KDE 4.6 Review: It’s Full Of Awesomeness

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.

Dolphin search interface in KDE

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.

KDE Notification popup detached from panel

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.

KDE new wallpaper

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.

Abiword Oxygen-GTK theme

Overall Impressions

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.

43 comments

  1. Yup, it’s absolutely spectacular release. The reworked Activities are really getting awesome,KOffice is also getting into shape. It looks like all the pieces are finally coming together.

    • I haven’t looked at KOffice yet (Despite appearances, I hardly do office work). Maybe that will be my next review.

  2. Year 2011 and you can search for files? Oh gee, what a achievement — it took just 30 years of personal computer development, and voila — you can search for a file!

    I cannot wait what could next ten years bring to KDE — consistent UI maybe? Or rewriting KDE5 from scratch? The last one is especially popular among devs.

  3. Shifting to Enlightenment and/or Fluxbox. KDE 4.6 sucked for me, not to mention that you shouldn’t bother running it on anything less than 512Mb of RAM. Even at 512Mb the performance is so-so at best.

    • athlon xp 2000+, 768mb of ram, gforce4 64 mb – its a no-go for 4.6. My recomendation is 2gb of ram. 1 gb is minimum.

      • With 512MB of RAM, just my browser tabs alone would bring my system to a crawl. You are right to choose something lightweight. That’s just the reality of modern times. Even most netbooks ship with at least 1GB of RAM nowadays.

      • I installed openSUSE 11.4 with KDE 4.6 on a old laptop someone gave me with a 32-bit Mobile Sempron 3000+ (1.8GHz), 512MB ram, the world’s slowest, IDE 4200RPM 75GB hard drive, and Radeon Xpress 200M graphics (benches somewhere around my TNT2 Ultra from 1999). Even after trying Gnome, LXDE and Xfce, I prefer the KDE 4.6 desktop on this laptop. I can even watch 720p video – at about 98% CPU utilization. :-) But when I was sick in bed I could stream music from my desktop, play card games, surf the web, watch tv shows, etc. without needing to use disk swap (the drive is so slow that the previous user who had XP on it found it unusable as XP likes to swap to disk). KDE 4.4 used at least 50MB less memory on the laptop, but openSUSE 11.4’s other improvements made the extra memory use worth it.

        Memory is cheap, but I have found that KDE is quite capable of running on a low-spec machine. Xfce, LXDE and Gnome don’t shave off a lot of memory but do shave off a ton of features and configurability.

    • Then get some more memory! Good grief, a quick search on newegg.com shows 1GB DDR2 for $18, and 2GB DDR3 for $30.

    • I am with you as I am getting sick and tired of bloat. I have plenty of ram but when the OS uses a lot of it for nothing then keeping basic things running I start to look else where. I know that Windows does this every release as well as you need a bigger and better computer then the previous release. I have had enough and glad that Linux offers us other choices.

  4. Have they fixed printing yet? Three years I’ve been waiting and listening to excuses, how it’s all Qt’s fault, how complex printing is, blah blah blah. Seriously, how complex is it to remember that my paper size is US letter, not A4, and that I don’t want 1.5 inch margins? No one cares about the new Activities, themes, whatever, when the basics don’t work. Are you trying to drive everyone to Gnome, or worse, back to Windows. I’m having a harder and harder time convincing my family that Linux really is better.

    • System Settings -> Printer Configuration -> Media Size -> Letter. Printing in KDE has worked fine for me since the early KDE 3 days. Perhaps the reason it has not been “fixed” is that it’s only broken for you. And yes, plenty of people care about activities and themes.

    • Printing should be fixed now, but it did take a while as there was a bug in Qt that made it constantly revert to A4 size. It’s finally fixed for me on Kubuntu 10.10, as that’s where the Qt version was bumped. 10.04 still has the bug, so don’t use that.

  5. Looking forward to seeing how it shapes up in Mint. Downloading Kubuntu now just to see what it looks like.

  6. Actually, you can set the icon for an activity. It’s not as intuitive as we want it to be yet, but it is possible. Here’s how: open the activity manager, then click the “configure” wrench icon and then click on the icon. A “select icon” dialog will pop up and you can select an icon. (Icon setting may require Nepomuk running?)

    Since 4.6.0 has come out, we already have dozens of bug fixes and improvements ready for 4.6.1, so it’ll polish up even further next month.

    .. and yes, we’ve got plans for and are already working on 4.7 :)

    Thanks for the review .. cheers.

    • Ah, that was it then. I had Nepomuk disabled. Thanks for reading. It’s always nice to get feedback from developers. :)

  7. Typing this using Konqueror 4.6 browser on KDE 4.6 on my Arch linux laptop. Flawless upgrade from 4.5, fast and takes only 200MB RAM on booting up. Its awesome. I really like the fact that I can use webkit with Konqueror :)

    • Thanks! I should have looked for a PPA, but it was so easy to build from source that it didn’t even come to mind.

  8. great review, nice to see someone actually waited a few days to really test kde 4.6 and then write a review. i have read some “reviews” the first day it was released.. come on, what can you say about such a vast project after 5 minutes?? :P

  9. I’m looking forward to d/l’ing and compiling it on Slackware to try it out. I used to do this with the KDE 3 releases, and this always worked well.

    I too had some printing issues with KDE 4 vs. KDE 3. The big thing will be “kprinter”-like functionality. Reason is so GNOME apps like Evolution and GQview can use KDE’s printing config and interface, otherwise I find you have to configure printing separately in both the KDE and GNOME printing config tools. Drove users nuts. “kprinter” was a great workaround for this.

  10. So does this mean that after 3 years of KDE4 they have finally released something that doesn’t feel like a beta? Is it on par with KDE3.5 yet? Will I finally be able to print, use bluetooth, setup external monitors, etc. again without the aid of GTK to do the heavy lifting?

    • bluetooth works fine here, haven’t had any trouble with it. I use CUPS for printing and just press print in whatever program, no trouble. Don’t have external monitors so wouldn’t know about that. Overall, 4.6.1 is extremely stable compared to e.g. 4.4. Just hope it stays that way for the next couple of versions… don’t want another huge feature-set without stability checks :/

    • i havent had any huge issues with this version, and this is coming from someone who has always had problems with kde being ‘crashy’ and ‘buggy’. i still have problems but nowhere near as crippling as they used to be.

  11. Kubuntu all way if your gonna run KDE. SUSE is really laggy and slow. and fedora is glitchy…linux mint kde is not polished and mix matchs components. Kubuntu is best polished and most stable release for KDE today.

    • My experience is the opposite. I am using openSUSE KDE and, at least for now, it works quite well. I tried using Kubuntu but absolutely nothing worked right.
      There’s also the difference in philosophy: Kubuntu is just the GNOME-centric Ubuntu with KDE slapped on, while openSUSE actually gives KDE attention.

  12. I’m really shocked you all aren’t using Windows 7.  KDE is a pile of shit.  3 days and I can’t even put an icon to a non-kde app  on the panel.  Guess I’m just a noobie – oh wait,  Linux professional for 10+ years, sorry I know linux inside and out, but can’t figure out this abortion they call KDE.  The bottom line is that the object oriented zealots at kde took over and created a bastard WM expecting people to do things they way they program the functionality.  Obviously OOD with absolutely NO USE CASES created.  What a train wreck.  Thanks KDE for sending productivity to zero.

    • That took awhile to figure out.  Right click on the K button, Edit Applications, and add your app to the menu.  Close the editor. Click on the K button, find the entry (that you just added) in the menu and right click on it and select add to panel.  I know it’s a pita, but it works.

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