There have been some rather interesting announcements from the KDE community that give an idea of where the desktop environment is headed. In very short, KDE Frameworks 5.0 will begin development soon!
There might be a few groans from those who “suffered” from the massive changes in KDE 4.0, however this is not as major an announcement or change as that of KDE 4.0, and to understand why, we need to take a look at what has been happening with Qt recently.
KDE 4.0 and previous versions were all based on the Qt library, a cross-platform framework that allows creating applications for Windows, Linux and Mac OSX. KDE 1 was based on Qt 1, KDE 2 on Qt 2, KDE 3 on Qt 3, and finally KDE 4 in Qt 4. It was purchased by Nokia in 2008, and was slated to become the one true way to create applications that could run in Windows, Linux, Mac OS, Symbian phones and MeeGO phones. However with Nokia’s move to Windows-based phones, the future of Qt seemed uncertain.
Fortunately, Qt is still going strong, and quite recently it was announced that Qt would be having a new major release next year, with a possible beta release as early as this year. Unlike Qt 4, the scope of changes occurring in Qt 5 would not be massive as the ones between Qt 3 and Qt 4. Qt 5 would improve the quality of Qt code by removing some legacy code, modularizing the existing code. In Qt 5, there will be greater focus on modernizing Qt improved hardware acceleration, and enhancing new technologies such as QML.
Another big change to come with Qt 5 is the way Qt is developed. Earlier versions were developed by Trolltech, and later by Nokia when it purchased it from Trolltech. Qt 5 will be developed in the open, along with the community rather than simply releasing the results of development at frequent intervals.
Considering that KDE is the biggest user of Qt, and is an open source project itself, Qt 5 would mean a major step for KDE as well, again not as major as Qt 4, but a significant one. KDE has its own set of libraries that implement functionality over Qt; some of this functionality is redundant, while others in enhanced by KDE. So the KDE community is now looking to make their own libraries more modular, and possibly have some of them become part of Qt rather than KDE.
The new KDE Frameworks 5.0 will have modular libraries with well-defined dependencies. There will be a big focus on quality. The aim is to make KDE libraries more lucrative for developers to use. The new framework will be developed in parallel to KDE SC 4, which will see regular releases as per schedule, KDE SC 4.8 and KDE SC 4.9 are planned to be released as expected.
Once KDE Frameworks 5.0 have reached a level of maturity, the main KDE applications will start being ported to the new libraries. In most cases KDE developers expect this to be a simple matter of recompiling said applications against the new libraries, and expect that any code changes required in the process will be automated.
The way future KDE applications and widgets are written will also be different. While it will maintain backwards-compatibility with what is current methods, newer applications will make greater use of QML for the UI parts of widgets and applications. It will still be backed by the power of the KDE and Qt frameworks though.
So while KDE next major release will being many enhancements at the core, it will not be much different from the KDE we are used to today. However KDE has embraced new platforms, such as tablets and mobiles that will change the way people use KDE. In this sense, while KDE’s 5.0 release will be a rather minor one in some ways, in terms of cross-platform capabilities, it might just be the most significant release yet.