Sebastien Biot: KDE Usability - First Steps

Sebastian Biot looks at KDE Usability in the first of a series of studies. "While some participants noted that KDE looked different from Windows, none seemed bothered by the differences and the look-and-feel of KDE. Users identified all the elements of the interface without any trouble including KDE's Konqueror and KMail icons. Most users seemed to understand the K menu's presence and function intuitively and they used it much more than I had anticipated. This test conducted in early July 2002 with four participants outlines of some of KDE 3.0's shortcomings including inconsistencies in KFileDialog and the difficulties of working with Konqueror's embedded viewers." It's good to see people stepping up to do this kind of work -- the good news is that discussion of the study has already been started (kde-usability, kde-cafe).

Dot Categories: 


by Frank Rizzo (not verified)

I have to second the findings of the usability test.
When I first used KDE 3.x, the single-clicking thing also
threw me. It should be double-clicking by default.

Second thing that threw me was that when the mouse passed over a desktop icon,
the icon changed to an "active" state. I generally have about 5-10 icons on the
desktop. The effect is that everytime I move the mouse the entire screen is jumping with various changes. This behaviour should also be turned off by default not because it wastes cycles, which it does, but because it makes the desktop non-estetic.

And my last pet pieve (it didn't show up in the study, because users were not asked to perform it) is clipboard. Ctrl-V/Ctrl-C works - that's great. But it is worthless if everytime you select something, the clipboard gets overwritten. I still haven't found a way to turn off this ridiculous behaviour (am I missing something?). Sometimes I want to highlight a url somewhere and paste it into Konq, so I highlight the URL, then I try to highlight the URL in the address bar, so that I can overwrite it with the url I selected, but the clipboard just got whacked. Anyway, there should be an option to turn off the X clipboard behaviour, because it is simply non-intuitive.

by Jakob Kosowski (not verified)

And my last pet pieve (it didn't show up in the study, because users were not asked to perform it) is clipboard. Ctrl-V/Ctrl-C works - that's great. But it is worthless if everytime you select something, the clipboard gets overwritten. I still haven't found a way to turn off this ridiculous behaviour (am I missing something?).

Yes, you are. Did you notice the clipboard (Klipper) in the system tray? When you click on it, it presents you with a clipboard history.

by not me (not verified)

Not to mention that this has been fixed in KDE 3. Selecting something and then pressing Ctrl-V does produce the desired effect. The only way you could have problems now is if you tried to mix the two clipboards: if you press Ctrl-C and then middle-click, or if you select something and try to paste it with Ctrl-V.

by Frank Rizzo (not verified)

Oops, I stand corrected. Clipboard actually does work. Sorry, I was thinking about a different workstation which has an earlier rev of kde installed.

by Eric Laffoon (not verified)

> I have to second the findings of the usability test.
When I first used KDE 3.x, the single-clicking thing also
threw me. It should be double-clicking by default.

WRONG!!! I can't stress enough how much this is a terrible idea!!! Just because thousands of lemmings run off a cliff doesn't mean it is a good idea. Where did double clicking come from? Apple advanced the GUI they got from Xerox with a single button mouse. This pretty much indicated double clicking since a second button was not optional. I too found single clicking strange when I first started using KDE. However within a few weeks I found double clicking way more obtuse. Consider that it is not at all uncommon for people to suffer from repetative stress disorders, in particular carpal tunnel syndrome induced by double clicking on a mouse. This is a very real thing. Your chances of having real and painful medical problems after decades of double clicking are very good. They put warnings on cigarette packs about heart and lung disease. There ought to be one on your mouse about double clicking. A quick search on carpal tunnel syndrome and double clicking reveals plenty of activity including expensive ergonomic mouses that have a double click button so that people can use windoze without having to double click. I for one would feel ill if I thought KDE users were buying them because they did not know that a free software solution for the insanity of double clicking was there already.

