Ars Technica: A First Look at KDE 4 Beta 2

At Ars Technica, I have put together an article detailing my impressions of KDE 4 Beta 2 (more or less, my source checkout is from within 24 hours of beta 2 being tagged last week). An official beta 2 announcement should be arriving shortly as the distros have been packaging it this last week. I am happy to say that beta 2 has made significant progress since beta 1.

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by Iuri Fiedoruk (not verified)

I just want to point something, don't take this as a flame or bashing into the new style authors, please.

One of the things I always disliked in Linux/Unix UI is that you can't adjust spacings and marginx. You know, in windows 95 you could change the window title bar to being very thin, the same goes for buttons.
Every new style I see people proposing is fatter, more spacing wasted and more margins. This new theme is a nice idea, but needs do adjusts sizes (way to big for now) and contrast in my opinion. To my eye there is too much empty spaces, look the buttons.
Sure you could argue that's the better for msot people, but what about giving the user a way (hidden please, it can be a XML file for example) to define those settings?

Overall KDE4 is looking really good, but I'm still not convinced by that Plasma stuff. For example changing a mature techonology like Kicker for a panel Plasmoid that isn't very good until beta2 (remember the original schedule was to release it in two months from now) dosen't seem to be a wise idea. But as a replacement for Kdesktop, icons and Karamba it looks very promissing and sharp :)

by Robert Knight (not verified)

> One of the things I always disliked in Linux/Unix UI is that you
> can't adjust spacings and marginx. You know, in windows 95 you could
> change the window title bar to being very thin, the same goes for buttons.

I'm not sure which UI you are talking about, but that is certainly not true of the KDE window decorations and styles that I know of.

by backtick (not verified)

I think the original poster is not familiar with the gazillion configuration option offered KControl/System Settings (on Kubuntu) for window decorations!

by attendant (not verified)

No, those kind of settings depend on the actual style implementation (widget or window decoration styles). Some provide them, some don't.
I agree with the GGP's point. The current default style on KD3 (Plastik) is very compact and wastes minimal space. Unfortunately the Qt counterpart (Plastiq) is not and neither are the other available styles, including Clearlooks and Oxygen (which means that for some -including me- the transition won't be painless).
Nevertheless I'll save my final opinion for when things are settled. In the mean time, keep it up!

by Carewolf (not verified)

Eh, no Plastik is quite big compared to Keramik which was quite big compared to Highcolor. Plastik is exactly what he is talking about when saying every new style is more bloated that the previous.

by me (not verified)

Are you kidding? Keramik is the one with huge over-gradiented buttons and huge menus that won't scale down.

I'm using Lipstik, which is basically Plastik. It doesn't shrink anything down anymore than Plastik does and I can definitely tell you it is a very compact theme. Here's a screenshot:

by Amy Rose (not verified)

I agree with you on Plastik/Lipstik, but I can't stand the Tahoma font.

by Iuri Fiedoruk (not verified)

Yes, that's the case.
And yes, I know the zillion options on kcontrol, but options for better sizing of elements (tabs, buttons, window titles, etc) are provided only by the themes (and only a few of them), it's not a configuration of qt or KDE.

Take gtk themes for example, you can create a theme with very small buttons, but can I change button sizes on a theme? Only if I edit the theme, that in the case of a gtk theme is ok, but what about KDE themes that are C++ code compiled? You would have to edit the source and compile your own version.. what a mess.

Windows allow you to change some sizes.. well tomorrow I'll take a screenshot to show you, now I'm away from a windows machine :)

by Luciano (not verified)

All shipped decoration allow some tweaking of the border and titlebar size.
Except Oxygen, which still does not allow that. I suppose it's a matter of time. That is the case since KDE 3.2

The title bar size is tied to the title bar font height, and I think that's enough flexibility, without requiring a separate option (which would need tweaking if you change the window title font).

by Iuri Fiedoruk (not verified)

Take a look at thatr screen:

Look how windows allow to adjust the titlebar and scrolling bar sizes.
Plus, what I wished was for adjusting spacing in the button (see the red markings).

by Luciano (not verified)

If I understand how it works, I think the css styles for widget should allow this kind of configuration, and more. But there is no GUI to tweak the default attributes for the widgets at the moment. A programmer with enough interest in this feature could implement this feature.... ;)

by Martin (not verified)

The new, huge, buttons remind me of Word Perfect 5.1 for Windows! :-)

Does anyone else remember that? They had not yet abandoned their own printer drivers (which used to be a major selling point in the DOS version) so there were two ways to talk to the printer. Either using the Windows driver, or the Word Perfect built-in driver. In the latter case, you could not use the Windows fonts.

