KDE 4 on Windows

Let KDE Konquer your Windows desktop.
First Impressions

The KDE 4 Windows install comes with a slimmed-down version of the System Settings configuration module (Figure 3), which will be familiar to you if you've used KDE 4 on Linux. Here, you can adjust KDE 4 notifications and default applications in addition to language and regional settings. However, these apply only to the KDE applications, so you can encounter slightly odd situations. For example, if you open an image from Windows Explorer, it will be shown by the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer, but if you open the same file from KDE 4's Dolphin file manager, it will be opened with the KDE image viewer, Gwenview. Of course, you can use the Windows control panel to make Windows prefer KDE applications for opening images and documents and change the file associations for Dolphin so that it will use other Windows programs that you have installed, but you will need to make adjustments in both places to get consistent behavior.

Figure 3. The KDE System Settings module lets you adapt the look and feel of KDE applications to match your system.

System Settings also allows you to choose a selection of themes for your KDE applications, including some that tie in well with the Classic and Luna themes in Windows XP. At present, KDE 4 doesn't include special themes for Windows Vista or Windows 7. However, Windows users are accustomed to using mismatching software from many different vendors, and the KDE applications fit in as well as anything else.

Most of the applications I tried seemed just fine, at least to start with. Konqueror, for example, correctly displayed the selection of major Web sites I visited (Figure 4). However, after using the applications for a while, I began to notice a less-than-perfect integration with the Windows environment. Okular, the KDE document viewer, used the default Windows dialog for open and save, with common Windows folders, such as Desktop and My Documents, available on the left-hand panel. However, other applications, such as KWord, used the KDE file dialog which, in common with the Dolphin file manager, has links on the left-hand panel to Home and Root. These labels probably will not mean a lot to a Windows user unfamiliar with a traditional Linux filesystem layout, and it would be nice to see Dolphin and KDE dialogs modified to show standard Windows folders, such as Desktop and My Documents instead.

Figure 4. KDE's Konqueror Web browser handled all the major sites I tried.

State of the Applications

digiKam, the photo management application, is one of the real highlights of the KDE world on Linux (Figure 5). On Windows, it started fine, found all my images and allowed me to view a full-screen slideshow. I was able to use its powerful editing tool to crop a photo and adjust the color levels of an image, but when saving the modifications, I received an error that the save location was invalid. digiKam was attempting to prepend a forward slash (as found in a Linux filesystem) to the save location, so that it read “/C:/Documents and Settings...”. A small error, but one that makes practical use of the application difficult.

Figure 5. digiKam, the KDE photo manager, worked quite well, finding and organizing my photos.

KOffice2, still experimental on Linux, seemed to run quite well on Windows. I was able to create a document, save it in OpenDocument format and then open it in Okular. Windows users who primarily use Microsoft Office and don't want to use another office suite might consider Okular as a lightweight OpenDocument viewer.

One of my favorite KDE applications on Linux is Kopete, the universal messaging application (Figure 6). I was able to log in to my Windows Live Messenger account and chat to my contacts, but the XMPP protocol (used by Google Talk) wasn't available. Integration with KDE's secure password storage system, KWallet, also seemed imperfect, as I had to go through two rounds of unlocking the wallet before Kopete appeared to have access to the account passwords.

Figure 6. Kopete works well with the Windows Live Messenger service but currently lacks XMPP support on Windows.

Dolphin, the file manager, seemed to work well (Figure 7), and its bread-crumb navigation structure made rapid switches between folders easy. It felt faster than Windows Explorer at loading thumbnails of images, and the preview pane provides excellent file overviews without having to open a dedicated application. If I spent a lot of time on Windows, I would be tempted to try Dolphin as an Explorer replacement. As mentioned previously, Konqueror also handled everything I threw at it.

Figure 7. The Dolphin file manager is an attractive and easy-to-use replacement for Explorer.

One notable application missing from the KDE installer is Amarok, the popular music player. The Amarok Web site explains that the Windows port is highly experimental and has been omitted from the KDE 4.3 release of the KDE on Windows installer, although it was available on Windows with KDE 4.2. In fact, no music or video player was available from the KDE installer for version 4.3, which is a shame, as the Phonon technology developed by KDE and integrated into Qt should make it easier than ever before to make such applications truly cross-platform.

KDE 4 comes with a great selection of simple games built in, including the likes of Hangman, Battleships and a few more exotic options, such as Mahjongg (Figures 8 and 9). Windows includes its own applications for playing many of these games, but the KDE alternatives were highly impressive with beautiful artwork. I encountered few problems that would give any indication that they hadn't been designed for Windows in the first place—only some problems saving partially completed games due to differences between the Linux and Windows filesystem structures.

Figure 8. KMahjongg is beautifully presented and very usable on Windows.

Figure 9. KHangMan comes with a selection of nice themes and worked flawlessly.