While Microsoft beats the drum loudly for Vista, the K Desktop Environment open-source community has more quietly been improving its popular desktop interface.
The upcoming version of KDE 3.5 will include many small, but significant, improvements. In addition, the latest edition of the KDE-based office suite, KOffice 1.4.1, has already improved its interoperability with other office programs.
First in KDEs new feature set is Storage Media Notification. With this, when you place any new media, such as a CD, DVD or USB memory stick, on a KDE-enabled Linux or Unix system, it will present you with a dialog asking what you want to do with the content.
This kind of functionality is already present in Windows XP and in some Linux distributions like Mandriva.
KDEs Kicker, the desktops application-launcher menu bar, is also getting numerous improvements.
Tool-tips, which were introduced for buttons in KDE 3.4, will now be enabled for the virtual desktop changer (aka mini-pager) and taskbar buttons. With this, users will have more information about the various displays and icons at their fingertips.
The desktop changer has also been improved so that you can see what applications are running on each desktop. For those with particularly sharp eyes and mouse fingers, you can even drag and drop applications from one virtual desktop to another.
You can also add your favorite applets to the Kicker. Taken all-in-all, customizing the Kicker to your exact needs should be easier than ever before.
Of course, KDE offers more than just a GUI. It also brings with it a rich assortment of applications that run on KDE.
For example, Kopete, the KDE instant messaging client, is being upgraded so that all your IM buddies will be kept in the KDE address book, and improvements are being made to Kopetes interoperability with MSN Messenger clients.
Some improved functionality is already available today in major KDE applications.
The latest KOffice, for instance, has much better support for the new OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) OpenDocument format. With this, and other interoperability improvements, KOffice users will be able to much more easily trade documents with OpenOffice.org 2.0 and Microsoft Office users.
KDE 3.5 is in its final development stages. According to the development schedule, the desktop will go into feature freeze on August 1. Any features that are suggested after that date will go into KDE 4.0.
Even at this pre-alpha, source-code-only stage, though, KDE 3.5 is reportedly working both quickly and well.
The first true alpha is scheduled for early August, with the first beta to follow in September. The final version is expected to arrive later this fall.