    • In nature, anything that stands still gets eaten. The same is true in technology.

  2. Dolphin menubar change sounds like the same horsesh17 that the GNOME guys pulled with removing the minimize button–e.g. “I didn’t do any testing or research, but I figured I’d push this major UI change anyway.”

    At least the superior KDE mindset means that the feature is just hidden, not permanently removed or attainable only by configuration file changes.

  3. “I did no scientific research about this, but I think first it was Microsoft with Windows Vista which started to put the menu bar into question for some applications”

    Lazy fucker. Do a google before writing an article about something, for christ’s sake.

  4. Why do the screenshots look like Mac OS X and Windows 7? Can no-one come up with a new GUI design?

  5. Thanks for your efforts in bringing KDE 4.7 to fruition!

  6. “Why do the screenshots look like Mac OS X and Windows 7? Can no-one come up with a new GUI design?”

    New does not mean better. You have to really think if what changes you make will improve someone’s workflow or just make life more miserable for everyone.

    Take a look at unity and gnome-shell for example. There’s your new GUI design and almost no one likes them.

    • Saying that it looks like Windows 7 doesn’t really make any sense, considering that KDE had things such as the transparent taskbar years before Windows 7 was released.

      KDE was releasing new versions every six months or so, while Microsoft didn’t have anything to show for themselves publicly, for like, six years between the release of XP and Vista.


  7. anon.:

    Why do the screenshots look like Mac OS X and Windows 7? Can no-one come up with a new GUI design?

    You’re certainly welcome to come up with a new one. Like my father taught me: don’t whine about something unless YOU can do better.

    Also, Microsoft has invested millions of dollars into UI design research, so to say KDE is stupid for following some of their moves, is a bit naive.


    • Nick:

      Also, Microsoft has invested millions of dollars into UI design research, so to say KDE is stupid for following some of their moves, is a bit naive.

      uuummm, no. To follow someone else’s UI decisions without researching why these decisions were made is just stupid. Furthermore, the person who made these decisions claimed to be emulating the “ribbon” interface in Windows. However, the changes made to dolphin do not resemble a “ribbon” interface in any way. I don’t appreciate developers taking away functionality for no good reason – especially when they openly admit that they did it for no good reason.

    • Sorry, but your father was wrong, and calling peoples comments a “whine” is disrespectful.

      The fact is that we live in a society of specialists. People don’t all do the same thing. We still consume the work of others, however, and can comment on whether that work meets our needs.

      To say that someone’s comments are whining or, to suggest that they’re worthless, because they cannot drop what they’re doing and improve it themselves is, frankly , ridiculous

  8. I take it this has just meant adding a button to access the most commonly used menu features and the menu hidden by default. Menus in KDE have always been hideable using the CTRL+M shortcut.

  9. I have been removing menu bar from dolphin and konqueror , ktorrent, kget, for ages now. Once i place the needed icons , i don’t need that menu bar almost 99% of the time, so i always hide it.

    I like it.

    • I agree, the UI should be redesigned, the menubars in their current form gotta go.

      BUT this should be the result of KDE-wide discussion and should then be done KDE-wide. One of KDE’s strengths is conformity throughout the desktop, we really should not embrace fragmentation.

  10. “I don’t know whether KDE or the openSuse packages should take the credit for this”

    this is an upstream improvement. openSuse packages are indeed great, but this particular change was from the KDE Plasma team :)

    you can expect to see continued incremental improvements to Activities in each release, something we’ve been doing for a few releases since Activities finally “settled in” code-wise.

    • Nice addition. Great improvement to discoverability.

  11. funny to hear the same old comments, “looks like Windows” “I like KDE 3.5 better” Nice review, I’m looking forward to upgrading

  12. Damn, this KDE really looks nice. And it looks like they are working on really usefull desktop features instead of dumbing it down like Unity and recently GNOMe does. I guess for now I’ll stick to Ubuntu with good old classic GNOME 2 desktop and when KDE 4.7 gets released I have to try Kubuntu with it. I already read nice things about current version so this should be even better. Who knows, maybe I’ll just switch to KDE in the end. What’s sure is that I will not be using any of this Unity or GNOME 3 crap.

    • Can I recommend opensuse over Kubuntu. It’s a much mincer KDE experience.

      • I agree, opensuse is a much nicer experience than Kubuntu. Ubuntu lost me with this unity, it’s good on a netbook, but that’s about it.

  13. Support for OpenGL-ES will help next Kubuntu Mobile release. .

    About Marble offiline routing, they use Monav to download maps:

    http://nienhueser.de/blog/?p=223

    Works great on N900, ;)

    PD: Kubuntu rocks

  14. lol, I like how people say kde 4 looks like windows 7. sorry dude but in mid process of 7 they redesigned to look like kde. also if you had a clue kde is laid out much better. Noobs

  15. opensuse is very bad choice for KDE. Kubuntu is alot faster response and alot better polished. not to count repo’s are much faster then lag opensuse.

    If your going try kde. Kubuntu is way to.

    • Interesting. I used Kubuntu for about three years prior to switching to opensuse 11.2 (having been a gentoo user before that). When I switched to opensuse, it was like a breath of fresh air. The speed improvement was like night and day. It was far more stable. With Kubuntu, using VMware was slow and got slower the longer it was open. On opensuse, the guest OS felt native, with no performance degradation over time (and I’m talking weeks).

      You are welcome to your view, but I think you are wrong.

      • I’ve been using Kubuntu since 9.10 and have experienced excellent performance and rock solid stability, so I’m not sure what was up with your install. Maybe something was configured incorrectly?

        • All I’m saying is that opensuse seemed like a step up in performance from Kubuntu. I was also happy with Kubuntu. Just didn’t know what I was missing.

    • I don’t know if Kubuntu is a bad choice, but i can say for sure that openSUSE is a good choice for those who want to use KDE.

  16. I don’t understand what the KDE on different platforms arguement is all about…

    KDE on Kubuntu is not slow for me, never has been….but following peoples suggestions I decided to try the distro’s with the ‘best’ KDE.

    I went to Arch, which was fun the first time but rebuilding an Arch box and configuring it the way you want many times is not so fun + KDEmod was less stable. I tried Chackra but found the availible software limited and less stable. I tried OpenSUSE but found that the 1000′s of GUI configuration tools made it seem a little bloated. Now i am back on Kubuntu (11.04) and I havn’t had an issue yet.

    As for the KDE4 is a horrible piece of junk…..thats your opinion….for the rest of us who like and use KDE4, we can enjoy the more modern desktop which is only getting better with each new release!

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