The final release of KDE 4.4 is due in early 2010, and not since the arrival of KDE 4.0 two years ago has an open source desktop environment been so highly anticipated by the free desktop community. Unlike the anti-climax that was the first KDE 4 release, however, KDE 4.4's developers say this new version will actually deliver on many of the original promises of this next-generation desktop environment -- and then some.
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If maturity is the measure of a desktop environment then KDE 4.4 will have a lot to live up to, as it represents the fourth major release of the KDE 4 series.
Many small things that make the user's life easier have been done. . . Those changes might not be significant on their own, but they add up to a system that feels really well rounded
Features, updates and bug fixes
Like any major version increase, KDE 4.4 will include numerous feature enhancements, updates and bug fixes.
According to KDE's developers, 4.4 will have an immediate advantage over previous versions by leveraging the latest Qt 4.6 toolkit, which brings a new layout mechanism in QGraphicsView and improved performance, among many other additions. In fact, KDE 4.4.0 was delayed by two weeks until February 2010 to make it possible to release on top of Qt 4.6.
General enhancements include improved desktop search, better privilege escalation, remote controllable Plasma widgets and more polish to the existing code base.
KDE developer and spokesperson for the project, Sebastian Kugler, says it's difficult to determine exact numbers of features, but for 4.4 it would be a very high number.
"4.4 is a significant release that brings many new features. We have new applications, for example Blogilo, a local applications for writing blogs, allowing for offline editing of articles," Kugler says. "There's is a new network manager (living in the notification area right now, a plasmoid for it is planned for later). Also applications that are not directly shipped with KDE are maturing now. Amarok, Digikam, Konversation and all those applications that are well known from their KDE 3 version are now available in a KDE 4 version."
The desktop look-and-feel has also received a makeover. The new Air theme for the Plasma desktop shell is more polished and has added subtle animations to improve the user experience.
"Many small things that make the user's life easier have been done, sometimes something as small as giving feedback from the buttons in the quick launch area of the panel," Kugler says. "Those changes might not be significant on their own, but they add up to a system that feels really well rounded and well done."
A more visible development in Plasma is the new netbook interface, which will also debut as part of KDE 4.4. Plasma-Netbook will sport a mobile computer form-factor for desktop Plasma widgets.
Kugler says there are plenty of interesting changes behind the interface, too. KDE 4.4 will ship an authorization framework based on PolicyKit, so applications and the desktop can elevate privileges safely, and administrators can specify exactly what a specific user is allowed to do.
KDE's developers have also made the desktop more social and "connected". There is a Plasma applet that shows answers to questions from the KDE knowledge base, with the aim of making it easier for new users to find help.
KDE 4.4 will also make it possible to drag content from Web sites onto the desktop. For example, a picture can be dragged it from the Web browser onto the desktop and a Plasma applet showing this picture is added to the desktop where the file was dropped. The wallpaper can also be set this way or from any remote URL.
In addition to new features, Kugler says the KDE team has been busy fixing bugs and improving the overall quality of the existing code.
"We've closed about 18000 bugs over the past 6 months -- so if we match the bug fixing frenzy before 4.3 (I'm quite sure we will), we'll probably have about the same number, maybe we can even get it a bit higher," he says.