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 anonymous coward (not verified)

why not do both ?

just have a configuration option named "expert" which would allow
you to tune your desktop up to the tiniest details when activated,
and which would let just the main options visibles when deactivated

that being said if I'd be forced to choose between the two
i'd choose "more is better"

by Shift (not verified)


Very good idea

by Anonymous (not verified)


Make the interface simple for novices but leave the option to configure everything for expert users. If the normal kcontrol modules become too crowded, add like Win PowerToys (is that what it was called) but include it in the KDE default installation. This way novice users can use KPersonalizer/KControl for standard options and experts can play with all possible settings in an extra module.

by zelegans (not verified)

I would go for the microsoft way:

A KControl panel, with only minimal day-to-day configuration options and a KExpertUserControl, where you could do all the dirty and superfluous configuration.

The only problem is the interoperability of the two pannels...

by David Johnson (not verified)

The big problem is, what exactly are "day-to-day configuration options"? This whole "less is better" meme fails to grasp the fact that you don't configure stuff on a daily basis. I've touched the Windows control panel twice in the last year. I touch the KDE control panel only to change styles and backgrounds.

The stuff that is used most often should be easier to access and understand, such as changing your background and styles. But don't hide away the other stuff. If you think the current control panel is difficult, consider how much worse it will be with TWO control panels! If your distro absolutely has to have a dumbed down interface, then write a dumb control center for that distro, without forcing it on the rest of the world.

by zelegans (not verified)

Yes, I understand your point.

I don't want a dumbed down interface, I want an interface that is minimal and elegant.

For example, there are at least 3 locations in kcontrol that set font properties. It is cool and (I must admit, sometimes usefull) that you have this much flexibility, but is it necessary and convenient for 90% of potencial KDE users? I don't know.

I'm not advocating that KDE should be a "one button washing machine" like the mac, I'm just trying to make the point that things should be kept as simple and coherent as reasonably possible.

If, to keep both camps happy, a PowerKControl and a LameKControl have to coexist... well, I have no final position on the issue ;)

by Melchior FRANZ (not verified)

Hey, I just wrote KNewbieControl, especially for you:

$ kcmshell LookNFeel/{background,kwindecoration,style,colors,fonts,screensaver}

m. :-)

by anon (not verified)



by Richard Moore (not verified)

Actually, it's pretty cool that this sort of thing is possible. Fancy writing a quicky tutorial about the options? We can add it to the dot tutorial series.


by Melchior FRANZ (not verified)

> writing a quicky tutorial about the options

I'm afraid there isn't much to say about the options. Just do a "kcmshell --list". Of course, the whole idea can easily be used in a *.desktop file that can be put anywhere in /home/grandma/.kde/share/applnk so that it appears in the menu:

[Desktop Entry]
Exec=/bin/sh -c "kcmshell -caption KNewbieControl LookNFeel/{background,kwindecoration,style,colors,fonts,screensaver}"
Name=Newbie Control Center

PS: /bin/sh is only used to make use of shell globbing. :-)

by zelegans (not verified)



by Anonymous George (not verified)

Dude, you just made my day !

Kudos to the KDE developers for such an awesomely elegant thing.

by Mats (not verified)


Clearly there are a lot of nice things that is possible to do just with at single command line. This need to be documented somewhere.. Such things opens up the possibilites for system administrators to make life easier for their users...


by ac (not verified)

They tried this in GNOME (Nautilus) with user levels and registry-editors (UGH) but I think decided it didn't work and nobody liked it. Why not do like the Mac and put Advanced options in a separate Tab? KDE does that already I think. I like the way KDE is already anyway.

by Roland (not verified)

Why would anybody want that?

There is no such thing as a general "novice". Some people are novices in one area and experts in others.

I'm a programmer and have used computers for over 10 years intensively. Yet I'm sure that some secretary who won't touch computers unless forced will need more configuration options in KWord than me.

But in that "user level" scheme the secretary would be classified as "novice" and would only get a tiny subset of configuration options. So the secretary can either switch to "expert"-mode, live with workarounds because she can't find the config options or not use KDE at all.

Forget "user levels". It's a stupid idea.

by Richard Moore (not verified)

The problem is that every user has a different idea of what the 'essential' configuration items are. For instance an old-style X user will go mad until
he sets the focus-follows-mouse policy, but a windows user won't even know
what that means.


by Phantom (not verified)

Well, if you guys don't think that people will agree to what the essential config items are,. maybe what we need is a way to let everyone configure which items should be essential and which are "advanced" config options...

...and that way we would have one more thing to tinker with and configure!!!!


Honestly, I like it the way it is, some config pages could be a bit more polished, but other than that it's fine with me. It's KDE, not gnome, not Windows, or anything else... let it be what it is...

