i get asked fairly regularly how one can starting using kde4 right now. well, you certainly can grab what's in svn trunk/ and have at it, but you may be disappointed by the constant compiling (the libs are still in massive flux, and there's more where that came from) and how the big visual changes are not there yet.
so what's a kde fan to use? kde 3.5, of course. it needs love too, after all, and it is continuing to be improved if at a more calm pace. today i committed a change that removes one more annoying bevel from konqueror (the one around the view but inside the tabwidget; such small changes can make such a big difference IMHO) and i'm hoping to get the thumbs up from the usability pros to change the default for lines between toolbars in plastik to off. new translations, documentation and lots of bug fixes continue to make their way into 3.5. and of course the 3.5 apps continue to roll out of the various projects.
but someone on a mailing list pointed out in passing that many of those in the "bleeding edge" crew of people will likely move on to other options during the kde4 devel cycle just because it's going to take a while. we're not talking about an e17 or duke nukem forever type schedule, but it will be longer than our usual "what, it's 9 months already? new release!" standard operating procedure.
i wish this weren't so, but in my gut i can't help but think, "yep, people will move on in search of the latest and greatest something." this has a really negative effect on open source projects, as this fickle attention span can make it rather difficult for us to do longer development cycles (and therefore larger changes). why?
well, user base is everything for large projects. it's what keeps the q/a going, where we get new contributors from, where user support comes from, the pool for regional support at things like tech shows, what packagers use to gauge what packages to give more love to and more ...
in the proprietary world they just lock their users into their platform with file formats, hardware platforms and other nasties so they can take their time if they need to: their users ain't goin' anywhere. we don't do that (because we respect Freedom), and so our users are free to roam.
but when they do roam in larger numbers, that can impact the project. when the project does release that spiffy new version that took a year and a half to complete, it often has to start building the user base back up to where it once was. and no, most projects don't usually have the resource to simultaneously develop two trees indefinitely.
the impact of migration-due-to-boredom can be so bad that some projects actually consider not doing anything that might take too long, such as making larger architectural changes that would bring the project a quantum leap forward. so the fickle nature of our user base can, and sometimes does, have the unhappy effect of retarding important developmental jumps. some things just take longer that 6 months to do.
ok, i'm sure you get the point by now. =) so if you're a kde user today that really enjoys the platform, stick with us during the upcoming longer-than-usual release cycle. sure, check out what everyone else is doing too (don't do that already anyways? ;), but ditching kde 3.5 just because there hasn't been a major release for 9 months (as will happen sometime in the second half of this year) will only make kde4 a more difficult release for the project.
there will still be lots of exciting app development for kde3 apps this year to track, and 3.5 itself is still improving (such as the aforementioned visual improvements). by keeping with us during this slightly-longer-than-usual cycle you'll help support us on the way to kde4.
of course, you could also get your hands dirty and start contributing as well. i find that helps pass the time quite nicely ;)