This is not a typical review of a desktop environment such as KDE or GNOME. These are my observations when I updated from KDE 3.2.3 to KDE 3.3 Beta1.
I installed KDE 3.3 Beta1 by compiling it using Konstruct. Nothing surprising here. Compilation and installation went smoothly for the entire KDE desktop. I created a new ~/.kde3.3 directory so that I can keep my settings for KDE 3.2 separate and to make sure that any bad behavior I encounter is not due to illegal/incompatible old settings. On the negative side, this means that I could not test how well 3.3 ports old settings to new settings. Oh, well.
KDE 3.3 Beta1
When I started KDE 3.3 Beta1, I was presented with KDE’s Desktop Configuration. What I liked in this wizard was that Plastik is now presented as one of the style choices (which I think is the best among the styles that come with KDE). Nice. Unfortunately, it is not the default but it should be. I also noticed that the startup speed has improved. The “aKademy” splash screen is new and looks cool! Also, everything feels more snappier and quicker. Applications seem to launch faster. If you configure to preload an instance of Konqueror at the start up time; all subsequent launches of Konqueror are lighting fast.
KControl is KDE’s Configuration Control Center. KControl has been criticized for being too complex in the past. I can’t say that it has become simpler – I wish it can be though without losing any configurability. It has received a number of enhancements. KControl Fonts dialog selection is cleaned up with more advanced options available by clicking on “Advanced Options”. Also, it allows to set hinting level to full,medium etc. This was available in gnome-font-properties but not in KControl, till now. KDE Window Decorations have new buttons that could be part of a window’s title bar. These buttons are: Keep Above Others, Keep Below Others, Resize and Shade. One can customize where one wants these buttons. Not all window decorations are capable of showing these new buttons. I have found that only KStep and Plastik window decorations can display these new buttons (except the Resize one). Here is a screen shot with Plastik window decoration with these new buttons.
At first, the window decoration seemed really clutterred to me. But, after a while I started liking it – particularly to send some windows to “always below other windows” mode just by clicking on a button on window decorations. It gets the window out of your way just like minimizing while still keeping it around to look at where it is not obscured by anything else. Screen Saver Setup has an additional option “Require password to stop after
There is a new “Theme Manager” in KDE Control Center. One can create a complete desktop theme which consists of: Backgrounds, Colors, Styles, Icons and Screensaver. In an effort to simplify KDE Control Center, all these settings could probably be put inside the Theme Manager. There is a capability to install themes that change all of these components. There was a theme manager in earlier KDE versions but it never really worked well (atleast for me). This seems a newly written piece which will hopefully make it easier to change the look of the entire desktop from one place.
For IBM ThinkPads, a new KControl module is available with a KMilo service. This provides user feedback when user changes Volume, Screen Brightness etc. using Fn+special keys on IBM Thinkpads. Since I use Linux on Thinkpad exclusively, I was really happy to see this! My only wish here is that I would like a way to specify the function for the Thinkpad switch.
KDE Desktop and Kicker
There are no major eye-catching changes in overall KDE Desktop and Kicker. There are small improvements in a lot of places. For example, window switching using Alt+Tab (in KDE, not CDE mode) and Desktop switching using Ctrl+Tab now pops up a very nice GUI choice display. This seems more usable than the previous version. Kicker Pager has an option of how many rows one wants for virtual desktop displays in the pager. This is useful for non-common kicker width/height/position etc. Also, Kicker Pager display seems slightly improved. Right clicking on the desktop and selecting “Configure Desktop” has an additional Display Tab. This tab let’s a user easily switch various resolution/orientation for the X windows desktop using XRANDR extension (if available). This is what many Windows Users expect. Irrespective of whether windows behavior-mimicking is good or not, I think it is a good place to put these settings in. KDM has an improved look including new and cool icons for users. I typically like to hide the kicker applet handles – which gives Kicker a much more compact and cleaner look. Selecting the option to hide the kicker applet handles used to “compact” only the left side applets and not the right side ones. Now, it properly handles both sides.
Konqueror is KDE’s file browser and web browser. Konqueror’s toolbar buttons have been organized better using separators. However, it is still too cluttered when all Konqueror plugins are installed. This needs a lot of clean up so only a few of these plugins are available from tool bar and the rest are available through Tools menu. Konqueror’s tab browsing have some new capabilities. There is a new setting in Konqueror tab settings: Activate previous used tab when closing the current tab. This is useful as it manages the browsing context better when one is used to open links in tabs instead of new windows. Konqueror has Google Search Toolbar (like Mozilla and Firefox’s Google Search bars). Finally! Welcome (and IMHO, long overdue) addition. Konqueror has Type-Ahead feature now. Yeah! Konqueror was able to render all the webpages I typically visit quickly and accurately.
Kontact is KDE’s PIM Application Suite. It combines a number of applications (KMail, KOrganizer, KNotes, KPilot etc..) using KParts technology to build a one-stop PIM application. KMail is probably the most mature of these components. KMail has a new capability to compose messages using HTML. It seems to work well in my limited testing so far. This should make lot of KMail users happy. I also noticed that KMail’s icons were reorganized with more separators. I thought it looks weird keeping just one icon between two separators. This could be improved.
There are many new changes with other KDE applications. For example, Konsole supports real transparency using freedesktop.org’s kdrive capability. I couldn’t test it as I don’t run freedesktop.org’s server. I look forward to all fake transparencies (konsole, kicker, menus, window shadows patches etc.) to be replaced by this. KOpete seems much improved. It is becoming more and more usable with newer releases and a worthy replacement for GAIM. Amarok (a new audio player), Kolourpaint (a new paint program) etc. are some of the new applications that I have yet to play with more.
Bugs, Problems etc.
Considering this is a beta release, bugs, problems etc. are expected. I ran into a few bugs/inconsistencies/wrinkles. The default Icons still seem to be Crystal SVG Beta1. I think Crystal SVG had a final non-beta release after KDE 3.2. Why is the Crystal SVG Beta1 still there? In Kcontrol -> Regional & Accessibility -> Keyboard Shortcuts; if I assign the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+Comma to any action, Ctrl+> is actually registered as the keyboard shortcut! (This is an older problem and I know it is present in all KDE 3.2.* versions). In KControl. Internet & Network -> Email control module does not open. I get “There was an error loading the module”. Konqueror crashed once while using the new Google Search Bar. I haven’t been able to duplicate that crash though. Starting Euphoria screen-saver crashed my machine hard. I have no idea why. One bug of Konqueror that has annoyed me for a while now is still present.
In Konqueror’s bookmark editors; when bookmarks are saved after some modification, the bookmark toolbar on Konqueror window magically seems to have more separators. This was also present in 3.2.3. I use Linux on a notebook computer. I find that after a APM suspend+resume cycle, artsd is taking up pretty much all the CPU. I hope there is a work-around for this as it is very annoying (other than turning off KDE’s sound system, of course). This was also present in 3.2.3. I still have to register bugs for some of these in http://bugs.KDE.org. Let us hope they get fixed before the final release.
I find a lot of improvements and new features to be excited about in KDE 3.3. KDE 3.3 Beta1 is very stable, quick and snappy desktop. This is the most stable beta of KDE I have ever tested. I am actually amazed at how few crashes I have got compared to what I expected. There are many small improvements sprinkled across a wide variety of applications – they definitely improve the overall quality of the desktop experience. Wonderful job done by KDE Team!
About the Author
Osho is a long time user of Linux and various Unix operating systems. He has been using Linux for last 10 years or so. He has been using KDE exclusively on Linux for past 3 to 4 years.
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