Wednesday, January 23, 2008

KDE 4 Review - Insane Style

So KDE 4 is out, along with major architectural changes, a new face, and new software, as well as tweaks to what KDE 3 had.

Now if you wanted to know about all the new libraries, and new platforms supported, or kinds of other flashy changes they made, you can look elsewhere on the internet. Instead I'm going to just describe the changes to the standard file open dialog, and the ramifications of having Dolphin as the new file manager, keeping in tradition of the previous file dialog articles.

So without further babbling, here's the new file open dialog:

Now ignoring all styling issues for the time being, let us compare that to what KDE 3.5 did:

First big difference is that the KDE 4 file dialog now has a crumb view on top. The crumb view is nice, in that if you want to jump back up a few directories, you can do so in a single click, instead of pressing up multiple times.

In fact you don't even need an up button anymore, but don't worry, the design experts at KDE gave you one anyway, since space on that line isn't important. Because if it was important they might consider moving the encoding drop down elsewhere - oh wait they did do that.

You've got to love mixed messages when it comes to GUI design, they needed more room for the crumb browser so they moved the encoding elsewhere to take up a full line down below, yet leave in the up button. Also interesting to note that KDE 4 is now using Qt 4, which quite nicely offers a file system watcher for paths to tell when they get updated to automatically refresh a file view, it seems despite that, the KDE team thinks you also need a nice refresh button on top.

Now if they really wanted to manage space properly, perhaps they'd put the crumb navigation on a line by itself up top, instead of giving all that room to encoding drop down which doesn't need a fraction of the room it's getting. Maybe something along the lines of this mockup I just made in KolourPaint:

Now there's plenty of room for large paths for the crumb browser, and no ridiculously huge encoding selector.

But these obvious issues aside, we haven't even gone past the surface of how utterly useless the dialog has become.

Remember how I spoke about how Windows added annoying virtual locations? Seems KDE copied them down the last annoying detail. Now "/home/insane" appears as "Home" in the crumb viewer (and no absolute path anywhere). If I want to go up to "/home", and then "/home/spouse", it's impossible. "Home" is treated as a root path, even to the extent that the unneeded up button doesn't do anything at this point either. One has to click on the left on "Root", then select "/home". This gets worse if you're on a machine where home directories are stored several levels deep. Of course power users, can type in the full path in the location bar on the bottom, but you'd think a group as intelligent as KDE can avoid glaring Windows design flaws. Don't even get me started on what happens if you delete the Root button from the quick locations on the left. Poor users who want to find someone else's home directory now have to navigate through the root path filled with stuff like "usr", "opt", "bin", "srv", and other unintelligent gibberish to do something that once was a single button click.

And speaking of annoying locations. Why the heck is Trash a location that appears by default in the quick locations? How often do you decide that the document you need to open is in the trash? I'm glad they removed Desktop, but replacing it with Trash? What were they thinking? Give me something useful like a Media quick link, for optical drives and all kinds of USB/Firewire external memory devices. They also completely removed support for right clicking on the quick locations panel, and just adding a new quick location. Now one is forced to drag a directory's folder icon from the right to the left. I wonder how that will work if one is in some kind of virtual directory that has no parent, making it impossible to drag.

Anyways regarding other features, remember how KDE 3 gave the user a lot of power and allowed them to have something similar to the old Windows 3 split view?

For some reason this useful method to navigate your files is completely gone.
And now with the old location input bar merged into the one for files, I can't even easily edit the current location by hand, since it doesn't display the current path at all. Furthermore, entering a new path seems to make it have useless data left over in it like the last path directory component after enter is pressed.

Old KDE file browser: 10
New KDE file browser: 6

I guess making the perfect file browser, especially when you were almost there is next to impossible.

Speaking of file browsers, lets look at how the new edition of Dolphin fares, touted as being better than Konqueror for simple management of files.

