by George Staikos
This article begins a new series following one of the most important projects to the past and future successes of Linux. The KDE project. Heading up the column is KDE developer of five years, and primary North American contact for the project George Staikos. I look forward to hearing more from the inside, and "from the source" of KDE. - Steve Mallett, Managing Editor.
The month of August marks a major milestone for the KDE project. Along with the occurance of the KDE Community World Summit 2004, "aKademy", the KDE team has released version 3.3 of the K Desktop Environment. This is the quickest release cycle in recent history, coming roughly six months after the release of KDE 3.2. To put this into perspective, KDE 3.2 took over a year to complete. Does this mean fewer features, less polish, or more bugs? Certainly not! [new screenshots - Ed.]
Each KDE release tends to have a few major focal points. KDE 2.0 was a complete rearchitecture and brought us the underlying design that we still have today in KDE, including KParts, network transparency, and Konqueror. KDE 3.0 featured a port to Qt 3.0. KDE 3.1 gave us enhanced browsing support and many new applications, and KDE 3.2 had a focus on HTML rendering improvements, optimizations, and more new applications. KDE 3.3, on the other hand, shows us what can be done when we focus on improving what's already there in KDE. The highlights from KDE 3.3 include more optimizations, a giant leap forward in personal information management (PIM) tools such as KMail, KOrganizer, Kontact, and Kopete, and the closing of 7000 bugs and 2000 wishlist items. This is certainly an important step forward for Linux on the desktop! Let's have a closer look.
One of the common complaints about X11 desktop platforms such as KDE is that they use too much memory or run too slowly. It is true that these platforms are often developed "for the future", and so they contain more advanced features and design than other competing desktop environments. This advanced technology often comes with a price tag involving more memory or more cpu cycles for typical operations. Other times, however, it's just sloppy coding in an effort to meet release schedules that results in inefficient code. The KDE team takes a serious stance on code performance and consequently there is an ongoing effort to optimize KDE. Some of the optimizations in KDE 3.3 include:
New applications in KDE 3.3 include:
- A 5-6MB reduction in memory usage due to sharing information used in multiple places.
- Up to 10 times faster IMAP mail transfers, especially on slower CPUs. On faster processors, the amount of CPU time used for a typical mail transfer is significantly reduced.
- Reduced or eliminated flicker in Konqueror, both in web browsing mode (especially with tabs), and in file management mode. Icons now layout smoothly without unneeded repaints.
- Much less flicker in KMail and more efficient handling of mail operations such as transfers and parsing.
Other new features include integration of the KDE and Qt Python bindings, a search bar for Konqueror, plenty of HTML rendering fixes and enhancements, and a new spell checking library.
- Kolourpaint, a painting application that replaces the aging KPaint.
- Kiosk Admin Tool, a tool for administrating the KDE Kiosk framework, useful for restricting actions on the desktop.
- Educational applications and games: KWordQuiz, KLatin, and KTurtle.
- KThemeManager, a new control center module to handle KDE themes as a complete package, simplifying desktop customizations.
- Web design tools: KImagemapEditor and KLinkStatus.
The shining star in KDE 3.3, however, is the personal information management (PIM) improvements. KDE now sports a powerful, full-featured groupware solution. All of the popular KDE PIM tools such as KMail, KOrganizer, KAddressBook, and KNode are now components and work together to create a tightly integrated environment similar to Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes.
The most prominent improvements are, not surprisingly, in the most popular component: KMail. In KDE 3.3, KMail now supports HTML mail composing with a completely rewritten composer engine. Composing is made easy with a new toolbar that can be activated, providing access to formatting tools similar to that of a word processor.
The encryption engine in KMail has been completely reworked. This built-in privacy feature makes it easy to encrypt, decrypt, sign, and verify mail with the most common tools and protocols such as PGP and S/MIME. IMAP support, both online and cached, have been thoroughly debugged and stabilized and are now reliable enough to trust with your most critical email. Support for IMAP access controls is also seamlessly integrated.
For those who use instant messaging, the KDE instant messaging application Kopete has not only undergone a wonderful facelift, but is now integrated with KMail. When viewing an email from someone who is a known contact, the online status of that user is displayed and a link is provided to initiate a chat.
Finally, the groupware integration in KMail and Kontact is now a viable solution for all organizations, small or large. Integration with the Kolab server project is complete, allowing calendars and contacts to be stored on the mail server and shared among users. Meetings can be scheduled and automatically added to calendars, and free/busy information is easily accessible. Support for more groupware servers such as Microsoft Exchange, eGroupware, and SuSE Linux Openexchange (SLOX) are under development and at various stages of completion.
All in all, KDE 3.3 is certainly a major step forward for KDE, and definitely worth the upgrade. It provides much improved email and groupware software, comparable to commercial offerings already available on other platforms, and contains all kinds of new applications, bug fixes, and performance improvements to make the desktop experience more pleasant on Linux. KDE 3.3 packages are available for download from the KDE ftp site, and will likely be part of your favorite Linux distribution's next release.
George is a software developer from Toronto, Canada. He has been actively involved with the KDE project for over 5 years, developing KDE code and attending conferences to discuss and promote KDE and Linux on the desktop. He is presently the North American press contact for KDE, and is still an active developer. George has contributed to many different areas of KDE including the libraries and I/O subsystem, Konqueror, KMail, and various other applications.