Correct us if we’re wrong, but isn’t a point release supposed to be little more than a version with bug fixes and hardly any new features? Apparently, the KDE devs were so distracted as they continue to push the envelope of the modern desktop metaphor, that they forgot they were working on a point release, KDE 4.8 is stuffed to the brim with new features, new tools, bug fixes and performance improvements.
Following the release of KDE 4.7 there were four stabilisation updates that fixed bugs and improved the performance and stability of key KDE components, such as Kontact and Nepomuk.
The highlight of the previous KDE release was the improvements to Plasma Workspaces to make it suitable for portable and touchscreen devices. The KDE developers followed that up with the release of the Plasma Active interface for such devices in October, followed by an updated release in December.
The KDE 4,8 release continues to improve the touchscreen experience, with bug fixes and performance tweaks to the on-screen keyboard. Other less visible updates, tweaks and bug fixes to Plasma Workspaces and the development platform show up in the taskbar and docks, with nicer context menus and improved support for launchers.
The KDE guys have been working on integrating QtQuick (Qt’s Ul design language) with KDE software. It’s finally making its way into Plasma Workspaces with this release, starting with the splash screen – which is implemented using QtQuick.
The first Plasma Desktop widget that switches to QtQuick, and is written purely in QML, Is the device notifier widget. It might not look all that different to the desktop user, but it’s more touch-friendly and easier to maintain for the developers.
Another tool that’s written in QML, and has been improved, is the Alt-FTab window switcher. It now has six possible layouts and is suitable for systems that don’t use desktop effects.
Also, as usual, KDE’s window manager, Kwin, received a lot of attention from the developers. There’s significant improvement in its performance, especially on machines with less resources, thanks to tweaks that allow it to process events on a per-window basis. In a blog post, the developers explained that due to Kwin’s initial design it was wasting a lot of resources redrawing an empty virtual desktop just because you were playing a video on another virtual desktop. The new occlusion culling tweaks will avoid such wastage.
Another notorious resource hogger – Kwin’s infamous blur effect – has been re-engineered for better performance. Again, you’d really notice the performance improvements on machines at the lower end of the spectrum.
In addition to the changes behind the scenes, there are some useful ones to the Ul as well. For one, the power management configuration has been overhauled completely. The interface has been simplified for first-time users, yet retains all its flexibility for the advanced users.
Instead of different power profiles, all power management settings are grouped under three presets: On AC Power, On Battery and On Low Battery. Global settings, such as those that determine the behaviour of other profiles – for example the battery levels, have been moved and are now under Advanced Settings.
One feature that we really like is the ability to define power configure settings based on different Plasma activities. You can choose to either use the default power settings for all activities, or define a separate power profile for every activity. Advanced users can override some settings selectively from the current profile, instead of creating a new profile altogether, by defining a special behaviour in an activity.
We also find the new battery applet really useful, enabling you to temporarily disable power management features, such as during a presentation or while watching a movie. Another new app for better user experience is the KSecretService password storage.
This tool shares passwords stored within KDE through a Freedesktop-compliant API with other password systems. Thanks to this feature, you don’t have to manage different password storage systems when using non-KDE applications, and it also aids in integrating KDE apps into other desktops as well.
The KDE suite of apps has also been polished. KDE’s file manager – Dolphin -gets bumped to v2, and also gets a face lift. True to its developers’ claims, its new display engine performs faster with slow disks, and when loading the contents of a large directory. On the eye-candy side of things, the new animated transitions are pretty slick and very attractive, and more importantly they don’t seem to tax the system.
One important file manager feature for us, that comes in handy when dealing with large folders with lots of files of different types, is the grouping. With the new Dolphin, we can now arrange files into groups in all view modes.
The KDE PIM suite, which got a major overhaul in the 4.7 release, has been further polished in 4.8.0, with lots of bug fixes and performance improvements to crucial apps such as KMail.
The Kate text editor has a host of new features, such as a new Search & Replace plugin, indicators for new lines and Improvements to the vi mode.
If you work with images, as we do, you’ll appreciate the improvements to the Gwenview image viewer. It now lets you scroll and zoom in to images without the scroll bars, and lets you use the arrow keys to navigate images.
We also like the improved behaviour of the Crop tool, which improves usability. Gwenviewcan also play back videos, and now has a transparent OSD to control them. While we didn’t have any problems, some people complain that their videos aren’t always played back in the same aspect ratio as they were recorded.
Finally Marble-the virtual globe and world atlas – is now integrated with Plasma’s KRunner, so you can access it directly by entering co-ordinates in the Plasma search bar
By the time you read this, KDE 4.8 will be available in the repos of your favourite distro. We’ve cried ourselves hoarse repeating this like a broken record, but we’ll say It one more time: KDE is probably the best, most feature-rich and usable desktop out there, and this release serves only to underline our position.
KDE 4.8 Screenshots
|Price||Free under GPL|
|Ease of use||8/10|
|More features than you’d expect from a point release. Grab it as soon as it ships with your favourite distro.|