Now I remember I complained to some KDE devs a while back regarding the KDE 4 betas and how Dolphin seemed to be a bit brain damaged at file management, but they assured me it would change for the final release of KDE 4.0, and change it did! For the worse.

Back in the older betas, one could click a button to bring up a full path editor instead of the crumb view, now that button is completely gone. To bring it up, one has to go browse through one of the menus on top to switch back and forth between the quick browsing methods.

Here too, they also kept the brain damaged virtual Home path. There is no way to go up. Nice to see they didn't put in a useless up button, but here again, if I want to see everyone's home directory, I have to navigate there from Root.

Also, if one switches to the classic path editor, if one wants to go up, they're forced to backspace the old path, or switch back to the crumb view, since in the KDE Dolphin developers' great vision, they couldn't stick both views in at the same time, or make an up button appear when in the classic path editor.

There's also no nice directory and file split view here like good ol' File Manager. But one can bring up a directory tree browser:

And in keeping with the new KDE 4 design goal of copying stupidity from Windows (Vista), when viewing the tree view, the file viewing pane is also filled with now redundant directory listings.

Isn't it wonderful to see how people who used to be way ahead of the curve and tried so hard to offer a really advanced product have completely fell between the cracks when it came to normal sane usability of files?

For those of you wondering if perhaps GTK got any better since the last time I reviewed it, you can rest assured that it has not. In fact, I now have a new refined hatred for how lousy GTK is. In the course of uploading some images from FireFox in an article I was writing, the GTK file menu had the file type filter locked to (*.png/*.bmp/*.gif/*.jpg/*.jpeg). Since the pictures I had were all *.JPG, none showed up, as GTK in their infinite wisdom made the extension filter case sensitive.

Seems UNIX file management is just as lousy as ever and getting worse. I'm afraid to even look at Konqueror in KDE 4, fearing they ruined it too.

Feel free to start a flame war in the comments, I got my flame retardant suit on, besides nothing you can write can make me feel worse than what a downgrade KDE went through.


fliptw said...

It amazes me how some linux dev's think that copying MS's UI choices verbatim, without any consideration is a good thing.

It also annoying how they broke something that didn't need a lot of fixing.

Timothy said...

do you think they will change it to something better in a subsequent release or is it hopeless because they will want to get people familiar with their existing setup.

insane coder said...

They change a lot based on feedback, so if we make a point of complaining how we really want certain features that are missing, I believe they will put them back.

Spread the word.

Sven said...

Yes! Why put so much effort in destroying a file manager. Was it not for the bizarre file "manager" I could even use gnome. As it is now it is completely useless. Every attempt I have made using it has resulted in files copied and opened in a close to perfect random manner. Not long ago I realized I have stopped using all the software using this file "manager", e.g. gimp and firefox. Still, perhaps the gnome "manger" can be used as a cautionary example for the KDE developers (or give them a good laugh).

aep said...

failure. pure failure. thanks for summing it up. Now we have some hard facts to throw at the gnome-qt4 trolls

Dan said...

Nice to see that you're back to writing. It is shocking to see them copying a far inferior system rather than perfecting the near-exemplary one they already had. I'm shocked and appalled! As always, wife, kids, yada yada yada.

Paul said...

I was always reluctant on doing it, but it looks like the KDE devs are going to force me to switch to xfce ...
For a real file manager, KRUSADER is the best I've come by so far. (gosh how I miss DOS + norton commander...)

Dave said...

It's my understanding that Dolphin is intended to be an absurdly simple file manager. The attitude I've heard is that Konqueror can still be a file manager, if you prefer.

As for Konqueror, there are some nice improvements, depending on how you look at it... The spinner has now been moved up to the menu bar, which means it's invisible to me most of the time. The search bar is gone, but the location bar will search by default if you enter keywords instead of a URL -- I'm not sure if I like it or not, but I can live with it.

They did bump up the minimum tab width, though. It looks a lot cooler when you have to scroll tabs, which is good, because that happens MUCH more often.

