There are two kinds of Linux users in the world – those who use Gnome and those who dislike KDE.

You can't blame them – to call KDE releases so far a disaster would be something of an understatement – but the tide has now turned.

Over 16,000 bug fixes and 1,700 new features later, the KDE developer unveiled KDE 4.5. The release has started popping up in many Linux distros, and it looks and feels stunning.

Here are nine reasons why it's time to log off Gnome and switch to KDE.

1. Performance leap

If you want a fully-fledged desktop that looks the business, KDE is now as fast as Gnome. On a decent spec box, the boost in performance in KDE 4.5 is evident immediately; it loads quickly, and application launches and switching are faster than in previous releases.

2. Built-in eye candy

You don't have to rely on the Compiz 3D desktop. If it's looks you want, there's a compositor built right into KDE 4.5, which saves you some space on the hard disk as well. The new KDE 4.5 compositor is stable and doesn't tax the system resources as previous versions did. It also features Compiz-like effects and several window decorations, including the default Oxygen.

3. Enhanced window manager

The Plasma Workspace window manager, KWin, has been improved and now includes new tiling features. This allows it to arrange the windows on the desktop without overlapping. KWin also handles windows better by enabling you to move them around easily, using empty areas as drag handles. Try dragging an empty area inside an open window to see for yourself.

4. Plasmoids

Applets in KDE are referred to as plasmoids. KDE's developer continued adding plasmoids, despite receiving a lot of criticism from the community, and the fruits of its efforts are finally showing with KDE 4.5. The latest release offers dozens of plasmoids in a wide range of categories. Don't miss the social networking and monitoring tools, as well as plasmoids that monitor changes in web pages. To top it all, the plasmoids are far more stable and functional than before.

5. Slick notifications

The KDE development team has done a great job of integrating the notification area into the KDE panel. The notification area in the panel has also been polished visually, and its usability has been enhanced. For example, instead of popup messages, you can now track active downloads with a visual progress indication within the widget itself.

6. Activity Manager

KDE 4.5's Activity Manager offers a new approach to organising multiple tasks on the desktop. It enables you to associate specific activities with particular desktops. An activity can have various apps or files. It works like the 'Add Widgets' dialogue box, and lets you add, remove, save, restore and switch between activities easily. It'll take some getting used to, but this is one feature you won't find on any other desktop.

7. Improved display for netbooks

The KDE Plasma workspace for small netbook displays has been improved. It uses the search and launch (SAL) interface, enabling you to search through your emails, access your apps and even view information on websites such as Wikipedia within the constraints of the relatively small display. There may not be much visible difference here, because most of the improvements are performance-related. The new netbook interface is much sleeker and includes better support for touchscreen devices.

8. New and improved apps

The KDE games team has improved its existing selection of games by adding new features and introducing a new title: Kajongg, the original four-player Mah-jongg. It's written entirely in Python, which makes it the first major Python KDE application developed as part of the KDE Games family.

Elsewhere, you can now create and customise your own maps in strategy game Konquest, and kill even more time with the new set of levels in KGoldRunner. The educational apps have also been brought up to date – the vocabulary trainer, Parley, has acquired a practice interface and now features a conjugator.

9. Offline Marble

This is KDE's virtual globe app and world atlas, which promotes the use of free maps via the OpenStreetmap project. It has a new route-planning feature thanks to the OpenRoute service, as well as the option to download and store map data that's accessible when there's no internet connection.

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First published in PC Plus Issue 303

Liked this? Then check out The future of KDE

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