KDE Usability Process Strengthened

As the leading Open Source desktop, many from the private and public sectors have expressed interest in KDE and are currently using it on a daily basis. A message consistently received from those users has been that KDE's usability could be better. While the need for greater usability is not unique to KDE, what is unique is our ability to directly and positively affect the usability processes in KDE via the same Open Source methods that have been at the core of its success.

KDE is delighted to have received invitations from corporate users to leverage the expertise of their own usability teams to help improve our software. In order to take advantage of these generous offers, the current usability processes in KDE were reviewed so as to discover how best to marry these new opportunities with the KDE project in general.

To facilitate these efforts a new moderated email list has been set up: kde-usability-devel@kde.org. Subscription to the list is open and the list will be publicly archived. The list will be moderated to keep the signal-to-noise ratio as high as possible.

The primary goal of this new email list will be to find, promote and implement methods to integrate ongoing usability efforts with existing KDE design methodologies. KDE developers will be encouraged and given the tools to include usability as a primary concern at the earliest phases of application development.

To provide additional support for these efforts, a new website is being developed that will become the incubator for a set of revamped and extended KDE UI Guidelines and house industry research papers, studies and findings in order to allow greater communication and cooperation between academic, commercial and Open Source usability efforts.


"As the leading Open Source desktop"

Can we really be making statements like this? I don't recall seeing proof of this anywhere, and in direct contradiction to this statement, it seems like we're getting trounced by Gnome on the business desktop. I wish the authors of articles with opinions such as these would think a little before making such sweeping statements.

By Gil at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

Do you have any proof that it's not the case? GNOME doesn't trounce KDE. And the business desktop is only a specialized task.

By Anonymous at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

While Gnome has been getting more press than KDE in the business desktop as of late; the numbers I see from Linux usage polls strongly indicate the KDE is preferred by almost 2-to-1 over Gnome. Sun, Ximian, and Redhat may be pushing Gnome but that does not mean users are choosing that desktop. I work for a state government in the US and even though every agency I know of in my state (that has Linux desktops) chooses Redhat, but every one of them without exception make KDE their default desktop.

By brockers at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

Indeed. In Paris Linux Solution, many red hat computers were running KDE. Kind of ironic...

By Philippe Fremy at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

It's a natural adaptation to customers' requests.

By Anonymous at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

Really? I guess not the computers at the Red Hat booth?

The ones that were running KDE, were they using the BlueCurve defaults? I find it very surprising that people would go out of their way to run KDE instead of GNOME on Red Hat... It would be interesting to find out why.

By Navindra Umanee at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

You don't really have to go out of your way. Just download the RPMs from:



By James Richard Tyrer at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

Actually, there are a large number of reports showing that KDE is used on more desktops than Gnome. Ratios vary depending on what you read and the methodology used, but around 2/3 are KDE.

And the PR about the business desktop is somewhat unfair, because while Gnome is doing well with Redhat and Sun, it needs to be noted that the majority of these features are US-only, where multiple corporations have a tendency to just pick one large supplier (hurd theory... Why they want RH to be the next Microsoft, I have no idea.). Outside of the US, KDe has far more traction. Unfortunately, the tech press and the online world, to a large extent, are still US-centric.

By Luke Chatburn at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

Well Spoken(TM)!

Attention needs to be payed to the fact that the non-hacker type of user actually *like* KDE whereas most of them have more of a "i *could* get used to this" kind of attetude towards GNOME.

And before someone starts shouting about proof, i better mention that i have converted quite a number (30+) of non-gamers to OSS. The server-admins/webdevelopers mostly went with GNOME because it screams "Im not windows", but the regular users found KDE a bliss because it isnt afraid of doing what works (and this in some cases means "lending" thoughts and ideas from windows).

It would be fun to see a "US vs. Europe and Freinds" desktop poll. Ill bet my old Dual PII-233 that KDE winns ;-)


By kidcat at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

US vs Europe and Friends? Huh?

By ML at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

Probably there is more bias towards KDE support in Europe. That may be the reason why they lack behind.

No EU vs. US bashing, please. The enemy are the capitalist commis in China.

By Gerd at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

" Probably there is more bias towards KDE support in Europe. That may be the reason why they lack behind. "

Obviously, they don't lag behind in spelling.

By Joe at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

Yeah, make fun of the people who don't speak Engrish natively :-)

By anon at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

Maybe he means gnome users have small buttocks? :-)

By Roberto Alsina at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am


By Bruce at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

Perhaps, what you really meant to say was that they were leading due to no real corporate bias?

By a.c. at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

I think saying "leading" might be over the top, but in actual deployments, both City of Largo, Florida and Munich have chosen KDE. GNOME might have support of more vendors, but for the time being, it's the corporations using Linux to have the final say and KDE is not doing badly at all in that respect.

