Wednesday, January 28, 2009

KDE42 Released : Microsoft Beware! Windows is looking outdated.

I just finished looking over the latest KDE42 (K Desktop Environment version 4.2.0 for Linux), and I was so impressed I just found myself repeatedly thinking: this latest FREE KDE42 desktop for Linux looks spectacular, and even more, it is extremely functional (yes, useful outweighs looks - are you listening Microsoft?) Over and over, feature after feature, I kept saying to myself "WOW!"

I am someone that has tried Microsoft Windows Vista, and after trying it, and hating it, has reverted to using Windows XP SP2 (or SP3) for all day-to-day mainstream Windows applications. Sure, Vista has some nice new features, but I overwhelmingly find it to be more eye-candy and bloat than true useful and functional improvements since XP. I can create a minimal Windows XP install in a couple Gigabytes or less, but no such luck with that bloated beast called Vista. I just purchased a new Dell Studio Hybrid recently with Vista on it, and without anything else installed, and I was flabbergasted by how much disk space an "empty" (fresh install) Vista OS took up (if you are lucky, Vista with SP1 may ONLY take up 10GB or so after you clean up unused files - unreal!)

Enough ranting about how lame Vista is... let's look to the future: KDE 42 on Linux! From what I am seeing, this is what Vista *should* have been. Sure, being Linux, it will suffer from a perceived "lack of applications", but most of that "lack" is a lack of mainstream Windows-only applications from major vendors, with the most notable titles being those from guess who: Microsoft. But, for most everyday users, Linux offers more than enough commonly-required functionality, whether Adobe's Flash or Acrobat Reader, Firefox browser, or a host of other applications.

And, unlike Windows, with Linux/KDE you do not need to wipe out your computer's disk drive and spend hundreds of dollars, and countless hours, to *try* the OS before you committing to using it... just try out a "Linux Live CD or Live DVD" with all sorts of common applications installed, and in as little as a few minutes (the time it takes to boot the running OS, with apps installed, from the CD/DVD media -- try THAT Microsloth!) Note: since writing that review, (the LiveCD link) Linux has grown a LOT and distribution options have improved... I currently prefer OpenSuse, Fedora, and Ubuntu/Kubuntu distros). Oh geez... how easy it is to again get a bit off course and rant about how lame Windows is with regards to nightmare day-long installs (especially when including time for "updates" and "Service Packs"). Onward...

KDE42 New Features
Here is a list of some noteworth items from the new KDE 4.2 release:
  • One of the coolest useful features in KDE42 is the desktop-application-quick-find thing (sorry, I don't know what it's code-name is), that lets you start typing the name of the open application, or sub-application-item too I think, and have KDE take you to the appropriate screen and application in as little as a few keystrokes when you have multiple applications and/or desktops open (note to Windows users: KDE allows you to have many virtual desktops that you can move between - perfect for keeping Email on one "screen", software development tasks on another, etc). If this existed on Windows, you could get to Control Panel (if it was open among many Windows) through a hot-key combo, then typing "CO...", and only typing as many characters as needed to uniquely find the "COntrol Panel" window and set focus to it. Nice (and, Linux only)!
  • Very nice integration of folder/file browsing on your machine in such a way that you can drag a view of a folder to your desktop, and have that folder window/panel visible on the desktop (not a shortcut, but a sorta window-panel view of the folder and files). Nice.
  • A slider-control within file-explorer (and other places) for sizing/zooming items within a panel. This is MUCH more useful than a dropdown (ala Microsoft) that you have to choose "details, icons, thumbnails" etc) - KDE has a faster and more useful interface paradigm here.
  • Desktop search is coming along, and in a sensible fashion. I utterly detest Windows desktop search, and de-install it on any of my systems, as I find it useless. KDE looks to have a better implementation even in early stages.
  • Improved power management - speaks for itself.
  • Improved printer configuration - something I don't mind in Windows, so I am always glad when Linux makes printer configuration easier with each release.
  • Smarter archive-file extraction and handling (about time).
  • And, of course, some requisite glitz and eye-candy including window and desktop transitions, etc. I do not care much about these things, though I can appreciate the fact that they look nice. Again, I focus on usefulness, usability, and features over glitz.

If you have not read the KDE42 Release Announcement, you may wish to do so. You can find links from there to pages like the Visual Guide to KDE42 page, which links to other detailed pages of pretty screen shots and videos demonstrating some of the features I have mentioned and much more. You will be awed (I hope) at how splendid KDE, and the Plasma desktop / widgets and overall functionality, is becoming.

To me the bottom line is obvious: Microsoft (Public, NASDAQ:MSFT) is losing whatever edge it had with regards to their Windowing Operating System. Other players are moving fast, and not just meeting, but exceeding, the abilities of Windows Vista (and perhaps Windows 7 - since that is coming soon). Microsoft needs to do something beyond evolutionary if they are to compete in the long term; fact is, the open-source community is getting their game on and working faster than ever to meet and exceed expectations. Perhaps this is one reason why Microsoft stock (MSFT) is taking a bath lately... it is not JUST Windows that is losing its edge, many of their products are becoming less dominant than ever as competition heats up (note: I still LOVE Microsoft SQL-Server, and consider it a fantastic product - no open-source DB even comes close).

Give KDE42 a look, and you will see what I mean.

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