KDE, Ease-of-Use, and the Year of the Linux Desktop

Published Wednesday December 21st, 2005
22 Comments on KDE, Ease-of-Use, and the Year of the Linux Desktop
Posted in KDE

The recent discussions on KDE versus other Linux desktops – accidentally started by KDE-user Linus Torvalds – showed an interesting new development in the eternal debate. First of all it didn’t come as a surprise that Linus uses KDE, after all Fritz Elfert made it very clear back in 1996 that KDE stands for “Kernel-Hackers’ Desktop Environment”, when Kalle and the German IT press still pushed “Kalle Dalheimer Experience”. What came as a surprise was that the old GUI versus command line discussion against KDE, that later turned into a Free Software versus Lesser Free Software dispute, now changed shape again. The fashion of the day is: complicated power user environment versus user-friendly simplicity. And as opposed to 1997, when a vocal minority avoided us for our focus on end-users and simplicity, and went to other projects for more “Unix-guru friendliness”, themes, and features like window manager independence, they now want to deny us exactly this: simplicity and user-friendliness. Now, how bold is this? KDE’s mission has always been “ease of use, contemporary functionality, and outstanding graphical design” (kde.org), and we have succeeded delivering exactly this for the past decade. We took GNU/Linux out of the system administrator’s corner and put it on millions of desktops, an achievement that nobody can take away from us.

Why am I writing this, to an audience on planetkde that mainly consists of KDE users and supporters? Well, when you follow the debate, you can notice that even KDE’s supporters show willingness to follow the opponents’ twisted claim about KDE being overly complex. Instead of rejecting those as ridiculous, they rather argue for the necessity of a rich feature set. Yes, KDE has a rich feature set, and yes, that’s what is required for contemporary functionality. But hello, that doesn’t mean that it’s hard to use. Let’s not swallow this crap anymore! Let them repeat it as often as they want to repeat it, and simply reject it as what it is: the best they can do, but utterly wrong.

To be even more explicit: It’s a fairy tale that end users will decide against KDE when given the choice, and it’s a fairy tale that KDE is more difficult to use than any of the alternatives. The simplest possible desktop has one big push button to turn the computer off, everything else is a tradeoff between simplicity and functionality. KDE’s beauty is that it enables ordinary people and computer freaks alike to use their computers; it’s what makes it the better desktop. Everyone who has installed it for friends and family can report that even casual computer users don’t have problems with it. Quite the opposite: Users do amazing things with it. Especially those coming from Windows feel they can do so much more with a KDE workstation, and they do. They also seem to have significantly less trouble navigating the control center than self-proclaimed usability experts on web discussion sites.

No software is bug free, or free of flaws. We – the KDE developers – happily admit that usability is a process, a data-driven process. And that’s what we work on. Many of us also admit that parts of KDE feel a bit too crowed for our taste, that our naming conventions for applications have room for improvements, or that our reliance on context menus is suboptimal. But make no mistake: Even with those flaws, KDE is an exquisite choice on the desktop, and in our opinion the only real choice on GNU/Linux.

There are end-users out there that made the switch to GNU/Linux but don’t use KDE yet, that’s something we have to accept. Millions of investment capital and corporate backing do show some effect, at least short term. However, I believe that the number of those who objectively evaluated several desktops and decided against KDE is certainly very low relative to those who never had a chance to try KDE. It likely didn’t come as the default on the Linux distribution they installed, or it wasn’t described in the book they bought, or wasn’t the local Unix guru’s recommendation. There are many cases where users simply are never exposed to KDE.

KDE is all about ease of use, contemporary functionality, and outstanding graphical design, and we make it better and better with every release, in all three aspects.

Merry Christmas everybody, looking very much forward to 2006: another year of the Linux desktop.

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Posted in KDE

22 comments

oGALAXYo says:

Well written and well said.

Ian Monroe says:

Part of the issue is that sometimes the debate of Gnome vs. KDE seems to not be about our suite of applications but basically gnome-panel vs. kicker. Really the initial choice of desktop environment isn’t that important. If as supposed “gnome user” uses amaroK, k3b and digikam (not really that rare), well more power to them.

Linus has said that the kernel is now boring and that the interesting stuff is happening in land of desktops. Plasma shows that there is still interesting stuff to be done in the kdebase and kdelibs areas of the desktop, but though I’m awfully biased, I think the future of “interesting” is extragears. πŸ™‚

mobtek says:

I’ve put new users who have only used windows before on KDE, they love it πŸ™‚ When they figure out how configurable it is they can’t get enough of it.

