KDE 3.3 Usability Study and Review

Celebrating one month of KDE 3.3 out in the wild, userinstinct put together a usability review with user testing. "Based on feedback from our test group, the default settings for a number of KDE parameters differ from what is usually expected and desired by users. Providing better defaults would reduce the time users spend looking for configuration settings and would provide a better "out-of-the-box" experience."


And how exactly would "Would you like to save your passwords? Yes/No" get in your way??

The problem, let me repeat, is that KWallet assumes you want to use it, not that it exists.

By ac at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

1) Show asterisk when typing the password

2) Antialias by default. And that means getting rid of Helvetica (Good riddance!)

3) Tone down Kwallet

4) Reduce the number of configuration-options (note: this does NOT mean reduction in configurability!)

Those four seemed to be repeated over and over again.

By Janne at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

It would be nice if the konqi-plugin "archive web page"
is integrated into the save as dialogue box as an additional
option. Also there should be an option to "use cache"
in the save as dialogue to enable faster archiving.

By Asokan at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

I think you missed the most obvious and glaring problem that came up again and again, and would cause a person to not use KDE.

Things didn't work. Applications crashed.

Usability issues are difficult to get right, but in the end we learn another way of doing things. But when applications don't work, or crash, or don't render properly, we don't use them. We can't.

The anti-alias default being off is a legacy of flakey aa from just a short time ago. It was unreliable. It isn't any more, so it makes sense to enable by default.


By Derek Kite at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

Of course non-finctioning apps are a problem. But IMO they should be handled separately from mere look 'n feel issues and usability of the apps (UI-wise).

One of the pet peeves I have had with KDE (well, this is a minor issue, but it's annoying) is how some configuration-windows are too small (or more likely: the configuration-windows are just crammed full of stuff). I mean that they are so small that I have to scroll around them, or (preferrably) make the window manually bigger. Things like that leave a bad taste in the users mouth and make the whole environment seem unpolished. I'm planning to document where I encounter them and report in in the mailinglist.

Apps not working is a problem. However, 3.2.3 was rock-solid for me. 3.3 has some hiccups (most notably Kontact) stabilitywise. I assume things will get better with 3.3.1 and beyond.

By Janne at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

>Of course non-functioning apps are a problem. But...

Non functioning applications prevent the user from doing anything. Non functioning apps also include network daemons that are not configured yet pop up warnings or take screen real estate. Non functioning apps also mean unusable with keyboard only. Or with a screen reader.

Form follows function. A well designed application that assumes reasonable defaults, detects all detectable configuration options, works as designed and as expected, has some thought put into various modes of usage, ie keyboard, mouse, screen reader, will be by all accounts usable.


By Derek Kite at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

Well, I concentrated mainly on the UI-issues. Of course non-functional software has pretty crappy usability since it doesn't work ;). But I think that some of the application-problems they encountered are not due to KDE itself. I mean, I have very little problems with KDE. Just about only problems with non-functioning apps I have in 3.3 are Kontact (that crashes on me) and Amarok (But I use a beta-version).

I do agree with you 100% about form following function.

By Janne at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

4) Reduce the number of configuration-options (note: this does
NOT mean reduction in configurability!)

Yeah baby! Configuration based on thought-user-interface is the way to go!

Seriously, some options make sense, a few ones don't and can be chopped out
(I used to ask for some foreground new tabs in Konq 3.1 and some ones in background, but I do not miss too much having the two options in the menu).
But I guess I can have a really good time having people figuring out how to have the same configurability with less configurtion options (of course, Windows and Gnome are NOT the way to go).

By the way... the example about tabs... there was a different study referred by KDE about this:
(the original site is gone)

So, you use icons with a scrollbar and people do not figure it out. You use tabs, but if you put more that four or five it sucks. IE/OE/MSWord config sucks for me, and those aren't the worst.
Tabs in several rows are really, really, really confusing. Tabs with a scroll arrow (I saw a few of them) are harder to figure out than category icons.
So, please, stop the madness... People do not complain they should not have to drive cars to get a license, they do not complain about confusing traffic signs, they just learn those!!!