Cheers from Uruguay, South America

by not me (not verified)

LOL! Instead of deciding whether or not KDE should be configurable, let's just put in an option to make it configurable or not!

I hope you see the irony in this suggestion :-)

Myself, I think that KDE is too configurable already. However, there is no going back. I think KDE should continue in the direction it is going, and continue to add options. When it gets too complex, a new project may decide to simplify KDE and pare it down to the bare minimum. With all the great code that is being written for KDE, such a simplified system would be able to include lots of cool functionality but focus on simplifying the interface as much as possible. Wouldn't that be cool?

by Anon (not verified)

Please, do not make different user levels!
A good interface will allow a user to quickly learn the interface by heart so that the user doesn't have to think about _how_ to do something, only about _what_ to do. It sould be like driving a car, you never have to think about how to stop, turn or accelerate once you are an experienced driver.

If you add different user levels you get to the situation where, once you have learned how everything works it all suddenly changes and you have to start all over. Instead you should be able to continually refine your skills (until you become Schumacher) according to the car analogy). The user levels idea has also been discussed and rejected by the KDE usability project:

Pick up a few books on UI (Nielsen, Norman and Raskin comes to mind) to find out more.

by Dirk (not verified)

This would be the right way!

by Daan (not verified)

I totally agree on the point of an "expert mode", I have thougt about it before.
You should be able to cross a box in the Control Center that activates the "simple mode", and then after logging in again all advanced options should be gone, for example also Konquerors "View DOM tree" or "Use index.html" as no novice user will ever use this. Another idea is to hide "Shred file" when viewing a webpage, and more like this.
In the Control Center, this can hide the advanced anti-alias settings, the advanced focus policy (you only then have a checkbox "Focus follows mouse"), additionally to hiding advanced modules like editing of mime types and socket timeouts.
And if a user really feels it needs to configure this-or-that, he will probably have the knowledge to uncheck "Expert Mode" and press Apply.

by Shift (not verified)

I totally agree with this.

I want configuration everywhere :)

When I look at the Windows exemple. A big part of the persons I know and who has used Windows for years just used the default options of Windows. So when they need to work on a DOS shell the write all the path and all the name of the commands. I show them the hidden option in regedit for getting auto-completion and they say "Woooow !! I don't know this option. It could have save me much time in the past". After that they all want to get more tweak on their system and modified regedit database... but on day a bad option has crashed their system.
The conclusion is that :
- Hidden options can be usefuls for everyone so don't put all in a regedit-like database ( gconf-editor,...),
- If you create a regedit like software, take much time to know if this option has its place on it, and protect the way to put bad data via this software
- Prefer the way KDE do now : "Advanced options" button on the configuration windows,
- Don't take users for dummies or you will get dummies users :)
- ...

Please, don't follow the Gnome Guideline. Now Gnome2 unfortunnately sucks a lot regarding to Gnome1.4 :(

by star-flight (not verified)

Full ACK !!!!!

by Maynard (not verified)

Firstly, please, GConf is NOT like Regedit. Regedit is a mass af unintelligible keys. GConf is very understandable and wuite verbose. Stuff like, Nautilus theme, etc.

The point is it is a bad idea to make a user interface too configurable. Make it good so that configuring it is minor. Things that should be configured are font sizes and maybe colors and in the extreme Window decorations. OS X is not the most configurable GUI in the world but people love it. Follow that instead of the more is more thing. It only creates an unnecessarily complex DE without improving the experience.

If you don't like the Gnome paradigm, don't flame it and diss it. Get KDE and be happy with it. Some of us keep both and like different things about the 2.

by Yama (not verified)

I agree fully. GConf is nothing like the Windows registry. It may be centralised (which is a good thing), but it is fully text-based (XML). It is not very different from the KDE config file system, but it is far more structured and consistent. Because it is centralised, it is far easier to manage settings, either by hand (via a humble text editor), or via a config tool like the gconf-editor.

The beauty of the GNOME system is that you are able to put only the most important options in the graphical prefs menus, without limiting the overall configurability of the app. This should be sufficient for most users. If you want to tinker, you can access the GConf database directly. This isn't very difficult to do (it's far easier than editing the Windows Registry), and hopefully it will discourage complete newbies from wrecking their systems (people who deliberately launch the gconf-editor should know what they are getting themselves into).

I am not saying that GNOME should be inflexible and spartan. I am simply saying that there needs to be a balance between this and a bewildering array of options.

by Derek Kite (not verified)

I agree with mosfet.

The target for removing options is some phb somewhere who wants to dictate what his users do. Let them use the kiosk tools then. Leave the options to those who want them.

Or some "usability study" that takes a new user, who is confused by the options. Is the answer to take options away? Or set a reasonable default, let the commonly changed options be quick and easy to access, while leaving the fine tuning in an expert section.

