KDE 4 and the User Experience: Page 2

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Some people may be tempted to dismiss the idea of adding applets to the desktop as an imitation of Vista's sidebar, although KDE 4's are more versatile, and can be positioned anywhere on the desktop. Still others may question the point of moving applets and the system tray off a panel, where they are neatly tidied away, and on to the desktop, where they mingle -- potentially, with some confusion -- with the icons you deliberately put there. By definition, applets and system tray icons are features that you want easily available, but not all the time. In these days of wide screen monitors, do you really want to give up the desktop space by diverting icons from the panel?

Others, too, may note that the system tray icons obscure the toolbox menus, making them impossible to use.

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Another obvious set of changes occurs in the main menu. Instead of the traditional menu with its list of programs, the main menu now defaults to a Favorites view with a list of most commonly used applications and a search field for finding others. Still another view lists Recently Used programs, while another with the Windows-like name of My Computer contains links to your home folders, partitions, external drives, and -- for no apparent reason -- system settings as well. The list of views is rounded off with a Leave button and Applications, which gives the traditional complete menu, which can be edited by a comprehensive menu editor.

This seems a gallant attempt to reduce complexity, even if it is borrowed from Vista, but it might as well borrow further from Vista and allow users to configure the view so they can turn off the Favorites and Recently Used views if they choose. Some, too, might note that GNOME has managed to simplify its menu without radically changing the basic design.

Within the Applications menu, you will also notice that sub-menus no longer display in a separate pane. Instead, to get to the sub-menu, you click an arrow, and the sub-menu replaces the top level menu items. This arrangement is tidier than opening up a separate pane, and reduces the amount of space used by the menu, but at the expense of making navigation more difficult: Descend a level or two into the sub-menus, and you can easily lose track of where you are. It is also the opposite of the changes for applets and system tray icons, confining the menus instead of allowing them to use desktop space temporarily.


The effect of some of these changes may be alleviated by more configuration choices in the final release. For instance, the obscuring of the toolbox by the system tray icons can probably be solved by allowing one or both to be moved on the desktop. Some, too, will no doubt consider the default settings too slick and want to modify KDE 4 so it looks more like earlier versions of the desktop.

Other changes are not necessarily better or worse than how earlier versions of KDE do things -- just different. While some users may react strongly just because the changes are new, after they use KDE 4 for a few weeks, familiarity may breed acceptance. Moreover, those that seem inspired by Vista may come to be accepted simply because they are familiar to newcomers.

Whatever you eventually decide about the changes in KDE 4, clearly this rewriting of the desktop is as ambitious as rumor made it. And, equally clearly, it's going to have users thinking about desktops in a way that they usually don't -- and, very likely, arguing passionately about the details as well.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Vista, KDE, instant messaging

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