KDE/GNOME To Cooperate On Interface Guidelines

As recently announced, an effort has been started for closer cooperation between the KDE and GNOME usability teams. The effort was announced in a message sent to the
[email protected]
mailinglist that was created for this purpose.

Original announcement by Aaron J. Seigo:

Seth Nickell (GNOME Usability Project), Havoc Pennington (Free Desktop, GNOME), and JP Schnapper-Casteras (Free Desktop Accessibility Working Group) and myself have been discussing the possibility of co-locating the KDE and GNOME Human Interface Guides (HIGs).

The plan as discussed thus far is to have the two documents co-inhabit one XML
document. Within this document, each HIG will have its own sections as
appropriate and will remain available for separate viewing. The goal is to
have one URL (on www.FreeDesktop.org) and one document for developers to go
to for KDE and GNOME Human Interface Guidelines. We hope this site can
eventually house guidelines for multiple desktops and graphical toolkits.

The easier we can make it for developers to discover and follow such
guidelines the better it will be for Open Source desktops in general. Since
KDE apps are often run on GNOME and vice versa, developers should be able to
easily reference the guidelines for all the desktops they expect their app to
be run on.

Having a shared document will also allow us to start looking at commonalities
between the documents and perhaps create common chapters or sections on basic
guidelines and lessons that are desktop and toolkit-independent (e.g.,
accessibility and internationalization tips, general usability principles).

It will take some work to merge the documents, create a web site, and raise
awareness about the site for developers and people working on other non-KDE
non-GNOME HIGs. If you wish to join us in these efforts, please subscribe to
the [email protected] email list via the web interface at:


Best wishes to everyone!

Dot Categories: 


by Mike Hearn (not verified)

Fonts ceased to be an issue with Linux about 2 weeks ago, so I'm not surprised you had poor results. Basically a new font system has been designed and is now being integrated. Redhat 8 was the first, and generally has rather spiffy fonts, especially if you steal ones from Microsoft (corefonts.sf.net) :) Now we have our own fonts donated by Bitstream as well, so some pretty fonts with decent font configuration combined with high quality antialiasing means that hopefully within about 6 months all distros will have this one licked.

by Simon (not verified)

First, let me just say that I agree with you that the icons are sometimes non-descriptive, the problem is that most icons aren't that descriptive. A few are, and those are good. You took the example of the browser icon. Hint: While 'e' doesn't say much to me, it's still an icon.

Second, the button issue. What is most descriptive given that a question haven't been asked?: 'Save' or 'Yes'. What about these two: 'Quit' or 'Yes'. What about these two: 'Discard' or 'Yes'.

The problem really is that most people don't really read the question. The _idea_ is that most people shouldn't have to.

Furthermore, whenever a dialog pops up and gives you a choice, it's about an action waiting to happend. 'Cancel' really is descriptive and intuitive. It cancels the action.

by Andrea (not verified)

The user has two phases in their relationship with the app:
1- He/she try to understand it. Then, he usually read everything with a lot of attention, trying to understand what the program will do.
2- He/she knows the program. Therefore, she/he won't read the question. She/he will expect that the app work in an stardard fashion, always "yes" to confirm the action, always "cancel" to "go back, escape and keep safe", always "no" to be the most dangerous option.

I found confusing the use of specific verbs in some contexts. It can lead to confusion, and it broke the standard.

by Mike Hearn (not verified)

> Second impression: Icons and menus are confusing to me.

Yes, this is a known problem. Try Redhat 8 - the default BlueCurve desktop drops a lot of application branding to make things more obvious, so "Evolution" becomes "Email program", with an icon of a letter etc. That's an attempt to make things easier for people like you. Note to KDE fans: please don't flame me for this advice (the default desktop on redhat8 is gnome).

> The icon for a "shell" doesn't convey to much to me.

By default both KDE and GNOME provide quick access to a terminal/shell, because unfortunately they are still needed often for Linux. Again, Redhat 8 doesn't have such a button in a very prominant place.

> Maybe I'm just strange and my brain is trained for windows, but I'd think these could be better.

Agreed. Redhat have the right idea here. Having said that, I switched from the BlueCurve icons to the defaults, I thought they were prettier.

> And the start menu or whatever you guys call it..

Again, a known issue. Redhat 8 goes a long way to addressing this, the apps are renamed (at least in the menus) to reflect what they do. KDE could do well to adopt a similar policy (gnome has gone part of the way there, but not fully).

> One thing that bugs me with dialogs ...

That's a bug in the app, all buttons should have accelerator keys. Hopefully this OpenHCI effort will make the open source community more aware of such things.