It may be that the organisation of the options could be better. Bubble help (is that what it's called?) on the options and categories would be nice.


by Tim Jansen (not verified)

The target for removing options is some phb somewhere who wants to dictate what his users do. Let them use the kiosk tools then. Leave the options to those who want them.

No, too many options also hurt the users who search for an option. Obviously it is easier to find an option if there are only 10, than to find it among 10 million other options... the categorization can help somewhat, but where do you, for example, find the 'smart window open' policy in Konqueror? Behaviour or JavaScript?

by Antiphon (not verified)

Your point is very astute wrt Behavio(u)r. IMHO it shouldn't be in the Konqueror dialog box at all. Almost anything could fit under that rubric.

by Derek Kite (not verified)

>where do you, for example, find the 'smart window open' policy in Konqueror? Behaviour or JavaScript?

I've never had to look for it. The default is reasonable. Just a minute, that isn't true. I had the occasion to frequent a site (which was necessary for my work) that required pop-up windows enabled. So I had to search for the configuration option. It wasn't too hard to find.

The original article that mosfet was responding to made the point that many options are work-arounds for faulty code, ie. disable animations to make computer usable.

How many of the kde configuration options are of that nature?

How many speed complaints would disappear if the default configuration didn't have all the animations and stuff that take up cpu cycles?


by anonymous (not verified)

> Obviously it is easier to find an option if there are only 10, than to find it among 10 million other options...

And what if you need the option that was removed? Will be much more difficult to find it :-)

by Datschge (not verified)

Exactly so. This is exactly what many people forget. =)
Just like Mosfet says in his second article: not the amount of settings matters, the organization of them does.
Anyway most programs have context sensitive settings which already reduce the amount of settings to search through drastically, so what's the matter?

by NewMandrakeUser (not verified)

I agree with the general trend expressed so far: two much information gets to be confusing to the average user. A clean solution for KDE would be to have an overall "expert mode" that you can switch on or off. And add to the kdelibs a flag to let developers determine what menues/options are general and which are "advanced". A user running in "normal mode" only sees a few basic options/menues, and the "expert mode" user sees everything.

The other crucial issue is to set sensible DEFAULT users. Most computer users NEVER ever tweak.

Cheers !

by ac (not verified)

Crucial issues is good DEFAULTs, yes.

But hide completely options unless in overall Expert mode, no. Leave it all there but organize it so that the non-expert options are first and the expert options are in Advanced tab.

by Datschge (not verified)

KControl IS the expert mode already, use context sensitive configuration available in many programs as well as on the desktop and the kicker and you have a limited, context related set of settings.

And it's not like KControl is jumping into the face of those who never ever tweak. =P

by PHP Lamp (not verified)

hi there
i m looking for a linux programmer for my project
that project is basically a KDE program

My client wants to have aprogarm with the same features
like kDE but with my own skin
so that will be fairly easy for anyone with KDE understanding
just make a few changes in KDE regarding the skin and look
and makeover and my project will be ready
i shall provide the graphics and u have to install those
graphics in the kde to make it a look that i m upto.

can anybodyt help me with that
please quote me about that.


by MxCl (not verified)

I believe in "one true way"! IMO most usability issues have a one true way that will make things usable for the majority of people. If KDE could come set with defaults that make it usable for the majority of users than it will be a fabulous desktop environment.

I also agree with Mosfet that one of KDE's strengths is it's configurability. HOWEVER! Average users find the sheer number of options in KControl opressive and intimidating. Even I was a little scared at first and I still find it a little hard to find options sometimes, I know I found them once, but I can't for he life of me find them now!

My point is, perhaps a good solution is to have a slightly less full COPY of the controlcenter (as well as the current one) that has the options an average user wants to change, basically an equivalent of dekstop properties in Windows with a few more sections such as accessability and region settings. The tabs in controlcenter-lite should be EXACTLY the same as the ones in controlcenter, there's just less of them. If they're not the same then you're asking people to learn two different configuration systems and that is not a usable solution.

Sorry if this has been suggested before. I know people are working on a registry editor type system for advanced options for KDE, but having read Mosfet's essay I realise I don't agree with that line of thinking. Nobody wants to ruin KDE, we just want to make it more usable for the majority. Maybe what I suggested would work, what do others think?

"You can productively use KDE without ever knowing about how you can configure, for example, menu drop shadows or window decorations." - This is true and why we should keep the control center full of options, most people will probably never stray there and be happy to use an environment that is usable by default. But, everyone wants to change their Windows style every now and again.

by Charles de Miramon (not verified)

>I also agree with Mosfet that one of KDE's strengths is it's configurability. >HOWEVER! Average users find the sheer number of options in KControl opressive >and intimidating. Even I was a little scared at first and I still find it a >little hard to find options sometimes, I know I found them once, but I can't >for he life of me find them now!

