Life in an Olympics-occupied city has left me grumpy. Ordinarily, I'm a tolerably contented desktop user, spending about three-quarters of my time in KDE and the rest in GNOME, with occasional forays into other desktops. But in the last two weeks, I've been noticing irritations in every interface I've used.
I'm not talking, you understand, about new features that annoy simply because they are unfamiliar. I'm always curious about innovations -- even failed ones -- and I know that some can take a while to appreciate. For instance, KDE's Folder View, which initially seemed a needless complication, now seems to be a structure that allows greater flexibility and customization. I suspect I will have the same sequence of reactions about GNOME-Shell when GNOME 3.0 gets released.
Instead, I'm talking about inconsistencies in the interface, design elements that are awkward or reduce users' abilities to customize their desktops. These irritations range from the minor to the major, and exist equally in both KDE and GNOME. Probably, some will always be present unless I have the chance to design my own desktop.
Holdouts still exist who find the whole of the KDE 4 series an irritant. By contrast, I never warmed to KDE until the KDE 4 series, which I consider the most innovative desktop available today. Still, even with my high level of satisfaction, I keep mentally barking my shins against certain features:
The Device Notifier is a widget that sits on the panel, listing external devices and suggesting actions to take with each device. But although this design generally works well enough, it has one flaw: If you plug a flash drive into a USB port, no eject button displays. That means that, if you suddenly realize that you have plugged in the wrong flash drive (and who doesn't have half a dozen lying around these days?), you have to arbitrarily choose an action before the button appears.
You can, of course, always just remove the flash drive, but, personally, I always have a second of apprehension before I remind myself that I can do so without dire consequences. Strangely, the problem does not exist with CD/DVDs, for which the eject button is always available.
For reasons that escape me, a few applications such as Amarok do not shut down if you close their windows. Unless you select Quit from the applications' menus, they minimize to icons in the system tray, and you have to close them from there.
Admittedly, an icon in the system tray takes up less space than a minimized window in the taskbar, but space is never at that much of a premium, so what's the point? At the very least, you should be able to choose whether applications are minimized to the system tray.
In GNOME, you can change a panel's background by right-clicking somewhere on the panel. By contrast, in KDE, although you can customize other aspects of the panel in the same way as in GNOME, you will find no background settings. Instead, you have to go to System Settings -> Advanced -> Desktop Themes Details -> Panel Background -- a location so obscure that many people are surprised it exists. While this detail is a matter of themes, a little redundancy in the panel options hardly seems too much to ask.
If you select System Settings -> Desktop -> Desktop Effects, KDE offers dozens of compositing effects. Some are eye-candy, but a surprising number are practical, including several for accessibility. Some do not even require 3-D acceleration. Yet KDE's developers have apparently never considered that those who have only 2-D acceleration because they prefer to use free video drivers might want to take advantage of the compositing effects they can use. Consequently, those with 2-D acceleration have to go discover what works through trial and error and occasional crashes.
Would a filter be too much to ask?
On the General tab of System Settings, KDE has carefully organized features into four categories, only one of which has more than four top-level items. But go to the General tab, and Advanced User Settings has sixteen items crammed into it -- far too many for easy searching. Dividing the category into two or three new categories would provide some much-needed organization.
KDE has had multiple desktops for years. However, the KDE 4 series adds Activities. Both support separate Folder Views, but each has separate controls, multiple desktops on the panel, and Activities from the Desktop Toolkit menu. The differences between them are so slight that why they continue to co-exist is a mystery.
The Desktop Toolkit is the half-circle at the upper right of the desktop. However, the very fact that almost nobody uses its proper name, referring instead to "the cashew" or "the kidney bean" suggests how uncertain its role is -- and so does the way that its context menu changes from release to release, although basically it is the place to go to add widgets to the desktop or to change between activities.
Most people don't realize that the Desktop Toolkit can be repositioned, either, so if they move their panel to the top of the desktop, it is hidden. Why this chubby little protuberance isn't placed on the panel where it so clearly belongs is beyond me.