KDE innovation still brewing amid stable 4.5 release

New functionality often needs infrastructure to catch up

In KDE 4.5 Plasma Netbook's Page One is designed to keep tabs on the social web, it can hold any Plasma widget

In KDE 4.5 Plasma Netbook's Page One is designed to keep tabs on the social web, it can hold any Plasma widget

With KDE Software Compilation (SC) 4.5 released this week, the open source project has made another stepping stone towards its goal of providing a modern, free desktop people can adapt to their needs.

TechWorld caught up with KDE developer and spokesperson for the project, Sebastian Kugler, about what was achieved with this latest release and how KDE SC can be more innovative.

About how many changes were made between 4.4 and 4.5?

Our bug statistics give me the following numbers for the past release cycle. 16022 bugs were fixed and 1723 feature requests were filled. The fasted bug fix was 46 seconds after reporting and the second fastest was 56 seconds.

There was an emphasis on stability for this release, what are some of the areas that needed the most improvement?

There wasn't really a sore thumb sticking out, we were just not really happy with overall performance. Some features also felt incomplete, so we decided that in this cycle, we'd concentrate on finishing off what was there in 4.4.

See related news: KDE 4.5 release ups stability, adds Webkit browser |

That meant that we'd take a step back, in some cases let a cool new project linger for a while and look at the areas that users would appreciate most when being improved.

For me personally, that meant putting many hours into the Plasma network management widget, which we've managed to release in a first stable version along with 4.5.0.

What are the "big ticket" items that will make most difference to users?

The biggest visible improvement for the user is probably the cleanup of the notification area. Notifications are now less intrusive, can be queued and won't overflow the screen anymore.

Jobs are now being tracked in the system tray. This worked already in previous releases, but I'd say it's now ready for prime time. This and other changes make for less disturbance while working and result in a more ergonomic desktop that lets you be productive above all.

The big difference in this release is really overall stability, performance and completeness. Users of 4.4 will notice that in many details 4.5 is just more pleasant to use. It's mainly all the little things that matter here.

A lot of people complained about KDE 4.x not having the feature parity of the 3.x series, how far is this addressed in the 4.5 SC release?

The 4.5 release is at least on par, feature-wise, with 3.5, but so was 4.4 actually. When comparing these two releases closely, you'll notice many things that were not possible in 3.x, which are now possible in 4.4.

We did also replicate the vast majority of features that were in 3.5, but often in a smarter way – reducing clutter in the user interface, and making the feature more obvious and intuitively usable – for example by employing hover interfaces, by putting features in context of the object they're applied to, and by restructuring configuration.

Recently, someone said the innovation in KDE has slowed with each 4.x release. How does KDE react to that claim and what kind of innovation is still to come?

Well, that's a necessary thing in my opinion. We needed to concentrate on polishing things, and that is quite a lot of work. So naturally, new stuff goes onto the backburner for a bit.

I don't share the feeling that innovation has slowed down though, we're still busy with a number of pretty big items, often functionality that cannot be introduced in one single release, as it needs infrastructure to catch up. Let me highlight two very interesting things we have in the pipeline:

The first is activities and context-awareness. In 4.5.0 we deliver a new activity manager. An activity is basically a desktop setup that you can customize for a certain task. This way, you can add widgets to your desktop that support what you're working on right now. Imagine a journalist writing an article. The desktop could hold post-it widgets with notes specific to that article, or picture frames with illustrations and other images. For each article you work on, you use your desktop (or dashboard) as a scratchpad, when you work on another article (or something entirely different), you switch to its activity.

That's the first visible part of the context-awareness we're introducing in KDE Plasma. In the background, this is backed by the semantic desktop introduced into KDE by the Nepomuk project. Activities are stored semantically, so the context information (what am I doing?, where am I?, etc.) is accessible from all applications, and applications can react to changes in context. This feature will be further enhanced and used in the coming releases, but the basics take their entry with 4.5.0

The second is groupware. Before the end of 2010, we'll see the first stable release of the Kontact groupware suite based on the Akonadi cache. Akonadi centralizes access, retrieval and caching of all kinds of groupware information from different sources and offers this information through a unified API to applications. In 4.4.0, we shipped the first application making use of Akonadi, KAddressBook. The result of Akonadi will be that resources and information can be shared across applications, and that it becomes much easier for applications and the workspaces to do something useful with this information.

Interestingly, Akonadi strongly ties in with the semantic desktop, taking care of indexing e-mails for faster search and of linking items such as emails to contacts, to give one popular example.

Plasma is also outgrowing the desktop. With 4.4.0, we released a workspace optimized for use on netbooks. Plasma Netbook has further matured in 4.5.0.

What are some of the plans for the 4.6 release due early next year?

Again, more stability and performance, especially in the graphics and window management department, deeper integration of personal data through Akonadi and more context-awareness through activities are the major things I can think of right now. In a community as large as KDE, there will be surprises though, and I'm sure we'll see some very nice new things that are not on the horizon yet in 4.6.0…

Rodney Gedda is Editor of TechWorld Australia. Follow Rodney on Twitter at @rodneygedda. Rodney's e-mail address is rodney_gedda@idg.com.au. Follow TechWorld Australia on Twitter at @Techworld_AU.

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