DebianUT says:

You represent all arrogance of the KDE developers when they don’t admit critics and simple denied it all, is not bad to admit that you screwed it in some point and will be fixed but insted we get a “No, the world is wrong”, is pretty sad that nothing has changed among these pseudo KDE developers.

Merry christmas too.

Patcito says:

couldn’t agree more! as linus said, by taking away features and functionalities gnome makes it very difficult to do some stuff (configuring a printer in this case). With KDE I can easily configure everything I want (well, almost πŸ˜‰ or stick to the default with no problems. Konq’s amazing, kopete’s amazing, kate’s awsome, kio, kdevelop etc etc etc It’s just the greatest desktop ever and I thank you and everybody involved for it! πŸ™‚

Bobby says:

Thanks so much, Matthias.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!.

Arnomane says:

I think these everchanging critics without a logial line are always a symptom of an “opposition” for the sake beeing the opposition:

If a certain complain does not apply to you any longer such an opponent needs a new point as he otherwise can’t define himself. Such an opponent cannot define himself out of the good own work and I think this is a sad point. And real tragic twist is: This outside definition has also a bad longterm consequence. This opponent looses his own goals and has in the end lots of things half finnished and tries to glue them somehow together and in the end created a complex work he cannot maintain (and this is a challenge Gnome is faceing at the moment).

So my wish for cristmas and the new year is:

Please Gnomers enforce your own self definition out of the own work you can be proud of and do not pocket others work as your own (as you tried with OpenOffice and what now can sadly be seen with Firefox 1.5 Gnome only integration:, I’d wish Firefox would be as open to KDE as it is to Gnome: It is in this case not the lack of interested KDE-hackers but a lack of common spirit inside Mozilla project).

And please let us not forget:

It’s about the Linux desktop. And for every Linux desktop you need apps running on it and the key feature of a Linux desktop is: Try to integrate these apps as smooth as possible in every desktop. The Linux desktop needs this. Desktops that cannot integrate all these different flavours of apps in an open (optionally) manner will fail and if one of the major Linux desktops is doing this he will delay the adpotion of the Linux desktop as a whole. Please Gnomers start beeing integrative to Qt/KDE-apps as KDE started it towards GTK/Gnome-apps (and there is still a long way to go).

David says:

First of all I’m glade there are two main desktops for GNU/Linux since I think competition helps improve the quality of both desktops. That being said, I’ve switched to Gnome from KDE for two main reasons.

While I think there are more features in the KDE desktop most of the major apps I use are gtk based and so integrate better into gnome.

Secondly Ubuntu came along with a clean gnome desktop with minimal clutter. I hope future KDE desktops will be cleared of a lot of the ‘clutter’ that is around today. (Kubuntu looks like it is doing a good job on that). You don’t need to remove functionality but having less ‘clutter’ on the desktop, menus and menubars would be very nice. Advanced users can always add the clutter back if they want to.

Maybe I’ll check out KDE when 4.0 comes along and see how clean and integrated it is with the rest of the GNU/linux system. However, for the moment Gnome is fine for me.

Barronmore says:

I fully agree that KDE is the best desktop on Linux. I’ve used 10 diffrent distros of Linux, and most of them used GNOME. I coudn’t do jack in GNOME. All I wanted was simple things like changing my screen res and configuring really simple things. I could not do it under GNOME.

KDE gave me the freedom to change ANYTHING I wanted. It gives me complete control of my system if I choose and puts it under the hood if I don’t. When I show people Linux…all I show them is KDE.

Keep up the great work! Without KDE I would have never made the switch to linux.

Nice said, bit arrogant. I have used KDE for a long time, and now I use GNOME. My problem is, I like certain programs of the one, and certain of the other. I like the scheme-ability of KDE, which I can make look like an OS X system to many other ways, GNOME lacks this. I like AmaroK, which is much greater than Rhythmbox (though the later is filling the gap), I like the KDE Control Centre to edit my KDE desktop, as well as I like many graphical tools under KDE. However, I prefer Nautilus over Konqueror, Firefox over Konqueror, Thunderbird over KMail, and all those run smoother under GNOME I feel than under KDE. I prefer GAIM not Kopete, but also that isn’t running smooth under KDE. And the same counts for OpenOffice, feels like it runs easier under GNOME than under KDE. On the other hand, Skype matches better under KDE than under GNOME!

So even though I would like to use KDE, I run GNOME, as OpenOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird, GAIM and Nautilus are my most used programs. So agreeing some programs are not the best is a good thing, I keep on tracking KDE, and when I feel it matches what I like, I switch again. In the meanwhile, I read the whole discussion and sigh:

Why couldn’t KDE and GNOME be more blended, so I can run a desktop I like? Using the best of both worlds!

