KDE4 by Andrew Min

KDE4 by Andrew Min


by Andrew Min

I dare anyone to call themselves a bigger fan of KDE than me. Ever since I fired up OpenSuSE 10.2 running KDE 3.5, I’ve been hooked. I always thought it looked the best (in my book, Crystal is much better than Tango and Qt’s widgets are nicer than GTK+’s) and worked the best (a running joke is that Gnome is for people who can only turn on their computer). So it should be come as no surprise that I downloaded KDE 4 the day it came out (and had been counting down the days until then). And despite a few rough edges, KDE 4 certainly enables me to “be free”.

First, it’s a very important thing to note that the current release of KDE 4 is KDE 4.0.0. It actually isn’t really a final release at all. In fact, it could be considered a release candidate, or even a beta. The reasoning for KDE 4 being released in its current state is found at a blog post (https://blog.jospoortvliet.com/2008/01/sweet-follows-sour.html) by Jos Poortvliet, a KDE developer. Basically, what that means for you is that KDE 4 will have bugs. So don’t be suprised if Plasma crashes (it did for me once) or the KDM doesn’t actually work 100% of the time (once it gave me a blank terminal) or Kopete won’t connect to Jabber using SSL out of the box. And remember, by 4.1 (or even 4.0.1), everything should have moderated. So, the obligatory warning: Don’t install KDE 4 on production machines.

What’s new

That’s like asking the difference between Windows 98 and Windows Vista. Everything has been upgraded. Kicker, the old taskbar, has been replaced with Plasma. There’s a new audio backend (Phonon) replacing aRts. Gone is the old Control Center. Instead, you’ll see Kubuntu’s System Settings. The old Crystal icon set (which I love) is gone, replacing it is Oxygen (by the same author). Our dear old KMenu has been replaced by Novell’s Kickoff. Super Karmaba isn’t the main widget engine anymore, that title goes to (again) Plasma. The old silver and blue color scheme has been retired with a new blue and black scheme. And lastly (and most controversially), Konqueror is not the default file manager anymore (though it’s easy to go back), with Dolphin becoming the main file manager.

There’s also a bunch of stuff that didn’t have equivalents in KDE 3.5. KWin (the window manager) now has desktop effects similar to the GTK-oriented Compiz Fusion (video at http://francis.giannaros.org/blog/2007/12/03/kde4-desktop-effects-kwin-composite-video-tour). There’s a new hardware integration framework called Solid. And of course, KDE 4 will (soon) run natively on Windows and Macintosh OS X.


KDE 4.0.0 is relatively easy to install. For Ubuntu (and Kubuntu!) users, just remove all the old KDE 4 packages

kdelibs5 kde4base-data kde4libs-data)


deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/kubuntu-members-kde4/ubuntu gutsy main

to your /etc/apt/sources.list, install the KDE 4 package:


make sure you select kdm instead of kdm-kde4 if it asks as kdm-kde4 caused trouble for me, reboot, and select KDE 4 as your session type. KDE 4 will also most likely ship with the next version of Kubuntu, 8.04 Hardy Heron.

First impressions of the core

As I said before, KDE 4 is BUGGY. There’s no denying it. But you need to remember: it will have bugs. Some even suggest that it should be a beta release or a RC.

Anyway, after installing it (and having trouble with KDM 4), KDE 4 worked like a charm. It only crashed once (I’m pretty sure that was my fault as well), and has some great new applications. Especially the new Krunner (the dialog that pops up on hitting Alt-F2). It’s now a lot more like the Macintosh application launcher QuickSilver, providing suggestions for different programs. I don’t know if it will ever replace my beloved Katapult (it can’t change songs in Amarok), but it’s close. The new start menu is only OK, but I use Katapult (or Krunner) most of the time anyway.

As for the look and feel, KDE 4’s theme is not as great as it was before. The black and blue doesn’t look as good to me as the blue and silver of KDE 3.5 (though I understand why they wanted to change). Oxygen is almost as nice as Crystal (with time, I’ll get used to it). I do however HATE the desktop icons. They’re not icons. They’re widgets! And you can’t drag and drop onto the desktop, make new folders on the desktop, or anything that you used to be able to do.

Speaking of widgets, I love the new Plasma widget engine. SuperKaramba (the old widget engine) was extremely unstable (the comics widget crashed my computer!). But Plasma (in my limited tests) seemed pretty nice. It didn’t have a ton of widgets (though installing extragear-plasma will get you a lot of extra widgets), but the few available were pretty nice. Also, you can put any widget in your taskbar as well, a nice feature.

First impressions of the applications

KOffice KDE4 is a huge improvement over the old KOffice, though I still use OpenOffice.org instead because of its Microsoft Office compatibility. Okular (the new PDF, CHM, and PS reader) is so much better than KPDF (and I love KPDF). Ark (the unzipping program) was less of an improvement, as for some reason drag-‘n’-drop support was lost along the way. I didn’t try out the new Kopete instant messenger (I use Pidgin, despite its GTKness), but I found Konqueror (a file manager/web browser) to be actually less useful than it used to be for file management. Heck, I couldn’t even figure out how to show or hide hidden files! And I refuse to use Dolphin (the new file manager) until it gets tabs.

Where to go from here

If you’re a Kubuntu user dying to get KDE 4, follow the official instructions over at http://kubuntu.org/announcements/kde-4.0.php. If you’re a standard Ubuntu (or a lightweight Xubuntu) user, follow Tombuntu’s instructions over at http://tombuntu.com/index.php/2008/01/14/five-steps-to-install-kde-40-in-ubuntu-710/. Lastly, you’ll want to read the 10 Tips for KDE 4.0 Beginners (http://tombuntu.com/index.php/2008/01/15/ten-tips-for-kde-40-beginners/), also by Tombuntu.