The solution is to beef up the keywords and the search panel. In Windows XP, I find searching for options works quite well in their help system. In an ideal world, I would type proxy in the search tab and get a first item defining what is a proxy and several items for modifying your proxy. In KDE, you have to click on the proxy module and then on help to get a basic definition of what is proxy. All the work of the documenter is more or less hidden.

There is much room for improvement in KDE to offer to the user information in a hierarchical way : General to particular, simple to complex, short to long. It would be nice if some developper work on that for 3.2 with the help of the usability team.

by SadEagle (not verified)

Well, it'd help if people actually used the search tab too -- for some reason it seems like people always seem to not notice it, while it can help find the relevant things quickly much of the time.

by AC (not verified)

1. You need to know the search panel. Most people do not
2. You need to know search terms. A newbie who does not know the right terminology will not find it.

by Roland (not verified)

> I believe in "one true way"!

If there is a "one true way", and KDE miraculously find out what is the "one true way" for everything, the "one true way" will just be the default.

So the defaults are perfect and nobody will ever care about how "bloated" the configuration is because nobody will ever see it.

So why can't all the self-proclaimed "usability - dumb down everything - experts" go away and bother somebody else?

by MxCl (not verified)

Well done for not reading my post and reiterating my points!

> So the defaults are perfect and nobody will ever care about how "bloated" the
> configuration is because nobody will ever see it.

And nobody will ever change their wallpaper then? Be intelligent about this.

> So why can't all the self-proclaimed "usability - dumb down everything -
> experts" go away and bother somebody else?

We could do without opinions like that on the project. I want the project to succeed, don't you?

by Datschge (not verified)

Right click on your desktop and choose configure, isn't that easy enough?

by doujin (not verified)

I totally agree with mosfet,
configurability is what makes using kde fun, because if you're disliking a certain aspect of kde you can change it. It's like really being in charge of your session.

(they are not right now)

1) I'd prefer, for example, to have to possibility to choose in what folder
the hot plugable devices/removable media/etc links should be created. I
don not like having desktop full of icons, but I'd love to provide my
users a kind of "My computer". By default KDE create such things in
/usr/share/apps/kdesktop/Desktop (on my Mandrake), but I would be happy to
be able to choose an alternate directory.

2) I'd prefer to be able to have a plug-in mechanism for file folder
views. Or at least ot be able to write my own templates for some folders,
so that folder can be presented in a way like "My Computer" in XP does.

3) I'd like to be more "standard" icons for folders, like "bin folder" icon, "photos folder icon", "development", etc. They are in different icon themes, but they are inconsistent accross different icon themes.

4) I'ld like to have badges for folders or files like in Nautilus.

5) I'd like that "Home URL" be different between filemanagement profile and web profile. In file namagement I should get my home, in web I should be my home page. Not quite the same thing.


> '2) I'd prefer to be able to have a plug-in mechanism for file folder

that exists :)

There alread is a plugin mechanism for file forder views -- that's how the directory views in Konqueror work (and how the Cervisia directory works) since forever; these are just KParts for the inode/directory mimetype.

by Rudd-O DragonFear (not verified)

Well, perhaps you're looking for an "Emblems" feature, instead of icons for each folder type (becomes unwieldly to make icons for each occasion and type of contents)

I dont think its the number of options that is the problem with the configurability of kde, its the interfaces that are used that makes it difficult and confusing to use. Having konqueror configuration options in the central configuration panel, scrollable side bars, etc make it difficult for me to use, even though I have grown somewhat accustomed to the use of it. I also find that they dont try to make the options on the sidebars of the configuration menus from easiest and most commonly configured to most complicated. Everything just seems here and there and until that is changed I think there will continue to be problems, and lessening the options a user has wont eliminate them.

by Udo (not verified)

Let GNOME go whatever way they've chosen, but one of the reasons why I ended up using great KDE instead of GNOME is THAT I CAN SWITCH OFF FLASHY STUFF I DON'T LIKE. I think KDE is well ahead in terms of user-friendlyness or usability, it allows newbies not to bother reading all the configurational stuff and start using KDE right away and gives them a chance to figure out what feature they might need and what annoys them. So does KDE give the expert the opportunity to configure everything in a way that performance ( i mean the user's ) is at max.
If KDE was not providing this possibility, I'd probably use wm2 ;)

Honestly, I think this is the one and only way to follow! Minimalism does not mean to restrict!! KDE developers can be proud of the path they chosen so far!

by mithril (not verified)

you´ve got to be kidding me. the reason I use gnome is that I don´t think its GUI is as intrustive and "fancy"