If you like open source software, you end up doing that someday sooner or later – you scratch your itch and make a contribution. That’s how it rolls. Well unless you’re sponsored to do so, of course.
I did the same for KDE, having had an on/off relationship with it since 3.x, and finally settling onto 4.3, I managed to get into writing code for it. Although not a fan of the entire desktop, it is what I use on a daily basis and I do feel the lack of a few things sometimes. There’s already too much to customize; and am sure I don’t know the half of it yet.
I read a lot of comic books in my free time, on the PC. While I do have my collections named and arranged neatly, it has always been hard finding a particular file since there were no previews of its covers on KDE 4. Since Okular, KDE’s magnificent all-in-one document reader, reads the files (.cbr, .cbz type) why not also preview it. That became my itch, my want. And I scratched it with copious amounts of help provided by its development community. However, I’d be glad if some artist came along and gave the format an Oxygen-style icon as well – since it still lacks one.
In KDE 4.4, you will have comic book previews which would show you the comic book covers in its file manager’s preview mode. This should make your life easier. However, for .cbr thumbnails to work, you’d need the non-free version of unrar cause the free ones don’t do version 3+ files well. It isn’t a hard dependency, and .cbz ZIP files would work just fine without unrar. I’d also written support for .cbt, but it’d have to wait until KDE 4.5 cause of their ‘feature freeze’.
Since I made it this far, I also fixed certain minor annoyances – some reported by other people as well. A small list:
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.
KDE 4.4 Desktop
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.
Folder View Activity
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..
Activities Mouse Plugin
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.
Search and Launch Containment
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.
Newspaper Activities - Notice the scrollbar on the right.
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.
KDE 4.3 - Old Title-bars
KDE 4.4 - New Title-bars
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 certainstandards and not be like how most applications on Windows are.
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.
Remote Widget Policies
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.
Auto-hide System Tray Apps with more control
Plasma Widgets in System Tray
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.
Device Actions Configuration
Device Notifier with Actions
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!
I'm Harsh J Chouraria, although on most places over the internet its 'QwertyManiac', a technology enthusiast, itch scratching KDE core developer, mostly hobbyist programmer and an ardent comic-book reader.
I live down south in India. I hold a bachelor degree in Information Technology from Anna University. More...