Saturday, January 28, 2012

A look at KDE SC 4.8

Yes, shortly after announcing the upcoming features in KDE SC 4.8, it's live!!... Using Kubuntu backports I decided to give it a try and here's a brief look at what I found. Note that this is not a review of KDE SC 4.8, just a preview of what's in store once distros properly implement it using stable chanels.

NOTE: My Kubuntu desktop is highly customized to my needs/taste, so not everything you see here is representative of SC 4.8. On a different note, this is just a very brief summary, certainly not exhaustively covering all new features.

A SCREENSHOT TOUR

One of the first things that jumps at you is the new set of wallpapers, specially the new default one. Personally, I consider this new wallpaper a step back, even more so considering how good Nuno Pinheiro's Horos was, but I guess this may trigger more interest from other artists to add their two cents come KDE SC 4.9. In any case, a wallpaper is not such a big deal, but nevertheless, the following screenshots will show the different wallpapers added in this release along with some other highlights.


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Unfortunately, the next thing that caught my attention was how hungry Nepomuk had become. As demonstrated on the screenshot below, it consistently ate huge chunks of my CPU power. I thought that could be a result of indexing my inbox (since file indexing was idle), but after hours and a couple reboots, the behavior didn't change. virtuoso-t and nepomukservicestub processes were busy most of the time, and that was obviously having an impact on my machine's performance. Unfortunately, after investigating a bit, I found that Akonadi was the source of the problem. I was happy to get Korganizer to work at last with my Google Calendar (wasn't able to in KDE SC 4.7, no matter which method I used) and because my Plasma calendar was set to show events, Akonadi would start right away after boot and drive Nepomuk nuts. After a while, I disabled the calendar events and things got back to normal, but this is a significant drawback. I assume (rather hope) that these issues will be fixed in the first dot release.


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Another new wallpaper and the new device notifier, which has been ported to QML entirely. Rumour says it already incorporates enhancements that will come to fruition when KDE SC 4.9 is released.


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Don't know if there are improvements in the calendar plasma widget, but it looks better than it did in SC 4.7.


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I guess none of the recent changes to the Network Manager interface made it to KDE SC 4.8, which is a shame. In fact, those buttons look kind of funny!


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Dolphin and its animated icons have got lots of attention as we were getting closer to this release. Personally, I am not too satisfied with the new outfit. Those icons look way too close to each other.


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Just like the device notifier, the application switcher has been ported to QML and now supports theming. For now, there are just a few available, and while the whole thing looks a bit premature, I think we will see it bloom in all its beauty come SC 4.9.


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Here's an example of my favorite theme, the huge icons one (have I mentioned I absolutely LOVE Oxygen icons?).


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Among other things, certain applications were updated to more recent versions, like Amarok.


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Gwenview is my favorite Linux image viewer/manager and this latest release just makes it better. Transitions and animations make image displaying a joy, and all the good old features are there. You can read more about Gwenview's new features HERE.


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Okular also incorporates new features in this latest release, which you can read in detail HERE.


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Kate also incorporates new features and improvements, as detailed HERE


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Another very cool thing that makes its debut in KDE SC 4.8 is the concept of activity-specific energy settings. I consider this a great idea!


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If you are of the adventurous kind, go get KDE SC 4.8 now and help stabilize it by reporting bugs (don't expect a fully stable DM this soon after release date). If you love stable stuff, though, I'd suggest waiting until the April releases and get it with your favorite distro. Either way, KDE looks and works better than ever!

Friday, January 20, 2012

KDE SC 4.8 Upcoming Features

Later this month we will see the release of the KDE SC 4.8 series, another one of the typical six-month cycles that KDE relentlesly goes through. As we have seen since SC 4.4, probably the first truly stable and fast release cycle since KDE SC 4.x series started, KDE SC 4.8 will continue the tradition of building over the previous release cycle strengths. Given how much has happened in the last six months, I thought it was a good idea to review what's coming in the next few months. Most people will probably be aware of the highlights, but I think there is a lot of work that may have gone unnoticed that we should keep an eye on.

SEMANTIC DESKTOP

KDE SC 4.7 series witnessed massive improvements in the Semantic Desktop. Led by Sebastian Trueg, efforts concentrated on improving stability through bug fixing, but also on improving performance, optimizing resource use, as well as including some cool features. As a result, KDE SC 4.8 will be the first release with a powerful, stable and fully functional Semantic Desktop.

KMIX REDESIGNED

Kmix will receive a much needed facelift in KDE SC 4.8. New features and a better looking outfit are part of what users will enjoy. More details HERE.

