Desktop Configurability: Is More Better?

One of the oft-recurring debates on KDE mailing lists is, how configurable should
the KDE desktop be? With recent indications that GNOME seems to be heading
in the "less is better" direction, independent KDE developer
Mosfet has written an editorial (related article)
urging why KDE should not follow suit. Anyone else have an opinion on this?


by ac (not verified)

keyword: rampant

by Roland (not verified)

Summarized we have

- a lot of real KDE-users crying not to take away any configurability. I also fall into that category. Actually one also described how his mother doesn't have any problems with kcontrol at all.
- a few KDE-users saing that there could be a dumbed-down version for somebody else and a full version for themselves.
- one GNOME-fan and KDE-basher who sais that KDE is too complicated and needs to remove configurability.

Listen to actual users, not bashers. Bashers will never be happy, any effort to satisfy them is pointless and wasted energy.

*Not a single person on this thread demanded fewer options for themselves.*

It's always the hypothetical "average user".

by Grumpy (not verified)

> Listen to actual users, not bashers.

By all means, do. And you will see that they disagree with Mosfet.

by Roland (not verified)

> By all means, do. And you will see that they disagree with Mosfet.


On this thread alone there are half a dozen requests for *MORE* configurability.

Can you come up with a single example request for less configurability?
No, I don't want some request for some anonymous, hypothetical, mysterical "average" user, I want some real user complaining about too many options and he would like less FOR HIMSELF.

by Grumpy (not verified)

> On this thread alone there are half a dozen requests for *MORE* configurability.

But people who read, and post on, are not necessarily representative of current or future KDE users.

by ac (not verified)

If this isn't the place to find KDE users then could you please direct me to the correct forum?

... and do not talk of 'usability' labs and the self-apointed 'usability-experts' as they really have nothing to do with KDE.

This is *our* desktop and is made for the people that are contributing on this forum. We will not and should not sacrifice our current users and there opinions/preferences for some hypothetical 'average user' that may or may not exist now or in the future.

Grumpy: I've seen you all over this article disagreeing with Mosfet and saying how KDE has too many preferences ... well which preference would you like to see taken away from you? Point to them, please. Why don't you assemble all of them (must be a big list by the number of posts where you've been exhorting the KDE developers to take away preferences) and send them to the list and we can discuss specifics.

So, which preferences exactly do you want us to take away from you so you don't get so damn confused??

by Grumpy (not verified)

> If this isn't the place to find KDE users then could you please direct me to the
> correct forum?
> ... and do not talk of 'usability' labs and the self-apointed 'usability-experts' as
> they really have nothing to do with KDE.

Take private organizations and governement users, the same users Roland was referring to earlier. These are the people who just use whatever computer their employers are providing them with. They go back home at night and think about something other than their desktop environment. They do not know or care about what KDE is or stands for, unlike you and me. They don't have to. Unfortunately, I cannot point you to the correct forum for them because it doesn't exist. They are anonymous users and, believe it or not, they are the majority. I work with them everyday.

The only way for their voice to be heard is to have usability labs and "usability experts" work on KDE's usability problems. I don't understand what you mean when you say that usability experts "have nothing to do with KDE." They have everything to do with KDE. Why dismiss them?

> This is *our* desktop and is made for the people that are contributing on this forum.

Yes and no. When KDE is released to the public, it also becomes everybody's desktop. You seem frustrated by the idea that KDE might escape your control. But if you want KDE to grow, you have to accept that it'll be used by people different from you. It's inevitable. You can't wish KDE well and rejoice when it is deployed at yet another company and at the same time want it to be yours only.

Perhaps you don't want KDE to be used by many. If that's your opinion, that's fine, I respect it. But if it isn't, your position is untenable.

by Roland (not verified)

> Perhaps you don't want KDE to be used by many. If that's your opinion, that's fine, I respect it. But if it isn't, your position is untenable.

