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KDE 4.10 Review: Time To Switch To KDE

The KDE team has announced the release of much awaited 4.10, which caused some ruckus within the Arch community. This is an important release for the KDE user-base as it not only brings massive performance enhancements but also introduces many new features.

KDE keeps the desktop relevant and powerful as it doesn’t force an interface designed for phones or tablets on desktop users. KDE offers different GUI environments for different form factores. There is Plasma Desktop for desktop computers,Plasma Netbook for netbooks, and “Plasma Active” for smartphones and tablets. So a desktop or tablet user doesn’t have to make any compromise.

This release of KDE is full of innovative new features which puts the user’s interest in center and not some company’s who is desperate to make money from user data.

Getting KDE 4.10
It was amazing to see how Arch, openSUSE and Kubuntu communities made 4.10 available for their users within few hours of release. In my own experience, Arch was the first one to push 4.10 in their testing repos followed by openSUSE and then Kubuntu. I was able to upgrade to 4.10 within 4-5 hours of release announcement. I upgraded my openSUSE 12.3 and Arch box to see how KDE 4.10 performs. There is quite a lot in this release that I was looking forward to and the communities brought it to me quickly.

http://youtu.be/Fqe5ZcXJUHI

First impression of KDE 4.10
I have been using KDE 4.10 since beta days so there was nothing to surprise me. But if you upgrade from 4.9, you will notice huge differences in speed, performance and massive improvements in almost every department. The brand new wallpaper of KDE is extremely refreshing. As usual, KDE delivers extensive and easy customization.

Polish, Jazz and animation: Disney presents KDE 4.10
First thing that you might notice when you upgrade to KDE 4.10 is the way windows maximize and minimize. It’s a cool animation which makes the desktop experience pleasant. But it’s not about some eye candy effects. Martin Gräßlin has done a commendable job with Kwin. KWin is a window manager for the X Window System. In simple words, Kwin controls the ‘look and feel’ of your desktop. It offers quite a lot of funky effects, including the ever popular 3D desktop cube.

There are many effects available by default which you can easily enable and disable. You can get more effects from kde-look.org – including behavior modifying scripts. You can also get those good old windows switchers back.

These settings enables you to personalize your PC, fitting your style. This is something that Unity now lacks. There is zero to none ‘personalization’ for Ubuntu Unity. Every Unity system has the same look and feel like an ATM machine.

What good is a ‘personal computer which can’t be made personal?

Saner global menu integration
Global menu is a great option, if done right. KDE has done is right, by not only making it optional but also giving more than one option so that a user can configure it the way it helps his work flow. This is a major improvement for KDE users and it gives KDE an edge over Gnome or Unity’s App Menu integration where a user have close to no control over it.

In order to enable Global Menu, which is called App Menu in KDE, you need to install appmenu-qt on your system. Once you have installed it, you can configure it from Application Appearance > Fine Tuning.

 

There are four options: you can show menus in the application (the good old/default option where menus appear within the application window – which takes up some space, around 32 pixels). The second option is to integrate menus with the title bar button.

The third option is to show it on top of the screen. Setting it on top follows the window focus so it can be used in multiscreen environments. However, personally I find it a bit confusing when you are using couple of windows of the same app and its hard to say whose menus you are accessing.

In order to save space and make my applications look clutter free I have configured it to show on title bar button. This way I have menus right there on the app window so I can access it easily and I also keep my app clean and tidy.

That’s personal choice and the most important thing is that KDE developers are giving users choices (unlike Ubuntu) where they can set it up the way they want and not developers of Canonical.

Dolphin gets better and faster
Some KDE users, including me, were unhappy with the recent changes where the size of the panel  icons could not be changed. It was a bad from accessibility point of view. But, as usual, KDE developers listened and added the ability to change the size of icons. You can now change the size of icons in the panel by right-clicking on icons and choosing the size you want. You can also, if you don’t already know, change the size of icons on menu bars.

The improvements are made not only in the design and functionality department but also in performance. As the release notes say, “Loading folders, both with and without previews, is significantly faster and requires less memory while using all available processor cores to be as fast as possible.” You will notice significant improvements when moving or copying files.

What’s in the name?
There has been significant changes (after developers went to and fro) in the manner it handles renaming of files and folders. You can rename multiple files inline as well as using the dialog. You can configure whether you want inline renaming or using dialog from Dolphin’s Preferences > General > Behavior.

Connecting your Android devices
One gripe that I had with Canonical was that they never invested any resources in making Ubuntu talk to Android devices. Android users were not able to connect their Android devices to Linux machines and transfer data. Instead of catering to what users needed Canonical was busy with Amazon integration.

While Ubuntu users struggled to talk to their Android devices, Philipp Schmidt developed KIO-Slave to access MTP devices from KDE’s Dolphin. Another KDE developer Àlex Fiestas added support for MTP devices (like phones) to the Places Panel, making use of Philipp Schmidt’s work with MTP. Thanks to the work done by these two developers, KDE users can now connect and access their Android devices from Dolphin.

If you want to connect your Android devices to Dolphin, just install the kio-mtp and Dolphin will mount and display your device. At the moment it only says ‘Portable MTP Player’ instead of picking up the name of the device such as Nexus 7 or Nexus 4 and the icon needs some work, but it works. Unfortunately, it won’t work with Nexus 10 yet.

