KDE and GNOME, the open-source software projects that together form the face of most Linux installations, have undergone revisions that boost their usability and enterprise readiness—advances that build the case for Linux as a viable alternative to Windows on mainstream corporate desktops.
Some of the biggest changes in KDE 3.3 and GNOME 2.8 lie in the projects respective e-mail and collaboration clients, Kontact and Evolution. Both applications are well-integrated into their desktop environments and cover a full range of groupware functionality, but eWEEK Labs found Evolution to be more refined and pleasant to use.
We tested both desktop environments on systems running Fedora Core 2. We compiled and installed GNOME 2.8 using Garnome, a script that automates the lengthy process of downloading and compiling the GNOME source code in the proper order. The Garnome Project Web site has been overhauled and now contains much better documentation than before.
We tested KDE 3.3, released last month, using precompiled binary packages downloaded from Red Hats development repository. We also tested with Konstruct, a download-and-compile script that works the same way for KDE that Garnome does for GNOME.
You can use Garnome or Konstruct to install these desktop environments on any of the systems they support (both run on all Linux distributions, as well as Solaris and most other Unixes). But the best way to obtain KDE or GNOME is through your Linux distributor.
GNOME 2.8, released earlier this month, marks the long-awaited Version 2.0 release of the Evolution groupware client, which for the first time ships as an integrated part of the desktop environment.
Evolution 2.0s new spam-filtering capabilities are impressive. The application connects to SpamAssassin in the background and, during tests, let us move messages to a junk folder for verification.
Evolution 2.0 also let us teach SpamAssassin to better classify e-mail by manually marking messages as spam or ham (valid mail).
Evolutions support for Novell Inc.s GroupWise groupware server and for Microsoft Corp.s Exchange Server 2000 and Exchange Server 2003 distinguishes it from competing Linux e-mail products, including Mozillas Thunderbird 0.8 and KDEs Kontact. Now that Novell has released its Exchange plug-in under the GPL (GNU General Public License), we hope to see Exchange compatibility spread to Thunderbird and Kontact.
Kontact, KDE 3.3s answer to Evolution, is a groupware application that combines the e-mail, contact and scheduling applications from KDE into a single client. Weve panned Kontact in the past for its lack of interface polish, and while the latest version is slicker-looking, various quirks remain.
For one thing, when we were using the down-arrow key, Kontact insisted on scrolling downward through the current message in the preview pane, rather than through messages in its message-list pane.
We also had trouble with Kontacts spam filtering, which, as with Evolution, can connect to SpamAssassin to automatically classify mail as spam as well as train SpamAssassin to better detect spam. In our tests, the wizard with which we created spam-handling filters allowed us to select a folder on our IMAP server as the site to dump unwanted messages, but the filter seemed to work only with local folders.
Another thing that annoyed us about KDEs mail handling was the way it dealt with HTML messages. By default, every HTML message appears in source view, with a security warning and a link to render the HTML for viewing. We could opt instead to have all HTML messages render by default, but wed prefer that Kontact provide the option of rendering the message in a “sanitized” form—one that doesnt fetch remote images or objects. Evolution and Thunderbird work this way by default.
Kopete, the instant messaging client that ships with KDE, is another application that disappointed us in the past for the roughness of its interface, but the version included with KDE 3.3 is much-improved.
We particularly appreciated the option of having Kopete render our chats to mimic other IM clients, such as the Gaim client.
We also liked the tie-in between KDEs Konqueror file manager and Kopete, which let us initiate file transfers to online IM buddies through Konquerors right-click context menu.
Remote Desktop Sharing
GNOME 2.8 now includes a remote desktop sharing feature that works with VNC (virtual network computing) to enable users to make their desktops viewable or controllable by others. This is a great capability for conducting demonstrations or for soliciting aid from IT personnel. (This is a feature that KDE has included since its 3.1 release.)
The provision for locking down and remotely managing desktop configurations is also important for enterprise desktop deployments, and both the GNOME and KDE projects have been hard at work building this functionality into their products.
GNOME handles configuration management through its GConf framework, but the tool that ships with GNOME for managing GConf—called GConf-editor—is fairly spartan and not particularly easy to use. The GConf-editor version in GNOME 2.8 has gotten a bit better, as it now supports searching through the Windows-registry-like keys in which GConf stores settings. However, this utility falls well short of the excellent management services settings that Sun Microsystems Inc. has built atop GConf for its Java Desktop System.
KDE 3.3 handles lockdown through a system called Kiosk, for which theres a GUI utility called Kiosktool that we used to create and manage profiles of KDE settings for groups or individual users.
As for profile-management capabilities, Kiosktool is much more well-developed than GConf-editor, which does not address these capabilities (although GConf-tool enabled us to determine more individual settings than did Kiosktool).
A nice improvement we found in GNOME 2.8 was the capability for auto-mounting removable devices such as USB (Universal Serial Bus) thumbdrives . This improvement makes GNOME much easier to use and eliminates the need for acquiring root permissions and hitting the command line just to copy a few files to or from your machine.
Improved file-type handling was another improvement that we were pleased to find in GNOME 2.8. GNOME developers have cut quite a bit of the complexity out of selecting which applications to use for opening particular file types.
Quality configuration tools have long been a strength of KDE, and 3.3s Samba setup module is the best weve seen.
We appreciated how the setup dialog provided a link to the man page for smb.conf. Linux man pages contain a lot of useful material, and it makes sense to tie these resources, which are typically accessed from the command line, into a systems graphical tools.
Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.