KDE should be saluted for doing the right thing... even though some people find it inconvenient to be open minded and realize the it is more productive, logical and less injurious to click once when the only need to click twice is the one button mouse and the morons in Redmond who never had a fresh idea or any sense. It seems to me if you are coming to KDE from windoze you will find yourself rebooting less and clicking less... both of which will make you more productive.

God help us if we allow "usability" to pander to the worst inclinations and stupidist conventions. Sometimes it's worth taking the heat for being right!

by sarang (not verified)

I agree 100%.. Single clicking is the way to go. When you browse internet, do you double click on links? When I first started using KDE, even I didn't like single clicking.. but then it felt so natural after a while. The only time I don't like single clicking is when I am in file browsing.

Another observation I would like to put forth is that of my father. He used Windoze till now but moved to Linux/KDE (KDX!) recently. He is not a techie person.. a complete newbie. After a while, he loved single clicking. When I asked him if I should change snigle click to double click like in windoze, he said no.. he likes it this way.. he said he got irritated at times with the windoze doubleclick.. mainly because he had to click within that short time else it wouldn't click!


by Morty (not verified)

I find single cliking much better, but you have to get used to it. About a week and you don't want to go back. Only problen is at work, me sitting and waiting but nothing happens, darn NT.

Overheard 2 coworkers talking, both had installed win2k and they agreed on one thing, the best ting sice sliced bread was the abillity to set it to single clik.

by Harlan Wilkerson (not verified)

I agree completely. If KDE adopts this notion, maybe we can also get them to drop the metric system:) The Windows 95 interface was so badly done that it spawned several well known usabilty "Hall of Shame" sites. Everytime I see Windows-type mistakes repeated in KDE it makes me boil. Add this to your usability test: Special=Inconsistent=Bad. I single click a registered mime type on the KDE desktop to open it with my preferred application, but have to middle click the same file in Konqueror. One or the other should be the default behavior, but not both.

A mouse is a pointing device, by default that's the way it should behave. I work in industrial automation. It's typical now to use industrial touchscreens to provide graphical operator interfaces. Many times these are simply an X86 PC in a special form factor, with the touchscreen connected and configured as a serial mouse. I've never seen an instance where anyone "intuitively" attempted to double click a graphical control panel touch object. The same applies to kiosks or automatic teller machines - Mac and Windows users seem to grasp how to operate those machines at a glance.

The faster we make PC's work like everything else in the real world, the better off we'll be. Most of us don't double click to start a car, turn on the living room lights, and etc. ad infinitum. I don't want to click a desktop icon two or three times (to give it focus and to launch the associated application).

Should KDE make that the default behavior based on some vague claim of "improved usability" without first asking for a rational explanation of how it improves the functional utility of everyone's desktop?

by Tim Vail (not verified)

I'm all for single clicking, except that it is kinda frustrating to figure out how to simply select something for a change.

The automatic select cannot read my mind, if it is not fast enough, then it is not fast enough. Then other times it is too fast, or it can be a bit "sticky" in which everywhere I move my mouse, it follows, and messes up a bunch of selects.

What I'd like is...if there was a way to simply select something. And I would like it if it could be done on a click. So far, the mapping is: left opens, middle open in new window, and right opens the menu. Can I win something here? How about this: in single click, if the menu is open, and I click on the same icon I opened the menu on, it should leave it selected, period! I not care if the mouse moved ever so little off the menu, select the thing, not open it! I know that is 2 clicks, but I can live with that. It would be nicer if a double click would select for a change. If you are in single click mode, isn't it intuitive to assume that there was a role reversal in which select is now double click? I don't know exactly how the GUI thing handles events, but if it is possible to reverse the role, then that would be nice. Have a checkbox under the configuration for single clicking saying "Double click selects".

by Darren Winsper (not verified)

Ctrl-click selects a file.

by John (not verified)

So to select file(s) with single click I have to use 2 hands. That sucks.

by Marko Samastur (not verified)

No, you just point to it. Right mouse button gives you the option. If you want to move it, just press left mouse button and don't release it until you draged whatever you are dragging above the target. Drop.

