New KDE to arrive with Halloween eye candy

The new Linux desktop software promises to treat users with stylish icons, themes and multimedia, as well as a pack of new tricks

The KDE League is preparing to release the first major upgrade to its Linux desktop software since last spring, including a lot of eye candy and a raft of other tweaks and improvements.

The software is one of the two best known graphical user interfaces for Linux, the other being Gnome. Linux is an open source operating system that is generally used on servers, but is being pushed for desktop use by companies as diverse as IBM and consumer Linux maker

KDE 3.1 is due at the beginning of November, and the visual difference from its predecessor -- version 3.0 -- will be immediately obvious, the group hopes. The software will ship with an icon set called Crystal and a new theme called Keramik, both of which have hints of Apple's Aqua interface in Mac OS X and Microsoft's Windows XP styling. It will use a new theme manager and windows will have drop-shadows to give the desktop a three-dimensional look.

Folder icons in the file manager will indicate a folder's contents. The file manager will display thumbnails of videos and will be able to generate and search metadata about files, such as file types.

Another major new feature is tabbed browsing for KDE's Web browser, Konqueror. The feature made its debut in the open source Mozilla browser, sponsored by Netscape Communications, and has long been in demand from KDE users, according to KDE developer David Faure. It allows users to open several Web pages in a single browser window. Konqueror also now has an integrated download manager.

The other changes consist of numerous application improvements and bug-fixes, Faure explained. "This is not a huge architectural change, it's more like a lot of small things. There are many small goodies in many applications," he said.

He added that a new bug-fixing system has reduced the number of known bugs from 5,000 to 3,500: "We are trying to have something as stable and usable as possible."

KMail, the integrated email and organiser program, now supports secure protocols S/MIME, PGP/MIME and X.509v3. KOrganizer, a calendar and scheduling application, has a plugin for connecting to Microsoft's Exchange 2000 servers, and KAddressbook can fetch contact information from LDAP servers and import industry-standard vCards.

A further boost to organiser functions will come in version 3.2 with the release of a groupware system called Kroupware, integrating the major KDE information management applications.

Another upcoming enhancement in 3.2 will be a new desktop sharing framework that will allow the same desktop to be used on multiple machines. The system, compatible with the Virtual Network Computing (VNC) standard, is included in version 3.1 but as yet is only suitable for remote technical support.

The release improves the software's speed, a major complaint amongst Linux users, who have the option of reverting to a bare-bones graphical user interface for maximum performance. But performance enhancements are likely to be more of a focus with version 3.2, Faure said. "With this release, we wanted to put out something that we know is stable. It's better to work on speed after the 3.1 release is out."

He said that the group is waiting on an improved compiler and is also streamlining the software, which is a slow process.

The new software arrives on the heels of Red Hat Linux 8.0, which launched a new and controversial strategy for minimising the differences between KDE and Gnome. Red Hat, by far the largest Linux distributor, is using an interface theme called Bluecurve that makes both desktop systems function similarly.

While the two interfaces perform roughly the same function, they look very different and are managed differently. Each one includes not only basic components such as icons and scroll bars but also higher-level Web browsers, file managers, email software and office software. Bluecurve airbrushes out some differences between KDE and Gnome, altering icons and menu selections KDE or Gnome users would otherwise see and making them look the same.

While the approach has benefits for application developers, not all are happy, including KDE programmer Bernhard "bero" Rosenkraenzer, who recently quit Red Hat in part because of how the company treated KDE. Although Rosenkraenzer said in an email that he agrees with Red Hat's choice to make KDE and Gnome look the same, he told developers "I don't want to work on crippling KDE" while explaining why he left Red Hat.

CNET's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.

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