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Fedora 9 and the road to KDE4

by Rahul Sundaram

Fedora 9 will include KDE 4.0.3 by default, so this is a look at the progress of one of the major free desktop environments. KDE 4.0 was released January 11, 2008 after a couple of years of discussions and hype. The initial release was followed by a succession of minor releases that fixed many of the glaring bugs. The project that was initiated on October 14, 1996, so its developers have nearly a decade of experience now. While a lot of things have changed, there is still a familiar feel from its initial days. So what has changed?

Interface changes

The user interfaces changes are immediately visible uponlogin. The Oxygen theme introduces a new look and feel and adopts the freedesktop.org icon naming specification. The hot spot on the top right corner that looks like a golden cashew nut allows you to add widgets—called plasmoids–to your KDE desktop . With the ability to run Windows® Vista® and Mac OS desktop equivalents in the near future, plasmoids can be very attractive and functional. The picture frame plasmoid, for example, would fit very well into a home desktop. The ability to move plasmoids between the panel and desktop seamlessly is a bonus.

Fig 1.
Fig 1. The new KDE applications menu

The new Kickoff menu is a bit unusual and takes time to get used to. There good features in there like the ability to search applications or mark favorites. However, switching between applications feels constrained since the menus are not cascading even though I have ample space on my high-resolution desktop.

The Fedora KDE team has backported functionality from KDE 4.1 that allows you to easily switch between the classic menu and Kickoff. Just use the context menu (right click on the K icon) to access this. The team also made available Konsole, a terminal application on the desktop context menu that can be used to drop to the command line easily.

KDE’s old control center was a amazing mix of tabs, settings, and more advanced settings that reminded me of a flight cockpit. I frequently got lost in the maze and needed the search to bail me out. The new system settings that replace it are a pleasure to use in comparison. Many feel that it most resembles the Mac OS X desktop.

Fig 2.
Fig 2. Neat and simple system settings

While Compiz and Compiz fusion provide a lot of whiz-bang eye candy, the configuration utilities for them are difficult to use and there is not much integration with the desktop environment. Kwin has grown its own composing manager, as has Metacity, so for now it may be best to leave Compiz to prototype and experiment with new plugins.

Fig 3.
Fig 3. KDE’s own compiz

New applications

Konqueror has been popular for a long time, partially because it can function as both a web browser and file manager. The user interface, however, is tuned towards neither. Dolphin is a simple and straight forward no-frills file manager. If you want something advanced, Konqueror is still there. There are rumors of a web browser equivalent to Dolphin in a future revision.

Fig 4.
Fig 4. Dolphin file manager plays a alternative to the all-singing and all-dancing Konqueror

Okular is a new poppler-based document viewer that can display PDF, Postscript, DjVu, and CHM documents, as well as others. Dolphin and Okular are somewhat reminiscent of Nautilus and Evince in GNOME but KDE’s changes don’t end there. There are several other interesting additions to KDE’s renowned education suite and games. The marble desktop globe, for instance, is one of my new favorites.

Frameworks galore

KDE has always been a architecturally strong desktop and KDE 4 is no different. It brings in a slew of new frameworks including Solid, Phonon, Akonadi, and others. With Trolltech making QT available under the GPL license for Windows and Mac OS, KDE project has shown a great amount of interest in making its desktop and applications more cross-platform friendly. The move to Cmake has certainly helped with this. There is also much better integration with various freedesktop.org technologies including D-Bus–which has replaced DCOP and AT-SPI for better accessibility. These changes promise to produce better interoperability with other desktop environments like GNOME and Xfce, which are already using it extensively. One example would be the Dogtail project Solid, which works as a wrapper around HAL, NetworkManager, and BlueZ make handling removable devices a pleasure via the new device notification.

A long time ago, KDE adopted the conceptually advanced arts sound daemon with much fanfare. Later, the tool got stuck because the vital piece went unmaintained and KDE couldn’t drop it in order to maintain binary compatibility with previous minor revisions. Having learned the lessons from that experience, KDE now introduces Phonon as a multimedia framework. The interesting thing about Phonon is the ability to switch between multiple backends, providing KDE with a buffer. This is not the only advantage, however, as Phonon also provides simple programming interfaces that makes multimedia integration with other KDE applications a trivial affair. Though Xine is the only backend currently supported, Trolltech has adopted Phonon for QT in the recent 4.4 release and is working on a Gstreamer backend planned for KDE 4.1 Distributions can choose the backend (or backends) that make sense for them and users can switch when needed. Speaking of multimedia, it should be highlighted that Fedora 9 features better PulseAudio integration thanks to the work of Lennart Poettering–the primary hacker on PulseAudio (and Avahi)–and the Fedora KDE team.