The desktop-effects stuff seems a lot more polished now, and a lot faster, but if I just wanted desktop-effects, I'd use Vista -- or Compiz.

And across the board, basic functionality is completely bastardized. What's more frustrating is that kde4 has done some things so much better than kde3 -- Kate and Okular stand out (Okular being the new name for KPDF). And it does feel faster.

But in MANY places, what used to be a solid dozen options in a dialog, or even several tabbed dialogs, is now a tiny dialog of maybe two useless options.

Oh, and backwards compatibility is shot to hell. Amarok isn't KDE4 yet, and its global shortcuts don't work. For that matter, for some reason, it's decided that the Windows/Super key shall never work in custom keyboard shortcuts -- it appears as some strange Unicode thing.

All around, I'm thinking I'll use KDE3 as long as I can, or start scripting wmii -- but I suspect it'll be KDE5 by the time they fix it. I love the KDE4 tech, and some of the concepts (Plasma), but not until I can get back all the toys I had in KDE3.

That, and Kubuntu seems to be putting a lot more polish on KDE3 than on their "KDE4 remix". Though maybe not all of that is their fault -- try shrinking the panel to "tiny", which is available. The K menu icon now wraps around to the top of the screen. WTF?

blackbelt_jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Benji said...

I don't know what happened to KDE's mentality. It seems like Gnome was always the "let's dumb things down" desktop.
Now KDE4 are getting rid of the features that the power-users craved and experimenting in philoshpical UI concepts. The whole KDE4 experience is like using an early beta project that still feels years away from being completed.
I've gone to gnome (grudgingly) now, if nothing else for the fact that I can't really understand the design path the kde devs are heading down anymore. They've pretty much alienated me and a large amount of their user base with their lofty ambitions.

Tristan Grimaux said...

I fill the same as Bengi, and we are on version 4.1, where the search bar is gone in konqueror and all i get when I try to enter the keywords in the url is "unknown protocol".

I am really disappointed, and all the reviews I see on KDE are made by people using Gnome. And I hate Gnome so much when I am the user, it's so freaking dumb I really can't cope with it.

And now KDE is following the same path. It's driving me crazy.

insane coder said...

I have to say KDE 4.1 is much better, and coming back to where KDE should be. Although it's not there yet. I have high hopes for KDE4 if the devs don't get sucked into the GNOME black hole of features.

Hopefully I'll have an updated review out of KDE 4.1 in the future.

mahasamoot said...

"They've pretty much alienated me and a large amount of their user base with their lofty ambitions."

I'm also very alienated, especially with the Kubuntu crew for dropping 3.5 while 4.x is still beta rubbish. They claim that they can't do both, but they've been doing both for over a year already... wtfo?

KDE 4.1 is a bit better, but it's still got a long way to go. It remains to be seen whether 4.2 will be usable... the more they push this on us, the more they're going to alienate us. We're not resisting out of a fear of change, we're resisting because it's beta rubbish that's not ready yet.

The KDE crew made a huge mistake in calling a Tech-Preview "4.0" KDE 4.1 is still not ready to be called a beta, but it's the only shipping version of KDE on Kubuntu 8.10... thus the KDE community is compounding their mistakes, rather than learning from them.

Adam said...

I know this post is a bit old, but people are evidently still reading it. I just thought I'd say that I like KDE 4.

The Up button being in the file dialog is a good thing for when you are in line edit mode. Making the button disappear would be ugly and inconsistent.

The Trash being in the Places sidebar is consistent with everywhere else. Taking it out in certain places would only serve to cause confusion, I think.

There is no Up button on the Dolphin toolbar, but it's in the Go menu, and you can add it to the toolbar manually. Again, making the toolbar change depending on the whether you're in line edit or location navigation mode would not be ideal. Also, I would rather not have both modes active, as I think that's a waste of screen space.

felix said...