First Look: KDE 4.2 Windows Version
KDE (K Desktop Environment), based on the Qt Framework, is a desktop solution for Unix environments. Still, many KDE users have wished that popular KDE applications could be ported to Windows. I tested the latest version of KDE, released in late January, to evaluate this proposition.
Could KDE applications such as Kate (a powerful and versatile text editor), Konqueror (a WebKit-powered browser and file manager) and Amarok (a rich, full-featured audio player) be made to run on Windows XP?
In the past, incompatibilities with the Qt widget framework used by KDE had made porting applications to Windows impractical. However, rewritten libraries used in KDE4 have made running cross-platform applications a reality. For the purpose of the test, I chose KDE 4.2 since I wanted to test the improvements made over KDE 4.0 and 4.1.
Installing KDE4 on Windows XP is fairly simple. A nice installation utility will fetch the source code from a mirror server. It then compiles the code for you and installs it. This process may take an hour or more, depending on server load and the components you choose to install. I installed everything except for extra language packs I didn't need. The installation process took about 45 minutes for me.
After the installation, the KDE applications will be available in your Start menu programs list. They are sorted much the same way as they are on a traditional Linux system, with categories such as games, office, education, multimedia, etc.
Launching programs from the Start menu will cause them to run like normal Windows applications. However, if you want to see the full KDE4 environment, you will need to invoke Plasma (the KDE desktop rendering engine) manually. There is no launcher for this, but running C:\Program Files\KDE\bin\plasma.exe (standard installation path) will cause the KDE desktop to be superimposed over the normal Windows desktop.
When I ran the KDE desktop, I noticed that the KDE taskbar did not work properly. I had to ALT+TAB to switch between applications.
Although getting KDE4 working on Windows is an impressive feat, it is not very usable in its present state of development. KOffice consistently crashed for me and just wouldn't work. The Amarok 2 beta music player was very glitchy. Some applications (such as Kate, Konqueror and Dolphin) worked surprisingly well.
However, KDE 4.2 on Windows was unbearably slow for me, even for the applications that worked. That alone severely hinders the usefulness of this release.
This release should be regarded as a proof-of-concept. Owing to to the KDE port's incompleteness, slowness and instability, users should not consider it for production use. However, the KDE development team should definitely be commended and encouraged for their attempt at porting KDE to a new platform.
Beyond Windows, the KDE tools are very useful in their native environment. Users who wish to experience them should try out a Live CD, such as Kubuntu, that uses KDE4 or the still popular KDE 3.5.
KDE 4.2 can also be downloaded for free at the KDE project page here.