> I see some people arguing about button order and dialog stuff. Whats the big deal?

Basically, the GNOME/Apple button ordering is faster once you get used to it, because buttons are in logical and consistant places, so you don't have to stop and think about clicking on them so much. It may sound insignificant, but really it's little details like this which make an environment that much more pleasant to use.

However, Windows (and KDE) do it differently. Some people are very much used to that, and feel that the change breaks their habits, which frustrates them and slows them down.

I think it seems to be a personal thing. I move between gnome2 and windows all the time, every day, and never notice it. I hardly noticed it when moving from KDE3 to GNOME2, I was surprised to find out what a lot of arguing it caused.

> can't you just make that a setting in the Desktop Wizard Settings program?

In short, that's not a good idea. Most users don't alter the defaults except in a very minor way (wallpapers etc). This stuff comes from actually watching users and doing proper research. So, if you make the default something you know to be worse simply to avoid pissing off a vocal segment (the minority??) most users lose, and they don't even know it.

Also, resolving every argument with "well make it a preference" led to serious nastyness in terms of usability. GNOME 1.4 was the ultimate in this respect, there were for instance 4 kinds of clock applet. 4 clocks! And they were named:

Another Clock
AfterStep Clock
JDBC Binary Clock

Obviously that'd confuse the hell out of anybody who was new, regardless of how good with computers they were. The control centers became massive and bloated, and it was impossible to find what you want. For GNOME2, the environment was completely stripped down to the bare bones, in effect UI wise they started again. Now they introduce each feature, each setting with a lot of discussion - is this needed, or is it just working around a deeper problem etc. KDE are doing this as well but not quite so dramatically, in KDE3.1 the control center was cleaned up a bit, but it's still IMO too complex. On the other hand, gnome2 is very light on features now...... well, I still prefer it.

> I also think when the application asks me "Do you want to save it?" .....

Well, it's this kind of thing that leads to such huge arguments. One side says "look what the users say" and another side says "users don't know what's best for them". In this case, there is quite a bit of research that shows people are faster when buttons have descriptive labels rather than Yes or No, because it's harder to be confused by slightly ambigous questions, and so you can process the dialog faster.

I should think another area of contention will be instant apply prefs (settings) - in gnome2 when you change a setting, it normally takes effect instantly, no need to press apply or OK. So prefs dialogs just have "Close", not "OK, Apply, Cancel". I'm expecting flamewars over that too.

by kannon (not verified)

"BlueCurve desktop drops a lot of application branding to make things more obvious, so "Evolution" becomes "Email program", with an icon of a letter etc. That's an attempt to make things easier for people like you."

That goes too far and is unnecessary. It is too general.
The answer is "Evolution Email","Konqueror Browser" etc.

especially if these apps are in a well named folder such as Internet,
Mail it makes comprehension very easy. Newbies don't need that much
hand holding

by Mike Hearn (not verified)

Nah, I don't think so. In particular "Konqueror Browser" would be a bad name, people are used to seeing "Foo Browser" to mean something that browses foo, like hardware browser, web browser etc. What is a Konqueror?

There's not really any need to put the names in, especially given that many open source programs have dumb names: kvirc, kscd, kate? Gnome is bad at this as well, although getting a bit better. Programs will get their branding and name recognition from the about box, and other such places.

by SadEagle (not verified)

Do you really think a menu with 5 "Text Editor" entries would be a good idea?

by Mike Hearn (not verified)

That's the reason you only have one text editor, and you choose the best.

by SadEagle (not verified)

Good luck doing that. There are 3 text editors in KDE alone, and each has a loyal following - even kedit. And not to forget vi and emacs.

by Mike Hearn (not verified)

Text editors was probably a bad idea. Most users don't need something like vi, emacs or kate though, unless they specifically request them from the package manager. So I'd go for kedit, i think that's the simplest.

Most apps don't have same kind of following text editors do though

by antiphon (not verified)

Kedit doesn't have dynamic word wrap so newbies should stay away.

by Ned Collins (not verified)

-That's the reason you only have one text editor, and you choose the best.

Aha! But which one is the best? I prefer Vim, but I also sometimes use kwrite, others prefer emacs, Xemacs, gedit, NEdit....though any of the aforementioned are a huge improvemnt over the wimpy Windows notepad. And it's not just editors, I use both Knode and Mozilla for news groups, I have different groups set up on each, and each has some feature the other lacks. I use Konqueror and FileRunner for file management now that I've switched to KDE on Red hat 8, before that I used FileRunner and and XFtree with XFce (I've never liked either Nautilus or the previous Gmc file browser, though Nautilus has much improved lately) because each one has particular strengths and weaknesses.

