Developers of the open-source Linux desktop environment KDE have announced plans to simplify searching for files on the KDE desktop by adding a Google-style search feature.
The next version of KDE, which will either be called 3.4 or 4, and is likely to be released within 18 months, is expected to include the new search feature. Aaron Seigo, a KDE developer, said that developers have already been discussing and writing code for the new search engine at the KDE Community World Summit, which is currently taking place in Ludwigsburg, Germany.
The search engine will be included on the control panel and will build on KDE's current search functionality. "We are planning a Google-like search system for the control panel, although people will still be able to search for files by name," said Seigo. He pointed out that at present it is much easier to find files on the Web than on your own computer.
Seigo said the search tool is expected in the next version of KDE, but that developers couldn't guarantee that it would be completed by then. The developers may beat Microsoft to the punch with their improved search feature, as the software giant has also been discussing plans boost the power of desktop search in Windows.
Improved searching features in Microsoft's plans for the next-generation operating system Longhorn, due in 2007. The plans for Longhorn include a new method of file storage called Windows Future Storage (WinFS).
Microsoft's Web site claims that WinFS will revise the way users can search for files, regardless of which application created the data. A Microsoft spokeswoman said on Wednesday that she could not give an update on how WinFS would work and when it would be available.
The improved search is just one of several planned interface enhancements for KDE. Developers also want to simplify its look and feel.
"We are planning on streamlining KDE. Developers love to build an interface with a million levers and buttons, but it's not easy to use. We want to make the interface more intuitive without limiting power," said Seigo.
Three professional usability experts have joined the KDE project and are helping improve the interface.
Seigo said that open-source desktop software is traditionally not as easy to use as it should be, as developers have not met the needs of less technical users.
"Open source is traditionally written by programmers for programmers," he said.
Seigo did not know how KDE would look in the future, but he hopes the interface will become so intuitive that people will no longer think of it as a user interface.
"I don't know what KDE 4 will look like, but we are hope that people will stop recognising the fact that it is an interface."
But some in the open-source community doubt whether a Linux desktop will ever be able to rival the usability of a Microsoft Windows desktop. Paul Salazar, the European marketing director at Red Hat, said it has chosen to focus on Linux on the server, rather than the desktop, due to the fact that it cannot compete with Microsoft's R&D budget.
"We made a profit of $125m last year and reinvested 20 percent into research. Microsoft invests $7bn a year in research and development. We can't match that," said Salazar.