By David Siska at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

How many distros have gnome as the default and how many have KDE? Redhat was the biggest gnome default and they dropped desktop support for it. I know others push gnome but the bigs still push KDE. Lindows, Suse, etc... I would say that makes KDE the current leader.

By AM at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

Heh... That's Distrowatch data mining territory, really.

Redhat and Sun's Java Desktop are the main proponents of Gnome-only desktop systems. The Gnome variants of Knoppix also.

For KDE, Lindows, Xandros, Knoppix, Mepis, Arc Linux are KDE-only.

Mandrake, SuSE are KDE-first distros which still ship Gnome too, and a good implementation at that. Debian, Slackware and Gentoo are fairly neutral.

I must say that I ardently disagree with distros which ship only one DE, and it is nice to see, after RH leaving the desktop market with their Gnome-only offering, Fedora working hard to produce good implementations of both KDE and Gnome.

On balance, for desktop distros it's mostly KDE+Gnome and KDE-only.

By Dawnrider at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

By Gagnefs Träskod... at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

actually, Red Hat started shipping officially supported KDE packages starting with Red Hat 8. in contrast, previous to that the KDE packages in Red Hat were basically unsupported contrib packages (thanks Bero! we still remember and luv ya for it!). so Red Hat, though GNOME-friendly, have increased their support for KDE in recent years. =)

By Aaron J. Seigo at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

RH8 KDE was an abomination :) Bero's packages were much better and the RH9 version was hardly much better.

For the users, their experience of KDE was reduced for 8 and 9, so I don't count it as progress over Bero's hard work :)

By Dawnrider at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

> it seems like we're getting trounced by Gnome on the business desktop.

No such trouncing has happened. It's true that GNOME has had better PR on the topic in the North American market and could possibly even be argued that GNOME is poised to be stronger in that area, but the fact is that the actual switchovers haven't happened and in fact overwhelmingly are still on the drawing board.

In the parts of the world where transitions on the business desktop are actually starting to happen (though it's still just the very beginning) -- notably Europe -- KDE is dominant for both business and home usage and mind share.

It's unclear how things will play out in North America, but so far it's been mostly a PR circus and a lot of buzzword bingo; what will be really interesting is to see what's going onto these systems once any sort of large scale migration starts.

KDE *is* currently the leading Open Source desktop. With the phenomenal growth of OSS on the desktop there's always the possibility that anything could happen, but right now KDE is on top and continuing to innovate.

By Scott Wheeler at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

Remember North America has Lindows and Xandros and Gnome isn't even an option on those 2 major North American desktop Distros. Gnome's desktop domination in reality exists only in the Minds of the FSF fanatics and the PR spin doctors at Novell/Ximian

By Kraig at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

Only in the minds of FSF fanatics who are not up-to-date. Point them to Stallmann's latest KDE utterances and the "Why not LGPL" document.

By Anonymous at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

I share the ethical approach of the FSF && I use (and contribute to) KDE. In fact I believe KDE is closer to the FSF philosophy than GNOME.

BTW, isn't it a bit fanatic calling `fanatic' those you don't agree with?

By Peter Plys at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

Generalizing is wrong everytime, but calling RMS and some of his FSF pals fanatics is realistic.

By Roberto Alsina at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

And considering how careless the rest of the world is we better hope they stay fanatic. =P

By Datschge at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

Opinions, opinions... what's that cliché about opinions.... ;-)

Now, everyone is free to be as fanatical as they want about whatever, and since the FSF has basically left the software world behind years ago[1], they are a non-issue for me anyway.

[1] They develop no software whatsoever, AFAIK

By Roberto Alsina at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

it all depends on whether you decide to listen to the PR efforts of people with vested interests in GNOME (the recent Novell / Ximian tempest-in-a-teapot comes to mind) or whether you wish to concentrate on current realities. if the latter, then KDE is indeed the leading Open Source desktop not only in usage but also in features, third party development and industry recognition (aka awards).

personally, i'm more content to concentrate on KDE's usability for the moment since that is what this announcement is about. i'm not sure when it became politically incorrect to be openly proud and accurate about the success of KDE, but i don't really care either. viva la KDE! viva la usability! =)

btw, have you sent me your web browser toolbar usage stats yet? ;-)

By Aaron J. Seigo at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

In correct Castilian (Spanish) it would be:
¡Viva KDE! ¡Viva la usabilidad! :-)

By Quique at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

By Roberto Alsina at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

"it all depends on whether you decide to listen to the PR efforts of people with vested interests in GNOME (the recent Novell / Ximian tempest-in-a-teapot comes to mind) or whether you wish to concentrate on current realities. if the latter, then KDE is indeed the leading Open Source desktop not only in usage but also in features, third party development and industry recognition (aka awards)."