I really wonder what I'll lose first in this thread: My temper or my mind.

OK, now again, what you are ignoring, Grumpy:

Let's assume that you finally find out the all-perfect configuration for KDE.

If we make that the default, how can anybody be confused by configuration options when everybody is already happy with the defaults?

Grumpy, your whole chain of argumentation is flawed from the very beginning.

by Soup (not verified)

Since you want configurability, you must have been very angry that your "option-full" file selector was "dumbed down" from this version:

To the current one ;-).
Or maybe you guys are just so thick-skulled that you take any one intending to give constructive criticizm as a troll.

Our beloved KDE project will do alot better without people like you. This place has become a religious meeting place where people leave their brains out at the door and once inside, begin chanting the slogans and speeking in tongues they don't understand.

Almost every known fallacy in the book is excercised here.


to learn how to make your point without resorting to fallacies, and to evaluate your opinions before making them public -- if you really care about the KDE project.

by ac (not verified)

The old version admittedly looks better. It makes sense to have Home on the toolbar and in the context Menu.

What you fail to understand however is that Usability and Configurability are not mutually exclusive!

Think about it.

by Soup (not verified)

And what you fail to understand is that "less" configurability does not mean "less" usability, nor does it mean "no" configurability. And while we are at it, "more" configurability does not mean "more" usability.

Assuming you aggree with the above statement, think about these statements:

"less is more"
"more is more"

What do they mean? Have you actually understood what they mean before categorically accepting one as true or the other as false? Can you justify your choice objectively? I haven't seen a single post here that is objective. Failing to find ammunition, everyone has translated the statements to the following:

"none is more"
"all is more"

Which are easier to argue for/against. So the KDE guys can easily flame the GNOME guys for having "no" configurability, and the GNOME guys can flame the KDE guys for having "all" possible options in one's face. But when you look at the real situation, deep down they agree with each other.

by ac (not verified)

You're talking a lot of fluffy nonsense, my friend. Get a life.

by Soup (not verified)

There you go. Another fallacy:

Ad Hominem Abusive

by ac (not verified)

There you go. Another fallacy Soup:

pot calling the kettle black

by Roland (not verified)

>But people who read, and post on, are not necessarily representative of current or future KDE users.

On what do you base that claim?

by ac (not verified)

This article and the response makes quite clear that the majority of KDE users agree with Mosfet. Quit trolling.

by Göran Jartin (not verified)

Hasn't Eugenia Loli-Queru has touched upon this?
The problem is not "too much" but rather "where do you find it".
You have to arrange the menus in such a way that they are simple to deal with for the newbies (and those who don't bother) and still leave room for the advanced (or exerimental) users a few clicks down the menu tree.

by Jean-Pierre (not verified)

Yup, she has. She replied to Mosfet on pclinuxonline with a link to Havoc's great article about "less is more" (, which contradicts Mosfet's opinions with some great arguments, but Mosfet didn't reply at all with any new arguments!

by Mosfet (not verified)

I wrote a whole new commentary that directly addresses Havoc's paper. I don't get into debates with Eugenia because she spends way too much time trolling both KDE and me in particular >:)

by Goran J (not verified)

I think you're right about Eugenia's trolling, but I was after a rather specific point that I think she's been making (if not, I'll make the point myself, and let's start from there :-) )

It's about the structure of the configurability. I, personally want to be able to configure almost everything on my desktop. I want to be able to choose the mp3 player that I think has the nicest interface, or to use the imageviewer of my choice in Konqueror.
I don't want the "GUI police" to tell me what I need and what I don't need, whether I should singleclick or doubleclick.
In a few words: I want to adapt the UI to myself, not the other way around.

But, at the same time, the instruments to adjust the UI shouldn't be spread all over the place.
Instead of inventing the perfect UI (which will never exist, anyway since people are different) efforts should be made to standardize the tools that people need to perfect their own UIs, and to make them easy to find.

