For users, the eventual result of these changes should be an increase in the number of available widgets. However, 4.2 has already added a variety of new widgets, ranging from frivolous ones like BbalL and Life to practical ones like Leave a Note, Pastebin, and Timer. Other widgets have been enhanced, such as Notes, which now includes the option of saving entries to file.
However, perhaps the largest changes are to the panel. While the panel has been limited in functionality in earlier KDE 4 releases, in 4.2, it regains much of the functionality it had in the late KDE 3 releases.
Finally, in 4.2, you can position the panel on any edge of the screen, change its height, or autohide it to give you more room to display windows on the desktop. Should you run out of room on your panels, or want a sub-menu or a floating one, you can use the QuickLaunch widget. Although you still cannot customize the color of the panel, and most of the different types of panel in 3.5.9 remain unavailable, the 4.2 panel still gives you more options than previous KDE 4 releases.
And, as if to emphasize the point, the panel configuration tool has had a usability makeover, so that it is much harder to miss options than in version 4.1.
The contents of the panel are also more configurable. For instance, in the task manager, you can choose whether to group programs, or exclude specific programs from grouping. Similarly, by right-clicking on the system tray, you can choose which icons to hide -- a system that seems much more user-friendly than Windows' habit of deciding for you what icons are hidden.
KDE 4.2 still leaves some things to be desired. In particular, the new Kickoff menu, which claustrophobically refuses to display more than one menu level at a time, needlessly complicating navigation, is one change that only grows more irritating with familiarity.
Fortunately, though, you can right-click on the main menu to select the unwieldy but simpler classical menu with its accordion-like sub-menus. Or, better yet, you can install Lancelot, Ivan Cukic's replacement menu, which in many ways is the improvement that Kickoff was supposed to be and isn't.
However, other than the menu, KDE 4.2's shortcomings are minor. True, you may have to retrain yourself to use the menu to add icons to the desktop or the panel, or miss some cosmetic changes. But what matters most is that this beta is the first version of KDE 4 in which users can configure the desktop to their preferences, instead of having to adjust to unchangeable defaults.
If the final release is anything like the beta (and I can see no reason why it wouldn't be), with 4.2, KDE should finally put a year of complaints and grumblings behind it at last.