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.comment: A Winding Path to KDE3 - page 2

Desktop Delights

  • February 6, 2002
  • By Dennis E. Powell

It had been several weeks since last I compiled the KDE3 source, and at that time it was unpromising in a number of ways. Chief among them was that none of my configuration files, achieved through months of tuning here and there, little or none of it documented, survived the switch. So I'd build KDE3, poke around in it a little, be cranky over the fact that typeface handling -- spacing, anti-aliasing -- was broken, discover some other things I didn't like, and return to KDE-2.2.1.

This time was different.

Following the splash screen (whose animated icons are for some reason silhouettes on my machine), I was treated to a desktop that looked exactly like my KDE-2.2.1 desktop. Now, if my desktop were utterly stock KDE, this would be no great achievement. But for a desktop background I use XPlanet set up do do the phases of the moon in near-realtime, updating hourly. I keep no icons at all on the desktop, relying solely on Kicker, which I have set to autohide. (It had always annoyed me a little that Kicker left a couple-pixel-wide line at the bottom of the screen when autohidden, but in KDE3 this is no longer the case -- when it autohides, it hides completely.) When I looked at Kicker, there were no broken-link icons, though there were a couple of new docked applets. One was the KDE laptop daemon, which is superfluous on a desktop machine. The other was a little U.S. flag with "U.S." superimposed over it. I killed both of these, because I don't change charsets and, again, this was not a laptop machine. I also killed, with the usual difficulty, the KOrganizer alarm daemon. I would be far more inclined to use KOrganizer if it didn't make it so troublesome to shut it down entirely when one is done with it. Others, I suppose, don't mind this; I try to avoid having running on my machine anything that I don't use, and I don't use the KOrganizer alarms.

I then started looking at things that I remembered as having been broken earlier. The first was to click the Opera link on Kicker. I use the dynamically compiled Opera, and I had changed versions of Qt, so I knew that this would not work. Only thing is, it did work. Well, mostly -- typeface anti-aliasing was gone, and once you've come to know and love anti-aliasing, its absence feels like burlap underwear. But the fact that it ran at all was a marvel.

The conventional estimation of KDE3 is that it is nothing more than KDE-2.2.x ported to Qt-3.x, and to some extent this is true. But the developers have taken advantage (and in some cases written around) improvements (and changes that could not be described as unqualified improvements) in the new Qt.

Konqueror continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and for eyecandy addicts there are a couple of things that get noticed at once. The alpha blending of hidden files and directories is the default, and it's pretty. And now there are animated folder icons. OS/2 survivors will remember these, though in that operating system the opened-folder icon appeared only when the directory was actually opened. In Konqueror, when the mouse is over the icon, the open-folder icon appears. This makes as much sense as anything else, in that if the directory were actually opened you'd be looking at its contents. If, however, you have Konqueror set to open a separate window for each directory you open, it makes more sense -- the open-file icon remains open until you close the window containing the directory's contents. Not necessary, certainly, but cute, and conceivably useful, and in any case something that imparts a sense of polish.

Some dialogs have changed in the jump to KDE3; one example is the completely different file dialog, which now lists general locations down the left, and which no longer has both horizontal and vertical scrollbars, the horizontal one having been eliminated. I think I like it better, but overcoming inertia always takes awhile.

Icon support seems far more complete than it has been in earlier versions of KDE, with icons of all sizes and in a multitude of color depths having been provided, and mimetype identification seemingly far better. (If you get the impression that I'm hedging a lot of things here, it's because I am -- I haven't totally wrung out the new version, which would take a lot longer than I've had. I'm giving impressions and discoveries based on a few days' use in the normal course of work.) Additionally, there have been a lot of improvements in the appearance of a number of applications. For example, the message list in KMail now alternates shading from message to message, ledger style, making it easier to keep track of the subject, author, and date as the eye crosses the screen. KNode, the wonderful and under-appreciated KDE newsreader, now has a far more polished rendering of headers. Nice.

New in KDE3 is the requirement, at least in some installations, to configure Qt itself. This is needed, for instance, if you want to use typeface anti-aliasing There is, fortunately, a nice little app -- qtconfig -- that makes this easy; it produces a ~/.qt directory containing a file named qtrc. Oddly, qtconfig appears nowhere in the K Menu structure, so you need to fire it up from a terminal emulator window such as Konsole or from the KDE Command Line applet (alt-f2). I think it would be good -- and save a frequently asked question or two -- if it were added to the KDE Control Center and therefore the K Menu; though Qt is not part of KDE, you'll not see KDE without Qt.

Though I've heard reports from others that aren't as rosy, KDE has always been remarkably stable on any machine on which I've run it, and the KDE3 beta2 is no different. My experience is that it is now more than ready for users to build and take through its paces. Unfortunately, to do so using the latest code requires use of CVS or CVSUP, in that there are no beta2 binaries on the KDE ftp site, though I expect that this will change when there is a full-fledged release candidate.

Bear in mind, though, that KDE3 beta2 is not a release version. There are still some annoyances.

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