[Oh. I wandered seriously off topic. Sorry!]

by Boudewijn Rempt (not verified)

Oh, yes... The Official MS Style Guide for Windows 3.0 prescribed big buttons with a but of text underneath. Which WordPerfect and MS Help faithfully followed, only to be wrongfooted by the next generation of Microsoft Windows applications.

by Henrik Pauli (not verified)

Out of curiosity, why are we going back to something almost 20 years ago? :)

by T. J. Brumfield (not verified)

Wordperfect for Windows was also horribly, and I mean, horribly slow. Wordperfect was king once upon a time, and Word was the underdog. Wordperfect kept the same key-strokes from a DOS/console based word processor, while Word focused on the GUI interface, and having the keystrokes mirror other Windows apps.

We all know how that turned out.

Maybe there is a relevant object lesson here. If your default UI reminds people of Wordperfect for Windows, something needs to change.

by Henrik Pauli (not verified)

I loved the DOS WordPerfect, and I do wish they had managed to keep some ground. As a word processor, they were vastly superior to anything else around the time...

by Balinares (not verified)

Because 'new' doesn't necessarily mean 'better', seeing as the design of the human eye and brain did actually not change all that much over the last few decades. :)

And as it happens, yeah, I understand there's pretty much a consensus that big icons with text underneath is what makes for the most comfortable toolbars for the users as a whole. Which doesn't mean that using big icons + text will /automatically/ make your UI good if there are other issues, mind (like too much wasted space where there shouldn't); it's just one part of a whole that's made of a sum of tiny fiddly details.

by Henrik Pauli (not verified)

Dunno, but I find icons only (granted the icons make sense and are recogniseable -- which of course is another issue altogether) superior. It not only takes much less screen estate, but it's also not less understandable than the text-aided toolbar. Another problem of mine with the text+icons toolbars is how Up takes much less space from Back and Forward, and makes the icons look unaligned and carelessly thrown at the toolbar.

by Jordan Klassen (not verified)

Kicker, however, was always a resource hog, especially for older systems. Merging it together makes the memory management much simpler, and its progress to replace it instead of just porting it to Qt4. It'll be better in the long run, hopefully.

by anonymous (not verified)

... ok, this could be changed, as Qt4 comes with the beautiful Clearlooks Theme. But does it feel like KDE3? That would be sad... hopefully, it can be configured to feel a bit GTK'ish ;)

by A KDE Advocate (not verified)

Don't get me wrong, I like Cleaklooks a lot but what the heck are you talking about? How do you mean "KDE4 looks like KDE3"? Assuming you're talking about style, then well you didn't actually experience Oxygen, did you? It's looks fresh, very polished and very distinct from styles usually shipped with KDE 3 (Plastik, Polyester, Keramik and the now popular domino)

by nap (not verified)

Good to have a GTK'ish KDE?
Can I have some of that grass?

by jospoortvliet (not verified)

Compared to the breath of fresh air that is Oxygen, the plastik-clone Clearlooks is imho pretty dull and boring...

by Anon (not verified)

""Compared to the breath of fresh air that is Oxygen, the plastik-clone Clearlooks is imho pretty dull and boring...""

Plastik clone ? Clearlooks is a loose descendant of Bluecurve, introduced in Red Hat 8 as a unifying theme between Gnome and KDE.
You KDE users had by default the ugliest widget set the mind could conceive (Keramik) while we had our Bluecurve cups of STFU.

Plastik is a pile of trash put together with ducktape.

by Paul Eggleton (not verified)

> Plastik is a pile of trash put together with ducktape.

No it isn't, and I think you mean "duct tape".

by Anon (not verified)

You, damn useless brat, should know better.
The two ways are right. Duck Tape is the most used nowadays, even though in the beginning it was wrong, it even has its brand. ( )

Now get off my lawn.

by T. J. Brumfield (not verified)

I can't stand GTK, but to each their own.

by anon (not verified)

The new folder icon doesn't look really good. I hope they will change it before final release. The previous one(and the one before the previous one) were much better.

by Morty (not verified)

It's infinetly better than the previous Oxygen folder icon. That one was ugly beond belif, but I hoped it was just a placeholder.

On the last screenshot, compare the bin and Desktop(yuch) icons. It's much better. But I kind of think the old(kde3) approach looks better than the straigth from the front look.

by Anon (not verified)

I didn't like the last one, either, but I wouldn't call it ugly - it was more "completely unlike a folder" than anything else :)

I still like the one before that one the best.

by Ady (not verified)

You mean almost, but not quite, entirely unlike folder

by David Vignoni (not verified)

Come on guys, all the folder we did were good. Link to me your perfect folder for your favorite theme, that way I can understand what you guys like.

by Morty (not verified)

The biggest problem with those folder icons are that they are way to glossy. And from the screnshot. The old icon used for the Desktop are too flimsy, all told it does not relly look very much like a folder.

The other look more solid and like real folders so they are an improvment. One problem I think is the single color used, using a base color for all folders and a ribbon to indicate folder color like with the KDE3 icons may work better.

And simply the perspective used on the KDE3 folder gives a much better look.