That's it.

by Stefan Heimers (not verified)

There is a guy who even wrote a mousedriver which works without any clicks. Could this be done in KDE too?


by Andreas (not verified)

Full ACK!

by thil (not verified)

"better usability" doesn't mean "no evolution".

The simple click is a good evolution because:
->easier to learn
(beginners move the mouse when "double clicking"
=>so windows move the icon while they want to open an application, ...)
->better consistancy
(why a simple clic open a menu
and I need double clic to open a folder in windows)
->less effort

Thanks for the simple clic


by RdC (not verified)

I agree, too.

Actually, the whole thing is a non-issue anyway because a new KDE-user should see the wizard where you can choose a look-and-feel right in the beginning, and all users who think that think Windows is the best can choose Windows right there, with double-clicking and all.

KDE is a great desktop, while I certainly acknowledge that there is room for improvement (there always is), please don't do something just because "it's in Windows".

by wza (not verified)

wow, and i thought that the mac vs pc war was gross....

i can't believe you can actually start an overheat discussion on double-clicking vs. single-clicking.

by Navindra Umanee (not verified)

Note that he didn't ask the User how they felt about it. I'm pretty sure if he explained what was happening and why the user would soon feel at home. My dad for one lives quite well with the single-clicking.

by Inorog (not verified)

And we come to the central matter: making users _know_. I.e., given the absolute truth that users don't read documentation unless their lives depend on it (it always does, but we, users, are crazy risk freaks :-/ ), we should find another way to make people know.

One thing would be a mandatory tutorial at the first use of the computer. This won't trap users that start to use an already configured/existing account.

Another thing would be to have "intelligent assistants" (hello, Microsoft) that would detect "erroneous" double-click usage etc.

Bad huh? But don't despair. There is a probable solution, and it's even as old as unix/X, probably. Fire up the "xfig" program (you don't have it installed? Shame on you!). And look in the top right corner. Move your mouse cursor over different elements of the display. Choose tools from the palette. You'll see there, in the top right corner, a small mouse buttons depiction, with explanations.

Now, imagine we would add a general mechanism that would allow, at user's demand, the display of a panel on the desktop (or in the kicker) that would list the actions associated with the mouse (and perhaps with the keyboard buttons too), depending on the element of the desktop over which the mouse cursor is, and/or the element which has the focus.

This technique would also solve another usability problem mentioned: opening documents _for viewing only_ in the konq-embedded viewers. Well, the above technique would show that middle-clicking on a file opens it in a full-blown editor.

Nice huh?

by KDE User (not verified)

> When I first used KDE 3.x, the single-clicking
> thing also threw me. It should be
> double-clicking by default.

I think single clicking makes more sense. Why should your bias have more weight than mine?

> everytime you select something, the clipboard
> gets overwritten. I still haven't found a way
> to turn off this ridiculous behaviour

Some of us like the normal X behavior. Anyhow, as far as I know, your painful windows/mac way works fine in KDE 3.

by David Siska (not verified)

I Agree! I like single clicking I'm used to it!
I like X clipboard / clipboard history combination, it's good and I'm used to it. Btw. in konqueror there is the cross button to clear the URL text box. And in all text boxes right click and "Clear" deletes the text. That's as efficient as selecting it and pressing "Del" IMHO.

by Tim Jansen (not verified)

IMHO the preference wizard should make clear to users who are used to Windows that they use the Window profile. Maybe it would be right to preselect the profile, many people dont read any text. But it is also important to make the KDE settings default for people without Windows (or MacOS) exposure, because double clicks are very complicated for newbies.

by sacx (not verified)

>I have to second the findings of the usability test.
When I first used KDE 3.x, the single-clicking thing also
threw me. It should be double-clicking by default.

No way ... Double Click is for other world not for ours. Yes is good to configure this double click , triple click etc but not by default.

by Uno Engborg (not verified)

Just because windows does it this way doesn't necessaryly mean that it's better.
But in this case I think you are right. The users have already made their choise.

