The Greatest KDE Distro Ever: An Early Look at openSUSE 11.3

This week the first milestone release of openSUSE was made available. Together with the KDE 4.4 release candidate and excellent integration of GTK applications such as Firefox, openSUSE simply provides the greatest KDE experience available to date. Here's why.

This week marks the first milestone release of openSUSE, on the road to 11.3. With their current stable release, 11.2, the distribution made KDE the official default desktop and thanks to their efforts, created the greatest implementation ever.

Now, with version 4.4 on the way the KDE desktop experience from openSUSE is looking to be better than ever.

The New KDE

If you’ve already been using a recent version of KDE, such as 4.3.5, you probably won’t notice a huge amount of difference between it and the upcoming 4.4. Most of the changes are under the hood with no doubt countless bug fixes and tweaks. There are a number of less subtle changes however, such as the new Plasma interface for netbooks, a technology preview. KDE has come a long way since that initial 4.0 release and this upcoming version 4.4 will be one of the greatest achievements on the desktop for 2010.

The existing stable version is getting useful updates in a regular time frame, while the developers continue to work on the next major release. The KDE team has really been doing a top notch job of improving the code and that is to be commended. What we have today, is truly a marvellous desktop environment and suite of applications to rival any other out there. With the ability to also run on Windows and OS X, the quality and breadth of Qt applications should only increase. Naturally the KDE desktop will benefit from this new focus and become a more and more rich environment over time.

Let’s take a look at a few of the major improvements included in KDE 4.4-rc1:

  • The Nepomuk Semantic Search framework has made leaps: A new storage backend makes it a lot faster. New user interfaces to interact with the Nepomuk database are first delivered with KDE 4.4.0. A timeline view of your files makes finding files used in the past easier.
  • The Plasma Desktop has been further polished. Many user interface elements have received attention by developers and designers. The new widget explorer provides a richer experience for managing desktop widgets. Plasma widgets can now be shared with other users over the network and the handling of storage devices in the desktop shell has been streamlined. Also, in 4.4 Plasma’s little sibling, the Netbook shell debuts as a technology preview.
  • New applications on the horizon range from Blogilo, a rich-client blogging tool to Cantor and Rocs, two scientific applications for advanced math and graph theory needs. Many other applications, such as the Gwenview image viewer and the Dolpin file manager have been further improved.
  • The KDE Development Platform adds the new KAuth authorization framework for easy and secure privilege escalation, printing of odd and even pages, scanner support for the Windows platform and the first pieces of integration of the popular webkit rendering engine.

openSUSE KDE 4.4 desktop
openSUSE KDE 4.4 desktop

OK, I’ll say it. KDE 4.4 is far superior to any release before it. Brace yourselves folks, it’s time to (finally) let go of version 3.

Widget Improvements

The interface for managing widgets (or plasmoids) has been vastly improved. Previously, when wanting to add a widget the computer would present a window where users would scroll and search for the one they wanted. In this interface the descriptions were always hidden and things were harder to find. Now, the task of adding a new widget creates a ribbon, where available plasmoids are grouped. Users can scroll to shuffle the list along, while hovering provides a detailed description. This is a great new improvement which is small and subtle, but works very well.

Adding widgets in KDE 4.4
Adding widgets in KDE 4.4

The storage manager has had a nice little upgrade too, whereby the actions available are now presented within the widget itself, rather than on a new window once you open the device. That’s another small and subtle change that makes a really great interface improvement.

Plasma storage manager
Plasma storage manager

Introducing desktop activities. Now you can have more than just a widget on the desktop, you can add an activity to the desktop itself. There are several to choose from including; the default Desktop, which provides a widget with the user’s desktop icons within it; Newspaper, which puts widgets on two columns; Folder View, which returns a traditional style desktop; and, Search and Launch for the netbook.

Plasma workspaces
Plasma workspaces

The whole Plasma experience has been refined and is even more smooth. Clicking on the Cashew fades the widget menu in and out smoothly. The adding and closing of widgets is also accompanied by a nice animation. Resizing existing widgets seems smoother and they can also be shuffled nicely.

Overall, the Plasma experience with 4.4 is impressive. Everything runs very fast and effects are very nice. In short, it truly looks high class. Users switching from a Vista or Windows 7 should more feel at home, especially when compared to the GNOME desktop.

Netbook Interface

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