KDE 4.1 is out and good enough for everyday use

Version 4.1 of the K Desktop Environment (the first release of KDE 4.x suitable for everyday use) for GNU/Linux came out recently, and last week I decided to give it a try. It’s pretty good, but it’s still a bit unpolished. Installing it in Ubuntu was simple, except for an error with one of the packages that forced me to remove them all, then install them again in a specific order using the dist-upgrade command. The process will become smoother when it hits the main Ubuntu branch, but for now, just be forewarned that it still has a bit of a “beta” feel to it.

KDE 4.1 also did something weird with my xorg.conf, so I have to restore it to a working version upon each boot or I get dumped back into the basic vesa driver which can only display a resolution of 640×480. Luckily I hardly ever reboot, or this would be more of an annoyance. Again, I expect this to be something that’s fixed in the final release. I don’t think these problems are even KDE 4.1’s fault, but rather, a problem in the way the Ubuntu packager configured things.

So, after debugging the problems (and you wouldn’t even be interested in checking out bleeding edge software releases if you seriously minded contributing to the edge being bleeding in the first place), KDE 4.1 is up and running, and it’s really nice. Whereas KDE 3.5 seemed to draw inspiration for its appearance from Windows 95, KDE 4.1 draws its inspiration from Windows Vista, and even gives it a run for its money. KDE 4.1 is a pleasure to look at, right from the boot-up screen all the way to the everyday tasks performed in the desktop environment. Even the applications menu, with its smoothly animated sliding pages, is well done. Appearance matters a lot more than most free software folks will admit to, so it’s good to see a free software project that really gets it.

KDE 4’s best new feature has to be the desktop plasmoids. A plasmoid is a view of a folder that goes on the desktop, so it is always beneath all other opened applications and does not show up on the taskbar. The simplest use of a plasmoid is to show the contents of the desktop folder (creating a desktop folder plasmoid the size of the entire screen emulates the behavior in other desktop environments). Plasmoids are nice because they corral the icons that normally overwhelm a desktop into a nice sortable box. And then the real power of the plasmoid is revealed when you create other plasmoids — one plasmoid for your Documents folder, another for the download directory for Mozilla Firefox, another for the download directory for BitTorrent, etc. All of the files you need are always at your finger tips, in a neat orderly manner that don’t overwhelm your task bar. Organizing your files is as easy as dragging icons from one plasmoid to another. It’s such an incredible user interface improvement it makes you wonder why no one else has thought of it before. Oh wait, they sort of have — anyone remember Windows 3.1 and its persistent folder windows?

KDE 4.1 is also lacking some configuration options in comparison to KDE 3.5, but it’s apparently already a lot better than KDE 4.0 was, and most of the configuration options should be restored soon in future releases. All of the basic options are there, you just don’t have the kind of intricate configurability that long-time KDE users might expect.

I would love to write about all of the new desktop widgets, but alas, I couldn’t get any of them working, and this error is echoed by others out there trying out the Ubuntu build of KDE 4.1. This looks like another error by the packager. Oh well. KDE 4.1 on Ubuntu is still perfectly usable as is, it just doesn’t have all the bells-and-whistles. If the problems I’ve listed so far aren’t deal-breakers for you, go ahead and download KDE 4.1 and try it out. Otherwise, you might want to wait another few weeks or so until the official mainline release is out. Even if you’ve never used KDE before (which is quite common for Ubuntu users, seeing as how Gnome is the default window manager), you ought to give it a serious try. You might really like it.

7 Responses to “KDE 4.1 is out and good enough for everyday use”

  1. arensb Says:

    Can you define key bindings such that Ctrl-Meta-<vi keys> will move the mouse pointer by 100 pixels, and Ctrl-Shift-<vi keys> will move it by 10 pixels? I added that to my fvwm2 config years ago, and have loved it ever since. It’s rather a deal-breaker for me when it comes to evaluating other window managers. Yes, I’m sensitive to Fitt’s law.

  2. T2A` Says:

    Didn’t you tell me the other day that KDE 4.1 was going to be the tits?

    This doesn’t sound like the tits. :/

  3. Cyde Weys Says:

    arensb: No idea. Isn’t configuring key bindings an X11 thing? It seems to me that any desktop environment on top of X11 should allow key configurability?

    T2A`: KDE 4.1 is actually better than this, I’m just too lazy to install it manually as opposed to using the Ubuntu packages, and the Ubuntu packages right now are not finalized and not very good. In a few weeks these problems should be ironed out and it will be much better.

  4. T2A` Says:

    I see. So you treated your Linux box like Windows and tried to do things automatically. Shame! :]

  5. Cyde Weys Says:

    If you haven’t used a package manager to install software before, you just wouldn’t understand. It’s a pain to start mixing software from a good package management system with software from elsewhere.

  6. Ed Says:

    Interesting… But I’ll wait until it becomes stable enough for my gentoo box.

  7. drinian Says:

    Right, package management is one of the most important advantages of a Linux (or *BSD) distro over the alternative, and circumventing it, especially for such a large chunk of code, will only lead to maintenance problems elsewhere.

    Also, “stable” and “Gentoo” are not two words that make sense to me (I’m a ~x86 user).