KDE 3.2 marks open source software’s closest approach to the functionality and manageability of Microsoft’s Windows. We checked out how far KDE has come by upgrading KDE 3.1.5 on a busy office desktop, then loading KDE 3.2 on a fresh new Debian laptop. Installation
Upgrading was not simple - we issued “sudo yum update kde” on the two-month old Fedora desktop, then used Fedora’s “switchdesk” tool to set the default desktop to KDE. We restarted X and sat back to survey the mess that had become of this system’s desktop. Windows lost their title bars, scrollbars and associated furniture - making it impossible to move, resize or close them. The “taskbar” worked, showing the time, and allowed us to add new icons. But attempts to open terminal windows and applications left them unresponsive. Switching to manual, we downloaded KDE 3.2 RPMs to /root/kde32 and created yum header files: # yum-arch -v /root/KDE32 We edited /etc/yum.conf: [KDE32]
name=Fedora-KDE32
baseurl=file:/root/KDE32
Then updated yum and installed KDE: # yum check-update
# yum update kde
This approach worked. KDE 3.2’s speed improvements showed up immediately. Its Web and file browser Konqueror is comparable with Internet Explorer but without the TCP manipulation that Microsoft uses to boost Explorer’s speed. User interface
The extra windows ornamentation - the lozenge around window title bars, the “reflection” effects on buttons and slider bars - make KDE’s default Keramik widget style “busy” on the eye. This detracts from one of KDE’s strengths - the cleanliness of its interface. Although this is personal and configurable, configuration takes time and you can expect a lot of configuration work prior to rolling out a default KDE desktop without playing with Qt widgets. If, for example, you upgrade a default Fedora KDE installation, the system tools sub menu offers two “CD Writers” – one for X-roast and the other for CD Writer. There’s less potential for irritating support calls if you leave this sort of choice unavailable for users. We found the default terminal font ugly and replaced its monospace regular 10, with a completely sans serif cursor chosen from the limited range of default fonts. You will probably want to install others before unleashing this desktop in a business environment. If you do, KDE 3.2 has made font installing much easier with Font Installer - an application that lives in Control Center’s System Administration area rather than the Appearance and Themes area. Font Installer lets users install downloaded fonts into their personal font directory. A button labeled “Administrator Mode“ allows admins to install downloaded fonts to the system’s font directory. The Window Decoration sub-menu in KDE Control Center’s Appearance and Themes menu also offers staff many, many options, like whether or not to include a “sticky pin” in window title bars. If you offer this level of control to MS Windows users, you should expect them to spend time - or waste it - testing the concept. Control Center
KDE 3.2 offers efficient printer management through the Control Center’s Peripherals menu. We were immediately able to recover a wide range of summary configuration data about the three printers previously configured via CUPS on our upgraded desktop. In the Information tab, displayed under Printers, instantly visible summaries saved a lot of mouse clicking and enabled us to see - under the “Device” heading - two JetDirect IP addresses and their ports, as well as a parallel printer. Harried network technicians will be pleased to see the printer drivers displayed as an extension of the printer model named. Sadly, Control Center errored out when we tried to change the driver on one HP LaserJet, claiming it could not execute make_driver_db_cups. It then presented a driver configuration screen that worked successfully once we clicked OK in the error dialogue box. User access, quotas and banners are all easily configurable and with fine granularity. It’s reassuring evidence that KDE was developed against a real-world working environment. Networking and collaboration
The Internet and Network applet in Control Center now offers wireless card configuration and control over Windows-style file sharing and remote share browsing (called Windows Share Browsing). Windows Share Browsing option now has a character encoding option. It defaulted to koi8-r on the Fedora Core 1 install and ISO 8859-1 on the bare Debian 3.0 install, so expect to have to configure this. Note that although KDE already included network browsing configuration, it does not necessarily simplify SMB-based desktop file sharing. On Fedora with Samba running, it did not give us control over new or existing Samba shares. Our bet is that the scope of KDE file sharing will be new to most corporate Windows sysadmins and they should expect to put in learning time here. We also tested KDE 3.2 on a laptop equipped with a fresh Debian 3.0 “Woody”. A default install does not cut it: “apt-get install kde” left us with kde 2.2.2 and “apt-get upgrade kde” left us no better off. We ran: “apt-get update && apt-get install arts kdelibs kdebase kdegraphics kdeadmin kdemultimedia” for a usable KDE 3.2 install. Our laptop test showed that the hubbub around KDE 3.2's groupware and collaboration tools is probably a tad premature. For example, KDE’s Kopete multi-IM protocol client did not install by default on the laptop but installed automatically on the upgraded Fedora system. Kopete will eventually offer integration with KMail - possibly allowing it to compete with the MS Messenger/Outlook combination. Enterprise features
Harder to review were other features with strong enterprise potential: KDE's DCOP com-like programmatic interface; the KIO framework that enables KDE applications to shovel data over the network; Kiosk and KXMLGUI – which respectively allow administrative control over user desktop settings and appearance. We also saw evidence that existing technologies remain underdeveloped. KDE's KParts rivals Microsoft's OLE technology to allow applications to embed in other KDE applications. It's most advanced in Konqueror, but appears underdeveloped. We found that switching between various Konqueror windows while running rdesktop often crashed rdesktop and occasionally killed Konqueror too. Summary
The conclusion has to be that KDE 3.2 is the closest open source has come to a mature business desktop but it’s not a drop-in replacement for Windows. Build the specialist skills it requires and test it thoroughly before adopting it.

OUR VERDICT

KDE 3.2 is the first FOSS desktop that comes close to Windows' speed. Its GUI Control Center allows quick access to business-critical functions including printer configuration, network card set up and desktop set up. Automation and user access management are also highly configurable. Try it on a test network but expect to spend a lot of time on its learning curve.