A highly anticipated release, KDE 4.4 has taken necessary steps to solidify the underlying Plasma technology of KDE 4 and add polish to the already shiny surface. This week, MakeTechEasier will take you on a preview of the upcoming KDE 4.4 release, scheduled for February 9. I recently installed Release Candidate 1 on my desktop computer and took it for a spin. I was not disappointed.
The following is a preview, not a review. KDE 4.4 is still under development and should not be used on production systems, nor should stability be expected. Having said that, I am typing this article within KDE 4.4 and loving all of it, especially the tabbed windows.
The default KDE interface continues to be the Oxygen Air Plasma theme. It has changed slightly, and I am not sure if what I viewed was the final incarnation or just a stepping stone. The colors and overall look are the same, but the circle art is not as prominent. Like most KDE visual features, however, the theme is fully customizable, and I am currently using a darker theme for my desktop.
The KWin (window manager) buttons are slightly different, smaller and rounder, but the most impressive improvement with the default Oxygen window manager theme is the incorporation of many of the features that were found in the Nitrogen spin-off. One of the features I have been waiting for is the ability to once again control drop-shadow color and size. I prefer slightly more prominent shadows of a darker color than the default. The Oxygen theme also includes “Window-Specific Overrides” right in its configuration.
The “Style” settings in KDE System Settings has a new tab for “Workspace” which has replaced the theme settings previously found in the “Desktop” section. This is where you can select and download Plasma themes.
KDE includes many animated graphical effects, many of which make use of the X.org composite feature. The “Fine Tuning” section in “Style” allows you set the level of graphical effects right for your system.
Plasma is definitely slicker, and operates very smoothly. The “Add Widgets” dialog has been complete redone. Clicking “Add Widgets” now brings down a horizontal menu that encourages you to search before you decide to scroll. It is all very easy, and the search works as you type without any delay.
When you drag a widget to the desktop, it flashes a nice effect and looks very natural and smooth. Most of the widget resize and configuration tools are the same. The Dashboard widget layer is now fully configurable through the graphical interface and works much better than previous versions, although it still gets a bit confused on dual screens.
One FolderView improvement is that more Dolphin-like features are now supported, include the handy selection button that appears when you hover your mouse pointer over a folder.
The System Tray now supports widget integration so that certain system widgets can be placed within it. You can also configure jobs and notifications for any application running in the system tray.
The device notifier has added internal dialogs providing you with options on how to proceed when a device is inserted. Among the improvements is the ability to mount a drive without opening it in Dolphin.
Krunner and Dolphin
Krunner now drops down from the top of the screen, almost like a Quake console. This was a surprise to me, but it works very well and is an improvement over the previous versions, which popped up in the middle of the screen. When you search for commands or documents with Krunner, it will display appropriate icons next to the search results that you can use to configure the execution. With commands, it opens an internal dialog that allows you to run as another user. Selecting a document allows you to choose what application to use to open it.
Dolphin has added some new linking capabilities to its options menu, integrated searching, and a “timeline view” that allows you to view files by modification date (enter timeline:/ in the location bar).
I saved the best for last. I have long believed that applications like OpenOffice.org should have support for tabbed word processing. It just makes sense. Why should tabs be limited to web browsers or file managers? With KDE, you no longer have to wait on individual application developers. The KWin window manager itself supports tabbing.
Simply right click on a window’s title bar and select “Move to window group”. Then, select the window you want to group with it. Almost like magic, the two windows will become one, and there will be two or more tabs in the title bar. But this feature is not only limited within applications. You can group any application with any other. You could group a Firefox window with a Konqueror one and compare website rendering, which is useful for web design. KDE’s window specific features also now give you the ability to set how you want new windows of an application to group. For example, my OpenOffice.org documents now automatically open in new tabs rather than new windows.