Even Microsoft tried to introduce single click as part of their active desktop, but
failed miserably. Almost all users turned it off. My guess is that users feel that
they want the double click to make sure that they don't do anything by mistake,
as you use clicks to select and double click to perfom an action.

Another good reason is that there are so many windows and mac boxes out there
all configured with double click and chances are that KDE users will use one
of those as well as KDE. In this case a different click behaviour would be

There is however one place in KDE that not should have double click,
and this is the tree in the "Control Center" where you select controls.

You should not need to double click here. This is a selection where you
only can select one control at the time. It should work like the tree
view of the filemanager.

by Marko Samastur (not verified)

So much about consistency.

by Maris Darbonis (not verified)

I personally like single clicks, because double clicking requires too much effort when you actually use mouse to do things. The only reasonable reason for double clicks I can think of is that double clicking was invented before multiple buttons on the mouse. We should not hang on to this medieval habit.

by J. J. Ramsey (not verified)

The annoying thing about having single-click by default is that it makes the following actions harder to do:

* Selecting multiple items. Generally, I want to select one icon as an "anchor" and then use Shift-Click or Ctrl-Click to extend my selection.

* Right-clicking. Generally, I want to select an icon before right-clicking it, just to be sure I'm working on the correct icon.

by Gert-Jan van de... (not verified)

"Selecting multiple items. Generally, I want to select one icon as an "anchor" and then use Shift-Click or Ctrl-Click to extend my selection."

start with ctrl than start clicking...

"Right-clicking. Generally, I want to select an icon before right-clicking it, just to be sure I'm working on the correct icon."

An icon is highlighted before you right click it, how sure do you wan't to be?

by TCorbin (not verified)

I don't know why people like the C-c, C-v stuff so much. I think the X mechanism
is so much better and simpler.

by jorge o. castro (not verified)

The author mentions that applications like Mozilla continue the double-clicking trend. This is a very bad example in my opinion.

There's nothing to double click in the browser, and in the mailer, the only thing I can see is to open up a mail message in its own window instead of using the preview pane.

I do agree with his point though, I see people double clicking on hyperlinks all the time ... ugh ...

The problem with the KDE default single-click mode is that the novice user that's accustomed to double-clicking everything ends up with 2 launches - which is exacerbated when launching is slow and they double-click again.

Can't KDE (or QT, or whatever is handling mouse clicks) just be set to ignore a second click if it comes within the double-click time interval? That way, single-clicking would still work, and double-clicking wouldn't hurt anything.

by TH (not verified)

(or I have actually no big complaint appart from the control center)

* Redesign the kde control center. I have often to use the search ability to find all the places that, for example, deal with fonts.

* Improve the defaults for new users.

* A window maker clip utility, bringing up a nice app launcher menu specific for wach desktop.

* Make some of the window decorations have good size (or configurable size) grab bars. Glow, for example is very poor in this issue.

* Better color support for reverse color schemes. Some apps assume that the background is always some sort of white and the fonts some sort of black. konqueror should have independent link color settings.

* The possibility to embed the 'desktop preview' pager into the panel. I'd really like to see the icons of the apps running in each desktop. I had kpager in KDE1 working very well with auto-hiding panel and tasklist.

* Seed up the hide/unhide of the external task list.

I have been using KDE since one of the betas of the 1.x series, so i'm not really representative for any usability study. :)

by Navindra Umanee (not verified)

I believe Charles pushed some changes to the KC in CVS. I haven't checked it out yet, but it sounded much better than the previous layout.

by TH (not verified)

Why not a "user mode" menu entry en KC?

Something in the line of Expert, (Intermediate?) and beginner?

In beginner mode, KC would boil down to a slide bar for eye candy settings, together with basic look and feel (and mouse) config options. Probably also a dropdown menu for styles and icons.