Of course, most people will never use anything but the standard settings. But for those who want - or need - something else, it should be easy to find out how.

by Androgynous Howard (not verified)

Is there something fundamentally difficult in implementing Drag and Drop for the KDE Start Menu? This is one feature I really miss. I always try to drag icons from the desktop into the menu or to reorganize the start menu using Drag and Drop, but obviously this does not yet work. I know that a program called kmenuedit or something exists, but I do not like it.

About the amount of configuration options: The configuration options should be better organized, but they should not be totally left out. There should be a way to lock them down, but the kiosk functionality already does this.



Totaly agree with you on the drag 'n drop issue... I think it is not essential, but a nice touch and one more step toward ease of use.


I actually hate that behavior in Windows...

by Androgynous Howard (not verified)

I agree that there should be some way to "lock down" the Drag and Drop behavior. As with most drag and drop stuff, it is much too easy to accidentally change the GUI. I have seen it about a thousand times that some newbie user had changed his office or windows toolbars by accident using DND, and was utterly confused afterwards. So *every* drag and drop feature should have some kind of lock. This should in fact be a common GUI element.

But if you know how to use it, reorganizing a menu using drag and drop is much faster than using the menu editor. Reorganising the k menu using kmenuedit is so cumbersome that I do not bother with it. I just use a command line. But of course that is not an option for a newbie user.



What about holding down a key (say Ctrl) and then drag stuff? Is that a good enough of a lock for you?

(PS: oh, and I like my KDE configurable up the hilt as well, I'm no newbie, having mucked with X and several flavors of *nix for several years (2 digits :) in my life, and I agree fully with mosfet)

(PPS: I like (and agree) with Mosfet's rebuttal to Havoc's paper)

(PPPS: I love KDE. Really. I friggin LOVE it.)

by Paul Kucher (not verified)

More configuration is better, and I believe that defaults should be chosen with great care to eliminate the need to configure as much as possible. The people who need a simplified user interface will probably spend all of their time learning the default scheme instead of figuring out how to change things, that's why a good default scheme is important. People who do like to change things will want to change whatever they don't like. If you put restrictions on options, you will be deciding what should be changed and what should not. KDE is not an interface. It is an environment that is conducive to building an interface that is suitable for the user. Gnome does not offer this. I tried Gnome 2 recently and found its control panel very lacking.

by SHiFT (not verified)

the configuration options overbloating is always a problem of big projects. Different people have different preferrences, and developers usually do their best to meet such configurability demands -- but extreme configurability usually appears to ba problem for newbies.

one of the solutions is to introduce 'configurability level' like is was done in some gnome applications or in xine, where user could adjust ammount of options available for changing. I have a strong believe that such approach is not a good idea, because it leads to confusion with self-estimation, and it tends to mess things up in users' head. For example -- the famous MS-Office 2000 menus, which showed only freqently accessed options (later it appeared in Windows ME and Windows 2000) -- when i teached students the basics of computer use, this feature was very confusing to them.

i think that the more appropriate solution will be like it is done currently in KDE or in OpenOffice or in Mozilla, especially after those numerous usability reworks. All three systems introduce somewhat comprehensive configurability implemented in GUI, which is well-organized and categorized. And the rest of the most advanced, morst complex and most novell options are left for text files.

for example -- i really appretiate the fact that mozilla have very-well documented text-files configs, and also supply lots of usefull examples (such as UserContent.css) -- i think that KDE should do it as well -- KDE has extremely great configurability potential, but most of it is nullified by the lack of documentation and samples on those text-configuration-files in .kde.

example -- give me a point in the KDE manuals on how to add new RBM entries for sertain file types, like "uncompress here" entry for archives. Or any hints about how to use user's custom CSS's in konqueror for blocking ads? Or any hints in User's manual to XML-gui files, which user could modify to adjust the contorls layout and look&feel in his favorite applications?

by Grumpy (not verified)

> give me a point in the KDE manuals on how to add new RBM entries for
> sertain file types, like "uncompress here" entry for archives.

