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KDE 4.4 aims to take free desktop skyward

KDE 4.4 aims to take free desktop skyward

Networked applications and social computing were high on the developers' agenda for the newest version of this highly-anticiapted open source desktop environment.

KDE 4’s default theme Oxygen is getting new animation features for KDE 4.4.

KDE 4’s default theme Oxygen is getting new animation features for KDE 4.4.

Whether full-feature parity between KDE 3 has been reached yet will be debated among the users for some time, but Kugler says the 4 series is now going beyond what was possible in KDE 3.

"We now have way more graphical capabilities, due to our compositing manager and the animation and graphics capabilities in Qt 4.6, the framework KDE 4.4 will be based on," he says.

"We do not expect users to have the latest and greatest machines though. KDE still runs well on low-end hardware and it nicely degrades to match what the machine is capable of. I think this is a very important thing, since not all machines out there support compositing and openGL (and maybe they never will)."

KDE 4’s default theme, Oxygen, is also getting new animation features. Graphic designer Nuno Pinheiro has added new effects for active-inactive transitions -- where the window appears more prominent when the mouse pointer is hovered over it -- and likewise for window buttons.

Web and communication technology continues to evolve

KDE has a long history of Web technology development, including the KHTML rendering engine (which became WebKit) and the Konqueror Web browser.

However, since KDE 4 arrived the project’s main browser offering has languished behind modern alternatives like Firefox, Safari and, more recently, Google's Chrome. Kugler says there will not be a new Web browser in KDE 4.4 because Konqueror is still based on KHTML.

"We did, however, have kdewebkit merged into KDE 4.4 just days ago," he says. "Those are the first bits of WebKit landing in KDE. There is also a KPart (a technology that allows components of applications to integrate in other applications) for WebKit which can just replace the KHTML KPart."

This KPart is a work in progress, and most likely won't make it into KDE 4.4 due to the last major blockage -- integration with KDE’s secure password store, KWallet.

On the communications side, KDE became popular for providing a rich suite of PIM and groupware applications under the Kontact umbrella. According to Kugler, the PIM applications shipped with KDE 4.3 were ports of their KDE 3 counterparts -- with a couple of years worth of bug fixes -- but in 4.4, the first applications using Akonadi, the new shared groupware cache, are due to arrive.

Akonadi uses plug-ins to push and pull data from various sources. It supports different e-mail protocols, groupware servers and file formats.

"[Akonadi] offers a standardized interface, including transparent caching, to applications that want to integrate this data," Kugler says, adding this feature is "already available".

"For KDE 4.4, we'll have our address book rewritten on top of Akonadi as well as our calendar. KDE 4.5 will see the port to Akonadi completed with all relevant applications, including Kontact, on top of Akonadi."

Kugler sees the Akonadi port as being quite advanced, but the developers prefer to take another release cycle to make sure the migration goes smoothly and that Kontact-Akonadi is "rock stable" when users get it.

KDE 4.4 is scheduled for release on February 9, 2010.

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