Interview: Aaron Seigo
There are a number of people who felt bitten by KDE 4.0, and who decided to stick with KDE 3.x, or maybe move to an alternative. Since KDE 4.2 is supposed to be ready for everyone – developers, enthusiasts, and normal users alike – what would you say are the defining differences between 4.0/4.1, and 4.2? Because of what improvements should the aforementioned users try KDE 4.2?
I actually sort of answer that as part of question 2:
What feature or improvement in KDE 4.2 are you personally most excited about?
There are two feature tracks in 4.2 that I find exciting: the feature parity track that was focussed on filling in the missing feature of the earlier KDE 4 releases, and the forward looking track which took the unique parts of KDE 4 to the next level.
Both the desktop shell and file management have reached feature parity with the 3.5 releases with KDE 4.2, which many users will appreciate. Things like detailed file previews on mouse over in Dolphin and Konqueror, panel autohiding, printing to PDF and Postscript or good integration of Ark for dealing with compresesed file archives. Up until 4.2 there was something of a compromise some users were making between the new features in 4.2 and the features they knew and loved from 3.5. Those compromises are pretty much a thing of the past at this point.
Which in turn should make appreciating all the new capabilities and polish a lot easier. Akonadi is hit a really good point in 4.2 and applications can start seriously using it. I’m already using it for some of my PIM data, and it seems pretty solid in day to day usage.
KWin’s window effects have gotten very smooth and even more useful in 4.2, such that showing KWin next to MacOS’s window manager is something we can do with a straight face. It’s not just in-your-face-bling, but also very useful and slick (read: often refined and subtle) effects.
Also, not specific to KDE, but nVidia just released a new x.org driver that addresses all the known performance issues with KDE 4.2 so one of the biggest sources of discomfort for users running a full KDE desktop session has also been eliminated. That can only be a good thing.
This isn’t specifically related to KDE 4.2, but a common question being asked on OSNews and other websites has to do with themeing. Is there any specific reason why Plasma and the rest of KDE4 use seperate themes? Was it a conscious decision to not “couple” Plasma themes to ordinary KDE themes?
The theming in applications tends to be limited to icons and things like push buttons, menus, etc. while in the desktop shell the theming needs to cover a much wider array of us cases, from taskbar buttons to system tray areas to notifications. These are things that don’t have great analogs in most applications. So we had to sit back and ask ourself how we wanted these things to look, as it wasn’t a pre-made given as it tends to be when writing a regular application.
While Plasma does share icons with applications, we decided to make the desktop shell components somewhat distinct from applications so that there is a distinction between “things that are part of the environment” and “things that run inside that environment”. By making it possible to create a visual separation, we’re able to see how/if that distinction is helpful to people. It’s a way of putting more emphasis on applications as being items of clear focus.
Of course, it’s possible to make Plasma elements that look exactly like the traditional widget themes and the current defaults are meant to compliment the Oxygen art seen throughout KDE. So if it turns out that we do want everything to look homogeneous again, that’s quite possible.
Looking ahead – what will be the area of focus for KDE 4.3?
Akonadi usage is one area that will be worked on in 4.3. We already have some work on accessing your mail, contacts and calendaring in appropriate areas of the 4.3 desktop shell being worked on with nice progress. So I think we’ll see more and more integration of PIM data outside of the traditional PIM apps, as well as a lot of new work on those traditional apps such as KMail in Kontact.
Nepomuk is also finding its way into more and more places. It’s set to show up in the file dialog in 4.3 and more applications are picking it up as part of the workflow as well. So I expect to see more context and searching goodness in 4.3.
A wildcard entry for 4.3 right now is integration of community and social services with applications and the desktop. The Plasma will be focussing a lot of our 4.3 energy on exploring how we can open up doorways onto and for the community through our software. Community is really the most unique strength of the Free software desktop compared to proprietary offerings, but to date we haven’t really taken advantage of that. We are looking to fix that by using the proposed Community Web API on Freedesktop.org and making the desktop a more social place for those who like to use their computer for such things. This isn’t going to be yet another “aggregate your web content on your desktop!” project, though; while an interesting use case, it’s not one that seems to be very compelling for many users and we feel that there is a lot more potential there. There’s a reason the social websites are popular with people, and it’s not because they agregate each other’s content. 😉
While we usually have a few “big picture” things we work on in each release, there’s also the wave of general improvements across the board. We’ve been consistently seeing 350-450 commits a day for the 4.2 release time period and that doesn’t seem to be slowing down any. So we can expected to also see continued progress on the feature already there, from mapping and geolocation with Marble to grouping/filtering of desktop notifications to improvements in image management… And so on.
KDE 4.2 is a really nice release and the directionality we see for the next releases promises to keep that pace.