Is SO HARD to learn what a scrollbar is, what it means, what is does, how it works?

Sorry about the rant, but there is no gain in doing all this usability thing when you simply ignore the fact that you work for users that doesn't think, doesn't care about learn and doesn't care about nothing. They do not worth the effort.

Then, make people understand they should learn a bit for their own good if they want to use computers, or let people use Gnome version 2.dumb or whatever else.

Spend your effort working for people willing to learn. Keep Kandalf's tips.
Build a tour, run it after the customize wizard and encourage new users to check it out.

But, again... if the effort is made, make it worthy.

By Shulai at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

"And that means getting rid of Helvetica"

I wish we could. But what other sans serif fonts are guaranteed to be available on the user's system. The only alternative I can see is to make Bitstream Vera a required dependency (as I don't see Luxi being much better than Helvetica).

What we really need though is the ability to specify alternative fonts, like we do in HTML. That way we can specify Vera Sans, and if it isn't present drop down to a generic helvetic font.

By Brandybuck at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

> The only alternative I can see is to make Bitstream Vera a required dependency

Bitstream Vera has not very good international glyph support.

By Anonymous at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

Qt will get the required glyphs from other fonts, no? I'm not very experienced with non-latin1, sorry.

By anon at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

Even if it would work, how ugly would look it like?

By Anonymous at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

Certainly not as bad as (unanti)aliased Helvetica. ;)

By Gábor Lehel at Thu, 2004/09/23 - 5:00am

I never got what people want out of configuration panels. Let's talk specifics. Take a dialog you hate, draw it up in gimp or whatever. What, do you want only 6 options in a panel at a time? More is "overwhelming?" These vague statements like, "it's too much, change it" don't get anything productive done. Give other workable solutions. Only then can a programmer at least have an idea what's wanted.

Like, is there supposed to be a newbie options panel, then an advanced options one? That way you don't have to look at the advanced one? What happens when you want to change one thing that's on the advanced panel, complain that it needs to be moved? Personally, I consult the help, explore around to find something that might change whatever I'm looking to change. Likewise, if the help is lacking, how about helping (pun intended) out with some better docs as you navigate around finding the setting you wanted in the first place.

By JCorey at Sun, 2004/09/26 - 5:00am

1. Usability is there
- perhaps a user behavour "talkback version" of KDE is needed

2. Interface consistency is there
- when you look at windows apps you find much more inconsistency

What I think it over mayor importance
- first impression
- lower learning curve
- easy connectivity to other devices such as digital camera, USB stick
- easier upgrades
- better documentation (not more text, less tautology:

Example 1:
"KBabel is a suite of of an advanced and easy to use PO file editor comprising KBabel, a multi functional Catalog Manager and a dictionary for translators KBabelDict. It supports many advanced features and it lets you customize many options."
--> what is a PO file, do we have to know that?
--> What is this tool really for?
--> What is a catalogue manager?
--> Rekursion in definition: Kbabel is a suite ... comprising Kbabel
--> "many advanced features and it lets you customize many options" Are you a business consultant? No, you want to assist users, don't tell them something that has no relevance for them.

Why not just telling that the tool is for the translation of KDE applications and other apps that use the Po-Fileformat standard.

Khangman, unlike Kbabel you find the definition in section

"KHangMan is a game based on the well-known hangman game."
---< a game based on ... game

Inconsistency in naming:


kmail: difficult to pronounce, why not "Kamel"?
KBabel: difficult to pronounce, why not "Kababel"?

Kmail - intro:

"The KMail Team welcomes you to KMail, a user-friendly email client for the K Desktop Environment. Our goal is to make KMail a program that is beautiful and intuitive without sacrificing power.

If you have never set up an email client on a UNIX® system before, we suggest that you read through the Getting Started section first so that your setup goes smoothly..."

here: other text style, more personal.
- What is a "client"?
- Our goal is to make ... that is beautiful ---> so it isn't?

"Since most people do not read documentation anyway, here is a collection of the most helpful tips:"

---> Perhaps because most of the documentations are not written in a user-friendly way.

