These include a greatly improved desktop application-launcher menu bar, the KDE Kicker. With this, users can add applets to the Kicker. This kind of functionality was already available in KDEs great rival for the Linux desktop: GNOME.
Users also now have three choices in how the Kicker will appear: elegant, classic and transparency.
Beyond the looks though, tooltips, which were introduced for Kicker buttons in KDE 3.4, are now enabled for the virtual desktop changer (aka mini-pager) and taskbar buttons.
Tooltips allows users to have more information about KDEs various displays and icons at their fingertips.
While not new to desktop environments, Windows has similar functionality; new users should find it a welcome addition.
KDEs combination default Web and file browser, Konqueror, has also been improved.
Now, when users browse the Web, they will only see the options that make sense for Web viewing, and, vice-versa when a user is looking at local or network files. The menu only includes selections that make sense for files.
In addition, taking a page from Firefox, Konqueror now has an optional search bar. This is part of the kdeaddons package. It gives users the power to select his or her search engine from a dropdown menu.
There have also been other small, performance improvements. For example, the system monitoring utility, KSysGuard, is much faster. It also now enables users to search for active programs and processes.
KDE 3.5 also has greatly improved portable media support: SMN (Storage Media Notification).
With SMN, when users place any new media, such as a CD, DVD or USB memory stick, on a KDE-enabled system, it not only automatically mounts the appropriate file system, it also presents the user with a dialog asking what he or she want to do with its content.
The KDE Accessibility Team, along with its counterparts from GNOME and the Free Standards Group, is working on making sure that all the desktops support seamless interoperability for persons with disabilities.
The source code is now available directly from KDE. Would-be beta testers should check to make certain that they can compile KDE 3.5 on their systems.
For example, KDE 3.5, based on C++, is likely not to compile correctly with gcc versions earlier than gcc-2.95, such as egcs-1.1.2 or gcc-2.7.2.
Additionally, while KDE relies on Trolltech Inc. Qt C++ application framework, it will not compile correctly with the latest version, Qt 3.3.5.
This is a bug in Qt 3.3.5, and while there are workarounds, Trolltech is also working on a fix.
For users who are not savvy compilers, Novell Inc. has provided KDE 3.5 binaries for for SUSE Linux 9.1, 9.2 and 9.3.The Kubuntu project, part of the Ubuntu Debian Linux family, also has binaries available for its distributions.
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Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is editor at large for Ziff Davis Enterprise. Prior to becoming a technology journalist, Vaughan-Nichols worked at NASA and the Department of Defense on numerous major technological projects. Since then, he's focused on covering the technology and business issues that make a real difference to the people in the industry.