posted by Paul Pianta on Tue 4th May 2004 18:45 UTC
IconThis article aims to provide an insight into some aspects of KDE usability as seen by a long term Gnome user making the switch, as well as provide a mini-review of SUSE LIVE CD 9.1 - including the obligatory screenshot of course!

KDE's high level of configurability and customizability is at once its redeeming feature, yet at the same time its downfall for many users. Until today I was a die-hard RedHat/Fedora Gnome user. Don't get me wrong, I am still a huge Gnome fan and I see an amazing future for it, especially with the current talk about the possibilities of integrating Mono, C#, Mozilla/XUL and whatever other cool open source projects around. It's just that I have been so impressed with what I have discovered today in the SUSE/KDE combination, its too hard to beat.

click for a larger view I am writing this after having made the pleasant discovery of the SUSE LIVE CD 9.1 which was recently released. This is my first ever look at SUSE and my reason for giving it a run stems from one underlying reason - the Ximian crew are now onboard. With this in mind I wanted to see what wonders they might have performed. I'm not sure if it is too early for any Ximian magic to show up in this release, but it sure feels like it's there. From the funky boot splash screen (with great anti-aliased details on the F2 screen), to the current moment writing this article in Kate - I have been nothing but impressed with the level of quality and polish of this KDE desktop environment. Actually yeah, there are a few things that didn't impress me, and this article will focus on most of them, but I'm hoping that some attentive KDE developers might be listening, and that maybe things could soon change for the better.

I don't claim to be a usability expert although I do believe for some reason that I have a 'sense' for how gui-related things should 'look and feel', in order to classify as a smooth combination of configurability,usability and grooviness. If you are reading this on OSNews then you probably know what I mean. Eugenia has this 'sense', and many Gnome usability developers excel at putting this 'sense' to use in creating great user interfaces. I also believe it counts as an advantage that I am seeing things from a long-time Gnome user point of view, having been exposed to many great human interface designs and ideals.

I feel that it is possible for the KDE project to remain highly configurable for advanced users, while also capturing the Gnome idealogy of keeping it simple for all other users. The following is a summary of some usability/layout problems that I found in my early stages of my switch, and some possible solutions to the problems ...

1. The 'Settings' menu (the menu-item to the left of the 'Help' menu in all KDE applications)

I have come to realise that the 'Settings' menu has been one of the major things that has previously scared me away from the KDE desktop. (The other being the 'Control Centre' - but more on that later ...) Being overwhelmed with the sheer number of different configurations options left me less than willing to 'learn' how to configure particular applications. The 'Settings' menu list is different in every KDE application, but there are some items integrated in the list that are found across all kde applications. (eg. Configure shortcuts, Configure Toolbars, ...) I also found that many of the configurations options are equally accessible from either other menu options or a single click on a toolbar icon. To improve KDE consistency and usability right across the entire desktop, this menu list needs a little revamping.

For example, in Kopete, the 'Settings' menu changes dramatically from the main window to the chat window. That makes two configuration menus to learn, just to configure one application. The Kopete main window 'Settings' menu also offers the ability to configure 'Global Shortcuts ...'. An option for making 'global' (ie. desktop-wide) configuration changes does not belong in any particular KDE application - it has it's place already in the KDE Control Centre where all 'global' configuration changes can be made. Non-critical menu items in the 'Settings' menu just serve to add to the menu clutter and heightens user fear by over exposure to too many options.

The Konsole 'Settings' menu has many options that are equally accessible through choosing the 'more instinctive' 'Configure Kopete ...' menu item. I suggest keeping these options in the 'Configure Kopete ...' dialog where many people would expect them to be anyway, and remove them from the menu, thus instantly reducing the amount of menu clutter.

Another suggestion for reducing the number of 'visible' Settings menu options is to combine many of the entries at the top of the list (ie. those before the first/second separator) into one single menu entry. For example, Show Toolbar, Show Menubar, Show Status Bar, Tab Bar, Scrollbar, Full Screen Mode, etc. could all be integrated into a single menu item named 'Configure Window Layout ...' This would not only reduce the menu clutter but would also help to maintain consistancy across all KDE applications.

Every KDE application could then have at least the same four menu options in the Settings menu. ie.
Configure Shortcuts ...
Configure Toolbars ...
Configure Window Layout ...
Configure ApplicationName ...

The 'Configure ApplicationName ...' should be the place that all configurations specific to that application should be available. Again (sorry Kopete) for example, the Kopete 'Configure Plugins ...' menu option should be integrated into the main configuration dialog with all other Kopete-specific options.

Table of contents
  1. "KDE/SuSE-Live review, Page 1/2"
  2. "KDE/SuSE-Live review, Page 2/2"
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