posted by Thom Holwerda on Sun 18th Jun 2006 14:26 UTC
IconThis is the 3rd installment in my series on deficiencies in common desktop environments. After GNOME and the Mac/MacOS, it is now KDE's turn. As with the other installments, this is a rant. Beware.

A few notes before I begin: this column is based on the KDE as shipped in the latest Kubuntu release.

Secondly, I like to point out to the various nay-sayers that this series of columns has indeed been a great success. After the GNOME one, in which I was particularly harsh on Evolution's user interface, its UI maintainer emailed me, asking me for more clarification. Secondly, after last week's column, an Apple employee emailed me (not on behalf of the company, but personally) again asking for clarification on various issues. This was exactly my intention with this series, and as such, I already proclaimed it a personal success.

Now, let's begin.

  1. KDE's biggest problem is one that is very, very, very difficult to explain. In one sentence, I'd say KDE lacks coherence. 'Coherence' is a term not often used in graphical user interface design, so let me explain what I mean by coherence; it is thinly associated with consistency, but at the same time is completely different.

    Consistency is something we all understand. Consistency can be achieved at different levels; the layout level (all confirmation dialogs feature the same layout), behavioural level ('Apple+q' means quit entire application all throughout the MacOS), and the visual level (an 'OK' button looks the same in all applications). So, consistency is a fairly simple term, and I can assume we all understand what it means.

    As a sidenote, I also assume we all understand how vital each of these forms of consistency is to users; knowing what to expect, where to expect greatly reduces the time a user spends on using the UI, instead of using the application.

    Coherency, however, is a more abstract term. 'Coherent' means that all parts of a whole are indeed clearly part of that whole. All those parts share the common goal of improving the whole they are part of (read that again if that didn't make sense). The MacOS, for instance, has a high level of coherency because all the applications integrate very well with the operating system as a whole. iTunes, iPhoto, the Finder, Address Book,; they are all intertwined with one another, they relate to eachother, as well as to the operating system itself, creating a very complete, functional, and coherent whole-- even if they individually are not all that great (I already discussed, and in the future I will discuss iPhoto as well).

    And that is what I miss when using KDE. It has more of a "each project for itself" mentality, which are then bolted together before release date to form the K Desktop Environment. Using KDE always feels like using individual applications, instead of, well, using KDE.

    Take Kopete, for instance. I think it is miles ahead of Gaim 1.x and even Gaim 2.x in terms of functionality, and I really like it-- however, it is just Kopete. It does not feel as if it is part of a greater whole; whereas Gaim integrates much better with the rest of GNOME (still not as good as i.e. iChat integrates with the MacOS, but still). The climax of this is Amarok; it even has its own live CD.

    The rest of the points in this list are fairly moot in comparison to the above, but they still work on my nerves, and therefore should be mentioned.

  2. KDE's root password dialog needs some love. Check the following screenshot to see how it looks:

    "Please enter your password." Which password? My personal account password? My administrator password? My god-mode password? Why is there no explanation which password, and why exactly you need to enter it? And what is "Command: kdesu adept"? And why the "ignore" button? Can I continue to... Do whatever this dialog does without entering this mystery password?

    You get the deal.

  3. KDE features a very confusing and incomprehensible power management configuration screen (klaptop). I don't even know where to begin to explain how a total disaster it is. If klaptop is all KDE has to offer on this front, than they really ought to start worrying about KDE's suitability as a laptop desktop environment.

  4. Kubuntu's front-end to apt, adept, is another one of those graphical disasters. Just look at it:

    A picture says more than a thousand words. Please enlighten me; how, exactly, is a Windows or Mac user supposed to use this abomination of a user interface? But wait, that is not all. The auto-update part of adept is even worse; this is a big grey window with in the middle "Welcome to adept!" (or something similar) and two buttons down the far right. That's it.

  5. KDE is packed with tweaks, settings, and more. You can customise as if your life depends on it. However, something as elementary as setting icon size for desktop icons independently from the rest of the file manager is impossible! This really bothers me, as I like my desktop icons to be smaller, but my file manager icons bigger (to fit the longer filenames).

  6. I need a "lock toolbar" feature in KDE. It won't the first time I accidentally drag a toolbar away and not be able to get it back in its original position.

  7. Last but not least: get a decent naming scheme. Seriously. K this, K that; just... Don't. Really. I suggest a global renaming of KDE applications into normal, k-less names.

That was it for KDE. Next up is Explorer in Windows.

--Thom Holwerda

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