QML, QTQUICK AND PLASMA

From the official KDE SC 4.8 Beta announcement:

"Qt Quick is making its way into the Plasma Workspaces. The new Plasma Components provide a standardized API implementation of widgets with native Plasma Look and Feel. The device notifier widget has been ported using these components and is now written in pure QML. KWin's window switcher is now also QML-based, paving the way for newly designed window switchers."

DOLPHIN 2.0

The changes to Dolphin, the default KDE file manager, are among the highlights in this release. I have already covered them in a couple of articles, which you can read HERE and HERE.

GWENVIEW

Just like Dolphin 2.0 will meet icon animations, Gwenview will get some animations and transitions of its own. The following video demonstrates both Gwenview's and Dolphin's. This video also demonstrates the new QML based device notifier.



KSECRETSERVICE

A password storage service, KSecretService will enhance the integration of non-KDE apps inside the KDE Desktop, as well as KDE apps outside of KDE.

DESKTOP EFFECTS

We did see lots of improvement in this area thanks to Martin Gräßlin's efforts, specially after KDE SC 4.7.2. Martin did mention in an ARTICLE of his back then that things would get even better in SC 4.8: "But the real optimization by only calling the active effects will hit only 4.8".

This is cool news because the improvement in Kwin effects was very significant during SC 4.7, so even smoother effects in KDE SC 4.8 surely is exciting news.

KATE

Probably my favorite text editor (along Geany, but certainly a favorite in KDE) out there, Kate is in for some more changes and improvements. More details HERE.

NEW FONT: OXYGEN

I recently POSTED about this, and while it is not necessarily an SC 4.8 feature, it is likely that we will see the final release of Oxygen fonts during this release cycle.

NEW WALLPAPERS

After a few releases enjoying the awesome work of Nuno Pinheiro in the wallpaper department, it seems it is time for a change. Nuno himself conducted a contest to gather some new talent and eventually, the new official wallpapers for KDE SC 4.8. I have seen some information out there about the winners, but I am not 100% sure it is legitimate, so we will have to wait and see what the default wallpapers look like this time around.

POWER MANAGEMENT AND ACTIVITIES

A very interesting set of new features will land in power management land come this new release. I am particularly interested in isolated power management settings for each activity, something that I truly think adds value to the whole activity concept. Here's a video explaining more on the subject:



POWER INHIBITION

Dario Freddi posted the following in PlanetKDE:

"I wanted to blog about some improvements towards flawless power management inhibition. A GCI student, George Stephanos, took the task of testing and fixing inhibition in 4.8: the results were two bugs fixed, and dragon player being able to successfully prevent any power management action. But it does not stop here: yesterday I also added inhibition support in Okular – if you are giving a presentation with it, you don’t have to worry about your screen or your system going down anymore."

CALLIGRA 2.4

Not necessarily part of KDE SC 4.8, but it is during this release cycle that KDE users will be able to enjoy the final release of Calligra 2.4, a very interesting and promising take on KOffice that already works pretty well in its Beta state.

OVERALL IMPROVEMENTS

As usual, we can expect stability and performance improvements to come along with KDE SC 4.8. Aaron Seigo recently posted about bug fixing sessions that had gone particularly well, which made him feel very positive about this upcoming release stability. Having said so, I would recommend waiting until the usual April releases, which should allow enough time for distro builders to pack SC 4.8.1, 4.8.2, or even 4.8.3 along... unless you want to help bug fixing, that is!

So there you have it, I am sure I am missing things here and there, but even so, this short list should make it clear that there is plenty to be excited about as we sail into KDE SC 4.8 waters!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Try the new Oxygen Fonts!

Yup, KDE's brand new font set, unsurprisingly deemed Oxygen, is now ready for testing. Simply go HERE and download the Oxygen ttf file (recommend the Oxygen Regular 0.1 test release).

To install it, simply go to KDE System Settings > System Administration > Font Installer. The installation of the ttf file is pretty straight forward. You can see how it looks in its current state in my Kubuntu installation right below:



Give it a go and report issues/feedback!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Relearning KDE

KDE SC is great in many, many ways, but I have found that some of those ways are anything but obvious. Nothing specific to KDE, though, as it happens with all kinds of software and devices nowadays. Users want the quick route to do their thing, which most often results in them using a tiny portion of the application or device functionality... After all, who reads a darn manual, right?

I personally think most devices and applications are overpowered these days (they offer way more than the average Joe or Jane could ever dream of), so it is perfectly fine to stick to those functionalities that make a difference. Having said so, I found that such "lazy" approach often makes me miss things that I do care about, pieces of functionality that I would love to use if I knew were there, and that is very much the case with KDE. Indeed, the K Desktop provides lots of power, sometimes more than I need myself, so I used to stick to the basics to get the job done. In doing so, I overlooked tons of great stuff I do use now, I simply didn't know better!

