Sunday, August 15, 2010

REVIEW: KDE SC 4.5.0

The wait is finally over: KDE SC 4.5.0 finally came to my PCLinuxOS 2010 tablet today as part of a distribution upgrade. There are loads of improvements and new features, so I want to run through a very high level review to give readers a hint of what they are in for.

AT A GLANCE

Many of KDE SC 4.5.0 features and improvements are easy to spot. From changes in the Oxygen icon theme to a complete rework of the system tray, many changes are Look&Feel related.


Click on image to enlarge.

The default plasma theme (Air) has seen some subtle changes and refinements. The end result is a more polished look, which is further improved by the new system tray icons. In previous KDE SC reviews, I referred to this area as one that needed an urgent update because its icons and overall looks were dated and not up to par with the rest of the environment. Fortunately, things have been improved, and quite significantly.



One of the most obvious changes is that update in the overall looks, which is mainly led by a new set of icons that I personally love. They look simple, yet modern and refreshing. The system tray settings interface has also been reviewed and improved. Hidden icons are now shown via a pop-up menu, as shown on the image above. Another very welcome enhancement, or perhaps bug fix, is that property menus are no longer behind the panel, regardless of its height.



The Oxygen default icon theme also gets a revamp, and quite a nice one at that. The changes are most visible when using the KickOff menu style, but also look good on the classic menu and all over the desktop environment. Improvements don't stop there, though. Flexibility has been pushed even further and now we can modify Oxygen's widget style and window decorations to the minute detail. Oxygen settings can easily be accessed by typing the following line on krunner:

oxygen-settings

Speaking of krunner, it also got its share of improvements and new features. Among other things, it can be used to handle open applications, contacts and even open windowed widgets.



A set of new wallpapers (one of them was used for the screenshots on this article) also comes along with KDE SC 4.5.0, and I have to say that all twelve desktop backgrounds are beautiful and top quality. Another welcome change makes the wallpaper selector look better and easier to use.


Click on image to enlarge.

Unfortunately, not all visual elements have been improved. As was the case on previous KDE SC versions, the add widgets applet still appears behind the panel, partially covered by it, which is clearly not the way it should be. (EDIT: This problem seems to be related to Compiz being enabled. The problem does not appear when Compiz is off.)


Click on image to enlarge.

System notifications have also received some improvements, specially in terms of Look&Feel. In my opinion, they now look much more polished and better integrated within the KDE desktop. I have to say, though, that Amarok notifications are not yet part of knotify, which I thought would be the default setting under this KDE SC version. (EDIT: Amarok notifications default to its own notification system, but may be set up to use knotify)



PERFORMANCE & FUNCTIONALITY

One of the coolest improvements in KDE SC 4.5.0 comes from the performance department. As soon as the upgrade happens, one needs to reboot the system for all the changes to make effect, and on that first boot one can already tell that everything feels a bit quicker and snappier. Among other things, there have been improvements around common cached elements, such as icons, which now load much faster. This simple detail has a system wide effect that has an impact on menus, widgets, windows, etc.

The KDE control center has undergone a deep make over. Categories have been reorganized, new items added, and the overall feel is that the whole thing makes more sense now.

Both Dolphin and Konqueror also got improvements, along with many other typical KDE applications, such as Gwenview, Kopete or Kinfocenter, to give just a few examples.

INSTALLING KDE SC 4.5.0

Not all distros will offer upgrading to KDE SC 4.5.0 straight away. Fortunately, PCLinuxOS 2010 continues to shine as one of the (if not THE) fastest distros to release stream changes to its users. I know Fedora users got this release on their unstable repositories five or six days ago, but I am not sure if they got it on the standard ones by now.

In any case, the upgrade is simple, but I would recommend using the dist-upgrade apt-get option to ensure you download everything that's required. Simply open a terminal and type the following as root.

apt-get update && apt-get dist-upgrade

Note that upgrading with this option can take a bit longer than the usual update.

NOT TO SPOIL ALL THE FUN...

As I was playing around with KDE SC 4.5.0 and unlocking its secrets, I was feeling like I was going to spoil the fun to others about to start using it, so I decided to keep some details (and screenshots) out of this article.

All I can say is that KDE SC 4.5.0 is by far the most exciting KDE release I have used and that it is a huge step in the right direction. Better looks, bug fixes, better performance and a host of new features make this desktop environment the best it has ever been.

The question is... What are you waiting for?

Thanks to the guys at http://fedoreando.com/ for their great KDE SC 4.5.0 review, it was a great reference!