The folders in the nouveXT2 iconset are quite good, and the perspective used on those works better than the Oxygen approach too.

by David Vignoni (not verified)

You understand the folder in NuoveXT2 are just a rip-off from Windows Vista folders?

As a reference this is the Windows Vista folder :

I can't take into consideration your suggestion.

by Morty (not verified)

As I don't use Vista I didn't know that :-). Rip of or not, you asked for a folder that I thought looked better.

But as said, the texture and the way the colors are done is waht makes it look better than the current Oxygen ones. Not that you should copy it outright.

The perspective are not good however, I still find the old way better. A slight tilt to the folder breaks the squareness of it and makes it look more natural. I don't think copying the perspective from the Vista look, or Tango(as the current Oxygen does) for that matter are a good way to go.

by kishiboota (not verified)

There's nothing wrong with the folder icon, or any of the Oxygen icons (except for the one that is being used from KDE3, the one to clear the search field). Anyway, I think it's a step in the right direction, I honestly feel that at this stage it is on par with Leopard's icons (which I didn't like as much as Tiger, but time will tell if the entire icon set is as good). The Oxygen style and icon theme really is a breath of fresh air among the themes normally associated with KDE3, which no offense to anyone who likes them, were ugly, boring and horribly designed (with the exception of Domino). Though I'm not a designer I could point out many major flaws in many of the KDE3 visual styles (especially Plastik and Keramik). Let's try to make KDE more appealing for those used to top-notch visuals from OS like Leopard and Vista - and Oxygen is that style, and Plastik is at the opposite end.

by David Vignoni (not verified)

Well thanks, always reading bad comments on folder etc is really depressing sometimes. Glad to see somebody likes the work we have been doing.

by chair (not verified)

I like it too! More subtle than the last one (the desktop icon) which is important 'cause it's probably the icon you have to see most often.

I understand the difficulty in creating an icon that's original and still very pretty, I can't think of anyway you could do it better.

by AC (not verified)

I think the new folder is really good. Those of us who like what we're seeing are actually the silent majority :)

by ppenz (not verified)

David, the new folder icons rock :-) Most of my development time I'm spending on Dolphin for KDE4.0 and if something would be wrong the the folder icons, I would be the first one who complains about them.

No complaining, just enjoying the progress of the Oxygen icons week after week :-)


by Simon (not verified)

And thanks for your work on Dolphin. I'll admit I wasn't convinced when the idea of using dolphin as default was first suggested - although I just took the view that I'd change my default back to konqueror and so didn't feel the need to bitch about it on the dot ;-) But trying dolphin in the beta I've really liked it and I can see myself using both dolphin and konqui, probably even dolphin more than konqui

by David Vignoni (not verified)

Yeah Peter, Dolphin it's awesome

by David Vignoni (not verified)

Ah, and I was sure since the beginning it was going to be a good thing :D

by Amy Rose (not verified)

I'm with Simon on Dolphin. It's actually been nice to be able to configure Konqueror to behave more like a web browser (especially with opening clicked links from other apps in a new tab in an existing Konqueror window rather than in a new one all the time, since I kept having problems with that feature opening my web pages in file browser windows...)

I just hope I can continue to customize the Dolphin toolbars because I cannot live without my Up button. :D (It's one reason I like to use Konq as my web browser)

by Stephan Sokolow (not verified)

To each his own. I like Konqueror because, through KParts, I can have everything except my text/source/document editing (Kate or LyX, as appropriate) in tabs of the same tool.

(eg. double-click a video file and the tab is repurposed to the KMplayer KPart rather than a new tab or window being opened)

by Tom Vollerthun (not verified)

Sorry to see people's work being put down.
I really like what you do, although I can't see why some people get all fussy over a --> folder icon <--.
Despite being a long-time linux user, I like the bling of today's desktops (yes, I already use KDE4.0's bling!). But still I can't see any cause to prefer one folder icon over (almost) any other.
(Perhaps my wife's right and I don't have any understanding of aesthestic...)

Hmm, a compliment from an aesthetic analphabet might not be of the greatest worth, but there you go:
I _really_ like the oxygen icon set!

by jospoortvliet (not verified)

guys, I love your work. it's just way to dependent on taste :(

by Iuri Fiedoruk (not verified)

Cold not said better.

Also, it's just me or KDE4 is getting more Apple-like? (in general terms please, don't answer as if I'm talking only about icons or style, try to see the big scene).

Honestly, running from a Windows look to Apple look dosen't seem a good idea to me. One thing I disliked the icons is removing dark(er) borders from icons, it's only good for big icons and good LCD monitor :-P

by David Vignoni (not verified)

Well thanks for the support, it's a great responsibility being the art director of the icon project and sometimes encouraging messages are really a great antidote to continuing doing my best. Thanks, we are in actually doing a lot of work making fixing all the inconsistencies and improving all the actions metaphors etc. Also the applications icons are finally shaping up ... it will be very good for the release.

by jospoortvliet (not verified)

guys, I love your work. it's just way to dependent on taste :(