Yer, exactly. I've not seen others hesitating over the opportunity to predict KDE's demise and hype Gnome for their own ends.

By David at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

>it seems like we're getting trounced by Gnome on the business desktop.

hummmm. Other than the PR (FUD?) coming from Sun and Ximian, I see KDE everywhere. In fact, if I were starting a new distro, I would probably go with KDE so that I would not have to take on these 2 companies directly.

By a.c. at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

Thats a joke right?

By Kraig at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

It is more "look and feel".

Usually the usability problem is that text is cut or the widget are not fixed. You could see it in the desktop settings dialog, all tabbed setting panels had a different size, so the main window resizes.

Another issue is the lack of example files. When you first start a program you want to play around a little bit. So good example files are needed, a birthday card printout.

And of course a mature "theme manager" is needed.

It is not always easy to find the features, it was very difficult for me to remove a top Macstyle bar. when this feature is enabled often applications pop up so you cannot get them with the mouse anymore.

Program descriptions are sometimes unusable for newbies. What's a po file editor good for. The description does not help you.

I would suggest a talkback option for KDE test installations with an event logging. So you can analyse what was done by a newbie. Which options were used and how often. Put in in a datawarehosue and then analyse the user behaviour.

Or start certain difficult cases and look how it is done by the user.

More complicated things like "format a floppy disc" or write a letter and save it to a memory stick.

By Holler at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

there are various issues with "talkback options" in a project such as KDE, but you hit on many of the issues that we will be addressing. hopefully when KDE4 arrives you'll won't be able to write such a long list of issues so easily =)

By Aaron J. Seigo at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

> What's a po file editor good for. The description does not help you.

Assuming you're talking about KBabel, it's description is "Translation Tool". And newbies install the development tools package?

By Anonymous at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

"And newbies install the development tools package?"

Ofcourse your absolutly right, but from the experience
with newbies to linux, I have seen that roughly the half
of them install everything on there first install.

(The other half of them are girls, and they let me do it for them ;-)

By pieter at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

As someone who has been on the kde-usability mailing list for some time, this sounds like excellent news. The usability process is in desparate need of some formalisation, sicne at the moment the list is a barrage of opinions and not very much research.

It will still, no doubt, be useful to have many of the discussions already going on on the kde-usability list; a lot of good ideas have been dreamt up and worked on there. But it will also be good to get a sense of direction and policy from a more professional body of opinion.

By Tom Chance at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

Mailman support of Kmail has to improve. KMail shall be able to analyse automatic response mails by the list and be able to automatic forward your subscription password to KWallet. Automatic folder creation, automatic subsription, I would like to see a "one-click" mailing list subscription.

By Holler at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

Please use http://bugs.kde.org and don't post off-topic.

By Anonymous at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

This is most interesting news. I have recently been mulling proposing starting a new kde/qt site which offers reviews of application user interfaces at a very early stage in development (aka before milestones are reached). I think we are finding the design flaws in applications when it is too late, and as a result considerable extra effort is involved fixing UI's up compared to the work corporate competitors must go through if they do pay attention to such detail. All the same, my idea is not orthogonal to this news and I'll outline it here and see what feedback it gets.

I propose we construct a web site which provides reviews of KDE and Qt applications as early stages of their development cycles. Teams of reviewers would review submitted applications and provide a single review which covers a set of points providing constructive critisim. This process is similar to that which takes place when papers are submitted to journals for publication. By having multiple people review an application, then get together and combine their reactions into a single review, noise in the data is averaged out. You don't get those "I love KDE, it's so great, everything in this new version is an improvement" or "KDE sucks. Gnome rules! Troll on!!" reviews this way. Furthermore, all criticism should come with constructive suggestions. For example, I dislike the clutter in Konqueror's menu system, but if I were writing a review of Konq I would sketch out and scan in, or whip up in Qt Designer an alternative organization of menu entries. As a developer, critism of my work is nice, but suggestions of method for improvment is so much more helpful. The obvious question is will this work? As a developer of an open source app (Album Shaper) I would LOVE to get constructive critisim from a larger audience. Currently all user interface feedback I get from asking people I live with for their ideas. Furthermore, I would be intersted in review other software and giving authors ideas for better layout and interaction with their applications. What is more interesting is that reviewers ideally are nonprogrammers IMHO. Thus we can pull in a large resource that currently is unable to provide constructive feedback without getting too involved.

What do people think? If I get some feedback on this idea I'll see if I can make it happen by sending it to a few of the higher ups in the kde community. I strongly believe this resource should be provided to all KDE and QT applications. Qt applications are cross platform and are the first glimpse many computer users will first have of open source development at its best, all the more reason to impress them, then lure then to KDE. :)

Please respond!
Will Stokes, Album Shaper maintainer (http://albumshaper.sf.net)

By Will Stokes at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

I think this is an excellent idea. Go for it, I would say. I will be happy to provide some reviews.