22 comments:

  1. i switched to gnome.. right now, i prefer stability and easy to use

    but kde is a nice step forward

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  2. Kde 4.5.0 is not Stable... it crashes at every left turn... I am very disappointed in this release... especially since it was focused around stability improvements and less features....

    It seems as if Kde are incapable of making a stable Desktop Environment... I wish they would learn a lesson or two from Gnome.... I love Kde's innovation, looks and features... but non stability is a deal breaker.
    My screencast is located at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xr_MlWnGn4o part1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mseVwYOxic part2

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  3. Thanks for your comments!

    Hmmm... Not sure I agree with those stability comments, specially a few days after the release. KDE SC 4.5.0 is an extremely ambitious step, and as such, had its share of risks. That is the same with every software project, and even more the case when the project is open source, for we all know the community doesn't really provide enough testing resources to make a release rock solid from the get go. As a result, I believe complaining really doesn't help anybody. I recommend you raise your concerns by logging bug reports so the KDE team can fix them.

    Having said all that, I have been using this new release for hours and haven't really found any stability issues yet, it does feel along the same lines as KDE SC 4.4.5 to me (I know that's somewhat impossible, so I will eventually find some problems, which is reasonable).

    In any case, users demanding rock solid stability should, by definition, stay clear of new releases, specially when they are as ambitious and as ground breaking as this one.

    As for GNOME, yes, it is stable, but in my opinion they are just playing it too safe. I prefer KDE's innovation and eventually I think they will pick up most Linux users when GNOME shell becomes the GNOME standard.

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  4. I also can't agree with the first two comments. I've just switched from GNOME (on Ubuntu) to KDE 4.5 (on openSUSE) and don't have any stability problems with it at all. It is as stable as GNOME was, but at the same time having a lot more features and more powerful programs. Not to mention a much more modern look and design. The stability issues related to KDE usually come from two sources: bad graphics drivers (I had problems with current Intel drivers) and distributions packaging KDE badly (had bad experience with Kubuntu). I couldn't be happier with the switch to KDE and I even started to think that if Linux wants to seriously compete with commercial offerings, KDE is currently the only way to go. Unfortunately GNOME 3.0 is developing way to slowly and GNOME Shell for GNOME 3 is a total disaster.

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  5. Although GNOME has delayed its 3.0 release until March next year (at least), I would rather start 'tasting' the software (and report bugs early) than wait for something like Vista to appear!!

    Having said that, I use KDE SC 4.5.0 at work and haven't been fired yet! No crashes. A slight slow-down if all effects are enabled but then those I can turn off with a simple Alt+Shift+F12 combo.

    Cheers.

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  6. To the author, the Add Widgets problem you mentioned is something that I've never seen in any KDE SC install. So, its most likely a config issue, it'll be helpful if you can help the KDE team to find it out :)

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  7. It seems better to bet on KDE > 4.5 than an emerging Gnome 3.0. Now it depends on developers to promote perfection.

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  8. Thanks all for your comments!

    Can others please comment on the add widgets error I am getting? I would find it strange if I was the only one suffering from it, because I have seen it on Fedora, PCLinuxOS, Pardus and OpenSUSE, all tested in several different machines and all through the latest KDE SC 4.3.x and 4.4.x.

    The great thing about KDE is that they release their bug fix versions roughly every month, which guarantees that any potential bugs are fixed quickly.

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  9. By the way, that comment on Amarok notifications was not fully correct. The Amarok notification system defaults to its own, but can manually be set to use knotify.

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  10. I have never had the add widgets problem.

    Also, it would be nice if you posted an update in the main article talking about the Amarok notify configuration, as many people never get to read the comments.

    Great article, by the way!

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  11. Oh great!! (sarcasm)

    I, along with countless of other people I do home tech support for have huge problems with eyesight.
    One of the biggest, if not THE biggest problem, we face is trying to make everything bigger....fonts, icons, panel and taskbars,etc... except for one thing that can NOT be made bigger: the system tray.
    Everything can be made bigger with KDE but that (important) part.
    So when faced with a KDE desktop where everything is geared to MY needs (not those of someone else), there is that system tray which only allows icons to be of one size. Function takes a bask seat to making it 'flow'.
    Thats GNOME talk: 'we know better than you what YOU want;

    So what do they do to the system tray now?
    Do they allow the visually impaired/weak to have bigger icons so they can... you know,,,, SEE the damn things?
    No, they decide to make everything monochrome because after all, some of us could still tell the icons by colour (skype is green, kopete is lightblue). This way, we not only cant see the small icons but we cant even differentiate them from one another.

    I TRULY hope that the theme makers can change the monochrome look on various themes because otherwise, the KDE team has managed to make a very annoying problem even worse.

