KDE 4.1, the second major release of KDE 4, has been released. KDE 4.1 adds new applications (including the KDE PIM suite), improvements to the Plasma desktop shell, and improved frameworks for developers.

The same day as KDE 4.1 was released, packages were available for Ubuntu. You can easily install a KDE 4 desktop alongside your normal Ubuntu desktop and switch between both.

KDE 4.1 - Don't look back

Add the KDE 4 repository to Ubuntu: Open System->Administration->Software Sources. Select the Third-Party Software tab. Click Add, and paste in this repository:
deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/kubuntu-members-kde4/ubuntu hardy main

Close Software Sources, and when prompted, choose to reload the repositories.

Installing the metapackage kubuntu-kde4-desktop will give you a complete KDE 4.1 desktop. Install it from the package kubuntu-kde4-desktop (click the link to install), or by running the command below in your terminal:
sudo apt-get install kubuntu-kde4-desktop

After the installation is complete, you’re ready to start KDE. To switch between GNOME and KDE from the login screen, click Options and Select Session.

KDE 4.1 desktop

Aren’t ready to switch completely to KDE applications? You may notice that your familiar GTK apps look really bad running in KDE 4. The package gtk-qt-engine-kde4 adds options for theming these application to fit in with KDE.

Install gtk-qt-engine-kde4 from the package gtk-qt-engine-kde4 (click the link to install), or by running the command below in your terminal:
sudo apt-get install gtk-qt-engine-kde4

You’ll need to log out of KDE for the new options to appear. Once you’re logged back in, open System Settings and select Appearance and then GTK Styles and Fonts. Select the Use my KDE style in GTK applications option. Click Apply, and log out to make the changes take effect.

The GTK theming isn’t perfect, but it has been working well enough for me. Just look at Firefox before (bottom) and after (top):

Firefox theme comparison

I’ve been very impressed with KDE 4.1 so far. The desktop looks beautiful and makes a great first impression. Many complaints from KDE 4.0 have been fixed; it’s now easy to distinguish the active window, and the panel is a reasonable size. Plasma is reasonably configurable, it’s easy to create, move, resize, and rearrange panels.

The Install New Widgets feature for Plasma is really cool. It allows you to browse and install Plasma widgets from KDE-Look without opening a browser. Unfortunately, clicking Install seems to only change the button to say Uninstall without adding any new widgets.

I remember trying out KDE 4.0 when it was released and having all sorts of minor problems. KDE 4.1 has been much better. I did immediately have one issue with text files not being associated properly with KDE’s text editor. This bug has been reported, but none of the workarounds have fixed the problem for me. I’m guessing that issues like this will be fixed quickly as Ubuntu’s new KDE 4 packages get tested.

Read the KDE 4.1 announcement for more on what’s new, and screenshots.

[update] I just noticed that installing KDE 4 will change the USplash (graphical boot and shutdown) theme to Kubuntu. Run these two commands to switch back to the Ubuntu theme, the first will prompt you to select the theme you want:
sudo update-alternatives --config usplash-artwork.so
sudo update-initramfs -u

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