Diffent apps performing similar functions exist for a reason, I'd like to have a sportscar, a pickup truck, a limo and a Range Rover in my garage but I can't afford ti and it would be a huge wast of resources, but having several file managers, text editors, mail or news clients on my system costs me next to nothing, each meets a particular needs better than another, just as different cars do.

by ac (not verified)

What is the problem with the way KDE has it now?

Konqueror (Web Browser)
Mozilla (Web Browser)

I think most people would understand that.

by antiphon (not verified)

Perhaps our friend is not using a KDE 3.x version?

The parenthetical names were not standard until 3.0

by Mike Hearn (not verified)

Dunno. I don't recall seeing them in the KDE3 that shipped with SuSE, but I last used that in September, so my memory might be faulty.

by Maynard Kuona (not verified)

Sorry, I am late to the party. Maybe someone will see this. I think the menu situation in Redhat is comparatively better than in Mandrake.

Most people don't think 'Internet Browser' when they see Network. Strictly speaking, since you can have a Network without the Internet, you should not hide Browser icons in the Network menu. Too unintuitive. Have 'Internet' for all stuff like web browsers, and 'Network Configuration' or something like that. I dno not know if this is so much a Kde issue or a Mandrake one, but I think it needs resolving. Redhat's beta is already showing signs of further integrating th menu properly.

by Andrea (not verified)

Yeah! And you have the complete newbie having to ask "'how can I put this on 'Word Processor' or 'How I create a bookmark on Web Browser".
I think you must start to putting only 'THE BEST', trying to judge that on usability terms, and give some identifier name.

by chillin (not verified)

I agree totally. I think a big part of the problem is the lazyness of newbies. They spend years learning how to use Windows, yet they think Linux should be 5 times as easy to learn to use, or the interface should be set up exactly like Windows 98 just because they're used to using Windows. Linux should not have to over compensate for people who have Microsoft tendancies, as it is its own operating system with its own idenity, not another release from Microsoft. Put forth a little effort people :)

by Anon (not verified)

Umm, who was saying it should have to over compensate? I really don't think my experience is far from what a typical person would encounter. I've spent hours trying to get the same kind of functionality I've learned to expect from windows and macs. Ideally, nobody should have to do that. They shouldn't be told that they should just "put forth a little more effort" and divert blame to them either.

by chillin (not verified)

I don't think his inital response, nor my reply to it was targeted directly at you. Having said that, it takes way more than hours to learn an OS, regardless of which one you use. Windows 9.x, Windows NT, Linux, Unix, MacOS X, BeOS... whichever one you use - no OS can be learned from the ground up in a number of hours. Ususally it takes a week or 2 minimium. So neither should Linux be expected to.

by chillin (not verified)

It seems that using that trash of a desktop enviroment 'BlueCurve' is your soloution for everything. I use KDE 3.0.4, and every version after 3.0.2 had all the icons labeled. It says Konqueror Web Browser, KMail (Mail Client), and so on. So what exactly is the complaint here ? Because Windows sure as hell doesn't label every single icon/menu in the OS.

by Mike Hearn (not verified)

It so happens BlueCurve addresses many of the issues this person had, including, but not limited to:

a) Menu clutter
b) Icons being confusing
c) Menu naming.

Last time I used KDE was the version that came with SuSE 8, but presumably the original poster used a fairly recent version, and was still confused. My point was that these issues are recognised and some people are doing something about them. If KDE are too, great, I'm just not aware of that.

by ac (not verified)

Yes, you are very ignorant and still intent on spreading FUD. I have read you on slashdot.org.

by Me (not verified)

And you are even more ignorant. Heck, you're even a dirty old pervert! Don't deny it, I've seen your goatse.cx posts on slashdot.org!

by Ryan (not verified)

LOL! Yeah he is pretty immature, isnt he?


by Grumpy (not verified)

This is excellent news. The GNOME usability team has done a very good job at creating a professional usability culture for GNOME from which KDE can only benefit.

by Fredrik C (not verified)

I have to fully agree with you.
I'm a KDE guy but working with Gnome 2 at work I'm impressed. The funny thing is even if it doesn't have much of new features compared to Gnome 1.4 it definitely makes me more productive because of the way they arranged it.
KDE should take a lesson from Gnome that Less Is More when designing the GUI. With Gnome 1.4 & KDE you cant see the forest for the trees.
Just look at Corel Draw, to many rarely used features makes the important hard to get at. Look at Adobe products, just enough to get you by and invent new ways to combine them to create new as you go along. I'm not saying KDE should reduce the features, but they should not be cranked in everywhere in the GUI because it's the latest fad of the month.

by Michael Staggs (not verified)

Please...I understand that this is possibly so people won't be confused switching from desktop to desktop, applications will look more native no matter what desktop environment you use, etc....but I have been using KDE for a LONG time...1.0 or before. I just checked out the gnome 2.2 screenshots and IN MY OPINION (notice that before you flame) Gnome is just plain ugly. I've never liked the way gnome looks.