Akonadi is a storage service that encapsulates a lot of knowledge that the KDE PIM team has gained over the years. Kmail and other PIM applications use it. It is a library that can be taken advantage of by applications within other desktop environment applications like Evolution.

Last but not least, QT (pronounced cute) is the underlying toolkit for the KDE desktop. The version 4.0 release iss a major factor behind KDE’s new release. Read about the many improvements.


To address the new changes–and a lack of technical documentation–the KDE project has launched a new initiative and website called techbase, which continues to add lots of information tailored for end users and developers.

Warts and all

The many interface changes bring their own set of problems. Icons and files on the desktop only have rudimentary support by design, yet there is no better replacement ready. You cannot drag and drop or copy paste files, nor can you use the context menu to open a file with a alternative program. When you delete icons from the desktop, they are not actually deleted but merely hidden for the current session and reappear on your next login. Panel widgets cannot be relocated within the panel easily. There is no way to remove the plasmoid handler from the desktop.

With the Oxygen theme, the difference between an active window and the passive windows are too subtle. We also need better integration upstream with PolicyKit, ConsoleKit, and PulseAudio, as well as other upcoming innovations. The list is long, though many of them are already reported and likely to be fixed for the next major revision, schedule for July. Fixes will also be made available for Fedora 9 users as a update following the KDE 4.0.4 release.

There is no doubt that the KDE project has benefited from the feedback of the early adopters in the community and that Fedora has committed to helping upstream with by being the first major distribution to take the bold step of making this version the default KDE desktop. This decision is in line with the stated objectives of progressing free and open source software.

Where do we go from here?

KDE 4 shows exciting potential but still has a long way to go. Those who remember the days of KDE or GNOME 2.0 won’t be disappointed at the current state. Today’s new audience might have different expectations, and it is unlikely the majority has the patience to deal with a major rewrite like this one. Even the Linux kernel has moved towards incremental progress over major rewrites in a development branch. The KDE project has taken a big risk, hoping to jump-start innovation. I hope they get it right. Along with the interesting acquisition of Trolltech by Nokia, the future is exciting and uncertain… and that’s just the way I like it.


I would like to thank the Fedora KDE special interest group for bringing KDE to Fedora users, especially Rex Dieter and Than Ngo for reviewing this article and Kevin Kofler for offering his technical input.

About the author

Rahul Sundaram is a long-time contributor to the Fedora Project and a former member of the first Fedora Board. He likes to dabble with, discuss, and write about new technology.

28 responses to “Fedora 9 and the road to KDE4”

  1. Linux Acessível » Blog Archive » Fedora 9 - novidades says:

    [...] Links para novidades do Fedora 9 http://docs.fedoraproject.org/release-notes/f9/pt_BR/sn-OverView.html http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Releases/9/ReleaseSummary http://www.redhatmagazine.com/2008/05/14/fedora-9-and-the-road-to-kde4/ [...]

  2. Hans says:

    Thanks for a well written article. This was LWN quality. I also liked how politely you disagreed with the 4.0 development and release process.

  3. Brandy says:

    This article reset my expectations appropriately – I’ve been
    having a lot of problems with PulseAudio during the F9 alpha
    and beta testing, and was underwhelmed by KDE 4.0. I’m
    currently using openSuSE 10.2 (with KDE 3.5) as my day-to-day platform, and will now be looking forward to KDE 4.1 on F9 working as well or better than what I have now. Thank you for clearly explaining “the big picture”.

  4. Ric Moore says:

    Special thanks to Kevin and Rahul for their work. It’s folks like you that keep me hanging in there with Fedora. :) Ric

  5. Chuck says:

    I have been truing to use Fedora 9 for a day now and I can’t find a way to put an icon on the Desktop. The right click menu is stripped down. I thought these things were supposed to get better.

  6. fred brockman says:

    i am gnome user and i tried fedora 9, but didn’t like it. I am using ubuntu– no comparision. Ubuntu has kde4, i tried it but didn’t like tthe interface. I check with distrowatch for all the latest linux distro’s. better luck next time.

  7. Fedora 9 Installed - And Uninstalled » LinDesk says:

    [...] Fedora 9 and the road to KDE4 [...]

  8. Will Stephenson says:

    There appears to be a spurious link to Dogtail in front of Solid; in case anyone was wondering, the two are not related.

