KDE 4.4: Does It Work Yet?

A confirmed GNOME superfan takes a new look at KDE 4.4 and likes it.

This article isn’t a formal KDE 4.4.x review. I’m looking at it with a discerning eye and a prejudiced viewpoint. I don’t feel compelled to present a purely journalistic “fair and balanced” point-by-point arraignment of KDE. There are plenty of lighthearted reviews and cosmetic critiques of the new interface dawdling about so I dare not add another to the din. Instead, I’m stepping back into KDE from a GNOME user’s viewpoint with a single question in my mind: “Does it work yet?”

I used to love KDE way back in the KDE 1.x and KDE 2.x days of yore. I migrated away from KDE during the early 3.x days in favor of GNOME. I switched to GNOME partly because my new favorite distros installed it by default, it grew on me and I’ve stuck with it ever since without a moment’s regret. I took a look a KDE 4.x when it first hit Fedora Spins and thought it was cool but I soon discovered that first impressions aren’t always correct. In fact, after working with it for a while, KDE 4.x was anything but enjoyable to use and I quickly tossed it aside as worthless fluff. I’m giving KDE 4.x a second chance with this new 4.4.x version.

KDE Startup

I no longer have to wait for all of KDE’s features to start up as I nod off watching the little icons appear one by one until I’m finally presented with a usable interface. The new KDE surprised me with its snappy and much anticipated startup speed. I had forgotten that this was one of KDE’s improvements over previous versions but it’s always refreshing to see it in action. I rebooted a couple of times just to make sure that what I was seeing was real.
It was and I’m glad. To the KDE team, I say “Good work” on the startup speed. If that were your only improvement in this release, it would be noteworthy by itself.

Semantic Desktop

I’m not sure why someone didn’t think of this sooner but the semantic desktop idea is intriguing. Simply put: It’s all about metadata. Metadata is data about data. For example, if you download an ISO image from ibiblio.org from one of the many stored distribution directories housed there, you might not remember which one. You might not save the URL in your browser and you might not find that exact site again without hours of searching and frustration. The Nepomuk project makes it easy to exploit this metadata by integrating with the Strigi project which indexes the data. Indexing the metadata would allow you to query the information associated with that ISO file so that you could go back and grab the next release with no hassle.

Other applications of this concept include manually created metadata, metadata associated with a file from its original creator (email, docs, text), tagging, commenting and so on.

Social Networking

If you enjoy social networking, microblogging, sharing photos or keeping up with news events; KDE 4.4 has integrated applets, called widgets, specifically for the most popular sites. You might ask, “What makes a widget better than an icon that allow me to connect to the awesome social networking site of choice?” but the question is easy to answer. Widgets
give you “live” access to your favorite sites and newsfeeds, whereas icons only provide a static link to them.

Netbook Interface

KDE 4.4 is cool for netbooks with its new Workspace Form Factor called Plasma Netbook. Designed for netbook freaks, like me, who try to optimize small screen real estate with a few key icons. Plasma Netbook is a different concept. It’s a paged desktop that starts off with two desktops called Pages. Page One is a widget page with newsfeed, weather, knowledgebase and others.
The second page, Search and Launch (SAL), has icons and a search field on the desktop that replace the regular KDE menus. The search function has built-in intelligence, so if you’re unsure of the exact spelling of an application, you still have a chance of finding it. Additionally, you can build an unlimited number of widget pages which essentially creates a series of desktops that contain specific applications that you configure.

If you don’t like the Plasma Netbook interface, you can switch back to the standard Plasma Desktop via the System Settings menu or icon.

KDE 4.4.x offers more stability than previous 4.x versions and some clever enhancements over previous versions. It offers a more modern desktop designed more for the young, social networking, purely web-existent crowd. For those of us over the age of 30, it’s not entertaining. I don’t want to have to fuss with my desktop to get it like I want. For me, it’s a tool. I don’t spend a lot of time customizing my television, telephone or a screwdriver and I don’t want to spend a lot of time messing about with a desktop. Perhaps the parts of the new KDE that I really like have always existed: Its clean, bright, easy-to-use light-feeling interface. KDE 4.4.0 still has all the KDE goodness plus the cute stuff for the latest generation whatevers.

I rather like KDE 4.4 but I’m a GNOME convert and it would take something better than widgets to divert my attention away from it. If you’re a KDE fan, it’s time to jump in at version 4.4.0. It does work. I appreciate what the KDE developers have accomplished with this new version and am anxiously awaiting a look at KDE 5.0.

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