KDE—The Next Generation

Ready to jazz up your KDE desktop—get KDE 2.0.

The KDE team is working full steam on the next release of the K Desktop Environment which is planned for spring 2000, so it is time to look at what the new version will have in store.

When you first install one of the beta releases and use a plain old setting, you will probably not notice much difference between KDE 1.1 and KDE 2.0. However, the more you explore, the more you will find things that have changed. Also, many changes have been made under the hood.

Java Support

Let's start with some of the core components. As a programmer, you might be interested to hear that the library interface has been cleaned up. As a user, this probably won't interest you half as much as the fact that the web browser now supports JavaScript and Java. The Java support is not bound to any particular implementation of the JVM; you can use any fully compliant implementation. We do our testing with the blackdown port of the Sun JDK, but barring some bugs, you should also be able to use kaffe, for example. Also notable is that not just the HTML widget and applications can use Java—any KDE application can now embed a Java applet in its windows. JavaScript support was partly available in KDE 1.1 already, but it was so rudimentary no one really used it. KDE 2.0 features an all-new implementation that is much more complete; it enables you to view 90% of all web pages using JavaScript.

Speaking of the browser, the whole HTML widget, i.e., the part that is responsible for all HTML display, has been completely rewritten. In particular, the display of tables as well as the speed has been greatly improved and the internal structure now conforms to DOM, the Document Object Model put forth by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The HTML display component is fully HTML4-compliant, and—if the patent dispute between the W3C and Microsoft is sorted out—will most likely support CSS1.

Figure 1. Device Manager

The KDE web browser/file manager has been renamed Konqueror. The name choice is obvious: history tells us the conqueror always comes after the navigator and the explorer. It has also become more flexible. The KDE PostScript viewer kghostscript and the KDE DVI viewer kdvi can now be used in Konqueror. The same goes for the information and help page viewers, and more can be easily integrated in the future.

Kwin and Kicker

Two more core components have been completely re-implemented: the window manager, now called kwin, and the panel, now called kicker. kwin is much more flexible than the old kwm, thanks to its very modular design. For example, it will be possible for applications to ask the window manager for decorations of internal windows. This is useful for applications like StarOffice that use the “window manager in a window” paradigm. Until now, these applications have had to emulate the look-and-feel of one window manager, which was awkward for users who used another manager on their desktop. For KDE 2.0, this feature is still disabled, because it wasn't tested enough. However, the code is there and will make its way into one of the following releases. The author of kwin, Matthias Ettrich, is working with other notable window manager authors on a common window manager specification (the so-called NET protocol), so that window managers on Linux will be easier to exchange in the future. As with KDE 1.1, you can run KDE with window managers other than kwin, but you may lose some functionality.

As for kicker, the new panel, it will be extremely easy to write applets that either run inside it or stand alone. This was already possible with kpanel, but with kicker, the burden for the developer has been eased even more. Also, applications can now dynamically add or remove submenus in the K menu at runtime. The taskbar can be included inside the panel (many people wanted that), and the whole panel can be dragged around on the screen. It is much more configurable than the old one.

Customization of the Desktop

Figure 2. Theme Designer

So far, KDE has had the reputation of being stable and solid, but a bit boring when it comes to looks. This has completely changed. KDE 1.1.2 already contained some theme ability and a theme manager; KDE 2.0 can be graphically customized in any way you like—the possibilities are limitless (see Figure 2). Everything from a very basic and subdued look to a completely Gothic desktop is possible. It's up to you and your artistic capabilities, but of course, there are many ready-made themes for you to try (see http://kde.themes.org/).