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KDE 3 More effective, more fun

KDE 3 More effective, more fun

The Linux desktop world reached another milestone in April when the third major version of the K Desktop Environment (KDE 3.0) hit download servers.

As many as three-quarters of all Linux desktop systems use KDE as their primary desktop. While the GNOME desktop has made great strides over the last few years, KDE is clearly the more stable and mature choice for business users.

This is a basic overview of what's new, what works and changes in store for current KDE 2.x users.

Those changes center around a new basic architecture for the desktop, which means a big download for those cutting-edge types who will not wait for their favorite distribution to include KDE 3. The KDE2-Compat RPM package is 16MB, and is essential for you to run your current KDE applications.

What's New?
So what does this new architecture support? The goal was to make KDE ready for enterprise deployment. It is more standards-compliant, and generally more robust. Feature-wise, the enhancements included in KDE 3 are focused on five areas:

  • Easier configuration of printers and fonts from the Control Center
  • A bolder Konqueror file manager and Web browser
  • The free KDevelop integrated development environment for writing new software
  • More integrated multimedia support
  • The KDE Personal Information Manager tools (KMail, KOrganizer, KAddressBook, etc.)
For the most part, KDE 3 delivers on its promises. Some things more so than others. Testing was carried out on a SuSE 8.0 system (the first distribution to ship with KDE 3.0). The other major distributions should be rolling out the new desktop over the summer.

Taking Charge with Control Center
Most system customization takes place in the KDE Control Center, similar to the Windows Control Panel, but much easier to navigate. It is still the place to set up your wallpaper, screensaver and other eye candy (in the Look & Feel section), but a few wizards pull some heavy loads as well.

Printing files in Linux systems has always been a chore and a mystery. This is primarily due to a lack of OEM printer drivers for Linux. With the rise in Linux's popularity in the last few years, this has changed a bit, and some developers have tried with some success in creating open source drivers. With the arrival of the Common Unix Printing System (CUPS), printing has become almost easy--almost.

The KPrint manager aims to make Linux printing even easier to use. It is not there yet, but is quite promising. KPrint comes with a large driver database, and the Add Printer wizard is very straightforward in its operation. By default, KPrint will let you print almost anything to Adobe PDF, email and/or fax files from any application.

Control Center also has a very slick font installation interface. People with dual-boot and networked systems in particular will love the ease with which you can add TrueType fonts from any accessible Windows system. Besides that, KDE 3 will also anti-alias your fonts, so that words can display on your KDE screen nearly as well as they do on a more proprietary OS. The anti-aliasing is not yet world-class, but I am hopeful that this will improve rather quickly.

Making New Software
KDE 3.0 offers what may be the first-ever integrated software development environment included in a desktop environment for the masses: KDevelop. Of course, Linux systems have nearly always had the GNU C Compiler (gcc) and programming editors like vi and emacs, but KDevelop gives open source and free software developers a GUI environment for writing software with a GUI. You know, sorta Visual-like. In addition to the IDE, you get KBabel, an internationalization/localization tool and yet another programmer's editor, Kate.

Managing Information
GNOME users have Evolution to manage their lives (that is, their e-mail, to-do list, calendar and contacts). KDE 3 counters with upgraded versions of KMail, KOrganizer and several auxiliary programs now part of the KDE PIM suite.

KOrganizer is about what you would expect from a calendar/to-do program. It is quite configurable, will import data from any vCal-compliant application (including Microsoft Outlook) and will sync to your Palm device (through the KPilot conduit). One thing I like about it is the five-level priority settings for to-do items. The default priority is three, not one. Let's face it, having everything as a number one priority is the same as having no priorities at all, right?

I've been using KMail as my primary mail client for nearly a year now, and I find using it as comfortable as my old standby, Eudora. The filters are good, and it's helping me rid myself of spam.

In a future article, I will go into more depth on using the PIM suite to manage your life and data.

Fun with Multimedia
The MP3 revolution walked hand-in-hand with the open source revolution. It has certainly had its reflection in the free software development community. So the splashiest new applications in KDE 3 are the media players.

Noatun is the audio and video player. It supports MPEG video, MP3 and the new Ogg Vorbis audio formats. Plugins let you set up playlists, edit tags (though apparently only version 1 tags) and change the interface. Playback is excellent, but the playlist editor froze completely when I attempted to load my entire MP3 collection into it. This was a task that XMMS handled easily.

Creating a playlist is also a tricky endeavor, since it is not obvious that you have to open the editor, instead of using the Open dialog to select multiple tracks. Note also that if you launch a playlist while another track is playing, the first track will quit to play the list.

KDE 3 also comes with a video-only player called aKtion. The shipping version was not yet ready for prime time. Video playback was really choppy, and sound was broken.

The Bottom Line
For businesses already running Linux on the desktop, this is a good upgrade. KPrint really does simplify the printing setup process. The PIM tools, while not completely integrated in one application (a plus for some), are certainly useful.

Is there anything here that will immediately convert a Windows shop to Linux. No. For those who don't want to pony up to Microsoft under their new licensing scheme, there's certainly no barrier anymore to running Linux. KDE 3.0 can give as much familiarity as the standard office worker needs when they boot up.

More Stories By Mike McCallister

Mike McCallister is a freelance Linux writer based in Milwaukee and is constantly on the lookout for interesting documentation projects. Mike is the author of Computer Certification Handbook (2000, Arco Press).

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