Recently I downloaded the Kubuntu packages of the new KDE 4.2 beta 2. For those of you who don’t know; KDE is the K Desktop Environment; which includes a window manager (KWin), common desktop applications, its own menu (Kickoff), browser (Konqueror), file manager (dolphin) etc. Basically it is the most popular desktop environment on Linux next to Gnome.

image *KDE 4.2 Beta 2 with Kickoff Menu visible

* **What is so special about KDE? **
The philosophy of KDE is the advanced configuration it allows through its Graphical User Interface (GUI), this is versus Gnome which chooses sane defaults and leaves configuration in hard to reach places and out-of-sight. This isn’t to say KDE doesn’t choose sane defaults; it does and is very user-friendly. KDE has always been the more Windows-like of the major desktop environments and this hasn’t really changed in KDE 4.X series. KDE is available in popular distributions of Linux such as Kubuntu, Mandriva, OpenSuse. The special part about 4.X series is that for the first time for any Linux desktop environment; it is fully cross-platform, easily installs and works on Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS X.

image KDE 4.2 Panel; with KOrganizer calendar open

Whats new in 4.2?
Stability. Ever since KDE started the really beautiful 4.X branch they have gotten harsh criticism for stability problems. This is not surprising as KDE 3.5 was the result of years of bugfixing and stability fixes and was really rock solid stable; in fact I don’t remember it crashing at all in the times I used it; but I have been a Gnome user for a while. This criticism was deserved; but perhaps premature: KDE always stated this almost ground-up rewrite of everything major wasn’t going to be pretty and it wasn’t. I used KDE 4.0 and KDE 4.1 and both crashed frequently; especially Plasma since it powers almost everything on the desktop.

Desktop Effects
With this release comes the introduction of desktop effects; if your graphics card is supported. I think this is a great move since projects like Compiz required hacked in dectection of KDE or Gnome and I suspect this was coded in; it really makes sense to have desktop effects in the core; as it will really help stabilise them as the KDE4.X branch matures.

  • Better Customisation
    You can now control height and length of the menu bar; as well as add many more plasma applets to it. The Kmenu replacement Kickoff has stepped up to the plate in this release and features almost a complete set of icons for any application (much to my chargrin in earlier release a lot of ? icons could be seen). Also more customisation and preference panes of Plasmoids are allowed.

image Desktop Effects in KDE 4.2 Beta 2

Full major feature overview is here.

So whats the final assessment?
When this is released I definately recommend you try it! This is the first release of the 4.X branch I would be happy to install and support on my family’s desktop. Since I don’t often get to access it physically to fix problems; this is one area I couldn’t trust either 4.0 or 4.1 to behave. It still isn’t as feature-completed or as stable as 3.5 series; but in my opinion it is damn close and approaching fast; get it while its hot!!

Kubuntu Instructions to get KDE 4.2 Beta 2 on Kubuntu Intrepid 8.10