Although KMail can be considered reliable you should keep backups of your messages, i.e. just copy the files and folders in ~/Mail (including the hidden ones that start with a dot) to a safe place.

---> "safe place??"

KMail's homepage can be found at There you will find useful links, e.g. to the user and developer mailing lists. Please report bugs in KMail using Help->Report Bug...."

---> sounds as if Kmail was very buggy and users shall ask questions at the developer's list.

By Gerd at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

sounds as if Kmail was very buggy and users shall ask questions at
the developer's list.

On the other hand, Microsoft users do not get suggestions as this. They just see their apps and their entire system crashing all the time! :-P

By Shulai at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

kmail is fine to pronounce by most english speakers.. perhaps not in $YOUR_LANGUAGE_HERE, which is why it's good to tone down application names and instead use descriptions more.

By anon at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

Well, in fact K is a consonant.

E in Email is a vocal. Who cares about English speakers? In most languages a consonant K + another consonant M is bad naming.

Ask a linguist for advice.

By Jan at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

But all older KDE applications are named like the scheme K-App and there should be pronounce that way (K-App) too (for examples: KControl, KWord, even KOffice is made so.)

The K is supposed to symbolize KDE.

Have a nice day!

By Nicolas Goutte at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

Why when do we talk about usability we put the example for the most stupid imaginable person? For that person it is imposible to make something easy.

For that person even a remote control with 2 buttons is complex

-what is a channel? Do I need to know what a channel is?

And if in the remote control you put attached the channel explanation, there will be people who will come and post that's too much complicated because there will be stupids who do not want to read.

No silver bullet for dumbs, they have too much imagination.

By peroxid at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

I have been using KDE for 2 years.
I agree that its documentation has a very poor quality.
My impression is the help files were written by users who simply
recorded their experience. Consequently, those functions are described (sometimes thoroughly) that do not needs explanation. For example: Menu point File.Save will save your document into a file. Excepting the absolute beginners, all average users know that.
If developers have written the documentation, they could inform us those specific features of the applications that are not obvious. Yes, I know, it's very diffucult to convince a developer to write a help. Perhaps, a compromise would be, to complete the already existing docs.
From my personnel experience: if I had (rarely) a question I never found an answer for that.
The mostly cited reply for this, that those experienced users who need extra information, they can find it in the source code. But it is not satisfactory for me: the gap between the beginners and code-read-able users is huge incuding more and more users.

My best wishes devians

By devians at Fri, 2004/09/24 - 5:00am

I'm sorry, but renaming KMail to "Kamel" must be THE worst suggestion in this entire discussion!

By Martin at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

I second that.

What I'd like to see is some widgets for's soft shadows and true transparency. It would be awesome, if I could choose how the transparency will be used (like all windows are transparent, or all but the focused window are transparent, or the focused window is less transparent than the others). That would be cool, and useful also.

By Jouni H. at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

If I understood right, that program can't handle different functions of the effects, like transparency only on windows with no focus. Anyway, we need to get that program to KDE 3.3.1. I hope it's stable by then.

By Jouni H. at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

of a somewhat famous cigarette brand.
NO thanks!

By Christopher Sawtell at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

It is difficult to pronounce

Kmail - two consonants

I don't know a word that starts with "Km"

"Kamel" is Camel in some languages.

By gerd at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

""Kamel" is Camel in some languages."

And in some languages, KMail is easy to pronounce. The name derives from E-mail, so actually it's not Kmail, but K-Mail (keimeil, is that so difficult afterall?), but it's easier to write KMail. It's logical. What do Camels have in common with electronic mail anyway?

By Jouni H. at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

Two consonants in naming, that's bad.

Look in a dictionary how many words start with "km". From a linguistic perspectiv is it a very good suggestion.

By Jan at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

As I stated before, it's actually K-Mail (keimeil). That's why it's written with two capital letters (KMail). See? Like HQ, MReal or S-word. So the K is not part of the rest of the word. I hope you understand. It's very easy to pronounce, if you just really try it.

By Jouni H. at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

Then we'll be seeing complaints, "What's this Kamel program? Help me manage my camel farms or something? I'm not a camel farmer! You will never get anywhere in this world until you acomodate me!!"