  9. Bruce Barbour says:

    Fedora support lists many complaints about KDE which has been abandoned by me as unworkable and convinced me to stay with Gnome until improvements are made. Difficulty in getting KDE to load, when loaded nothing works, no taskbar, unable to input in a terminal so can’t issue commands. A mess.

  10. SGHolt says:

    KDE 4 is certainly a mess and virtually unusable…it should not have been included in the release along with several other packages.
    KDE 4 innovative design actually looks like a imitation of Windows start menu…not the direction to go, in fact I think the menu/panels are fine given the customization that is allowed.
    I have installed 3 times and every time I tried to customize the panel it disappeared and I can not find anyway to get it back. The widget launcher is ugly …the desktop widgets do not resize properly…they refuse to stay on the desktop…
    I think the KDE folks need to start over…go back to KDE 3.5. Don’t mess with the looks, deal with its functionality!
    If I wanted an ugly interface I would just use Gnome :)

  11. Andrew Mathenge says:

    I honestly don’t think that KDE 4 is production ready, I guess that’s why it’s in Fedora and not Red Hat. I agree with a couple of previous posts that say KDE is getting more and more Windows looking. I didn’t understand the part about compiz and difficulty with the settings manager. I use Ubuntu and find that it works really well and that configuring plugins doesn’t cause any problems. Maybe it’s just me.

  12. jeff says:

    Not a bad release, definately takes some tinkering, but is a little faster thasn ubuntu once everything is set up, although apt-get/aptitude/synaptic is so much better than YUM or other resdhat package managers , especially as far as grabbing only neccesary dependencies and easily installing software that “just” works, I bet this will be awesome when it is RHEL v 7 (or whatever it WILL BE, but has some ways to go .. Ubuntu is still simpler, and less easy to break. And works great out of the box, fedsora = lots of work to get everything working they way i wanted, but in the end vvery stable and fast .. 2 systems for 2 different types of ppl I guess. I have 4 PC’s 2 with Ubuntu 1 Debian Etch (the FASTEST of them) and 1 FCP( which is a decent mix of stabilty/performance if you take time to configure and look in the forums etc.. Documentation for UBuntu is easier to find .
    my $0.02
    as someone else said .. better luck next time , FC9 is trying to be too bleeding edge .. for that I prefer Debian/Sid

  13. jeff says:


  14. Frank says:

    “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Voltaire
    KDE 3.5.8 is the good … KDE 4 is the perfect? I didn’t think so. I am not a fan of Gnome but, I will use it instead if this becomes my only KDE alternative.

  15. jekader says:

    :) Interesting stuff! I’ve always been a Fedora+KDE user – but when I saw KDE4… There was no big problem in the fact, that things were different – but lots of stuff was just unconfigurable… So I’ve set up KDE4.1beta1 from rawhide – things are a bit better, but dolphin and konqueror stopped working :lol:

    So now, for the first time, I’m under GNOME – and it resembles KDE 3.5.9 more, than I could do that with KDE4 :(

    So my opinion is that the complete swithch to KDE4 was too much. Not to say that fedora9 was released with no 3d-capable nvidia drivers :D

  16. mgb says:

    I’ve been using KDE at least since version 1.1 in RH 6.2.

    KDE 4.x is not ready for prime-time. In fact KDE 4.x is alpha quality and not yet ready for beta testing.

    KDE 4.x has some good looking icons, and some technology which may one day be useful. What there is not is a desktop which most users can be productive with. The new menu is a bad joke, although that at least is fixable. The new control center and file manager are crippled by design – apparently emulating Vista.

    I seriously hope Fedora ships KDE 3.5 in F10. Otherwise most KDE users will have to find another distro when F8 security updates end about six months from now. KDE 3.5 is needed for a year or two more until KDE 4 becomes usable in version 4.3 or 4.4.

  17. anoop says:

    Totally disappointed with fedora9 kde, I think I will wait for fedora10 before upgrading from fedora7, It’s not stable and the usability and convenience of kde-3,5 is all gone, Or is it simply that I have to learn kde all over again just to change the colour of the kicker or panel, And of course the black colour looks like an hearse to me

  18. shenkov says:

    KDE 4 Fedora 9 isn’t the good way. I’m sorry! The KDE 4 interface is wrong. Don’t keep it…

  19. Jim says:

    “KDE 4 is certainly a mess and virtually unusable…it should not have been included in the release along with several other packages”

    I couldn’t agree more. We out FC9 through the usual battery of pre-deployment testing here at the office and every failure was related to KDE 4.0. It’s a complete and utter train wreck.

    If F10 does not include a 3.5.x option for KDE we will either switch to Gnome (not happily) or simply stick with FC7.

