Germany-funded Linux software arriving

KDE, one of the major interfaces designed to make Linux slick looking and easier to use, gets an upgrade, including the first results of work funded by the German government.

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KDE, one of the major interfaces designed to make Linux slick looking and easier to use, has been upgraded, an effort that includes the first results of work funded by the German government.

The software comes from the Kroupware project, bankrolled by the German government to build open-source software that can substitute for Microsoft's Exchange and Outlook. Though the first elements have appeared in the new KDE 3.1 software, more will arrive in 3.2 later this year, said Andreas Pour, president of the KDE League.

Linux is an open-source operating system, meaning anyone may see, modify and redistribute the software, a contrast to the proprietary control Microsoft keeps over Windows. Many open-source projects run atop the Linux core, including the XFree86 graphics technology and the KDE and Gnome interfaces that provide utilities such as control panels as well as software building blocks such as pull-down menus.

Linux has proved a popular idea among governments that relish the fact that it can be obtained for free and that they can scrutinize its inner workings. Microsoft has responded to some of those issues with a program that shares the source code underlying Windows with some governments.

The European Union is funding an evaluation of the feasibility of moving government computing operations from Windows to Linux, one of a host of actions that don't bode well for Microsoft.

Microsoft, with dominant market share and a $2.6 billion profit in its most recent quarter, is a formidable foe. The company acknowledged that its government customers are evaluating Linux, but said those customers still see value in Microsoft products. "Though we've seen evaluation of Linux, customers have continued their investment in Windows," corporate relations manager Alex Mercer said in a statement.

Microsoft isn't the only company that could be affected by the Kroupware effort. Linux companies such as SuSE and SCO Group also sell their own e-mail server software, and IBM sells its Lotus products that run on Linux and a wide variety of computer types.

Kroupware improvements
Germany's agency for information technology security funded three companies to work on the Kroupware project, Erfrakon, Intevation and Klarälvdalens Datakonsult. The project began in September.

The first part of the work involves server software called Kolab that works similarly to Exchange in handling an organization's e-mail, calendars and contact lists. The second part handles improvements to KDE's desktop "client" software for individuals' e-mail, calendar and contacts--the equivalent of Outlook.

Two elements of the client work are in the new KDE 3.1, released Tuesday: the KMail software can handle encrypted e-mail attachments, and the KOrganizer calendar software can communicate with Exchange 2000 servers.

Further improvements are complete but haven't yet been integrated with KDE, Pour said. Originally that integration was scheduled to take place with the next version of KDE, which is scheduled to arrive in the second half of 2003.

KDE had hoped to include the Kroupware improvements in 3.1, which originally was scheduled to ship in November, but the programmers decided instead to stop adding features and to pore through the code for security vulnerabilities, Pour said. "There was a full security audit done of most of the code," he said.

A similar review at Microsoft has caused delays in its software.

Corporate KDE improvements
The 3.1 version of KDE has new features designed to appeal to corporate users, Pour said.

One is the "kiosk" mode, which lets administrators lock down the computer so various settings such as bookmarks, menu options or screen wallpaper can't be changed, a feature originally designed for Internet cafés or airport computers that are shared by a large number of people. It's also useful for corporations that might want to prohibit employees from playing games.

Another feature aimed at corporate customers lets a remote administrator control a computer over a network connection, even a very slow one, Pour said. The administrator sees a version of the remote computer's screen and can take actions such as clicking on buttons or launching programs.

Pour expects new improvements coming to KDE's Web browser, Konqueror, in the forthcoming version 3.2. Programmers from Apple Computer picked the Konqueror foundation, KHTML, for use in that company's new Safari product, and Pour estimates that Apple's involvement more than doubles the number of programmers working on the project.

"It's basically a team effort between Apple and KDE at this point," Pour said.

KDE is used by default in versions of Linux from SuSE and MandrakeSoft. It ships with Red Hat's products, but that company's products install KDE main interface rival, Gnome, by default.