The KDE software compilation is a complete desktop experience that runs on top of Unix-like operating systems, including Linux distributions. KDE consists of Plasma Workspaces (the desktop environment), KDE Applications, and KDE Platform. Version 4.7.0 of KDE introduces some new features, more stability, and a glimpse of some future innovations. This week, I installed KDE 4.7 and decided to share my first impressions and overall verdict on this latest iteration.
Smooth as Plasma
When KDE 4 was first released, Plasma was a hot mess. Unfortunately, KDE lost some users because of its radical differences with KDE 3.5 and its lack of stability. Future releases have become more stable and very reliable, and it is a shame that those users who left may not be willing to give it another try.
KDE 4.7 truly works out of the box without any stability issues that I can perceive. Activity management has become more user-friendly and central to the overall desktop experience. With it, users can have multiple working and/or entertainment environments, each tailored to specific needs. The activity manager is now more easily accessible for quick activity management.
Beyond stability, however, there is not much to report regarding Plasma. It has clearly matured, and new features at this point do not really seem necessary. A few of the new features, such as an updated network manager applet and the addition of breadcrumbs to the kickoff menu are nice but not groundbreaking. Plasma works and looks great, and that is really all that matters.
Oxygen Icon Theme
One of the major visual changes in 4.7 is a new Oxygen icon theme. For the most part, the icons look the same, but the folder icons have changed. They are darker and have a dark blue solid line across the lower half. While the change is interesting, it does not really do anything to make the icons look better. For that reason, I question what the intentions were behind it, as it does not really seem to be a necessary or innovative change.
Dolphin File Manager
One of the things I rarely needed in Dolphin was the menu. In most KDE apps, you can press CTRL+M to hide the menu, which is what I always did in Dolphin. Now, Dolphin comes this way by default and looks much better for it.
Another improvement in Dolphin is the search interface. It is much cleaner and feels better integrated into the file browser. It appears at the top of the window, and when you search for files, the results display in the normal file management window below it with the file icon, name, and path to the file.
I do not use Kontact, as my need for a PIM is pretty much limited to email. Therefore, I use the standalone KMail application. KDE 4.7 introduces a new KMail version that is integrated with Akonadi resource management. While this should make it faster and more stable, I experienced some problems.
The biggest of those problems is pretty much a deal breaker. When I attempted to send mail, KMail did nothing: no error, no notification, and no sending. After deleting my SMTP account and trying variations, I went searching for bug reports and found that there is a problem with the Akonadi integration. After a manual workaround in a configuration file, I got it to work, but that is completely unacceptable for a stable release.
Other changes to KDE applications include image comparison in Gwenview and facial recognition in Digikam. Unfortunately, I was not able to get the Gwenview feature to work.. Nevertheless, Digikam and Gwenview both are excellent image viewing and photo management applications, as this is one area KDE shines brightly.
One of the biggest surprise features of KDE 4.7 is KDE-Telepathy. According to server hosting experts at 34SP.com, this release is only a technical preview that you can install along with KDE 4.7, but I was pleasantly surprised. With its plasma presence widget, it integrates communications (like yahoo messenger), voice chat (like Google talk), and social networking (like Facebook) all nicely into the KDE plasma interface. It has a long way to go, like adding support for receiving Google Voice calls and making the contact list more usable, but it is stable and pretty awesome. I am not sure how this will affect Kopete, whether it is a replacement, something that will merge with it, or an additional option, but it looks great.
This release of KDE is the third in a line of stability-oriented releases. It focuses mainly on polishing what already works, and that is making KDE 4 the best desktop environment on the planet. While the KMail issue was disappointing, everything else was satisfying and reaffirms what I already knew and loved about KDE: its beauty and functionality.