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?