KDE 4 is a radical overhaul of the popular desktop. It offers broad improvements like the Oxygen desktop theme, SVG graphics, and enhanced speeds thanks to the latest version of the Qt 4 toolkit. It also offers specific improvements such as the font manager and the Dolphin file manager. In short, there's a lot to like.
But, as might be expected, not all the changes are equally successful. Nor is the situation helped by the fact that KDE 4 was a preliminary release, and the project intends the upcoming 4.1 as the production-ready version -- as you might expect, most distros have rushed to include the early minor releases as soon as possible.
After a week of regularly using KDE 4.0.2 and 4.03 releases on my laptops, these are the improvements that would enhance KDE the most:
In the rush to get KDE 4 out the door on time, the first version came with an unresizable panel stuck firmly at the bottom of the screen. Minor releases quickly added the ability to change the panel's width and position, but using the top of the screen still isn't an option unless you want to cover the desktop manager button in the upper right corner. Nor can you change the length of the panel, autohide it to give yourself more screen space, or use any except the most basic of the panels found in the KDE 3 releases. Equally annoying is the inability to move icons on the menu as you please.
KDE 4 replaces the classic KDE menu with Kickoff. Apparently based on the Windows XP and Vista menus, Kickoff is an improvement in that it adds a search field and a variety of views that help to simplify the menus for newcomers. However, its replacement of sub-menus that open up like an accordion with sub-menus on sliding panels is a step backwards, because remembering your location can be difficult if you go more than a level or two down. Nor can you jump between menus without laboriously retracing your steps.
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You can revert to the classic menu if you right-click, but that only brings you back to the complicated menus that justify the experiment with Kickoff. With separate top-level menus for Settings, System, and Administration, and for Science and Math and Education, to say nothing of the mysterious Lost and Found, the traditional menu can make tracking down an application nightmarish.
What is needed is a blend of the two, with the different views and search field of Kickoff and a reordering of the traditional menu to make unaided searches less of an exercise in guesswork. But the need to edit the original does not justify an overly-complex redesign.
In KDE 4, icons and widgets -- the name given to desktop applets -- come with a collar that includes four mini-icons for configuring and manipulating them. The trouble is, these mini-icons are not supported equally by all icon themes in every distro, and can sometimes be reduced to a few blurred pixels. Yet, even when they are clearly displayed, they can be hard to pinpoint with a mouse-click. At times, too, accidentally clicking the Delete mini-icon can be all too easy.
The mini-icons add an appearance of complexity that may intimidate new users, and are redundant when each icon already has a right-click menu with the same choices. They serve no useful purpose, and wouldn't be missed if eliminated.
Dolphin is a more agile and efficient file manager than either KDE classic Konqueror or GNOME's Nautilus except for one thing: It doesn't show previews for common graphic formats. How was this oversight allowed to slip through? Granted, not everybody wants a preview under all circumstances, but having to click to start Gwenview before you can see files is an extra step that should be unnecessary.