in the last few years we've moved to a number of new project tools such as bugzilla and subversion to support new needs due to growth and dissatisfaction with the existing tools that were used. few people really enjoyed working with autotools, either, but they were what was available.
in prep for kde4, we had no less than 4 different build tools supported in the code base. two (make and unsermake) used autotools, but the other two didn't: scons and cmake. due to developer interest in cmake (e.g. people were doing the work to make cmake support a reality) and the active support of the cmake development team, it now appears that we're moving to cmake for kde4.
now, i hate build systems. like popcorn kernel husks that get stuck between my teeth, they've always somehow found a way to annoy me. hopefully cmake eases that pain, but i have to admit i have been hesitant to spend the time learning this new system. fortunately, alexander neundorf has written a nice intro text using cmake to build kde4 code. it looks pretty straightforward, though i'm sure there'll be more details to add to that howto over time...
in any case, thank-you to all those who are working hard at liberating us from autohell.