I was going to start this post with a question. When did KDE become a bizarre mash-up of Windows and OSX? But now that I've admitted that's what I was going to do, I can no longer do it. So I won't. But the question will hang in the air like butterfly ghosts.
Instead, this is an attempt to reconcile a glass that's half full with one that's half empty. After looking through screenshots for the recently release of KDE 4.0, that may or may not be possible.
A hand-written scrawl in the half-empty glass says "Hmm, a pale imitator of OSX. Is this really going to re-endear Linux to me?"
An equally illegible note in the half-full glass says "Hey, a decent imitation of OSX - for free!"
Both are true. In reality, there is only one glass. (In the matrix, of course, the glass is neither broken nor unbroken.) It is simply The Way of Things.
It is both impressive - that one can run such software legally, without paying a seashell - and depressing - that such software, set somewhat "free" of economics and corporations, fails to push any real boundaries. Anything in the modern, politico-capitalist world, inherently contains both these facets: Consumerism is a social statement. Usage is a personal practicality. Both - neither - are ultimately more important than the other.
But if that's the case, why am I still disappointed? Because I still cling to the idea of a "hacker" as an experimenter, perhaps. Because the pioneering spirit of giving things away free often went hand-in-hand with new ideas; money means value, value often precludes taking risk, and risk... well, new ideas are always risky. But lately I'm converted to Apple. Not simply because they come up with "risky" (as in new) ideas, but because a) their "risky" ideas are well researched before release, and b) the implementation of these ideas is generally well-rounded. In other words, open, distributed codebases may engender a modular, relatively solid codebase. But perhaps usability innovation requires something more than this.
What's interesting is the way the dynamics - the balance between technical sturdiness and usability innovation - shift as the context shifts. Economics obviously affect what people can afford to pay for: let's face it, there's no point in advocating the idea that schoolchildren in developing countries should all have Macs. But the role(s) of - and possibilities for - Linux et al also changes as more people have access to computing generally. An alternative to Windows for the masses is needed, but Linux isn't in a position to fulfil that.
Alternatively, many markets for embedded OSes are springing up, and all of the large players are obviously trying to get in on them. Here, Linux faces a tough task. Why? Because not only do Apple have a solid technical grounding (much more solid than MS), Apple also have the structure to think about both usability and design. There's a lot to be said for owning the code, the interface and the thing-in-the-box.
So ultimately, and to get back on topic (was there one?), I'm disappointed that KDE 4.0 seems to be more of the same, that most of the changes seem to be technical, under-the-hood improvements. There are some huge opportunities to make technology really applicable to everyday lives, opportunities which are still being pecked at around the edges.I guess the cyberpunk anarchist in me still just wishes these were being explored by people not in it for the cash.