By JCorey at Sun, 2004/09/26 - 5:00am

"New document wizards in office applications should select new 'blank document' by default"

I think that is true. I never understood why KOffice always opens this initial dialog when starting a KOffice application. This dialog doesn't make things noticeable easier or faster for the user, but it makes things different from all the other office suites, be it OpenOffice or MS Office.

"The KDE Control Center (or 'KDE Control Cente' as the title says) is packed with numerous settings."

Wouldn't it make sense to offer the options "Simple", "Normal", "Expert" in the toolbar of the control center? This way the dialogs within the center can be designed for respective type of user.

Anyways, thanks for the great piece of software that KDE is.

By Anonymous at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

> I never understood why KOffice always opens this initial dialog when starting a KOffice application.

But above request doesn't say that there should be no wizard/dialog at all?

> Wouldn't it make sense to offer the options "Simple", "Normal", "Expert" in the toolbar of the control center?

No as everyone as different expectation what is expert and what not.

By Anonymous at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

I didn't get the KOffice startup dialog either, at first. It's part of a long tradition, though. Even back in the MS-Dos days there were application that couldn't show you anything unless you had either selected a file, or created a new one. I really hated those applications.

However, in the current KOffice CVS things are a lot better. The initial dialog now remembers which page you used last, which means it adapts to the way you work. If you mostly work with a small set of files -- say, a writing project or some set of images for a single publication, you get those in the recent files tab. If you tend to create new documents, that's what you get shown first. Moreover, the dialog remembers your last choice _and_ you can tell it to always use the selected template.

So, if you start a KOffice application for the first time, you select 'empty document with no frills', check the checkbox, and then whenever you start a KOffice app (without specifying a file to load), you get your wish. Empty document of the type you prefer.

By Boudewijn Rempt at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

I have only just started using Linux recently, and I agree with the conclusion of the review.

I know its dull from a development perspective, but KDE needs to concentrate less on the features and more on the fine tuning.

Often the issues are things which would be so easy to correct too. For example, it really is confusing have 3 "Configure" items in the menu, when I will virtually only ever use one.

The default KDE font has a slighly comic "kids" look. I realise that the MS fonts cannot be used for legal reasons, but there must be very similar OSS fonts, especially for Tahoma.

By Robert Knight at Tue, 2004/09/21 - 5:00am

So KDE should concentrate on the fine tuning, but what's "fine tuning" in your case? One's improvement ("fine tuning") to a particular feature making it really useable for him may well look like yet another useless feature to another person who never used it.

Your "easy to correct" example is an excellent case to show this: The multiple configure entries all handle different settings, one for keyboard shortcuts, one for toolbar setup and one for apps specific settings. All of the KDE applications have them in a consistent way when they need them, so it's easy to memorize and pick up when needed for the user. If all of those settings were crammed into one single interface (like KControl) it would be way harder for users to customize the basic interface features of KDE applications.

By Datschge at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

@Datschge: In your analysis, you leave out the constraint of optimizing for the common case. Every item in every menu is a mental burden on your user. That's one more thing they have to skim through when reading the menu, and one more thing they have to account for when trying to remember where things are. If something is used rarely, it should not be put at the same level as something used commonly. It's like putting your radio's channel control on a steering wheel, along with the hood-release mechanism. When you put "Configure Shortcuts" in the same menu as "Configure Konqueror" that's what you're doing.

By Rayiner Hashem at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

Agreed, but as was said before moving those configure entries into the configure dialog (which often is already complex as is) doesn't help improving the case for anyone but is actually worsening it for those used to the KDE scheme. As you might have noticed already the menu where "Configure Shortcuts" and "Configure Konqueror" are located is called "Settings" for a reason. Probably the best for people not cabable of configuring applications nor of ignoring that particular menu is letting someone else do the configuration and just remove the "Settings" menu afterward, which is perfectly possible already.

By Datschge at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

Simple solution: Take all the 'configure' options except for Configure ... and put them in a submenu, right below Configure .

