KDE SC 4.4: Fresh breeze for KDE
by Andrea Müller
The latest 4.4 release of the KDE Software Compilation (KDE SC) offers far more than just stability and bug fixes: The developers have added a special new desktop for netbooks, as well as more program options. They have also made major structural changes.
While stability and fine tuning the Plasma desktop shell were the focus in KDE 4.3, the current version has afforded developers the opportunity to add new features. They have integrated a total of 1,433 user requests into KDE SC 4.4. However, this was not done at the expense of bug fixing: The KDE team lists 7,293 fixed bugs.
KDE's social networking and network collaboration features received the biggest boost. Another focus was the further improvement of the Plasma Netbook shell. This alternative desktop is designed to improve the ergonomics of KDE for netbook users. The changes are complemented by added structural modifications.
KDE 4.4 uses version 4.6 of the Qt library, which supports the Symbian platform as well as multi-touch functionality and offers improved performance. New among the KDE libraries is libattica, which allows developers to integrate web service access into applications. The Nepomuk information framework has been given a more stable back end and the Dolphin file manager, by default, now uses the Nepomuk Semantic Search framework for desktop searches.
KAuth is a new authentication framework for KDE SC 4.4 that uses PolicyKit as its back end. Developers can use KAuth to give their programs higher privileges for individual tasks. For instance, KAuth is already used in some of the control centre modules (systemsettings) of KDE SC 4.4.
The Akonadi framework has made a large step forward and is used by a program in the Kdepim package: Fully restructured, the KDE address book is the first to integrate the framework, accessing the Akonadi infrastructure for data storage.
There are changes galore, not only under KDE's bonnet, but also in terms of desktop and applications. The biggest eye catcher is the Plasma Netbook shell, a version of Plasma specifically customised for netbook use. It presents users with a full screen application launcher that allows them to access individual program categories and favourites, as well as a search feature. Another component of the Plasma Netbook shell is the newspaper – an area that accepts various widgets for displaying web content.
The Kwin window manager has two new tricks up its sleeve: Windows can be anchored to one side of the screen and several programs can be grouped in one window. Users of the Ion window manager may already be familiar with this style of tabbing feature: one window is used as a container for several programs which can be accessed via tabs on the window frame. The new Window Decorator offers improved configuration and can handle vector graphics.
In the "Social Desktop" area, the Community widget (previously called the Social Desktop widget) has been given further functionality. Users are now able to search for friends and send them messages directly from the widget. Furthermore, the widget now displays a live stream of what is happening in the user's social network, for example when a contact sends a tweet.
The developers did a lot of tweaking to the GetHotNewStuff interface. It can now be used for locating and downloading extensions in many KDE programs. For instance, GetHotNewStuff now offers new game levels, additional desktop backgrounds and Amarok scripts. KDE SC 4.4 is also the first to allow users to comment on, rate, or become a fan of an application via this interface. Users with fan status will be notified in the Community widget when a new program version becomes available. Furthermore, users can now directly upload their own extensions via GetHotNewStuff.
In addition to interacting with Akonadi, the address book also offers a new three-column display for clearer contact management. The Kget download manager can now check digital signatures and supports file downloads from multiple sources. The Gwenview image viewer has been extended to include a simple photo import tool.
Cantor, Palapeli and Blogilo are three new applications. Cantor is a scientific statistics and analysis program, while Palapeli offers users a break-time puzzle game. Newly added to the Kdepim package, Blogilo serves for creating and publishing blog posts. The tool supports the Blogger1.0, MovableType, MetaWeblog and Google GData APIs, which means that most blog hosting services are accessible via Blogilo.
With KDE SC 4.4, the KDE team has taken a further step in the direction of a stable and functional KDE 4 desktop. Plasma was already exceptionally stable in the release candidate of KDE SC 4.4. We liked the tidy netbook desktop which keeps everything in sight even on a small screen.
Binary packages for most of the distributions are to become available in the next few days, which will give users – even those who still use KDE 3 – an opportunity to take a first look at KDE SC 4.4. The usual openSUSE-based live CD with the current version of KDE will be available to those who prefer a hazard-free test run.