PS: Why not a spell checker for these konq edit boxes :o)

by Aaron J. Seigo (not verified)

i understand how appealing the concept of user levels are when you don't really bother to think much about it, but trust me: the idea is braindamage of the first degree, which is why it is condemned by most usability experts and not implemented very often at all. why, you ask?

first off, users are not uniformly "expert" or "novice" or whatever.

they may know how to use the spell checker very, very well but know next to nothing about using tab stops. so are they an expert or a novice? or somewhere in between? reality is that they are an expert spell checker and a novice tab stop user. which means you really need these settings for each different major aspect of a program, which is obviously unworkable (you can end up with more user level settings than settings themselves!) ...user-levels only "work" when they are fine grained, which sort of defeats the purpose.

second, users are horrible at determining their own user level. few get it right, especially when you ask them how well they know something when they may not understand what you are asking them about.

third, interfaces that change are the devil. they render past learned lessons less reliable and useful. so if someone uses the user-level system, this only extends the learning process and makes the system seem perpetually uncomfortable or else they never progress to being anything but a novice. in which case, why have any features that aren't novice features?

fortunately user levels aren't really needed anyways. good defaults, well designed UIs and a measure of restraint on the feature count and feature duplication works quite well.

by Stof (not verified)

The GNOME people already tried this "user mode" thing before, both in Nautilus and in Sawfish control center. But they both failed, everybody (users & developers) thought it was a bad idea, and eventually they removed it.

by Ross Smith (not verified)

> * The possibility to embed the 'desktop preview' pager into the panel.
> I'd really like to see the icons of the apps running in each desktop.
> I had kpager in KDE1 working very well with auto-hiding panel and tasklist.

Have you tried Kazbar? It's a panel applet (or extension or whatever they're called this week) that does pretty much what you describe here.

by TH (not verified)

It's not the sanme thing.

Kasbar is like a iconbox, it lists the icons of the apps currently running. What I am refering to is a kpager-like app that could be embeded in the kicker window, with icon and pixmap preview and window drag and drop between dekstops.

by Tim Vail (not verified)

First off, I'd like to point out that I respect the developers who developed some nice archive readers like ark. However, if I was to statistically observe my own web browsing behavior, I'd say that pretty much 99+% of the time that I click on a tar.bz2, tar.gz, or even tgz files, I'm looking for a download, NOT for opening up the file to read it!

That is precisely why ark has became an pet peeve for me. And it is a pretty annoying one because almost every time I click on a tar.bz2 file, I'd say to myself "oh no, now I need to press backspace and then use right click to save as!"

The quick solution to this problem, in my mind, is to make saving those types of archive files the default, and perhaps have ark (Archiver) as one of the top program in the "open with" for those users who love to look at their tar files (honestly, it beats me). I think kdownload is going in the right direction here.

The ideal solution in my view is pretty much what Microsoft, like it or not, does. I'm not a big Microsoft fan, but they seem to allow you to make different actions the default, like view, open, etc. What we could do is, we could have "save" as default, and then open with ark as another good option. If someone wants to change that, all they have to do is go through the file association properties and change it there.

Of course, those opinions are not representative of a new user, but I think a new user would prefer if those tar.bz2 files were saved, not viewed -- or even better, just give them a dialog box that gives them the option of doing any of those actions.

by Matthew Kay (not verified)

I agree completely! I *always* download compressed files, or rpms, or what-have-you, then go to a command line and extract/install/whatever. For a complete GUI solution I suppose you could use Ark, though I find "tar zxvf file.tar.gz" or "tar jxvf file.tar.bz2" to be infinitely faster and simpler. And for rpm's, I've never encountered an intuitive rpm GUI (especially now that I'm using Mandrake, and can just type "urpmi file.rpm"..... heh heh heh.

But, I would say that a default of download makes *much* more sense, as its (like it or not) the default behaviour of Windoze. Besides, what good is viewing the contents of an archive on a remote computer? (well, in a temp file, but that's how it appears to the user). Also, in file-browsing mode, the whole archive-as-a-pseudo-directory is useless: 9 times out of 10 (or even 9 :) whatever is in the archive will not work in a pseudo-directory type thing. The best thing, probably, would be to have the default left-click option in filebrowsing mode to open Ark (or even be the "Extract Here" option from the context menu)

That should be all


by Morten Hustveit (not verified)

I think consistency means that left-clicking a link should always open it in the preferred application, or ask what to do if there is none.