By Gábor Lehel at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

"I realise that the MS fonts cannot be used for legal reasons, but there must be very similar OSS fonts, especially for Tahoma."

Ah, just download the Windows fonts from and quit your whining. Also, Bitstream Vera fonts are very nice, in my opinion.

By Zooplah at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

Should we have konqueror in more default flavors?
As we today we have the "Personal Files" and "Web Browser"
What value have the tags anyway?
Try to enter the following in the Location:
"" and you get ""
So why cant I enter
And get either
"fish://host/", "smb:\\host\", "nfs://host:/", "lan://host/", or

Ohh... Entering
"//" results in
"The file or folder file:// does not exist."
So no slashes gives ftp: and no slashes gives file: ...

Would that help? Or is a start up movie needed inplace of ktip?
(Written using dcop?)


By Roger Larsson at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

This is offtopic but go to It's no more, they've been assimilated. The page sends you to . I never heard of this till now.

Also read the latest on Evolution 2.0. Seems a disaster:

By ac at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

Why even post it here?

By Datschge at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

Because he's an anti-GNOME troll. Sigh, it saddens me that he's *still* around after all these years.

By ca at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

I have been using KDE since it was in beta. I like it as it is. Please do NOT dumb it down so far that any witless fool can fool around with it and stuff it up completely. That would be totally counter-productive to advance KDE. I like and want the power-user features. I like the click features as they are.

There are two features I'd rather like:-
1) Being able to print out a file from the right-click menu. OS/2 was able to do this.
2) The ability for the user to select different sets of icons on each desktop. ie. a web desktop, a programming one, an document preparation one, and sound & graphics one.

I really do not want the KDE development team to feel that they have to ape the Microsoft product line in the way that GNOME people seem to have done.

I'd love to see a similar report about an untainted KDE and unix user's reaction to using Windows or O/S X. :-)

By Christopher Sawtell at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

"Please do NOT dumb it down so far that any witless fool can fool around with it and stuff it up completely."

Streamiling the UI and making it more usable does NOT mean it's being "dumped down"!

"That would be totally counter-productive to advance KDE. I like and want the power-user features."

You don't have to remove one bit of the features to make it more usable. You just have to implement those features in a smarter way,

By Janne at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

How often do you print out a file that you need it in a right-click menu? Konqueror already has this in the right-click menu, and it has no place there either. Neither does half the other stuff in there (Preview in Embedded Advanced Text Editor?).

By Rayiner Hashem at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am

How often do you print out a file that you need it in a right-click menu?

Often, I would not ask for it if I would not find it very convenient!

By Christopher Sawtell at Sun, 2004/09/26 - 5:00am

I swipe it, it doesn't get copied, I middle-click and if I'm lucky I get stupid scroll controls, but it never pastes. Simply moving stuff around means either reverting to the keyboard or fiddling in context menus. There's no applications - I'm gunna hafta spend _hours_ downloading just to get some, and this stupid browser keeps wanting me to register or update; what's a web browser doing trying to admin a machine? And it's sooooo inconsistent; I have to run a whole separate program just to rename stuff on my web server. This MS-Windows sucks!

Good enough? (-:

By Leon Brooks at Thu, 2004/09/23 - 5:00am

Just an idea.

After reading articles and comments on osnews and maybe we should do something totally new and radically different then any other desktop environment.

No defaults at all ! Nothing. No menus, no toolbars, nothing. I am talking about a fresh install.

Just one option: Settings. A new user is forced to add features by himself. At desktop level you want Kicker, ok. choose it (checkboxes) before kde even loads up for the first time. At application level you want a print icon on Konqueror's toolbar, ok. no problem, choose it among all the other options before the Konqueror appear for the first time.

And you can later always add and remove features.

In this way we could

1.give the new users possibility to choose as many features as he/she feels suits his/hers level of experience,

2. give the new users possibility to learn much more about the desktop and applications structures.

3. satisfy all old KDE users because they already have their defaults saved (or backuped) in their .kde directories.

4. avoid all future flame wars about default settings, about too much or too less, about who is going to decide what is a default setting.



By wygiwyg at Wed, 2004/09/22 - 5:00am