KDE 2.1: A Desktop Aimed at Grownups
A significant upgrade
For a long time, the headline on the KDE organization's home page was, "Is Unix ready for the desktop?"
With today's release of KDE 2.1, KDE's developers are no longer asking questions. Nor are they limiting themselves to the desktop. KDE, they now say, is ready for the enterprise.
Instead of concentrating on features such at automatic upgrades and automatic provision of desktop content from the Internet, the developers of KDE-2.1 concentrated on stability, bug squashing, and improvement of the underlying technology. Additionally, they point to the development tools available such as KDevelop, the IDE that with the this release has been pronounced ready for prime time. (There are also KDE Studio from theKompany.com, and QT Designer, part of current QT distributions. These things, it is reasoned, will be of particular interest to the enterprise, where a way to provide slick front ends to custom applications is seen important, and where IT departments are not especially eager to have users automatically updating their software or pumping content onto their desktops. The tools, KDE developers believe, will also make it easier for independent developers outside of the enterprise to write new applications or port existing ones to the KDE desktop.
Which is not to say that users of KDE-1.x, still shipped with most distributions, or of KDE2 or KDE 2.01 are not being encouraged to upgrade. The new version addresses user complaints in a number of areas.
There is little about KDE 2.1 that will instantly strike existing users as tremendously different, because many of the changes are under the hood. Instead of an instant "wow!," users are more likely to notice more subtle changes. Among them:
- LAN browsing, a TCP/IP equivalent of the Windows "Network Neighborhood."
- Improvements to and consolidation of the Control Center, which has a new Theme Nanager and which now incorporates ksysctrl, what amounts to a hardware browser.
- Improvements to aRts, the KDE audio engine.
- Increased support of Java 1.2 and better.
- New icons, with the standard icon increased from 32x32 to 34x34 and with support now for alpha blending. In addition, Kicker now offers "icon zooming," where icons under the mouse grow larger.
- The return of the external taskbar, something KDE-1.x users have requested.
- Improvements in a number of applications including Konqueror, KMail, KPPP, and other frequently used applications. A full changelog is available here.
Missing from this release is a new version of KOffice, the KDE office suite. While substantial progress has been made in KOffice development -- most notably backporting of some of the features of the upcoming QT-3.0 -- the two are being developed on separate tracks, though KDE developers hope a new, more powerful and stable version of these productivity tools will be available in time for KDE 2.2, expected four months hence.
Also absent is support for font anti-aliasing, though it's not unsupported, either. That function is handled by a combination of XFree-86 and the QT libraries. While font anti-aliasing is not yet an official part of OT, there are patches available that enable it, though it is by no means of industrial strength at present. (Troll Tech developers have been at work incorporating font anti-aliasing, and it may be readily available as early as the QT-2.3 release.)
The upgrade path is fairly smooth, though there are a few potholes that could trip up the unaware. KDE 2.1 requires QT-2.2.3, with the bugfixed 2.2.4 recommended. As is always the case, users are encouraged to back up their ~/.kde directory, containing the desktop's configuration files, before installing KDE 2.1. (A better idea might be to rename that directory and configure KDE 2.1 from scratch, thereby having a chance to locate and exploit the new features, as well as gain new familiarity with the desktop.)
Source tarballs are expected shortly on the KDE site, with binaries in .rpm and .deb packages available as they are prepared by the individual distributions.