A tuned-up KDE 4.0 ready to roll, opens up to Mac, Windows

The next generation of KDE's open source project, version 4.0, is expected to be released today, and will sport a major under the hood tune-up that will bring KDE to a much broader audience.

"It's quite a big rewrite architecturally speaking. The major thing that started this off was the release of Qt4, the toolkit which KDE is based on," said Australian KDE developer Hamish Rodda.

Rodda said Qt4 brings a lot of features and API improvements to version 4.0, as well as significant enhancements in the way memory is used.

"So it ends up making KDE less resource intensive than KDE 3, which is quite an improvement," he said.

KDE 4.0 boasts a modern architecture that Rodda says is more "future-proof" and designed to last for many years, "whereas some of our other technologies were dependent on certain programs, like the aRts program for audio which unfortunately became a bit of a burden on previous KDE releases."

The multimedia aRts framework has been replaced by the Phonon framework.

"Phonon was developed by a KDE developer and has been subsequently taken up by Trolltech themselves because they liked it so much.

"This separates our ability to write multimedia applications depending on the underling media processing engines. We've now got our own middle layer which makes it really easy for applications."

"Then there is Solid which is our new hardware abstraction API, which will hopefully give a bit more time for the developers to port their applications to it, and will make things like plugging and playing USB sticks a lot more convenient."

KDE 4's user interface also gets a fundamental makeover with the addition of Plasma, KDE's new desktop shell.

"It's the face of KDE when you start it up, and its built on top of some of the new things in Qt4...it's a new way of allowing us to draw complex visuals without having to run a lot of complexity in our own code."

KDE's window manager KWin has also received a major graphical upgrade, allowing for live previews of all application windows.

KDE 4.0 also boasts an improved desktop search capability called Strigi, which promises major enhancements to existing search engine versions.

But perhaps the most significant aspect of KDE 4.0 is the fact that it is aimed at bringing KDE to a much wider audience.

Rodda said that despite not being matured just yet, there are developers working on the porting of KDE 4.0 to both Mac and Windows.

"We always intend to cater for all comers, hopefully with the improved visibility and increased multi-platform support we will achieve that goal.

"The new API is designed to last longer and KDE 4.0 is really a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Now that we've done a lot of the transition work from Qt3 to Qt4 we can focus more on going back and improving our applications and building on what we've got rather than just trying to make it work with a new version."

KDE 4.0 is expected to be released January 11 (January 12 AEST).

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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