KDE 4.4 SC Released

The KDE 4.4 Software Compilation was released at the beginning of this week.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

The KDE 4.4 Software Compilation was released at the beginning of this week. It will take a little time for this to filter down into the popular Linux distributions, of course, but I have been waiting anxiously to see how the KDE Netbook desktop develops. The easiest place I could think of to pick up a current snapshot of the KDE Netbook desktop was the Kubuntu daily build. I should have suspected that something unusual was going on, because when I went to the download page it was late on 10 Feb, and the latest "daily build" was from early on the 9th. I suspect that they have stopped making daily builds while they integrate the KDE 4.4 final release into their distribution. Anyway, I went ahead and downloaded the daily build from the 9th, and installed it on my HP Pavillion dv2-1010ez.

I have to say honestly that I have mixed feelings about how it has developed since since I last looked at it. It is certainly more refined, things are visually more pleasing on the desktop and there have been some changes in the organization. The first screen, called "Search and Launch" looks like this:

KDE Netbook Search and Launch

The most obvious change is the addition of the search box to the basic desktop. More significantly, at least to me, is that the Favorites bar and the menu bar have been moved further apart, and made graphically distinct, which I think will avoid some confusion. I added the Shutdown widget at the bottom of the screen, because I couldn't find Shutdown/Reboot/Logout anywhere in the menus. Grrrr. Have these guys been talking to the Moblin developers, and are starting to believe that the "correct" way to shut down a netbook is by pressing the power button? This was the beginning of my "mixed feelings".

Selecting one of the items on the menu bar, such as "Internet", brings up that menu, and adds a "Back" option to the desktop, like this:

KDE Netbook Search and Launch

Once again, the outline of the menu bar has been removed, so the menu items appear cleanly on the desktop. When the mouse cursor passes over any item, a star is added at the top left corner of that item. Clicking on that star adds the item to the Favorites bar. In a similar way, when the mouse cursor passes over items on the Favorites bar, a minus symbol shows at the top left corner, and clicking that will remove the item from the Favorites bar. This seems a logical and simple system, but I occasionally found it a bit too easy to click and add or remove something when I was actually trying to select it. That seems a bit odd, since the target for this desktop is netbooks, and they generally don't have a whole lot of screen space for large icons, and I often have trouble with precise pointer control when I am using the touchpad.

Clicking on any of the menu items, or the Favorites of course, will start that item. As with the Ubuntu Netbook Remix, everything starts in full-screen mode, which seems to be the "common wisdom" for netbook desktops now (although I don't like it). Changing from a running application back to the desktop, or another application if you have more than one running, is done via the usual "Alt-Tab" task selection.

The other interesting part of the KDE Netbook desktop is the "Page one" display. Click on the center of the top Panel, and the desktop display changes to this:

KDE Netbook Search and Launch

This represents what I call a "Live" desktop, where you can have dynamically updated information displayed. When you have an Internet connection (I did not when I made these screen shots), you can set up news and weather feeds, and presumably other kinds of "social networking" updates. Although similar in concept to the Moblin desktop, I think this one will feel much more comfortable to most people.

In summary, my purpose here is to give a glimpse of how the KDE Netbook desktop has continued to develop. I do NOT recommend that everyone go and download the latest Kubuntu Netbook daily build (or anyone, for that matter), because it is still very much at the "Alpha Release" stage, and I kept running into significant bugs and unfinished areas. I will not be continuing to use it myself, but I will keep an eye out for the next few Alpha/Beta releases.

Overall I still like the KDE Netbook desktop better than the Ubuntu Netbook Remix, which is Gnome-based. I hope that in addition to Kubuntu, some of my other favorite distributions will include the KDE Netbook desktop in their next release.

jw 12/2/2010

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