Vendors working to parlay the server room successes of Linux into a spot on the mainstream corporate desktop (see review of SuSE Linux Office Desktop) have a powerful ally in KDE Project developers, whove been hard at work extending the performance, polish and functionality of their namesake K Desktop Environment.
In the latest releaseKDE 3.1, which became available late last monththe product has seen significant advances since its 3.0 version, which eWeek Labs reviewed last spring, and represents Linuxs best hope for becoming a viable desktop contender.
In eWeek Labs tests, we were particularly pleased with the improvements to KDEs Konqueror Web browser and file manager application, which now includes support for tabbed browsing. Konqueror also stands to improve significantly in future releases, now that Apple Computer Inc. has selected Konquerors KHTML rendering engine as the foundation for its Safari Web browser.
KDE 3.1 is available for free download in source code or compiled binary form at www.kde.org. A new application called Konstruct makes the process of compiling KDE much simpler than its been (see Pings & Packets), but the best way to get KDE will still be through a Linux distributor.
Given sufficient time and know-how, anyone can tweak KDE into the desktop he or she desires, but using a distributor-packaged and configured KDE release will deliver the most satisfying results for the average user.
korganizer, kdes native calendar and scheduling application, has received a number of improvements, including better support for the iCal calendar-sharing format and support for accessing Microsoft Corp.s Exchange 2000-based calendars. It appears that Korganizer uses the same WebDAV, or Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning, interface to access Exchange that Ximian Inc.s Evolution does, but we werent able to get this feature working with the same Exchange account weve been able to access with Evolution.
Looking forward, the associated Kroupware project aims to extend this functionality to support Exchange mail as well, similar to the support that Ximians Evolution now provides.
We were intrigued to find Desktop Sharing functionality in KDE 3.1 similar to that in Windows XP but which is based on VNC (virtual network computing). VNC clients are freely available for most platforms, and after downloading the client software for Windows, we were able to connect to our test system. Based on the options we chose, we could either view or control that machine from Windows.
New in KDE 3.1 is a framework for managing and locking down application configuration options, an important feature for enterprise deployments. We could lock down the appearance and start menu entries of our test system by modifying text files. According to the KDE Project, KDE 3.2 will include a graphical tool for configuring these options.
Among other new interface niceties, KDE 3.1 now allows for fuller customization of the KDE task bar. We particularly appreciated the option to fade out the handles attached to individual task bar elements, which in previous KDE versions tended to clutter the task bar.
Along with support for tabbed browsing, Konqueror now boasts a nice download manager, called Kget, that enabled us to more effectively monitor and control file downloads. Along similar lines, KDEs Kio data access architecture now enables users to access remote file systems securely using Secure Shell.
Also improved, primarily in its clarity of organization, is KDEs control center application, but theres still room for improvement. For example, separate modules exist for adjusting style, window decoration and theme, and without some experimentation, its not immediately clear which module does what. Of course, a measure of added complexity goes along with added options, and in KDE, the trade-off is generally worthwhile.
The control center now features a utility for adjusting monitor resolutions, an activity thats generally undertaken by vendor-specific utilities.
Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Executive Summary: KDE 3.1
The KDE Projects K Desktop Environment update forms the face of desktop Linux for many users, and its a face that has grown markedly more attractive in this release. With a mix of the flexibility for which Linux is prized and the desktop functionality that users expect, KDE 3.1 provides a significant boost for the fortunes of Linux on mainstream corporate workstations.
KDE 3.1 is open-source software, freely available for download.
(+) Tabbed browsing in Konqueror; handy desktop sharing feature; interface enhancements.
(-) Multitude of configuration options can prove confusing.
EVALUATION SHORT LIST