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KDE 4.7: Long-Term Vision, Ongoing Myopia: Page 2

The problems in the 4.7 release reveal that KDE is making little movement toward solutions.
(Page 2 of 3)

This change is generally an improvement over the formidably long tree view, and has the advantage of being more in keeping with the practice of other operating systems and desktops. The only trouble is, the names, the arrangement of features, and the order of icons changes with each release. As a result, finding a feature can be difficult after upgrading.

In 4.7, System Settings has changed less than in previous releases. For one thing, the category names and icons are largely the same as in the previous release. Moreover, unlike some of its predecessors, it does not include a so-called Advanced tab which is actually a dumping ground for miscellaneous functionality.

However, the 4.7 incarnation of System Settings is only relatively more stable than its predecessors. I could be wrong, since I am comparing across distributions, and evaluating an unfinished product as well, but it appears to have gained Bluetooth and Firewall configuration tools while dropping Printer, Sharing, Permissions and Digital Camera tools.

In other words, not only are additions being made, but the basic organization of tools is still extremely fluid. At times, you could wish for more consistency across releases -- even if the design wasn't always as rational as it might be, as in the case of separating Workspace Appearance and Behavior into separate functions.

Much the same problem occurs in Marble, KDE's general geographical tool and desktop answer to Google Maps. Potentially, Marble should be a success story in the KDE pantheon of applications, yet somehow it has never received the recognition it deserves.

Part of the reason, I suspect, for Marble's obscurity is that its interface continues to change. In 4.7, its map Legend -- the list of indicators for features such as roads and town and cities -- continues to change. So, too, does its handling of bookmarks, with a Firefox-like manager being new to 4.7.

Such ongoing changes are especially confusing in Marble because its appearance changes drastically with your selection of map views. Not only can you choose a globe, a flat map or a Mercator's projection, but you can also choose a view of Earth or the Moon, or a theme such as a plain map, or one showing precipitation, temperature, or an Open Street map.

Add an interface whose basics are still changing after several years of development, and it is no wonder that Marble fails to get the recognition it deserves. In concentrating on features, its developers appear to have overlooked the simple truth that usability is even more important in Marble than in most apps.

Yet another legacy interface problem centers around KDE's Activities -- the workspaces that are supposed to allow users to divide their desktops according to tasks or location. Introduced with KDE 4.0, Activities seem a logical extension of desktop functionality, yet somehow they have never caught on with users any more than Marble has.

Early in the KDE 4 series, Activities were displayed in an overview similar to the one in GNOME 3. But the overview puzzled readers, and many seemed to miss its function. So a few releases ago, KDE switched to presenting them in a horizontal scroll similar to the one used for selecting widgets to display on the desktop.

Yet that change appears to have done little to encourage adoption of Activities, so in the 4.7 release (at least as presented by Chakra), the scroll bar for selecting them now includes several samples to illustrate the possibilities, and a widget for the scroll bar appears by default on the panel.


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Tags: Linux, Gnome, KDE


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