Very good tutorial by Aaron Seigo here:

by Sorin M (not verified)

I have to agree with Mosfet also. Every time I install KDE i touch almost every part of Kcontrol. More, sometimes I have several users on the same machine with different desktop configuration corresponding to what I am doing.

It seems that every comparison between Windows and Linux from a long time starts with "my grandma", "my mother", "Joe the user" and so forth. Users are NOT a bunch a stupid people. Some of them may be uninterested or not knowledgeable enough but that can change in time (and will change if there are reasons).

What would be interesting would be to be able to have multiple "full" configurations. I would like to change immediately almost everything according to several previous setups. Say I am working on my 21 inch monitor. A set of fonts, colors (CRT's are not the same, some color scheme is better that another one') and so forts. But maybe I am working directly from my 800x600 laptop. Everything changes then. Color scheme (tft is different) fonts, smaller panel, smaller icons and so forth.

Sorin M

by Luke-Jr (not verified)

I think it would be a great idea for each setting in KDE to be assigned a configuration level. Maybe from 1 to 10. By default, only options in level 3 or lower might be shown. At the top of the Control Center, maybe in the menu area if Qt allows it, there could be a simple slider from Simple to Expert which would change the viewed configuration level. The problems with this system would be when certain sections have only one option at a level. In that case, it might be combined with other similar sections though how that would be decided, I'm not sure. Perhaps make an internal (not seen by the user) tree with more levels of similar sections or something...

by Mosfet (not verified)

I went a lot more in depth with the new commentary and it addresses a lot of the things said here!

by Clicked on Open... (not verified)

Apple has a very configurable desktop ... the UI for configuring it is sane however. Anyone who has honestly studied the interaction of average users with the KDE control centre will have to admit. The UI is insane, complex, inconsistent, non-intuitive and merely papered over by a "help system" to try to explain how it works - it shouldn't require as much explanation or a many icons. You don't have to take a HID course to understand this.

It's the configuration UI and UI of various configuation elements that is the problem - not "configurability" per se ....

XP has improved over KDE seems deadset on being as confusing as XP plus a little more confusion for good measure. That's why people keep refering to Mac's and to "uncluttered" UI .... because KDE like XP is whacky ...

> Apple has a very configurable desktop

Wrong, MacOSX didn't allow me to turn off Minimize/maximize animations, which piss me off.

And that's just one example. No multiple desktops, poor configurability of the dock and no panel applets are others.

Strange, I have a friend who did exactly this. Sorry, I can't tell you how but I think it had something to do with speed or so

by Peter Shaw (not verified)

I'd like to be able to configure a general configuration page like Look, where I'm able to configure "Flat V2" "Redmond XP" etc., Background and Double-/Single-Click. When I want to configure more precisely I can create my own profile (starting with an already existing one) which consists of Desktop, Taskbar, Mouse Behaviour, Window Decoration ... which again have more general profiles by default ...
It then would be great, when every subpart of that configuration could be delivered as seperate software module for download from websites like

A general setup configured in KControl could be inherited by individual application (like for example a localized keyboard layout for KWord). The configuration of those applications should again be hierarchical and every subpoint should have the option "KDE default" to modify only the parts wanted.

Also I think KControl shouldn't get too bloated. I personaly don't like the idea of an M$ Control Panel for everything. Stuff like system time, font management, network configuration, management of personal information (email), system information ... doesn't belong into the same application, but in seperate tools. WebBrowsing is of relevance only for Konqueror and thus should be in the Konqueror settings page only.