    Ive given up on them ever making the System Tray more customizable, now all I hope is that the monochrome option is just that, an option that we can change (like the Oxygen windowing that comes by default and that every older person I techsupport hates because.... its too small to see the buttons).
    Otherwise, I might just skip 4.5 altogether because
    GNOME is not an option (I already use Mac at work and dont like it).

    Maybe its also the fact that I really like 4.4 and am in no particular rush.
    THe changes from 0>1>2>3>4 have been smaller and harder to notice so I dont feel that need I did when I went from .1 to .2.


    Sheldon K.

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  12. Only the icons for system components are monochrome.
    (Things like klipper, device manager, kmix, etc)
    The icons for applications are the same as they were in 4.4.
    (Amaraok, skype, kopete, pidgin)

    =====================================
    To the author:
    I'm using PCLinuxOS with KDE 4.5 right now and I've never had a problem with the widget bar, even with 4.4.

    See this screenshot:
    http://img97.imageshack.us/img97/7398/widgetow.jpg

    Maybe you can try creating a new user to see if the problem persists?

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  13. I also do not have the issue with the panel and add widgets dialog overlapping. In 4.3 it was a bit buggy but since 4.4 I haven't had any problems.

    Are you using a different visibility other than 'Always Visible'? I just tried using different visibilities and it seems that your error does occur sometimes depending on the panel visibility and which add widgets button you press(on the desktop, on the panel context menu or the panel cashew).

    Since you keep getting this error, try filing a report. Because it only happens in certain cases, the devs may have missed it.

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  14. @ Sheldon K

    You bring up a good point. Let me try to explain what's going on.

    I know from having muck around the system tray code that, if I understood it correctly, the current fixed icon size is deliberate because icons of the older tray protocol have a fixed - and small - size, so enlarging them any more than they currently are will make them pixelated and ugly. On the other hand the new monochrome theme-based tray icons are actually somewhat steps in the right direction because they are svg-based and can thus be smoothly enlarged to any size. The current state of the systray is a tragic result of the limits of the old icons imposed on the new ones :)

    I know this is no real excuse. I don't know if the maintainer of the system tray knows that such a problem exists for people with poor eyesight (I certainly didn't until I saw your comment and went "ohh.."). I'll bring it up to him and see if something could be done.

    In the meantime, yes those monochromatic icons are theme-specific. So a workaround that should give you back 4.4-like behavior is to use another theme :)

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  15. Thanks for your comments and feedback.

    I find it very weird that I keep getting this error. I made sure the panel settings were on "always visible", but it still happens. In fact, if I click on "Add widgets" from a desktop right click, the add widgets menu is half covered by the panel. However, if I enter the panel properties menu and click on "Add widgets", it is completely covered by the menu. In addition, I have added new user accounts and I can consistently reproduce it on all of them. The only thing I can think of is that I changed the panel height...

    Anyways, I will file a bug to capture this strange behavior.

    Thanks again for your help, guys.

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  16. I installed it on openSuSE 11.3 going from KDE 4.4.4 to KDE 4.5 the 800MB upgrade went smoothly and I have seen absolutely no stability issues.

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  17. The add widgets applet appears behind the panel because you use compiz I think...I have same problem when use compiz, but everything is fine without compiz on any distro, arch, kubuntu, suse, pclos...

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  18. @Punky: That was spot on! I got rid of Compiz and the problem was gone. That is great, because now I can log a comprehensive explanation for this issue.

    Thanks!

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  19. Installed kde 4.5 recently on my pclinuxos and working with out any problem . This is best release i ever come across in terms of responsiveness and look. I never has add widgets & panel issue till now.

    "That was spot on! I got rid of Compiz and the problem was gone. That is great, because now I can log a comprehensive explanation for this issue."

    Please edit your main article so that new readers can benifit from it.

    Oops, perhaps the article was well written.

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  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  21. I installed PCLinuxOS and it was slower than Kubuntu on my PC. I do not know why because I tested both before on another pc via VirtualBox and PCLinuxOS was much faster than Kubuntu.
    The distro that performed best with KDE on my pc was sidux (but not yet available KDE 4.5).
    Sorry for my English.

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  22. I've always wanted to enjoy KDE 4. When 4.0 was released, I immediately installed Fedora's KDE spin, only to have my windowing system crash literally every few minutes. While having Ubuntu or Fedora installed on my main machine, I would test each release of KDE for a week or so, soon having to wipe the partition because of the awful lack of stability.

    I can say, without a doubt, that my machine will stay KDE now. The only complaint I can think of is Kwin, but my laptop's integrated chipset is so underpowered I can't blame them.

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