posted by Eugenia Loli on Thu 11th Jul 2002 19:00 UTC
IconKDE 3 was released only a few months ago, and it is, to date, the most successful version of the series, serving more than 50% of the Unix and Linux desktops, surpassing Gnome (~21%) and the rest of the gang. However, KDE is not perfect, and still not as comfortable as the Windows or as sexy as the MacOSX desktops. It lacks two things: integration with the underlying system and UI polishing. Today, I will mostly talk about the polishing part, as a lot has been already said elsewhere about the seemingly unsolvable integration issue (because of the modularity and completely independant/remote software projects.) Update: And as I was just publishing this article, KDE 3.1-Alpha was released. I hope that some of my recommendations will make it to the final version of KDE 3.1.

User Interface?

I served as a User Interface designer while I was working in a knowledge system project in UK and I worked as a web developer and web designer for the last 5-6 years. This article is merely a suggestion to the TrollTech and KDE developers on how to polish the current UI a bit. In some places, I might suggest quite significant changes, while in others, the changes would be trivial and as easy as pie, but still important. I hope that these developers will read my recommendations and we won't fall prey to the popular "KDE developers do not care about the users" mentality that has headlined several news sites lately. This is just an article with some constructive critisism.

What is a good User Interface? Well, in order to answer that, we will have to take into account that different people like different shapes, colors and functionality. This article is just my personal opinion, how I would like KDE to evolve in the future. I am sure that other users would like to see other, different types of evolution. However, we can't deny the fact that some basic rules of UI design should never be ignored. Aside of personal opinions and preferences, there are some basic UI rules. The problem is, KDE, by not being... perfect (who's perfect anyway? :), does exhibit some problems in its UI.

My Modified KDE 3 Installtion
This is a screenshot of my modified KDE 3.0.2 installation

Desktop Context Menu

Let's start with the Desktop context menu dialog. In my opinion, this context menu is bloated with too many options in the root level, some unecessarily placed there, as they belong elsewhere. Example: The "Enable Desktop Menu" option, while it might be an important option for some (however, I never met anyone who actually uses that screen space sucker Desktop Menu), it is not an option that you will enable/disable all the time. It has no place in the main context menu. Its place is on the "Configure Desktop..." preference panel.

As for the "Configure Desktop..." itself, it should have been called "Desktop Properties" or "Desktop Settings". "Configure" is a verb. Configure implies that the user knows how to "configure" something. Believe me, for a Unix newcomer, "configure" is a dreadful verb. It is a scary command. It might sound funny to you, but never underestimate the psychology of the user. UI is all about psychology. It is all about shapes, colors, pictures, words... Picking the right elements each time is the right way of creating a comfortable desktop environment.

Continuing with the context menu of the desktop, I would like to see the whole bunch of options from "Unclutter Windows" down to "Refresh Desktop" to go under a new submenu. Having these five options on the root of the menu, it just makes the whole panel too cluttered. These options are obviously related to Desktop actions, and they should be together under a new submenu.

What I would additionally like to have in the desktop context menu instead, are the following options:

1. Browse /home. As you can do with BeOS' Tracker and the KDE's "Quick Browser", where by opening submenus, you can navigate to your ~/.

2. Browse /. Same as above, but allows you to navigate through the whole disk. This should only be available for the root user. In other words, put the "Quick Browser" on the desktop context menu.

3. Mount. Under its submenu, list the whole deal of partitions and devices that can be mounted and allow KDE to mount them on demand. Available only for the root user or for the user with the right priviliages.

4. Add-Ons. This submenu, should be similar to Nautilus' script folder and to BeOS' Tracker Add-Ons. Some KPart add-ons (not necessarily stand-alone applications) will be able to do some great utility job. For example, select a few files and then pick these addons, addons like a GUI grep application, KRename, Burn to CD, Open Terminal (in current folder), Run Command (yes, this should be here and not on the root menu), email to, Compress, and whatever else you think it would fit as useful tool that can be applied to files and/or directories.

Additionally, I do not think that the "Help on the Desktop" is a good idea to be there at all times. It may be wise to leave the option there for the first week of using KDE, but then it should automatically removed from there, and only be accessible via the central Help docs.

The "Create New" submenu needs some polishing as well. Seperate the system entries from the entries created by third party applications with a menu seperator. For example, "Link to Application" is down the end of the menu, while it is something used quite regularly, and much more than the "CD/DVD-Rom Device" option which is more accessible from that menu, but it would only used pretty much, once every other moon.

Click for a larger version

Icon Context Menu

For the context menu when you are right clicking to desktop icon, I would suggest that as KDE's got a special menu for the Trash icon, the same should be for any directory link on the desktop. For example, almost everyone's got a "Home" folder link on the desktop. The deal would be to be able to "Browse" via the context menu in that directory, and wherever you click after that, to open a new window in Konqueror or Terminal on the directory you browsed to. Do the same for any other folder/device icon on the desktop. Allow to browse in it and then open it with Konqueror or Terminal if necessary.

Overall changes for the icons on the desktop:

1. "New Window" should be renamed to Open or Run.

2. Create a "Copy To" option that is able to navigate on your home folder and then copy the selected file(s) wherever you selected. Default navigation root for the user should be its Home directory, and / for the root user. Add the same option in the context menu for all files/directories/icons, on the Konqueror view as well, not just for the desktop.

3. Do the same as above, but this time for "Move to".

4. "Edit File Type" should be part of the "Properties", not stand alone. Properties panel needs almost complete redesign as well, but I won't get into it this time.

5. "Open With..." should be a submenu and has listed the other optional applications (as found already in the system's settings) that are able to open the selected file(s), and after using a seperator, then offer the option to open the panel to manually select which application you want to open your file. The way it is now done, it is too much time consumed for the user, while the whole functionality of this option and the alternative opening applications is already there, found on the "File Assosiations" Konqueror's KPart!

6. The Add-Ons submenu with the useful utilities, should be available in this menu as well.

Table of contents
  1. "Part I of the article"
  2. "Part II of the article"
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