On January 26th of this year, KDE released version 4.6.0 of its Plasma Workspaces, Applications, and Development Platform. While many major versions of KDE have focused on features, 4.5 was mostly a stabilizing release, fixing thousands of bugs. The 4.6 release is all about polish. It is the icing on the cake for KDE 4, adding speed, visual enhancements, and increased hardware compatibility.
Faceted Browsing for Dolphin – Pressing Ctrl+F in Dolphin used to open Kfind, a search interface that used various Linux/Unix search tools such as “find” and “locate” to get you the files you wanted. In KDE 4.6, you can open the search interface within Dolphin and find indexed files quickly and easily. The addition of a filter side bar also allows you to find exactly the types of files you want, giving you options for file type, creation date, and even rating.
Kate SQL Client – The popular all-in-one text editor for KDE now has basic SQL client functionality, thanks to the new SQL Query plugin.
App Enhancements – Many other applications have been enhanced. Gwenview and KSnapshot now have social media sharing buttons. Marble has a route planning tool with MarbleToGo for mobile devices, and KStars now has OpenGL rendering support. A few games also received upgrades.
New Activities Design – KDE Workspaces activities allow the user to truly have multiple desktops, with each one having its own purpose, its own set of widgets, unique wallpaper, and even its own applications. Each activity additionally has its own set of virtual desktops, giving you maximum power and flexibility. This is an improvement over the last version, which was pretty confusing. The one feature I would still like to see is the ability to give each activity a more distinct icon.
KWin Improvements – One of the areas where KDE lagged behind was compositing window management. In previous versions, Compiz has always outperformed KWin, even though it was not a KDE window manager. In 4.6, KWin has been optimized, adding a significant performance boost. KWin also has support for more graphics adapters and better detection. The improvements were noticeable as soon as I started it.
New Notification Features – You can now detach notification popups from the tray icon and drag them anywhere you want, and expanded notification popups have a new meter telling you how fast a download is coming.
Docking Taskbar – The KDE panel has always had launcher capabilities, but now you can pin tasks in the taskbar, turning them into smart launchers. This worked fairly well, but it has some ways to go before users would be able to use the panel like a true dock. That may not even be the intentions of the developers, but it is a nice option to have, nonetheless.
Speed – In general Plasma feels snappy and fast. Even on my desktop computer, I used to notice a slight lag in effects such as the shelf widget icon highlighting. Those are now lightning fast. The same applies to just about every other plasma and KWin effect.
Oxygen-GTK – One of the big improvements in KDE 4.6 is the new Oxygen-GTK engine that finally makes GTK apps look pretty much identical to KDE apps, even with window color gradients in place. The screenshots on the KDE website confirm that it works, but I was not able to get it to work out of the box. First, it did not even come with my install of Kubuntu, so I had to download it from the project’s website. Even then, I could not get it to work right without manually editing the .gtkrc-2.0 file. After that, it worked as expected. On my test user account, which had received less tweaking, it worked without any problems.
KDE 4.6 is the fastest and most polished release of KDE in the 4.x series. It is truly smooth, and the added features just make it that much more solid and remind me why I chose KDE as my desktop. It will be interesting to see where they go from here, as they move closer to the inevitable KDE 5. As long as they stay on the path they are currently on, the future looks very bright.