By Raf Willems at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

suggestions for improvements are welcome, however... those suggestions should be rooted in a deep understanding of how the application works, the goal of the application and backed with actual testing. otherwise we end up with lots of not-all-that-useful opinion slinging, with most opinions being retrograde despite their author's best intentions =)

if you have a serious interest in usability work and are willing to put effort into it, i would sincerely invite you to join the efforts on kde-usability-devel rather than create a separate project since that will likely mean more work getting done with less conflicting goals in the end. i think our goals are quite similar, with a usability portal website being seen as a key component.

By Aaron J. Seigo at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am


I have been trying to contact you for quite sometime now. email to you just bounces back so I hope you will answer me here. what happened to the kde hig project which you were talking about earlier. I am writing a kde dictionary with a list of common terms used in kde. would anybody else join me?


By Rahul Sundaram at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

which address are you using? aseigo at kde.org and aseigo at olympusproject.org both work just great ... i did have problems from Dec 29-Jan 1 with email delivery, though .. hrm... make sure you're spelling it right ;)

in any case.. HIG.. yes, the KDE UI guidelines are going to be updated as part of the new kde-usability-devel project pretty thoroughly. the current guidelines are good, but a lot has happened between now and then and there are a lot of things not covered in the current guidelines that need to be...

as for the "KDE dictionary", is this the one of terms commonly used in KDE's UI? things like "Folder", "DCOP", etc? if so... that may work quite nicely with the new project as well since we know we have to start codifying some of the wording and terms so that they are consistent. please... subscribe to kde-usability-devel =)

By Aaron J. Seigo at Fri, 2004/02/20 - 6:00am

These are grand ideas, but as Aaron said it depends a lot on knowing the target audience of the application and what the application must do. I've had good ideas from people knowledgeable in usability as well as some that weren't really workable due their lack of familiarity with the target.

Everything that happens here has to happen with the developers and the development process. It also ought not overload the developers. I tend not to put a lot of focus into usability as a big project. I let Aaron do that. ;-) What I do focus on is our targets. Here is how I achieve usability...

1) I identify key principle factors as a series of tests for anything we change or add to the interface. These include first of all efficiency, relative value and adherence to our philosophies of respecting the individual... This is actually a round table process on the development list.
2) We have a user list which has a lot of user running CVS. These users provide preliminary feedback and help us to refine and prioritize.
3) I have a feature request page. The truth is many requested features are in newer versions or the user just missed them. Many requests are not all that practical and some are... confused. On occasion, like sifting ore for diamonds, a really good one comes in and we work on it.
4) Most of our key developers are heavy users.

Most usability comes down to having a good grasp of what you want to accomplish and how people work. A good tool is an extention of yourself and in using it you forget your tool and extend yourself into your task. Usability is about the people using the software so establishing a feedback link with your users is very important. Of course you conform to design standards. That leaves a few small issues that another set of eyes trained to look for the ugly think you got used to seeing on top of the refrigerator and pointing it out.

There is a point at which you end up with less results to reach perfection in the process. To help a program improve it's usability you need to develop an interaction with the developers, but they need to set it up. Specific application improvement needs to filter to the applications the developer is working on and the user is stress testing. Casual use can miss problems and too many things to think about can hamper development.

By Eric Laffoon at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

It is good that KDE tries to take usability seriously, but I am slightly skeptical. Out of experience from what I have seen here and on the mailinglists the developers

a) Are in general opposed to do the needed changes
b) Lack the needed understanding and vision pursue such goals

Changes do happen, but reluctantly, and only with a lot of kicking and screaming. Gnome do indeed have the right vision and seems to be genuinly committed do needed changes. So my guess is that KDE will never be able to catch up, and as Gnome gets technically better, it will be the winner of the desktop wars. With hindsight history will probably say that it has already won at this point.

But that was actually the semi-trolling part (is it trolling if it is sincerly meant?). What I really had to say is that style is a different element that needs attention. The KDE desktop has a visual style communicates with geeks and engineers. The style should communicate to the mainstream user and her values. That would mean friendlier, more elegant, and more informative application names, style-elements that speaks to the office workers; it should convey an impression of friedliness, empowerment and ease of use. Another part of style is general cleanliness and harmonization of fonts, proportions and styles.

I'm sure this is all sounds very abstract, but an idea would be to mail a few agencies for advertising or graphic design, or perhaps professors on the relevant academies, and ask for volunteer advice on how the desktop should look...

By will at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

> So my guess is that KDE will never be able to catch up, and as Gnome gets
> technically better, it will be the winner of the desktop wars.


Good joke

By Tim Gollnik at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am