More features
One of the core advantages KDE has over Unity is you can expand its functionality through a huge repository of extensions and plug in, whether it be Dolphin, Amarok, Kate or any other KDE application.

Lock Screen
KDE 4.10 also brings a jazzy, brand new lock screen. You can enable the new lock screen by visiting the ‘Display and Monitor > Screen Locker. Here you can enable simple locker which offers, as the name implies, a simple window to offer a lock screen. The option of Desktop Widgets will keep Widgets on the screen when it is locked so you will be able to use/see widgets like Calender or clock, and the 3rd option is quite obvious.

Paint me red
KDE 4.10 is for serious work. Graphic artists should be happy with the news that KDE offers better color management. The KolorServer KDED module now supports per-output color correction. The developers are working on per-window output color correction which will be released later; it already supports multi-monitor set-up. It also enhanced performance and makes maintenance easier for developers as the new color management takes this task from Compositor and hands it over to Kwin.

Do not track my faster desktop
One of the most fascinating features of KDE 4.10 is the improved and faster desktop search. KDE 4.10 brings cross application tags and a brand new file indexer which makes indexing faster and robust. Blue Systems, which came to the rescue of Kubuntu when Canonical pulled the plugs, funded the development of the KDE cross-application semantic search and storage backend.

Despite being one of the most useful features of KDE, its one of the least talked about. When I do hear about it I hear people complaining that running desktop search slowed their system. There is good news for such users; that’s gone now.

The new indexes works in two parts. First it runs the basic indexing, a quick pass that makes new file information, like name and mimetype, available immediately. The second part works when your system is idle (or in case of laptop running on AC) and starts extracting full data. So, now you won’t feel any lag of slowness when desktop search is running. The search results can be seen in the main menu or through Krunner by hitting Alt+F2.

KDE doesn’t stop here, they have implemented the Tags KIO Slave which allows users to find files by tags from any KDE application. You can enable the search from KDE System Settings > Desktop Search. These tags are not embedded in files, but you can create back-up of tags and restore them in case you formatted your PC.

Why do I think KDE’s search tools are so important?
Let’s give you a scenario. I shoot a lot and I want to find all the images of my son with my cat Yoda playing in his room. I can’t find that from a normal desktop search unless I give long names to such images. I can do it easily in KDE by adding tags like Aadi (my son’s name), Yoda, room and smiling to select images. Now, I don’t need to know where these images are all I will do is run keywords like Yoda, Aadi, room in krunner and it will pull all those images.

That’s innovation. This is an amazingly powerful feature which actually enhances they way I interact with my data instead of getting Amazon.com results when I search local data.

Why go to KDE instead of Unity?
I switched from Unity to KDE not just for personal preferences, but for privacy and security of my personal data. Ubuntu’s Unity has raised some serious privacy concerns by bodies like EFF and FSF. With Unity, the focus seems to be shifting on gathering more user data which is sent to Ubuntu servers by default, instead of looking at what users want.

Canonical seemingly wants to know what you are doing on your PC, just the way Facebook wants to know what you are doing in your life. When there is a simple box in Firefox which allows you to search the wild west web what’s the need to create hundreds of scopes and lenses? The reason is Canonical wants you to run all searches through their dash so they know what you are searching — online as well as local. We don’t know how and for how long they store this data. If a company has such data on you governments will find a way to get that data.

I don’t much care about Amazon getting that data, I care about why Canonical is getting any info on the local searches. When I search for my kid’s images on my hard-drive why is that data sent to Canonical servers? The worst thing is that users don’t even know that every search that they run on Unity sends that query to Canonical servers, and they can be easily identified. Canonical made no attempt to educate users that their search requests are sent to Canonical servers.

There are many activists who use GNU/Linux to avoid the backdoors or security risks that non-free systems may have and Ubuntu’s default (opt-out) dash search poses very serious security issues. As a journalist I may have some confidential contacts, emails or data and the last thing I want is any keyword related to that data ever leave my computer. I won’t trust any company with that data, including the one that ignored EFF’s request and did not even bother to educate users that what is being done to their search queries.

In this era when everyone is desperate to track its user and gather data about him, it has become increasingly important that the control over your PC should be in your hands and not in the hands of some company.

A privacy respecting, secure environment is needed
These privacy concerns demand an environment and set of software which can be safely used without compromising user’s privacy as well as doesn’t dumb down the system. There is Gnome but it is going through massive transformation and won’t be ready for prime time before 4.x release. That’s where KDE becomes important. KDE continues their long tradition of giving users the control over their computing.

Unless and until Canonical makes it opt-in, as EFF and FSF requested I don’t think Ubuntu is safe to use or recommend to your friends. I think Canonical should take steps to make users like me and bodies like EFF and FSF comfortable about their product. Canonical is a great company and I just don’t understand what’s stopping them from addressing these privacy concerns?

Image Gallery

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Conclusion
KDE 4.10 is by far the best KDE ever. I have become a huge fan of KDE for the simple reason that it makes my computer personal again, something that technologies like Unity are taking away. KDE is one of the most advanced desktop environment as it has different editions for desktop, tablets and netbooks; it’s future ready. You don’t make compromises, you don’t lose any functionality. KDE offers extreme simplicity and familiar interface along with extreme customization, if you care to look inside the hood.

We are looking for aspiring bloggers and journalists for The Mukt. If you are interested, apply now!

If you have not tried KDE yet, 4.10 gives you all the reasons to try it out.

Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

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