With the plethora of open source desktop environments available at the moment, it's hard to keep track of all the different features sets. And since KDE, which has recently become my interface of choice, arguably enjoys less media love than alternatives such as GNOME and Unity, it seems only fair to highlight some of the feature changes in its next upcoming release, KDE 4.9. Read on for a look -- and, just maybe, a few compelling reasons to give KDE a try.

To be honest, I've always had a bizarre uneasiness describing myself as a KDE user, a hesitancy I owe mostly to KDE developers' obsession with inserting the letter "K" wherever possible. That's a trait I associate with a certain producer of oversugared donuts, not to mention products such as "krazy" glue. It doesn't make me think of quality software.

Nonetheless, amid all the confusion and upheaval that has struck the Linux world over the last couple years as a new generation of desktop environments -- many of them a bit less mature than some might like -- have hit the stage, KDE has just worked the best for me. And so it's been my desktop environment of choice for several months now on my Ubuntu 12.04 system, although I keep Unity and GNOME Shell on hand as well just in case I need to remind myself why I switched to KDE.

KDE 4.9

Since I'm now more or less an official KDE user, I'm glad to see the KDE developers hard at work on the latest and greatest iteration of their excellent desktop environment. Scheduled for final release Aug. 1, 2012, KDE 4.9 will be the latest version of the KDE 4.x platform, which debuted back in 2008.

The full list of KDE 4.9 features, not all of which have been implemented yet, includes a lot of bug fixes and behind-the-scenes enhancements that won't catch the eyes of many end users. Some of the more notable updates, however, include:
  • Improvements to the "Activities" feature of the KDE Plasma Desktop. Windows and files can now be more easily integrated into an Activity, making this somewhat obscure feature -- for which, admittedly, there is a learning curve and which may not appeal to non-power users -- more useful for those who choose to deploy it.
  • Support for renaming files in the Dolphin file manager in line. The absence of this feature has always been one of my peeves about KDE 4, and I'm excited to see it addressed for the new release.
  • Dolphin now also does smarter searches, taking advantage of file metadata.
  • Tabs in the "Konsole" application -- KDE's native terminal emulator -- can now be dragged out into their own window. Again, this is a pretty simple feature that has been present in other desktop environments for a long time, and it's nice to see it implemented in KDE.
  • Last but not lease, Pairs, a simple but effective memory game, has been added to the KDE Edu package.
Overall, the improvements coming with KDE 4.9 cater mostly to advanced users. People who don't use terminal emulators or understand what metadata is, for example, are less likely to benefit from the changes listed above.

But for those of us with geekier inclinations, the new release of the desktop environment promises to bring some cool new features to what is already a very solid and -- especially compared to Unity and GNOME Shell, which are still working out some kinks -- usable interface.