In response to such complaints, KDE chose a default set of artwork called Oxygen that Olson characterizes as "more professional, more polished, and more photo-realistic. [The designers] went back to scratch and defined a color palette that was sensible, and literally built from the ground up."
However, despite the obvious influence of other desktops, Olson hopes that the pillars of KDE will help the KDE design to rise above its influences, and deliver superior graphics and performance comparable to those on Windows or OS X even on older desktops, or during intensive multimedia operations.
KDE 4.0 includes hundreds of new features, so singling out major ones is difficult. Olson suggests, though, that one of the best places to see what KDE 4 is all about are some of the small educational programs and games.
Many of them have been redesigned to take advantage of the scalable vector graphics display and enhanced rendering in KDE 4, making them what Olson calls "a canary in the coal mine" -- an indicator of what is about to happen in KDE design. "When you see these smaller applications having these super-sexy graphics and new icons and great performance, and how they are really more usable than their KDE3 counterparts, then that portends well for some of the larger applications that are coming down the pike," he says.
12 Tips for KDE Users
KDE vs. GNOME: Is One Better?
KDE 4 and the User Experience
Another place to view the changes in KDE 4 is the standard utilities used by the operating system. When Konqueror, the KDE file manager, was first released in the late 1990s, the fashion was to consider files on the Internet the equivalent of network files, and to browse them in the same way as local files. Now, however, the fashion has shifted, prompting KDE to promote the use of Dolphin, a dedicated file manager, and to use Konqueror chiefly as a web browser.
That said, users can still use Konqueror for file management if they choose. "Konqueror's not going anywhere," Olson says. "It got a lot of love and attention in this release. Just look at the tool box alone, and you'll see that we've worked on usability improvements."
Konsole, the KDE command line window, has also benefited from an interface makeover -- to say nothing of new features such as a search history, split views, and enhanced scrolling and general speed. "It's crazy," Olson says, obviously bemused. "The idea of a basic Unix or AIX console has been around for so long, yet something so simple actually got a lot of attention. Obviously, there's still areas for innovation."
Olson says that he expects KDE to receive some criticism because last week's release included only the basic desktop -- and, in many people's perception, fell short even there some times.
The problem is, once you stray beyond the educational programs, games, and utilities, many KDE programs are simply not ready for KDE 4. Some KDE-based programs, he says, were dependent on the pillars of KDE or the new libraries being relatively mature, and could not possibly have been released with the basic desktop. Still others have a release cycle that does not sync with KDE's. KOffice, for example, will not be releasing so much as the beta of its next release until later this month.
Still, now that the major release has been launched, KDE-based programs can start to catch up. Speaking unofficially, Olson anticipates that "Maybe some time this summer we'll have a 4.1 release, and by then all of the major players are going to have a release based on KDE 4 technology."
Yet even within the core of the new release some parts are unfinished. Although none of the release's major goals were abandoned, Olson suggests that, in individual modules, some plans may have quietly been dropped.
Perhaps the strongest is the objects center on the new Plasma desktop, and the areas in which it seems less advanced than its 3.x counterpart -- in particular, the lack of customization for the panel. However, Olson strongly defends such decisions.