In something of the same way, changes to the notification system may have been inspired by Ubuntu's efforts to improve notices in GNOME over the past year.
In recent releases, KDE has already moved to give users a chance to control the number of notifications clamoring for attention by giving the option of what types of notices appear on the desktop. Now, in 4.4, KDE goes one step further and adds a notice history from a widget on the panel that displays the number of notices in the history, and an Indicator widget that displays and stores messages from applications.
The advantage of such features is that you do not have to stop working to read the notices right away -- or scramble in a panic to close windows to read them before they disappear. The feature would benefit from configuration settings to control the number of notices in history, and the length of time they are available, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.
However, the major desktop enhancement in 4.4 is tabbed windows. From each window's menu, you can now group or ungroup it with another window. This is a feature that OpenOffice.org users in particular have been demanding for years -- and the fact that it has arrived at the desktop level instead of the application level only makes it more versatile.
Tabbed windows are an ideal way to reduce the sorting through multiple windows that is necessary when you are working with several applications at the same time, and a natural complement to Activities and Workspaces. The idea is simple, yet you can immediately see how it can simplify workflow and minimize breaks in your concentration.
But as welcome as features like tabbed windows are, what really makes KDE 4.4 a significant release is that it makes several features that have been in development for several years usable for the first time.
One of these long-maturing features is Nepomuk, the so-called "semantic desktop" that tags files for easy retrieval. Nepomuk has been available throughout the KDE 4 series of releases. But, for the most part, it has been a stub observable only when you check the list or processes that your account is running.
KDE 4.4 changes that, so that you can use Nepomuk for searches in the Dolphin file manager and the Gwenview image viewer. Finally, after more than four years, users will have the chance to judge whether all the effort that has gone into Nepomuk over the last three years is worthwhile (my initial impression is that it is).
Equally important, in 4.4, KDE's plans for the social desktop are maturing. First announced by KDE last spring, the social desktop can be described as the opposite of cloud computing: Instead of funneling everything through the browser to online applications, the social desktop brings online resources out of the browser and distributes them throughout the desktop.
4.3 saw the first proof of concepts of the social desktop in a couple of widgets. However, in 4.4, social desktop widgets have started to predominate.
You can find new widgets like Blackboard, a simple paint program, or Spellcheck, and improvements to old widgets like the Device Notifier, which can now track free space on non-removable disks as well as the presence of removable disk, but most of the effort in widgets in 4.4 has gone into social desktop widgets.
Select Add Widgets from the Desktop Toolkit, and a wealth of social desktop tools displays. In addition to the openDesktop widget introduced in the 4.3 release, you can track emails and IRC messages alike in the Incoming Messages or work with your favorite online services via the Facebook or Googleclock widgets. You can also microblog at the site of your choice. If you need help with KDE, you can click the Knowledgebase Widget. If you want to give feedback, you can use the QA Feedback widget.