posted by Eugenia Loli on Mon 10th Mar 2003 21:25 UTC

"Usability Interview, Part 5"
10. Windows Explorer was among the first file managers which tried to be more than just that. Nautilus does a lot these days, but Konqueror has surpassed all, adding a lot of functionality and adding literally the kitchen sink. Do you believe that this is the way to go in the future for the file managers or does it lead to bloat and to unesessary functionality (functionality that could be served by individual apps)?

Aaron J. Seigo: Konqueror is not a single application. It is an interface through which hundreds of individual components cooperate to offer a full user experience. If that sounds familiar, it's because it is: the UNIX shell does the same thing for command line interfaces. Where Konqueror goes one step further is that the functionality it offers "just works" based on context without the user having to explicitly command it to do something special, although the user is still fully empowered to do just that.

The vast majority of the functionality in Konqueror is either provided by or available to separate applications, so this is not an either/or situation. You can do many of the same things from within Konqueror as well as in separate apps, because they're the same thing in KDE. There is no distinction between an application and a component for viewing or editing.

This march towards radical componentization of the desktop will only continue. Already we have reached the point where people, even those who are quite aware of interface issues and design, stop distinguishing between individual applications and instead simply experience the desktop as a coherent entity doing a lot of great and cool things.

Sounds like a very compelling desktop computing paradigm to me.

Havoc Pennington: It depends. Having views such as a "photo album" in the file manager makes sense to me. I don't think having the web browser in there necessarily does; my file manager and web browser just don't have that much overlap (in Windows, IE hardly looks like the file manager, even though I guess they share code in some way). Epiphany and Nautilus are both quite clean and simple alone but the merger would be sort of a mess.

Waldo Bastian: I think it is Mozilla that has a kitchen sync, I haven't seen one in Konqueror yet.

Konqueror has a very modular design so it is possible to add lots of optional functionality without bloating it. On the other hand I have always advocated that Konqueror is a browser and functionality that doesn't fall in that category doesn't belong in konqueror.

11. Personally, I see Linux getting a big boost in the UI and desktop experience via the "one DE". Having more than one, gives the user choice of course, but it can be inconsistent and prone to incompatibilities between the various distros and Unices. The "less is more" approach has been taken by Be, Apple and MS with quite some success judging from the desktop experience they offer, so I kind of lean in this direction. Now, I don't mean to dismiss any of the two DEs, in fact, I would like to see both thriving, but what I would really want is to have a single desktop, with absolutely compatible development frameworks, one based on GTK+/gnome_libs and one on Qt/kde_libs (and why not add more to the mix? Development choice is good). Pretty much, is like saying that we have the Win32 API and the MFC API and the .NET API, but at the end, no matter with what you compiled or developed your application with, the end result application will look and behave the same as all the other ones, under this "one" DE. Do you agree with the prospect of such a "unification", or does it sound too extreme (or simply "the OSS world is not ready for something like it yet, if ever")?

Aaron J. Seigo: I have a unified desktop. Everything looks and works the same and I get everything I need and want done accomplished by using only KDE and command line applications. I may well be able to do the same with a GNOME-only desktop. I understand that not everyone has all their needs met in such a way yet, but that just means we need more applications not that we need to destroy all hints of variety between the applications.

Or should MacOS and BeOS and Microsoft Windows all become a single interface, too? The way I look at it is that the situation on Linux is like being able to run both MacOS and Microsoft Windows on the same machine simultaneously. Yes, the applications are different looking and I can choose to stick with one set of apps only, but I have the CHOICE to do so rather than being forced to do so.

Are there people stubbing their toes and falling into comas because of this choice? Or is diversity allowing us to explore the problem space more effectively and to create an atmosphere of enjoyable and mutual coopetition?

Havoc Pennington: I believe it's a perfectly achievable goal for apps written with either GTK+ or Qt to nicely integrate with either desktop environment.

My hope for what will happen is that more and more infrastructure bits (such as fontconfig, or the menu system) will become shared over time, until basically what we have is two flavors of API (GTK+ and Qt) for developers with different tastes, but desktop integration is using the same mechanisms regardless.

At that point I'm quite sure we'll always have lots of desktop environments (you're forgetting XFCE, ROX, and many others). I mean, look at the list of window managers.

However, one or the other may come to be the dominant environment. It's hard to predict that sort of thing. I don't think the OSS world will get to decide on this issue; I think it'll be more of a market decision. Since we really define "dominance" as "having most of the users."

Waldo Bastian: I think consistency among applications is very important. It has been one of the founding principles of KDE. The original thought was that it was achievable by offering a very compelling, advanced and easy to use framework that everyone could use. The GNOME/KDE split pretty much killed that off though. I think given the current situation, standards to ensure consistency among application based on the two different frameworks is the only viable solution to get consistency on the Linux desktop.

12. What major changes in user interfaces do you predict we will see in the next five years? What steps is [your project] taking to accomodate this?

Aaron J. Seigo: Anybody who tells you what their project is doing to revolutionize user interface in five years time is either lying or delusional. I'm more comfortable pointing to what KDE has accomplished in its first 6 years of life, especially its ever increasing pace of development and innovation. I don't know what the average computing interface will look like in five years, but given current trends it is safe to say that KDE will be there and will likely be the definition of leading edge desktop software.

Havoc Pennington: I think they should tend to get simpler. Computers are still too complicated, unreliable, etc.; they should be more appliance-like. There seems to be a lot of consensus on this point, too.

GNOME is generally tending in that direction, though it's all evolutionary, not revolutionary. We are dedicated to time-based releases, every half year or so - we aren't going to go into a cave for 3 years and rewrite everything.

Waldo Bastian: I think desktop user interface technology is very mature and I don't expect any major changes. We have this running gag in KDE that the window manager should implement "(window) focus follows mind", a breakthrough might happen if the hardware people manage to make a reliable "mouse follows mind" device, or at least a convenient working "mouse follows eyes" one. It wouldn't surprise me if it had been developed already for military purposes in which case I don't think it's far fetched to predict that it will become available as consumer product within the next five years as well.

Other than that I think that interesting user interface developments will mostly happen wrt non-desktop related computer products.

Table of contents
  1. "Usability Interview, Part 1"
  2. "Usability Interview, Part 2"
  3. "Usability Interview, Part 3"
  4. "Usability Interview, Part 4"
  5. "Usability Interview, Part 5"
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