David says:

The big annoyance I encounter in KDE is that maximized windows still have their borders onscreen, meaning that if the window has a right scroll bar, moving my mouse to the right of the screen and dragging will result in resizing the window rather than scrolling it. That’s a lot fewer big annoyances than I encounter in gnome, but it is a biggie, affecting me every time I scroll a window. Recently I’ve been trying to tolerate gnome again, but I’ll probably switch back and forth many times in the coming years.

Hint: KDE supported forever what you ask for, just that the KDE developers and users considered the current traditional UNIX behaviour more useful (allowing to move and resize maximized windows). You can select the behaviour you want when you rightclick on the window decoration and choose “Configure Window Behaviour”

Curtis says:

I have been watching this debate for a while. I personally believe all involved should get over it. The reason I started using Linux in the first place is that it gave a choice. I like having that choice. The interoptibility between the desktop apps have been a good draw, at least to me. I first started using Linux using KDE on Corel Linux since I didn’t like or understand Gnome 1 I think on Red Hat. When Gnome 2.4 came out I seriouslly started using Gnome and I liked way much better that any of there previous versions. This is not to say I didn’t also like KDE. Today If I am just using the normal everyday desktop I use Gnome since I am using Ubuntu for that. If I am doing stuff as a system administrator from the gui, I prefer KDE but can use anything. Instead of fighting over the desktop. we should be finding out what the everyday user wants and make it happen on both and keep giving them a choice without the confusion and bickering.

Anyway, I like both desktops and as for that, everyone have a Happy Holiday Season.

Matthias Martin says:

That reminds of of why switched from KDE 1.2.x to gnome many, many years ago. It was because i could DND from GMC to Gimp in gnome, but couldnt do that in KDE. I think that also touches the main reason why there are two camps: Gnome is for artists, people that long for beauty and use tools like Gimp, Inkscape, etc. People that cannot bear things which are hard on the eyes. KDE never, ever fixed its uglyness, not even with its newest releases. I’m not saying that its a bad thing – there’s half of humanity that does not even notice it, and they are happy with the plus in functionality.

Beauty is a very personal thing. I – and the KDE artists and most users – find KDE to be a lot more visually attractive and beautiful than Gnome. Also your statement is wrong: DnD is an application thing, not a window manager thing. If DnD worked between GMC and GIMP in Gnome, then it did so under KDE.

Sid Boyce says:

I have been a KDE user way back before the QT license war and the introduction of CDE. I tried CDE on RedHat and thought someone must be having a joke, so switched back to KDE. CDE on Solaris is still a joke. Then comes Gnome – a bit like CDE but some nice apps. What has been most frustrating and still is, just try building a new Gnome app and you run into a quagmire of dependency problems, so soon you realise that Gnome is an install from a distro and don’t-touch-it project. When a new KDE app comes along you can simply build it, install it without problems and it works, a luxury that Gnome denies the “user”. Most KDE users like setting up their desktops to suit themselves and mine is different to other people’s, so everyone has what suits them. I’ve recently installed SuSE 10.0 on a PC for a total novice, even to the point of having to explain what the backspace key does and was asked what that (the space bar) was, but this relative has in the last 2 weeks got used to using Linux and KDE. I have to agree that the simplicity and usability charges are total tosh and if Gnome folks reckon that, email me and if I don’t have time, I can always find some newbies who can show them that KDE isn’t an ogre.

beerintrousers says:

I have been using KDE since my switch to Linux in 1999. I think it was KDE1.0. Back then staroffice3.x and KDE1.0 (both of german origins) and the GIMP were probably the only three programs that gave Linux ‘usefulness’ compared to the then predominant windows98.

I have been introducing Linux/KDE ever-since. I have tried GNOME several times and believe it is a useful program. Programs like GIMP are truly outstanding examples of the triumph of free code-libre. I think it a great asset that Linux has tw high quality GUI-programs.

However for for ease of use, available native-applications, KDE is miles ahead of GNOME:

If ease of use includes installing the program, compiling KDE from sources is relatively straightforward. There are 4 or 5 large programs to compile.

As far as ready-native applications below lists a few:

a)Konqueror is arguably the best file/internet browser available today. (Tab browsing (ancient in Konqueror) has finally reached firefox and I dare say will be in IE7).

b)For browsing smb file system, LISA/konqueror is the best there is.

c) For CD/DVD-writing K3B is a crown-jewel for Linux.

d) Kaffeine for playing DVDs, DVBs and audioCDs, Amorak for audio CDs are the the best of there type.

e) KOffice is coming along nicely and with Imporvements planned for QT4 I suspect a lot more users will be using to KOffice particularly since it uses the open-ducument format as OpenOffice.

f) For Database client, Krita part of KOffice is a lighter and potentially more functional than OpenOffice-base.