So, while you work in this venture PLEASE PLEASE do not change the look of KDE. There are many of us totally satisfied with the way KDE looks and I don't want to see it become just another gnome.

Thank you.

by ac (not verified)

opinionated prick.

by Tony (not verified)

so what are you?


by Grumpy (not verified)

It's not about looks but about usability.

by Anonymous Monkey (not verified)

About Button order, double click, etc:

Could this not be a documented divergence between the desktops? Better yet, it would be nice if GNOME apps running in KDE would use KDE button ordering and single clicking (configurable of course), and KDE apps used GNOME button order and double click in GNOME.

About file dialog boxes:

Yes KDE has a nice one, yes GNOME knows theirs is not, yes theirs will be better when the new GTK comes out. No need to flame the GNOME people on this one or overly flatter ourselves with how nice the KDE one is.

Compoment embedding:

I like the suggestion that embedding kspread and gnumeric in OO should be a feature. I think that having a common file format between Abiword, KOffice and OpenOffice would be more valuable for this though. You could use any spreadsheet app to make a spreadsheet readable and embedable by OpenOffice this way. I know there was discussion going on between the different office suite developers about maybe moving towards the OpenOffice file format, but I don't know how much development is happening there.

I'd still like to see the ability to embed any X application inside another though, so that we could have KDE and GNOME software as plugins to Mozilla, as well as GNOME and KDE stuff embedding in one another. I'm not sure how possible any of this is and how much work if any has been done. (Didn't there used to be a way to make any X application a KPart?)

Everything else:

Sadly much of the rest of the discussion is dwelling on past communication problems and arguments between KDE and GNOME or between HCI and the desktop developers. Flaming GNOME or the HCI guys accomplished nothing. Not moving forward because the past isn't rosey doesn't get you anywhere. I say we should wish this new initiative good luck and be as helpful as possible. Cooperation between GNOME and KDE (and maybe/hopefully Apple someday too) on usability is a good idea.

by chillin (not verified)

Very well said. I disagree on only one point though: apple can go to hell...

by PRR (not verified)

A few weeks back the folks at Bitstream were kind enough to make their Vera truetype fonts available for use to the Gnome Foundation in Linux/Open-source Distros. I would assume KDE can use them too.

Would it be plausible to make Bitstream Vera the default (truetype) font for KDE/Gnome? They look much nicer at "typical" resolutions (1024x768 or so) than the Adobe fonts that are usually packaged. Myself, I have no problem copying over the TTFs from my Win partition and doing the ttmkfont trick, but many Linux newbies don't know this, and it would be helpful for them to have good-looking TTF's right away. Just a suggestion.

by EUtopian (not verified)

This is wonderful news, and not a day too early. Thanks for your contributions on this very important subject.

by Pedro Amaral Couto (not verified)

I think it would be great if KDE, Gnome and other desktops, window managers, or what ever, agreed with the same file formats and some general guidelines. I don't think we should agree on everything, but we should have good sense and some agreement on important things, as usability is concerned. Defining what are those important things should be the first task.

Anyway, deciding common formats should be very important ( themes, for instance ) - it's very annoying to see very small letters and a radically different theme when using a KDE applications on Gnome environment, and vice-versa.

Fanatics never admit they are fanatic; they only say what they believe, and close their ears and eyes when we say something not pleasant to them. That way their protected ideas will soon or later stagnat and die, while others learn from mistakes. That said, don't flame; flame won't help anyone. If you think you have a better ideas, tell them and listen and learn from others; if everyone do this, KDE, Gnome and everything else would be better.


by cm (not verified)

> I think it would be great if KDE, Gnome and other desktops, window managers,
> or what ever, agreed with the same file formats and some general guidelines.

This is already happening. Examples:

Here's a list of specs with varying degrees of acceptance:

> deciding common formats should be very important ( themes, for instance )

For themes this is hardly possible as themes are more than just a collection of colour settings and a few icons. They use code that has to be compiled and that is dependent on the used toolkit (GTK+ or the GUI part of Qt, respectively).

by ac (not verified)

> Fanatics never admit they are fanatic

Indeed, and as such I don't expect you to admit that you are a 'unify everything' fanatic.