KDE 4.1 Beta 2: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Page 2

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More importantly, at least two of the features that everybody has been complaining about are still part of the 4.1 paradigm: The collar of mini-icons around each item on the desktop that duplicates the contents of the right-click menu, and the main menu in which choosing a sub-menu means replacing the display of its parent, rather than opening up an accordion-like display. This same behavior is also used in the system settings -- and, in both places, it makes navigation needlessly difficult.

Introducing Folder View

With new design decisions already causing user revolts, in version 4.1, KDE continues its redefinition of the desktop with Folder View. In earlier versions of KDE, folders added to the desktop are simply file manager views, full of features like tree views that are largely irrelevant to a collection of icons. By contrast, if you select Add Widgets -> Folder View from the desktop toolbox in 4.1, you add a new class of widget that amounts to a plain container. This container can be dragged around the desktop or resized just like any other widget, or deleted altogether. Used with a little imagination, it can greatly increase available desktop space without the overhead of adding another virtual workspace

In theory -- and, to a large extent, in practice, too -- Folder View is an overdue concept. It helps to organize icons into customizable groups, making the desktop tidier. Unfortunately, its reception was not helped by the announcement last month that the intent of Folder View was to eliminate icons altogether. The rumor is not true -- in fact, a Folder View is now the main way to add icons to the desktop -- but this dramatic statement touched off an unnecessary panic.

Another problem with Folder View is that, according to Aaron Sergio's presentation on how it works, features like automatic desktop positioning and wallpaper customization are not due to arrive in Folder View until version 4.2. In other words, once again, KDE users are being asked to suspend judgment and cope with a feature still in development -- and, after the experience with 4.0, the expectation is making users feel tetchy.

This year, next year

How stable KDE 4.1 will be when released at the end of this month is anybody's guess. But, judging from its features, the release will be a major milestone in the 4.x series. Unfortunately, it will almost certainly not be the complete answer to user discontent that has been promised. It might even drive large number of users away from KDE altogether.

Such a reaction would be misguided. KDE 4.x has many features, including the use of scalable vector graphics and natural language searches that make it the most innovative free desktop currently in development. Moreover, if you dislike some of its experiments, you can work around them with no more trouble than it takes to change your desktop wallpaper -- for instance, one of the widgets you can add to the desktop is a KDE 3.5.x menu.

It seems, though, that not only did KDE developers try to make too many changes too quickly for much of the user base to accept, but that -- judging from the development of Folder View -- they have yet to absorb the lesson in 4.x's muted reception.

Very likely, KDE users will have to wait for another release or two beyond 4.1 before the new version of KDE matches the features of earlier ones, especially in customization. Meanwhile, in their unjustified rejection of change and their justified frustration, KDE users may very easily miss the fact that version 4.1 is part of an intriguing process in desktop evolution.

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Tags: browser, KDE 4, distro, desktop, KDE 4 beta 2

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