A Look at Native KDE 4.0 for OS X

OS X - KDE LogoThis week Slashdot (and many, many others) reported that KDE 4.0 has been released for Windows and OS X. KDE (K Desktop Environment) has been a popular GUI for *nix systems and there have been ways of getting it to run (mostly) on OS X prior to this native port if you were willing to use X11 on OS X). RangerRick (of OpenNMS “fame” did much of the heavy lifting for the Mac side of this project, including the package distributions.

To start, you’ll need to grab the torrent download – I picked the one labeled “everything,” weighing in at over 2GB. Once the download eventually finishes (it was slow for me, but I may have been a bit impatient and started mine before all the primaries were seeded), mount the KDE dmg file and double-click on the kde.pkg installer. It will do most of the heavy lifting and put the base packages and applications on your system. One bit of annoyance is that installer stores everything in /opt, so you’ll have to ?-Shift-G (goto folder) in the Finder and enter /opt/kde4/bin to get to the apps (alias this into the /Applications folder for faster access).

So, why would you need to run KDE? First and foremost: geek cred. OK, joking aside — and even if you’re comfortable with your current geek karma level — KDE for OS X brings a plethora of applications for you to try out. While many have not been compiled/distributed yet, that site will give you plenty of browsing fodder, and the “everything” bundle + other dmg packages deliver well over 130 pre-built OS X KDE apps. Here are some screen captures of the game Mahjongg (kmahjongg), the Konqueror browser (a cousin of Safari), Marble (a desktop mapping program) and KOffice (kchart, kword, kspread, etc…more info here) all running on my MB Pro with 10.5.2 and KDE 4. NOTE: you’ll need to install the KOffice apps via the koffice.pkg installer file in the dmg.

Some words of caution: KDE apps are legitimate, native OS X applications you may find the user interfaces a bit unpolished (i.e. KOffice is no iWork). Some applications were also prone to crashing and/or eating up tons of CPU cycles, so stability seems to be somewhat of an issue for this initial release. Despite these quirks, it is encouraging to see a new world of applications — and cross-platform development options — open up for the Mac.

If you’d like more detailed KDE 4 info, Ars Technia has a good technical breakdown, including a history of how this particular port came to be. Once the package and applications gains some stability I’ll review a few of the more overtly interesting/useful ones from time-to-time.

For those who do take the KDE 4 plunge, definitely drop a note in the comments with your experiences and application suggestions (Twitter users can also poke @hrbrmstr with issues, questions, etc). The more folks who do investigate KDE 4 for OS X and provide feedback, the better the developers can crank out the fixes and make this a very handy addition to the Mac world.