KDE 4.4 is scheduled to be on your desktops in a few more months. This post details some of the new and changed things in it.
A lot of visual changes are present in the KDE Desktop. There are changes to Style, Behavior and the Plasma – the one which provides the desktop and widgets to boost your desktop experience.
Desktop activities, a concept introduced in KDE 4.2, has received a ton of improvements. An activity in KDE is simply as the word goes – a separate view for a specific behavior. You have probably used, or heard of the Virtual Desktop concept – in which one can manage their applications with separate views.
Extending that concept, an Activity is a separate view for your group of widgets. Right now you may notice that switching virtual desktops does not change the widgets available on the desktop – this task’s possible if you use Activities.
New features in Activity include Mouse Plug-ins, and two new types of Activities – Search & Launch and Newspaper.
This is a configuration area of any activity that, for now, allows you to configure (mouse) shortcuts for your desktop operations like switching activities, showing the context menu, switching tasks, etc..
Ever since 4.2, there have been two types of activities in KDE, namely Folder View and Desktop (Default). The former shows the desktop area as a traditional one – with icons from a set folder, while the latter is an empty and clean one with only your added widgets. The two new activities – Search & Launch Containment and Newspaper Activity bring about some refreshing changes to the whole Activity concept.
Search and Launch Containment
This is an interesting activity that could replace your need for a panel. It essentially transforms your desktop area into a launcher. There’s a favorites area at the top, followed below by a runner-like search bar and then the Menu groups, which can be double-clicked to open and show all applications contained within. Navigation is simple and animated prettily and bookmarks/favorites can be added by clicking on the star that appears when you hover over an item/application.
I haven’t found a use for this yet, but it seems to automatically align your widgets in a columnar fashion. It’ll be neater after a little more polish – maybe give you that grid aligning feature for widgets if you needed it. I’ll report more on this as the development progresses in the coming months till the 4.4 Final.
In my opinion, the best attraction of the KDE 4 desktop is its Oxygen style. In 4.4, it will be cleaner, have more icons, new animations, fabulous new artwork, and some fine-tuning. You’ll love the amount of advanced customization and simple fine-tuning options Oxygen will give you in KDE 4.4.
The window borders have an improved style than before. The difference can be seen in the screen-shots below as artwork is hard to explain with words. Let’s just say it feels more liquid, and is much more responsive to press actions. Not a change that’d make you care about, but its pleasing and refreshing nevertheless.
Borders are all gone. The Oxygen style does not apply any window borders anymore and instead has added inner and outer glows, which are configurable (colors, spread size, etc.) in System Settings – Appearance. Also changed, are the neat drop shadows, whose colors can also be customized. Once this kicks in, it feels easier to work with non-maximized windows.
A lot of animations have been added to the Oxygen style and what I’ve noticed is that a fade effect is applied to every kind of change in the UI. That means you’ll see smoother label transitions, fading effects while you switch from a tab to another, fading selectors as you scroll through the options in a context menu, and etc.. These also apply to the hovering effects, like the glow that appears when you hover on a tab. At first the thought of irritation in seeing these animations popped into my head but as good as the Oxygen-Project guys are, the default rates of the animations are well above that barrier although not configurable.
Progress-bars also have animations now and a progress, like from 30% to 50% is done with smoother, running progressions than abrupt and instant ones. This change is very welcome by me; I could do with some fancy feedback stuff while an application makes me wait. Using progress-bars must also adhere to certain standards and not be like how most applications on Windows are.
Since I can’t show the new animations with mere screen-shots, here’s a video to watch – by the developer himself.
Under Plasma, there are too many changes and improvements to count. Its perhaps the most concentrated-upon part of KDE. I’ve listed some easily-visible changes like the new Widget Chooser, Remote Widgets, System Tray and the Device Notifier.
The classic Add Widgets… dialog has been replaced with a more wider, flashier chooser. Currently, it does not support removing widgets like the former dialog does, and in behavior and style it is pretty similar to the Search and Launch Containment, which I mentioned earlier. It’s still pretty handy, as it makes listing and scrolling through categories and the widgets under each much easier than when done vertically. What I might be missing is an easier way to see the full name and descriptions of each widget, which was easily displayed in the earlier dialog.
A concept I could not try out, since I have only one terminal. It seemingly lets you share any widget over the network and allows you, or others to use it remotely. Every widget can be asked to enable sharing, and the configuration dialog has a privacy option for it as well.
The System Tray has improved in many ways. Firstly, the Auto Hide feature has gotten way better than the selective thing it was before. It now supports, for each of the registered items, three modes – Hidden, Auto and Always Show. Auto probably hides it after a certain amount of time or inactivity. Second, there’s a new feature that lets you add your widgets to the tray, or at least some of them. This is useful, from what I could make out, if you’d like to hide some of your panel widgets from showing all the time.
The device notifier widget in KDE has received a good amount of new features – called Actions. Its similar to how Windows shows a dialog when you insert a device. Appropriate actions can now be added via System Settings – Advanced – Device Actions and they will show up for each type of devices as you configured. Actions can then be seen while or after mounting the device. There is also an auto-mount configuration coming in KDE 4.4, but that’s a different thing for a different article.
That’s it, under Desktop!
More articles with screen-shots regarding enhancements in File and Window Management, new Application Features under various KDE extensions coming soon. Mostly by the Beta 1 KDE 4.4 release, which is at the beginning of December 2009.
There are also enhancements made for Netbook users but that’s beyond my scope of interest at this point – since I don’t own one.
Oh, and did I mention the amount of bugs fixed? Tons!