Despite the above there are many needed improvements here are a few:
1: Ability of Kaffeine to play ‘ordinary’ DVDs (though this must be due to legal restrictions!). ( A leaf out of vlc’s book might not be a bad idea.),

2. a simple network configuration tool (for ethernet, DSL, cable modem, analogue-modem etc as part of the KDE control centre (not part of any distribution),
3. a firewall configuration interface part of the control centre and not part of any distribution,
4. an ipsec VPN-configuration-gui for common vpn programs such as openswan, strongswan and openvpn and not part of the any distribution, ( I know of vpnc but it does not cover programs such as strongswan.)

merry christmas and keep up the good wok

Joe Almeida says:

I was someone who started with GNOME and went to KDE. I liked GNOME because it was simple and the graphics were clean. I came from the Windows environment and I appreciated GNOME’s cleanliness. And then something changed. I started noticing that I couldn’t do certain things in GNOME and I found myself searching the Internet for something that should have been available via context. As my Linux experience and capability grew, I became less fond of GNOME’s simplicity. I looked at KDE again. I saw the context menus I was looking for. The icons and graphics got sharper. I looked into the ability to customize KDE and there was so much there. I ended up switching. I haven’t looked back since. I run a SuSE 10.0 desktop with KDE. It does what I need it to do. With GNOME, though it was simple, I never felt I could fully make the jump from Windows to Linux. With KDE, I haven’t looked back. KDE is a fantastic desktop. I love the feature richness, and with proper icon and widget grouping, it can be made as simple as anything else. KDE does it for me, and when Novell was tinkering with the idea of stressing GNOME for SuSE, I made it clear as a paying Novell customer that defocusing the SuSE developers from their intimate knowledge of KDE development would have resulted in my defection as a customer. My loyalty to SuSE was earned in no small part by the excellent integration of KDE with SuSE. In the end, people will choose what they want. If people want GNOME, let them have GNOME. I made my choice, and I’m glad KDE was there for me to choose. The desktop does what I need it to do, the KDE developers are brilliant, and the whole KDE evolution is steady, structured, and competent. Let’s keep it that way. Don’t fix what already works.

OctoberEighteenth says:

Bravo! Echo: well said and well-written. Allow me to thank you for your long days and sleepless nights. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

vm says:

More about control & politics –

Nothing to do with what is better. Indeed, GTK was GPL & when QT turned to GPL, they changed it to LGPL, introducing another license, ONLY to despise QT/KDE. They also say KDE’s simplicity is ‘windows-like’ and in the same breath, disparage KDE for the same qualities. Windows users do find KDE more usable than gnome.

One only has to go to various linux magazines, including those from UK such as linux format etc. They used to cover a lot more KDE than they do now. These magazines are PUSHING gnome and running down KDE whenever they can, often interjecting phrases like “unlike the clutter of KDE” and so on, even where unnecessary. I strongly believe ( having met RH developers and also reading of articles by them in linuxformat) that elements within RH and novell who are gnome developers are trying to maintain control over linux.

I believe this will lead to fragmentation of linux just like unix and that it will hold linux back on the desktop.

SuSEUT says:

Kudos to the KDE development team.

KDE is amazing. In my opinion KDE combines a very high level of configurability with ease of use. I use Gnome from time to time but it’s limitations only reinforce the superiority of KDE. There is a reason why the vast majority of GNU/Linux desktop users choose KDE.

I can understand why Linus’ words caused some animosity but he is right. I can see where the simplicity of Gnome may appeal to the corporate desktop crowd where workstations are geared to limited tasks but for a personal user who wants control of their system and far more options KDE is the logical choice.

Gnome would be a good choice for desktop users who stick to web browsing and email and never care to learn or explore the possibilites but those users are likely to just stick with Windows. On the other hand, Windows users who try GNU/Linux with KDE soon leave Windows behind. After using KDE, looking at a Windows desktop can be downright depressing.

Now despite my own preference I do not discount Gnome’s contributions to FOSS but in my humble opinion the KDE desktop is better.

Thanks KDE team!

Uno Engborg says:

I used KDE back in the 1.x days, and contiued to do so until somewhere around the release of Gnome 2.4. Then I switched to Gnome. Why?

