January 23, 2004

A look at KDE 3.2 Beta 2

Author: Michael 'STIBS' Stibane

After developers finished squishing more than 2,000 bugs, KDE 3.2, codenamed Rudi, is available in Beta 2, codenamed Dobra Voda (which in Czech means "good water"). What are new features of the desktop environment? Does an update make sense?

We installed the software on a raw Vectorlinux 4.0 machine after we downloaded it from the official KDE FTP servers. Vectorlinux doesn't install KDE in the free download edition so we didn't have to remove the old KDE packages. After installation with pkginstall, KDM automatically took over the task of the display manager from the default xdm.

To start KDE as the default window manager you have to edit the ~/.xsession. Otherwise the Vectorlinux XwmMenu shows up after login. We commented the appropriate XwmMmenu line and put "startkde" as the last line of the file in its place.

An unusual splash screen appears after your first KDE 3.2 startup. It seems to be a photo of all the developers from the KDE developers conference in Nove Hrady (near Prague). After this the well-known First Time Assistant leads you through the initial setup. If you follow the suggestions of the wizard you end up with the default look and feel of 3.1x, but with a more modern-looking taskbar and a nicely shortened KMenu.

I changed my display to the new Plastik theme using the reworked, better structured KDE Control Center. Plastik is a straight-to-the-point theme with just enough eye candy to please, such as little animated rollovers and an only slightly rounded button design compared to the bold bulging Crystal.

You can now make your Kicker bar completely transparent, so that the background image shines through. The new KDE splash screen offers a full-screen startup, which you need to activate in the Control Center. KMenu gets named divider bars (Actions, Programs, Last Used) instead the former simple lines. You can now import downloaded mouse pointer designs in the control center with a few clicks instead copying them to the appropriate position in the filesystem.

Sweet little things

In KDE 3.2 you can add your own right-click menus, so-called "service menus," to Konqueror. Detailed instructions for accomplishing this task are at the KDE developer site.

Hundreds of thousands of Web mail users can now use spell-checking just like dedicated mail client users. With realtime spell-checking while you type in the Konqueror browser window, all misspelled words are shown in red. Correcting a word doesn't update the display 100% correctly yet, but hey, it's beta.

Really hot stuff

There are several new programs in the new KDE, and lots of the known ones got a facelift. With Quanta we have now a WYSIWYG Web development environment. KDE Control Center is easier to navigate and work with. KDevelop (Gideon) is included as a new release. The most important new additions to KDE 3.2 beta 2 are Kontact, a PIM; KWallet, a system-wide password management tool; and KPDF, which shows Portable Document Format files a lot faster than KGhostView does.

Kontact, based on the KParts technology, combines KAddressbook, KMail, KNode, KOrganizer, KWeather, and KNotes under a common GUI with an icon sidebar for calling the single modules. The result is an all-in-one application for communication and organisation tasks, similar to Microsoft Outlook and Ximian Evolution. You can still run all the modules as standalone programs, and you can add more components to the software. We can imagine that implementing Kopete's messenger functionality would be a great enhancement.

KWallet is the ultimate password safe for the forgetful. KWallet docks at the KDE panel and holds password protected "wallets" where you can store passwords and access data. Different levels of access can be given to the different programs, e.g. Konqueror, when filling Web forms. You can shut off the subsystem after a defined time or after the screensaver kicks in. You can also specify that you want to display passwords in clear text; by default this option is disabled. KWallet works KDE wide. If a KDE application is KWallet-enabled, you can use it to manage its password data.

The latest version of KDE includes so many enhancements that an update is worth your time and effort, no matter whether your computer is a home multimedia toy or your office desktop. Kontact and KWallet and helpers like the spellchecker make working with KDE 3.2 fun. You get a great Plastik theme and easier administration with the reworked KDE Control Center. Apart from few small bugs, none of them annoying enough, KDE Beta 2 won us over.

Not published yet but already an update

Since January 19th KDE 3.2 has reached release candidate status. We of course installed the new version and we noted a slight increase in speed compared to the Beta version. Especially Konqueror webbrowser doesn't choke anymore on larger JPEG's. The KDE Control Center module for setting the splash screen works better now. Kommander Editor found it's right place under the development menu and several little tweaks were done to the user interface like a jumping application icon at the mouse pointer when a program starts instead the clock.

Short Bio ;)

Michael 'STIBS' Stibane lives in an old water-mill in the Eastern Ore Mountains (the so called Christmas County) near Dresden/ Germany. Today he works as a freelance trainer and consultant for Linux and volunteers for the Escapade Scripting Language, MEPIS Linux and the LPI. His interests are the Linux Desktop, Linux Terminal Servers, Linux in SMB's and Linux education. Michael also writes for two German Linux magazines. His little spare time is completely occupied by two dogs and his family. You can reach him here or here

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