KDE 4.7: Long-Term Vision, Ongoing Myopia: Page 3

The problems in the 4.7 release reveal that KDE is making little movement toward solutions.
(Page 3 of 3)

In addition, users can now search for Activities by name in KRunner, but whether that will help users appreciate Activities seems doubtful, since KRunner is a tool more likely to be favored by advanced users than beginners.

By contrast to System Settings, Marble, and Activities, the main developer of the 4.7 incarnation of the file manager Dolphin seem to have decided to take usability into their own hands. Although the developer blogs that he "did no scientific research," he has decided that Dolphin's default interface will replace the menu structure with a single menu button that dumps all items into a single menu, and eliminates the information panel on the right, all in the name of reducing clutter.

Admittedly, these changes reduce clutter -- but they also reduce default functionality. If anything, the default view in Dolphin would benefit from enabling the editable location and filter fields. As it is, in 4.7, Dolphin's defaults imitate recent GNOME releases by reducing the functionality for experienced users in favor of a mythical new user who is apparently easily distracted and probably shouldn't be let loose on a computer unsupervised.

But, no matter what you think of the changes to Dolphin in 4.7, they place Dolphin at odds with most of the other applications in KDE. With luck, they will be an anomaly, but, considering the importance of a file manager, a chance exists that these decisions will spread to other KDE apps in the absence of more detailed interface guidelines.

Looking for Balanced Guidelines

Of course, such interface issues are not the only things happening in KDE 4.7. From full-screen modes for games and support for QR and Datamatrix codes in the Klipper clipboard to a plug-in for the Kate text editor that allows pattern-searching within files, 4.7 teems with small enhancements that many will quietly appreciate.

Yet if any overall pattern emerges from the 4.7 release, it is that too loose a set of common interface principles is preventing KDE from improving its users' experience in quick and effective ways.

In the past, one of the benefits of KDE has always been that it lacks the over-simplification enforced by GNOME's Human Interface Guidelines. In contrast, KDE has managed to appeal to all level of users, and not just new ones.

Few KDE users, I suspect, would want to see that change. Personally, if forced to choose, I would prefer KDE's looser interface policies to GNOME's prescriptive ones.

But, at the same time, the choice is not either-or. KDE does not have to replicate the unnecessary rigor of GNOME to benefit from a few more common standards in its utilities and applications.

The fact that KDE apps are each going their own way in interface design is wasteful and needlessly confusing. But, even more importantly, the fact that after eight major releases in the KDE 4 series, the project is still struggling to present Activities in a way that users can appreciate them suggest that some key interface issues are being ignored.

KDE 4.7 provides no answers. But the fact that it inherits problems that earlier releases in the KDE 4 series also suffered from suggests that the project is overdue for some basic re-thinking of interface issues.

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Tags: Linux, Gnome, KDE

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