The Down Side of the KDE 4 Series
For some users, what is wrong with the KDE 4 series is that it isn't the 3 series. By contrast, my misgivings tend to center on ways of doing things that are minor, but become irritating because I can't avoid them:
The location of settings for Folder Views: Choices for such features as the size of the icons or the color of the text that accompanies icons are available by right-clicking on the Folder View and selecting Choices for Folder View. That positioning makes sense, but I wish it was duplicated in System Settings where most of the other configuration options are -- and where I have wasted long moments searching for where to adjust the Folder View.
Configuring Panel Backgrounds: Options for panels have come a long way since the 4.0 release, when panels were confined to the bottom of the screen and could only be configured in one or two ways. However, in 4.3, the one way to change the background of a panel is to change the general desktop theme. The ability to choose a color, gradient, or image for the panel background should be available from the panel options, where most people are likely to look for it.
Profiles for Konsole and Kate: One characteristic of native KDE utilities is that you store multiple configurations for them. However, in my experience, few people do. That means that the widgets you can add to the panel that display a list of configurations for applications like Konsole or Kate are largely wasted. They just add another step to opening a command line or text editor.
Apply and OK Buttons for Configuration: When you change a setting, you press the Apply button to bring the change into effect, then the OK button to close the dialog. This setup is uncomfortably reminiscent of Windows, and redundant besides. Half the time, I am not sure which button to press.
The Device Notifier: KDE keeps a separate list on the panel of external drives plugged in to the system. This list is handy, but awkward. To actually do something with an external device like a camera or a USB drive, you have to click to bring up a dialog window with the available options, where you select from the list of possibilities. Then, when you want to remove the external device, the control for ensuring that all operations it is involved with are finished is not in the list of devices, but on the file manager window. If the Device Notifier is supposed to manage external devices, then I wish that it would do that, and not farm out operations to unnecessary dialogs and windows.
The Menu: The default Kickoff menu is supposed to provide a rational alternative to the classic accordion-style menu that sprawls across the desktop when it is opened. That goal is a worthy one, but, by confining the display of menus to a single window, Kickoff displays only one level of menus at a time, and can quickly confuse users. It is so awkward that I don't know anyone who uses it; every KDE user I know replaces Kickoff with either the Classic menu or the Lancelot menu available from the widgets.
Menu and Option Organization: Very few KDE 4 applications (or KDE 3 applications, for that matter) put as much thought into how items are organized than the average GNOME application. Often, not even alphabetical order is observed. The result is that, when using a new KDE application or trying to find a little-accessed feature, I often have a prolonged search. The few conventions that are observed, such as looking for configuration options in the Settings menu, frequently limit the search only to a degree. I wouldn't want KDE applications to limit the options they offer, but I do wish they would organize them.
Overdue for Recognition
Looking at these lists, I notice an important difference between them. On the one hand, the Pro list mentions ways that I can personalize the KDE 4 series, or applications that I use several times a week. On the other hand, except for the menu or option organization, the Con list consists of minor or occasional annoyances. While I have no trouble generating ways that the KDE 4 series enhances my user experience, I can think of only one way that seriously interferes with my daily work. More than anything else, I think that contrast shows how KDE 4.3 has become an efficient and user-friendly desktop.
Or, to put things another way: Shortly before the release of KDE 4.1, I suggested nine ways in which the KDE 4 series could be improved from a user's perspective. I mentioned a customizable panel, a better menu, image previews in the Dolphin file manager, and five other points. Of those eight points, only one -- accessibility tools comparable to GNOME's -- remains unaddressed. Another, drag and drop between the desktop and the menu and panel is partly addressed, since in KDE 4.3, you can drag from the menu to the desktop, but not from the panel to the desktop. Clearly, the KDE 4 series has been making steady progress towards greater usability with each release.
Even KDE 4.3 has room for improvements. Yet I think the overall tendency is clear. Instead of being the innovative abomination that some detractors claim, the KDE 4 series is a significant contribution to the free desktop, and one long overdue for recognition.