The venerable KDE Control Center inspired mixed emotions in many users. On the one hand, having configuration options in a single window was convenient. On the other hand, the number of panes had grown formidably long by KDE 3.5.6, and finding the right one increasingly difficult.
KDE's developers have rethought system options with the Systems Setting window, which is available in the Favorites view of the default menu. This window divides configuration options into four categories, and replaces the Control Center's panes with icons that open their own separate views. Within these views, advanced options are tidied away to reduce complexity further.
The view in System Settings is still monolithic, but now it preserves the convenience of centralized configuration while making settings easier to find. In fact, it is so successful that I wonder why many hardware items -- but not all -- were shunted off to the Administration menu.
In KDE 3, plugging in a flash drive popped up a list of possible actions, taking the focus away from the active window. This was annoying if you were multi-tasking and not particularly interested in dealing with the new device immediately. Also, the choices -- Open in New Window, Download Photos with digiKam, and Do Nothing -- presuppose a set of activities that don't fit every user; you might, for instance, want to download music, or transfer files.
KDE 4 takes the less obtrusive course of including a device notifier in the system tray on the panel. There, you can ignore the new device until ready to use it. This course of action is a marked improvement, not only on KDE 3, but also GNOME, which adds an icon on the desktop's upper left which always seems to be buried under at least one open window.
Taking a cue from SymphonyOS, KDE 4 now includes active corners -- hotspots from which you can activate commands simply by moving the mouse cursor. The option is hidden away in System Settings -> Desktop -> ScreenSaver -> Advanced Options, and is so far limited only to two actions -- Lock Screen and Prevent Locking, but the basic functionality is there. Perhaps it will be configurable for more than screen saving in later releases.
Like GNOME, KDE now has settings for the applications to start for particular purposes. For example, if you want to open a Web browser -- perhaps to access online help for an application -- you can set what application to use.
In GNOME, you can set the preferred Web and mail browsers and terminals. In System Settings -> Default Applications, KDE offers the same choices, plus text editor and instant messaging. Naturally, the preset options favor KDE applications such as Kmail and Konsole, but you can use a list derived from the menu to select alternatives. Despite some inconsistencies in the interface, with the text editor and instant messenger settings differing from the rest, this new application is still a welcome step forward in customization.
By default, KDE 4 uses the Kickoff main menu. This menu consists of a search field and a series of views, such as Favorites, Applications, Computer, and Recently Used, as well as a Leave button for exiting the menu. When you display a sub-menu, it slides over the top level menu, rather than opening up accordion-style.
While the Kickoff style has the advantage of not overwhelming new users with options, more experienced users may prefer to switch to the Classic menu, where they can see all the installed applications. Fortunately, they can easily do so by right-clicking the stat menu and selecting the appropriate item on the menu.
However, in their relief at being back in familiar territory, they may either miss the second item on the menu, Application Launcher Menu Setting, or wonder how this awkward noun phrase might apply to them. Either way, they are missing a utility that the Classic menu badly needs. The item opens a small dialog in which you can edit whether menu items list application names, functions, or both. Even better, the dialog gives the Classic menu the same views as the Kickoff menu.
The dialog would be enhanced by a search field, and by being visible in the Classic menu. All the same, together with the menu editor -- available from the same right-click menu -- the dialog allows you to do the edit of the Classic menu that KDE 4 should have come with.