Guilty of making me learn some interesting KDE SC features is MARTY'S TYPEPAD, a very interesting blog which recently published a series of articles entitled: The Great Features of KDE Workspaces and Applications. These great articles go over a number of basic KDE features that, while basic, are still sometimes anything but obvious, and could easily be missed by the standard user (even advanced users).

Marty has completed five interesting articles so far and I very much encourage reading all of them, regardless of whether you use KDE or not. KDE users may find something they didn't know already, thus improving the way they work. Non KDE users may find reasons to give it a try... or a second chance.

Article 5 - GWENVIEW image viewer

Article 4 - KIO resource provider

Article 3 - KSNAPSHOT screenshot tool

Article 2 - KLIPPER clipboard manager

Article 1 - DOLPHIN file manager

Read on and relearn your KDE. Enjoy!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Minor Kubuntu issues and their workarounds

I have already mentioned several times that I love Kubuntu and how much it progressed in the last couple years. In my opinion, it went from being a weak KDE distro not that long ago, to becoming a solid contester to lead the way on KDE land today. Take Kubuntu 11.10, an awesome release which, at last, incorporates the best from Ubuntu. An incredibly cool installation wizard, plenty of applications and dedicated PPAs or great support from a huge and ever growing community are features that Kubuntu users could already enjoy, but the latest implementation of Muon and its social features (application ratings, comments, etc.), make Kubuntu even more interesting.

Nothing is perfect, though, so during my time using Oneiric Ocelot I have stumbled with a number of issues that, while minor, can get in the way of a great user experience. Let's look at them and how I found ways around them.

MUTED SOUND WHEN SESSION STARTS

I know some other people have experienced this one as well. The idea is that one starts Kubuntu, logs in and as the session starts, Kmix volume is muted. I tried some of the fixes that I found out there, but none would help.

Trying to find what was causing the problem, I was messing around with Kmix settings and I found one parameter that I thought could be related to this problem.



When I had the problem, the option "Restore volumes on login" was ticked, so fixing it was as easy as unticking it.

SHUT DOWN AND RESTART BUTTONS DO NOTHING

Not exactly sure if this problem came after an minor KDE upgrade, but somehow the reboot and shutdown buttons from the main menu stopped working. I did a bit of research and found a workaround that fixed it for me. From a terminal window, type the following commands:

cd /etc/kde4/kdm

sudo kate kdmrc


Once the file is loaded, find the [Shutdown] section and complete the following changes on the HaltCmd and RebootCmd parameters:

HaltCmd=/sbin/shutdown -h -P now

RebootCmd=/sbin/shutdown -r now


Save your work and reboot.

REDUCE AMAROK MEMORY HUNGER

Amarok can do lots of things very well, but it is clearly not the lightest of audio players. This is obviously not an issue specific to Kubuntu, but since Amarok comes as its default audio player, it is good for Kubuntu users to ensure it doesn't bite more resources than it should.



The default Amarok settings have many plugins and services enabled that may or may not be useful for end users. In my case, a vast majority of them are not, for I am solely interested in playing my local collection. If this is your case as well, there are lots of resource-eating options you can live without. Simply untick them as I did in the screenshot above, then restart Amarok.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

More on Dolphin 2.0

You may have noticed that I have not published any review for a while now. The reason for that is that I am having lots of issues with some of the latest releases. Some of them based on Kernel 3.1 don't seem to get along well with some of my hardware (screen flickering problems). Some others, such as Fedora and its forks, present issues with the default partitioning, for which my BIOSes are not ready. Unfortunately, even after enforcing DOS partition tables, I still get Anaconda crashes (consistent on all Fedora spins, as well as Kororaa). If that was not enough, I keep having issues with LiveUSBs for the likes of Chakra and OpenSUSE, but I hope that shall be solved soon as I have an external optical drive on the way!.

While I try to fix those issues, I keep reading Linux stuff all over the place and today I found an update I found interesting. Peter Penz, the main man behind KDE Dolphin published another update today, showing screenshots for the new grouping feature that will be part of Dolphin 2.0. I think the results are very interesting and this new feature certainly looks helpful, but I agree with Pete that there is room for visual improvement.

On a different note, Pete also discusses another feature that will make it to Dolphin 2.1, one which some old Dolphin fans will probably be missing: "The showing of any arbitrary meta-data of a file in the views."

Please visit Pete's own blog to get further information and see the screenshots from this ARTICLE.