posted by Joshua Keel on Wed 16th Feb 2005 22:16 UTC
IconKDE 3.4 is currently in the beta2 stage, and preparations are being made for the final release. I thought it would be nice to give people some advance information on new features in KDE 3.4, so I have written this beta2 preview.

First Impressions

Click for a larger view I started off with a default KDE install, and, as usual, was presented with the KPersonalizer tool on startup. Plastik has now become the default style, with the old default, Keramik, still one of the choices. I went with Plastik. I noticed that font handling has gotten better. In previous versions, the default font setup used Helvetica, which was extremely ugly on my system. But this time, KDE automatically chose Bitstream Vera Sans, which looks very nice. In other ways, the default settings have improved. There is a new System icon on the desktop, which brings up a Konqueror window containing icons for the Home Folder, Remote Places, Settings, Storage Media, and Trash. Quite nice. The default desktop icon text color has also been changed to white with a black outline, which looks nice. Also, some of the Crystal icons have changed, mostly for the better.

New Looks

Click for a larger view It seems that KDE is becoming much more concerned with look and feel of late, which I think is a very good thing. I believe KDE is a first-rate desktop environment, and to stay that way, it needs to be aesthetically appealing. Along those lines, some new eyecandy has been added. First, the icon zoom effect on the panel has been changed to an animated bubble pop-up that fades in. This looks nice the first few times, but it has a tendency to get in the way sometimes, popping up when you don't want it to. Also, many applications, such as Konqueror, Kontact, and the Control Center, have new start screens. These look very nice, and are quite functional. Konqueror's new start screen includes icons very much like the System icon on the desktop. In addition to the System button's icons, Konqueror sports an Applications icon, allowing access to installed programs. Seen throughout these new screens is a new KDE gear logo, which I think is excellent, and it goes very well with the Nuvola icon theme, which is my personal favorite. Other look and feel updates are seen in the desktop configuration dialog, where wallpaper previews are now shown displayed inside a monitor graphic. This is a great effect, and it's good to see that things like this are starting to be done.

Individual Applications

KPDF

Click for a larger view Improvements in KPDF in this release are phenomenal. KPDF not only looks a lot better, but its functionality has been greatly improved. Working with large PDFs has become much more enjoyable, since you can now search through the text. Another new feature is a presentation mode, which allows you to view a PDF as a slide show. In slide show mode, left-clicking advances the show, while right-clicking goes back through previous slides. A small graph in the upper right corner shows the progress of the show, advancing a counter every time you view another slide. There are numerous other improvements in KPDF, and it's really becoming a wonderful tool.

Kontact

As I said earlier, Kontact got a new start screen. But it also got some new features, most notable of which is probably the Akregator integration. Akregator is an RSS news feed agregator. Its Kontact integration allows you to check your news feeds in addition to managing your To Do list and your calendar. Akregator has a built-in KHTML Part, so you can open links right inside Kontact. Oh, the joys of KDE technology! :)

Konqueror

Kontact isn't the only program getting Akregator integration. Konqueror now has an orange RSS button, visible in the lower right corner of the window when a page has an available RSS feed. It's amazing that number of sites that do these days. Clicking the RSS button allows you to add the feed to your Akregator feed list. Sweet stuff. :)

KDM

Fast user switching support. This is very nicely done. Individual users can have their own desktop, and switching between them is a matter of a couple of button presses. It's quite snappy.

New Accessibility Apps

KTTS (The KDE Text-to-Speech system) has been unveiled. Many applications now have TTS support, including Konqueror and KPDF. KSayIt is another nice utility which can convert a text file to speech, or say the contents of the clipboard.

Overall Changes, Improvements and Bug Fixes

Click for a larger view The handling of the Trash ioslave has been greatly improved. It now allows the deletion of multiple files with the same name, has better file restoration handling, and faster operation. A Media ioslave has been introduced which replaces the Devices ioslave. Media allows access to CD-ROM drives, floppy drives, and other mount points such as hard disks. The System ioslave has also been revamped to help more people learn about KDE ioslaves. If you haven't been properly introduced to ioslaves, I'll give a brief introduction. In KDE, ioslaves are used to handle all sorts of information transfer. They are the underlying technology KDE uses to access SSH, IMAP, FTP, SMB (Samba), etc. You use ioslaves all the time without even knowing they are present. But knowing that they do exist can be very useful. I like using the fish:/ ioslave to access remote SSH servers, giving me a drag-and-drop representation of files and folders in Konqueror. KDE ioslaves set KDE apart from other desktop environments.

Closing Thoughts

It looks like the developers have done a great job with this beta release. In my testing, I did run upon a couple of small issues, but these will likely be fixed in the full release. I had no crashes whatsoever, and no programs hung on me. All in all, it looks like an excellent release for the transition from KDE 3.x to 4.x. I'm very excited about new developments in both Qt and KDE in the future. I'm sure the migration to Qt 4 will be a little rocky, but it will be well worth the effort in the end. Long live the K Desktop Environment.

About the Author:
Joshua Keel is currently a Computer Science student at Bob Jones University. He is a huge Linux/KDE fan, and has aspirations of becoming a KDE developer someday. Till then, he writes in English, not C++.
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