Generally it'd be great being able to configure GTK/GNOME and QT/KDE stuff in the same interface ... ok, ok :D

As a last point, I agree that the look of KDE configuration dialogs should be homogenous. For example, the panel on the left side in Konqueror 3.1 I find confusing.

by Bryan (not verified)

KDE is better to me because it can highly be personalized, some where like 30 times more than Gnome, KEEP IT!!!! and IMPROVE IT!!!!! Those two things will make KDE users stay with KDE

by Jamin Gray (not verified)

I'm sick of the endless debate, however, personally I think it's nice that KDE and GNOME have something that really distinguishes them from each other. They are taking very different approaches. I don't think most people are going to choose their desktop based on what toolkit it's based on or what is the primary language used to develop the apps or what themes are available. What's really going to make a difference is how pleasant the interface is to use. Is it a joy to use or a bitch? The next couple years will be telling ones...

by Ken Arnold (not verified)

I agree with Mosfet, and have this to add.

It all boils down to this:

Just having MORE configuration options is not better.
Having BETTER configuration options is better.

(I feel almost ashamed that I have to say this explicitly; it's a well-known fact.)

More configuration options will confuse more than the average user; it will confuse power users and developers also. (I swear I saw one option for the taskbar twice in kcontrol, but I can't find it again; there are a bunch of options there, and more than one way to categorize some of them. I wouldn't call the taskbar config a particularly bad example; in fact, it has improved a lot.)

Better configuration options, especially better layout thereof, will make common options easier to find and all users feel more in control.

I strongly disagree with the notion of a global switch between simple and expert modes. I always hit Custom in Windows installers and Expert on any nontrivial application, because what I think is simple and what the application developer thinks is simple can be very different things. Moreover, the Expert path is nearly always more tested, since that's what the developers use.

Ideally, configuration options should follow these goals:

1. The defaults should produce a reasonable compromise between bare-bones simplicity and advanced, cluttered, and mega-eye-candy. The "average user" should find the overall experienced produced by the defaults to be stylish but not distracting, commanding but not confusing, and above all, functional. There shouldn't be any setting that an "in the know" user immediately sets upon configuring a system for someone else.

2. The first options that a user finds should be the most pertinent to the task at hand. This may be accomplished through context menus, "tips", category-level options, "themes", etc.

3. Categorization should reflect increasing level of detail, grouped by where a user is most likely to look, not necessarily by what it controls on a programming perspective. Subcategories and tabs should be used only where the division is obvious to the user. If there is more than one grouping that makes sense for a particular option, a hyperlink may be employed to direct the user to where the option is actually located.

4. All options should include contextual help for their overall purpose and the specific effects of each setting, as well as how different options interact. Consider "themes" when options interact in significant and unobvious ways.

KDE generally seems to be moving towards these and other goals. I'm sure that Usability Professionals and User Interface Designers could and already have put similar goals in better words than mine.

For whatever it's worth, I've deliberately set some options to more closely mimic the behavior of Windows, even when the default KDE setting seems technically or usably superior. Having general "themes" in kpersonalizer can help when you know what you want, but I suggest a slightly more formal and complete way to deal with the "theme" concept. Within the kcontrol framework, there could be a global list of the defined sets of options, with predefined and user-definable "themes" that group their settings. For each set, the theme most closely matching the current settings can be selected, and the differences between the current settings and the theme settings can be listed. That way, I could see concisely where my settings differ from the KDE defaults or the Windows-alike "theme", and make a better decision on which options I really like better.


by Ken Arnold (not verified)

Going back and reading the last several comments before mine... I agree with most of them. Especially, "profile" (from 2 (?) comments up) is a much better word than "theme" for what I was trying to say in the parent comment.


by Stephan (not verified)

Furthermore, a global switch only leads to this:

On the phone...
Novice: Hi, can you help me? I want to change my background!
Geek : Sure, click on the "K" in the lower left corner,
then click on "Start" the KDE Control Center.
Novice: OK. The control center window seems to be open.
Geek: Now click on "Appearance"
Novice: I don't see the word "Appearance"
Geek: ???