    KDE has done a great job of making a worthless Vista clone of a desktop environment. They’ve one upped Microsoft though by making it the least stable desktop enviroment we’ve ever tested.


  20. Jim says:

    I should remind people that Linis Torvalds once urged people to switch to KDE from Gnome.

    “I personally just encourage people to switch to KDE. This ‘users are idiots, and are confused by functionality’ mentality of Gnome is a disease. If you think your users are idiots, only idiots will use it. I don’t use Gnome, because in striving to be simple, it has long since reached the point where it simply doesn’t do what I need it to do.”

    It seems that KDE has finally fallen into Gnomes trap by making a desktop that is even worse than Gnome circa 2005 (when Linus made this post).

    The sooner the KDE folks make a quick about face and put configuration and customization back into the KDE so power users can get back to getting work done.

    Some focus on stability would be welcome as well.

  21. KDE 4 is the best…advertisement for GNOME that is. « Ryan’s Tech Blog says:

    [...] “While Compiz and Compiz fusion provide a lot of whiz-bang eye candy, the configuration utilities for them are difficult to use and there is not much integration with the desktop environment. Kwin has grown its own composing manager, as has Metacity, so for now it may be best to leave Compiz to prototype and experiment with new plugins.” -http://www.redhatmagazine.com/2008/05/14/fedora-9-and-the-road-to-kde4/ [...]

  22. Blair says:

    I will be the first (or among the first) to admit that Fedora 9 with KDE 4 is not for the faint of heart. I threw darts at it for nearly a week, and was just about to write it off when the last set of updates to Fedora 9 were released, and a few things that were broken, actually started working correctly (or nearly so).

    First in this list, for me, was XvMC on an nVidia GPU. High Def and animated 3D content was jumping all over the place prior to this release, now it only stutters occasionally :)

    The desktop crashed regularly and now seems reasonably stable, even with translucency turned on all over the place.
    Some desktop effects (like ‘Sharpen’ on my box), make the desktop freak out. A little file hacking was required to recover it.

    The audio subsystems actually seem to work now too, though JACK can’t seem to force my Audigy card to step down from 48Khz to 44.1Khz on Fedora 9 (works fine with the same hardware on Fedora 8) None the less, the sound quality and application audio stream mixing is definitely improved over Fedora 8. Ardour seems to work well with it.

    Bottom line, I can’t quite use it as a Digital Audio Workstation yet, nor as an A/V editing system, but it does seem to do all the basic desktop functionality now. Hopefully Fedora 10 will address the remaining issues BEFORE they release it!

  23. Patrick Op de Beeck says:

    At this moment KDE4 is resonable stable, doesn’t work yet with 3D drivers it is still very Early Beta now. I hope we have soon 3D.
    For those who aren’t changing a thing it is good.
    A lot is fixed but still a lot need to be improved.
    For production I recommend still 3.5.9.
    August 2008

  24. Dr. Craig says:

    KDE, really is unstable and unreliable in the super user mode.
    Shuts down on its own. Denies permissions even in super user.
    Programs like unpacker vanish.
    I don’t know but it seems to this user that the guys at Fedora project really need a director. Really, just too many things that need tweaking instead of less more reliable choices.
    Maybe that is just the nature of open source the same as on line articles not dating first thing so we can see that the information is ancient history.

  25. Antonio J. de Oliveira says:

    Good old fc8…I installed fc9 and had to revert back to fc8 to be able to do something using kde. At the same time I gave everibody working with me indication not to even try to install that. There are too many flaws in this new kde, and I could even find installation problems on a particular machine. Fc9 is really a system-in-development, not an usable one, i’m afraid. That is certainly not a crime, but we, silly users, were expecting something less raw. There is no point in getting versions out if nobody can use those. Well, that’s life, but the developers cannot expect help even from advanced users. I have seen this in the past, I come from RH7…



  26. RedHat Fedora: Fedora 8 to Fedora 9 upgrade. says:

    [...] What changes to expect can be viewed from this great article. [...]

  27. Tom says:

    It’s quite the experience:


    But I have been getting used to the new features such as the start menu that’s just plain quicker I find to navigate. Once I got some of the issues out of the way I can work with the system as-is, but I just hope nothing else changes and hope some of the old features like drag and drop get put back. :)

    Thank you. It’s a great post.

  28. nelgrecram says:

    fedora live cd
    loads quickly (good)
    tried to play mp3 file frank sinatra ?
    needs coedac or something but did not automatically find
    install, run?
    like windows dirvers and compatability?
    this is insanity
    wwIII will decide who will play god????????????????????????