You can spend all day long in control panel and configure KDE all day long to get it to look and feel almost the way you like it. If you read the KDE usability list you get the impression that, this is the only thing KDE users do. I on the other hand need my system to do real work. To facilitate that, there are lots and lots of other things that need to get fixed:

One example a couple of days I was doing something in the addressbook that required LDAP to be configured. (it wasn’t on my setup) I then get a dialog telling me how to configure it, why not add a button saying “configure ldap now” to that dialog.

The drag and drop of files in konqueror when you drop the files on the drop target you get a menu where 50% of the selectable menu items are selected less than 1% off the time, as most people who have started a drag action will continue the action and not cancel it.

Linking is a very rare action. If I look at my hard drive I would find that less than 0.1% off them are links. Most of these links are created by scripts, not by the users from the GUI. To make it worse links can only be created by drag and drop. i.e. it is a totally hidden behaviour. It is also not clear if it will create a hard or a soft link.

As for the seldomly used “cancel” item, not only does it constitue cognitive overhead, it is also inconsistent with other menus in the KDE environment.

Then we have the K-menu. It is divided into an “actions” sections and a “programs” section. This makes the menu unnecessarily long, and the menu heading have too much space in the menu. It would probably be better to do it in the Gnome way and separate menus

Yet another example is the very cool tooltips, on buttons in the kicker. If I don’t know what the button does, and hold the mouse over it to get the tooltip, my stress hormone level are allready rising when the popup finally shows. Then what does the user get. A bigger version of the icon allready on the button and then text that slowly appears. This is very close to an insult to the user. If cool feetures are needed they should be both cool and usable, this one sucks major in the usability department.

KDE is also too much in my face. The default colors are too bright and wherever you look there is a KDE logo. E.g. what function does the image at the left of the KDE menu fill?

Another comment I don’t understand. You switched to Gnome for version 2.4, long before the cool kicker effects got introduced. And still you complain about them, still you configure LDAP with KDE, still you read KDE usability mailing lists, and still you watch the KDE menu? This doesn’t make sense, why are you spending time finding what you think are flaws and then spend even more time posting those on web sites?! About the function of the logo in the K Menu: it looks nice, does branding, and it doesn’t use any space whatsoever. Like a splash screen. Too much in your face? Only if you dislike KDE and can’t stand its logo. Normal KDE users actually do like the fact that they are using KDE, and thus enjoy seeing the logo in this very space.

bigpicture says:

Yes this is an endless debate. The balance of ease of use and learning, having easy and adequate functionality, and having pleasing good looks. I have and still do use KDE, Gnome and Windows, and I would give KDE the edge in the total package balance.

I compare this to driving a car, there are some things in the drivers experience which are fairly industry standard, such as the where of the drivers seat and how it adjusts, the steering wheel placement and design, the accelerator and brake pedals placement and feel, the clutch pedal if so equipped. The inclusion type, asthetic appearance and layout of the gaues on the dash etc. etc.

Then there are a few things which are not industry standard, and require some amount of relearning from brand to brand, and model to model. Such as heater and AC controls, the windshield wiper and washer controls, headlight controls etc. etc.

I drive a GM vehicle and pretty well any GM vehicle of a close to mine model year had very similar layout and ascethic design for all these items. I could pretty well drive any one of them without any amount of relearning curve. Then they changed their whole model line / design. All these things are now different, such as the switches for the power seats, the mirror controls, most of the dash controls. If I bought a new GM vehicle now, I would expect about a month of a driving / learning curve before I was comfortable with the different layout. (could use any of the controls in the dark) This is sort of my analogy and expectation for when KDE 4.0 is released.

bigpicture says:

Yes this is an endless debate. The balance of ease of use and learning, having easy and adequate functionality, and having pleasing good looks. I have and still do use KDE, Gnome and Windows, and I would give KDE the edge in the total package balance.

I compare this to driving a car, there are some things in the drivers experience which are fairly industry standard, such as the where of the drivers seat and how it adjusts, the steering wheel placement and design, the accelerator and brake pedals placement and feel, the clutch pedal if so equipped. The inclusion type, aesthetic appearance and layout of the gauges on the dash etc. etc.

Then there are a few things which are not industry standard, and require some amount of relearning from brand to brand, and model to model. Such as heater and AC controls, the windshield wiper and washer controls, headlight controls etc. etc.

I drive a GM vehicle and pretty well any GM vehicle of a close to mine model year had very similar layout and ascetic design for all these items. I could pretty well drive any one of them without any amount of relearning curve. Then they changed their whole model line / design. All these things are now different, such as the switches for the power seats, the mirror controls, most of the dash controls. If I bought a new GM vehicle now, I would expect about a month of a driving / learning curve before I was comfortable with the different layout. (could use any of the controls in the dark) This is sort of my analogy and expectation for when KDE 4.0 is released.

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