It takes lots of time to find out that the novice is in simple
mode and the geek is in advanced mode. In the simple mode the
tree has different and less categories.
This also happens if something is described in a book, in a
computer magazine and so on. "Hey, I'm using 3.1 but where is that option?"
Guess this would lead to lots of confusion. Not really a step towards
an easier user interface especially for beginners.

by Maynard (not verified)

I thought if you were walking someone through a process you literally did it as well to make sure you are doing the same thing so that you see exactly what he sees and actually do, or emulate what you are telling him/her to do.

by Stuart Herring (not verified)

Mosfet is definitely right here

The day you take my configurable KDE away from me because some 'Expert' decided that some hypothetical 'casual user' might not want configurability, is the day you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Advanced users are users too!, and I've been a KDE user since before the first alpha release, because I've always been able to make it suit me, even when the developers have decided that the defaults should be different.

by coolvibe (not verified)

Exactly. And once you customized your KDE the way you like, you hardy touch the settings anymore.

The usability-nazi goons have an argument that's flawed at the foundation. The worse thing is that the GNOME developers are listening to them, and pissing off lots of GNOME users in the process. Oh well, more users for KDE I guess... Maybe GNOME 3 will be hella configurable again, at least, I _hope_ for the GNOME project that they will see the fundamental error in their ways eventually.

If you want _less_ configurability, KDE-kiosk mode is just plain cool. I use it for internet cafe terminals and it's really easy to set up.

I salute the KDE team for a job very well done and hope they will never take kcontrol (and it's well sorted cornucopia of opions) away!

by MxCl (not verified) where you go for intelligent opinion:

"The people who make the most noise are not your "userbase". They are merely people who are making a lot of noise. You've always got to remember the silent majority who are just using the software, not bitching at the developers. That means you shouldn't add a feature just because a lot of noisy people want it, you should evaluate a feature based on the arguments for and against. Obviously, if it seems to be a popular feature take that into consideration, but the validity of the change should always come first." []

If we want to make KDE a success we must think of the majority.

by Datschge (not verified)

"but the validity of the *change* should always come first"
Exactly. Don't remove features. Please add features. Only change them if it's an actual improvement. Ready. Thanks for giving me a nice quote which contradict some of your previous posts. =)

by Anonymous (not verified)

It is always good to see debate on UI on the forums. What worries me, however, is that most people here seem to think that UI design is a matter of opionion. It is not. Or at least it shouldn't be. In most cases it should be a science, with measurable results. One example of this is reading speed with different foreground/background colors and fonts. The combination that gives one user the fastest reading speed will almost certainly be best for most other users too. I challenge you to find a single user that does not read black text on white background most quickly (measure results with a stopwatch). It is, sadly, not uncommon to still find people who have changed their preferences to red text on a green background. Which leads us to the point that Mosfet misses the point when he says "Believe me, there is no lack of feedback from users about what they want".

Users are not UI experts and they do not usually know what is best for them fom a UI perspective. I suspect that Mosfet also has not studied much UI engineering and is basing his opinions on personal preferences alone. Whould you trust a coding advice from someone who has never picked up a book about programming? Probably not. Then why is it that people assume that they can be experts on UI design without som serious studying?

by Stuart Herring (not verified)

> Then why is it that people assume that they can be experts on UI design without som serious studying?

Because everyone is a user.

Users may not necesarily know what's 'best' for them, but they do know what they like, and they're not necesarily rational about it.

Obviously UI studies are important to make sure that in the general case, the UI is more accessable, but it is aways wrong to make the assumption that what is right for the general case is therefore right for every case.

What matters is sensible defaults, that's where the UI expertise is important, but don't take away the ability to change the defaults if a user doesn't fit into the mold in every respect, and I think that is the point that Mosfet was trying to make.

Except that he wrongfully assumed that Havoc implied taking out all configurability.

It's what happened to GNOME isn't it?

Do you even know what GNOME is? Have you ever used it? Do you know what you are talking about?

I can't help but wonder.