By the way: try holding down the Shift key while clicking on a link.

by Tim Vail (not verified)

Sure. Have you ever tried shift-clicking on a link that redirects to another link that downloads the archive file? That is where the REAL annoyance is.

Because that way it is very difficult for me to catch the link in order to right click to save it as something.

Just wondering, does shift-click solve that problem?

Tim Vail

by ne... (not verified)

That's why you should use the side bar in Konqueror. You drag the tarbol/rpm
to a directory. Konqueror then pops up a thingy asking if you want to
copy, link etc the file. This is what I use all the time. If I need to
take a look at the contents of the tarbol, I can click on it. Konqueror makes
my life so easy... And no double clicking!

by John Clarke (not verified)

OK, to take a concrete example, if this is such an easy thing to deal with, would someone please tell me how, using konqueror, to get dvr-2.7.9.tar.gz off of sourceforge? When I tried any of the methods that have been suggested in this discussion, I got a 10k file that was not a valid archive. The actual size of the archive is more like 2.7 meg. And when I finally removed x-tgz from the file associations, that is in fact what downloaded.

by Evan "JabberWok... (not verified)

You click on the link, a page is displayed with a number of mirror sites - you've been downloading that page. The key here is *not* to right click and "Save Target As...", as the link to the file on Sourceforge is no longer a link to the file, but instead a link to the page of mirrors.

Wait a few seconds, and you will automatically, without clicking anything, be presented with a dialogue box asking you to save or view. If you don't want that, hit stop as soon as the mirror page appears, and there will be a link at the top of the page, saying "If your download doesn not start automatically in a couple of seconds, you can manually download the file from...", and a URL. You can right click on *this* URL, and choose Save Link As.... If you are not on a page with a bunch of corporate banners and country flags all over the place, don't right click.

I agree - the mirror system is a PITA, and I've downloaded that 10k file (which is the html page of mirrors, btw) several times myself, as you expect that link with the file name to be the link to the file - but it isn't. If it's any consolation, you're not the only one, and Konqueror users aren't the only ones having issues with the new SF file system.


by Marcel Janssen (not verified)

That doesn't seem to be a correct way to me.
In fact, I like the bahaviour of konqueror when dealing with file I have on my local disk.
Regarding archives that I want from the net, the behaviour should be always to download.
Anyone knows how to set this kind of behaviour ?

by Marko Samastur (not verified)

After one hundred years of using typewriters, people were used to pressing enter at the end of the line, when they first encountered word processors. In general they learn(ed) pretty quickly not to do that and I doubt that anyone in the right mind would ask that we all change to the previous behaviour.

I have a mother who had a fairly limited exposure to Windows before I put Linux with KDE on her machine. From the start she didn't have any problems using single click and is in general quite happy with how the things are working. Or in her own words:"This is much easier to use than Windows!"

Sure, there are things that need to be fixed and article exposes a lot of them, but I'm not in favor of forcing next generations to learn old behavior just because it would save a bit of learning to the current generation of computer users. Obviously I BELIEVE that single clicking like word processor example is clearly superior and worth the trouble of learning it for those who got bad habits in other environments.

If anything, I'd make the change to double-clicking easy for users, but default should be sensible, not entrenched.

by Capit Igloo (not verified)

the only thing I know : new KDE and Linux users always have difficulties with the single-click at the beginning. But, then, they change their Windows preferences to single-click... I see that beheviour numerous time. So, I think it's not a real favour to make double-click by default.

by Asokan K (not verified)

Yes. Double clicking is a bad idea used in Windows. single click in Windows selects, something less used than double click. so single click by default is the way it should go.

KDE people add brilliance to the common functionalities. The drag and drop pop-up menu, for example. And the split window facilty that makes drag and drop cool to do, the multisession tabs in Konsole.. thanks to the developers