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On 22 December, KDE unleashed its first release candidate of the next major iteration of the 4.x series on an unsuspecting pre-Christmas world. KDE 4.8 is a major release number. As such, I was hoping for some pretty cool new features. However, looking at the release announcement, I see that there are only three new features worthy of mention, being:

  • implementation of Qt Quick in Plasma Workspaces;
  • dolphin’s file view has been rewritten. This has some really nice performance improvements, and some pretty slick animations when resizing windows;
  • KSecretService, enabling password storage which is available to non-KDE apps on the plasma desktop and vice versa.

There’s also the ubiquitous catch-all of “bug fixes and performance improvements”. Hardly worthy of a major release number bump.

Initially, I thought there must be more. However, when I looked at the full feature list on KDE.org’s techbase website, looking through the full feature list on yielded a handful of complete features, all of which were completely underwhelming. So where are the features? When the KDE 4.x series was first launched, there was a lot of talk about early releases stabilizing the frameworks underlying KDE SC and achieving feature parity with the 3.x series. Once that was done, then the true user facing innovation that the 4.x series was promised to deliver would be built on top of a solid foundation.

Given that the KDE developers are now talking about KDE 5.0, it seems that the delivery of some of the innovation promised may never be realized in the 4.x series. From a user perspective, at the end of the 4.x series, it seems we have a solid desktop built on top of solid foundations with feature parity to KDE 3.x, and some nice eye candy, but nomreal game changers. The semantic desktop has not eventuated, desktop search barely works, and there is little integration with activities. Whilst the underlying technologies are there, it seems that no one is taking advantage of them. One example is the use of akonadi in KDEPIM. This was not stable enough to release until KDE 4.6. I have tried to use kmail in each of the releases since, as kmail was (in the past) my favorite mail client ever. However, it simply does not work. I cannot enter account details without it crashing. The KDE 4.8 feature list shows that only one new feature has been implemented for this release across the whole PIM suite.

So what is going on? To be honest, I don’t know. I don’t follow the KDE development community as closely as I used to (which may be an indication that KDE is just not generating any excitement in its user base any more). However as a KDE user, I worry. I worry that KDE is no longer moving forward. I worry that somehow its developers have lost their passion, their drive and their way. I worry that the focus has moved to the mobile platform. Maybe, the new features are now being deferred to the 5.x series, and 4.x is now just focussing on polishing what’s there? There are so many questions that are raised by the lack of new features in the last three releases of KDE, that it would be good to have some answers. From purely anecdotal evidence, it appears that Microsoft’s grip on the desktop is under serious attack from a number of areas, including its upcoming attempt to bolt a failing mobile UI onto a desktop operating system. However, the desktop is not going anywhere fast. With both Ubuntu’s unity desktop, and Gnome 3 struggling to garner user acceptance, it seems like a good time for KDE to build some momentum. Sadly, KDE 4.8 doesn’t deliver any “look at me” features that might generate some excitement out there. What’s going on KDE?

3 Comments
  1. I would call this a brace before storm releases. Where code base cleaning and function becomes the prime feature objective for a little bit.

    “Once that was done, then the true user facing innovation that the 4.x series was promised to deliver would be built on top of a solid foundation.”

    We have a problem event has happened to build a solid foundation. Remember KDE 4.x series started 2007 and first release was 2008. Nokia releasing QT LGPL 2009 this is a rock hitting plans punching many holes. Yes the plan was designed if this did not happen.

    2010 and 2011 upstream submitting of patches has proven workable with QT. This now triggers this alteration in plan to make a solid foundation.

    http://aseigo.blogspot.com/2011/08/important-announcement-coming-today-at.html
    http://community.kde.org/KDE_Core/Platform_11/Eliminating_Duplication_With_Qt

    Start of the clean up processes to make a proper solid foundation starts in KDE 4.8. This is allowing scripting by QML instead of KDE own internal script engine.

    KDE 5.0 will be focused on cleaning up back-end even more. Getting rid of duplication between KDE libraries and QT Libraries. And removing KDE libraries from being bring in everything and the sink just because you wanted to use one library.

    Advantage this clean up should make KDE and its applications lighter. Also reduce some of the integration issues between KDE applications and everything else.

    Even you notice a lot of applications still don’t work right. So a slow down and catch up has been due.

    “KSecretService, enabling password storage which is available to non-KDE apps on the plasma desktop and vice versa.”

    This is very revolutionary for KDE. Think about it when was the last time KDE was creating a API to be used by everyone.

    Yes no flash stuff in 4.8 and most likely no flashy stuff in 5.0. Price to make a solid base.

    What is the storm coming. Web, Wayland and Multi-touch.

    Without a solid foundation making the applications above support web, wayland and multi-touch and maybe the out there running in a web browser is going to be hell.

    Yes QT5 does run inside nacl inside chrome browses. So this could truly see some KDE applications running everywhere.

    Future road ahead is busy. Time to make sure you have everything securely tied down basically.

  2. I’m having trouble with these statements:

    “However, when I looked at the full feature list on KDE.org’s techbase website, looking through the full feature list on yielded a handful of complete features, all of which were completely underwhelming.”

    “The semantic desktop has not eventuated, desktop search barely works… kmail was (in the past) my favorite mail client ever. However, it simply does not work…”

    If your complaint is that things aren’t working, the last thing you should be asking for is new features. In fact, I wish KDE would just do a 2-3 *YEAR* feature freeze. Absolutely no feature, no matter how small, should be developed in. It should all be bug fixes and usability improvements all the time, until the queue is small enough to count on one hand.

    Maybe even go on a feature-killing spree. Why is there both akonadi-google and akonadi-googledata!? Do they work reliably? Why is there a Facebook Plasmoid installed by default? How many clock plasmoids should be part of the standard desktop? Why does akanodi and nepomuk index my email even when I’m on battery power? Why is there more than one CPU monitor plasmoid? I could go on and on.

    Since at least 4.x, KDE has had way too many new features, at the expense of stability. Those complaints you have about stability? They’re because KDE is way too ambitious with new features. The problem with KDE, since around 3.x, has been that it has too many loose ends, too many unfinished projects, too many “in progress” integrations. As a user, I shouldn’t need to know what nepomuk or strigi are, or why virtuouso is pegging my CPU. Since probably roughly 2% of users care about plasmoids outside of their panel, don’t bundle lots of variations by default — put them on a repository and let people download them if they want them.

    KDE 4.8 is great. I switched (back) to it after the Gnome 3/Unity fiasco. But what KDE desperately needs is a massive trimming of the fat. It needs bug fixes, usability fixes, little things. Big features? No thanks.

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