The Road to KDE 4: Dolphin and Konqueror

As some of you who monitor the KDE news sphere may have noticed, there has been a recent addition to the kdebase module. The Dolphin File Manager has been added to complement Konqueror's browsing capabilities. Read on for more information about this new File Manager and its relationship to Konqueror and the rest of KDE.

A brief history lesson so you can get an overview of how file management has evolved with KDE: In KDE 1.x, KFM (the KDE File Manager) was born. It was a very rudimentary, very basic file manager with limited web browsing capabilities. Below is a shot of KFM browsing files (from the screenshot archive) so you get an idea of how it operated.

While it's obvious that KDE has come a long way since KDE 1.x, it is still easy to see which parts of KFM have inspired Konqueror's contemporary design, which was introduced as part of KDE 2.0. KParts technology revolutionized the way we used our File Manager application, turning Konqueror into a full fledged web-browser, and more. Here's a shot of Konqueror from KDE 3.5.6, and you can see that while the user interface is much improved, the same basic concepts remain visible from the KFM days.

Konqueror really shines as a beacon of KDE technologies in the KDE 2.x and 3.x series, showcasing the best parts of KDE technologies. Konqueror showcased the power of KDE's IO slaves, allowing true network transparency when managing your files over FTP, fish (SSH), HTTP, and much more. Konqueror is so advanced that you can enter an FTP URL into a HTML upload form and it just works as you would logically expect it to (as far as I know, it is the only browser which allows this). It also featured KParts, which allowed it to embed just about any sort of viewer required, directly into the interface, embedding things like KPDF, KWord, image viewers, and most importantly, the ever-improving KHTML page renderer. This is important, since even Konqueror's icon views were implemented as pluggable parts, making just about any kind of icon view possible.

So, Konqueror is a really powerful tool that can do just about everything you and your system can possibly want, and with this power comes unlimited configurability and extensibility through control modules and plugins. However, what often happens in Konqueror when you are browsing the internet is that Konqueror still wants to behave as a file manager and not a web browser. This split behavior is easily noticed through elements such as toolbar buttons. For example: the "Up" arrow is still available on the toolbar even when browsing Google Maps, but it is totally irrelevant in this context; another is having a web bookmarks toolbar visible while sorting icons in your /home folder.

Introducing Dolphin: Dolphin is a new File Manager for KDE 4 which is dedicated 100% to file management, and is not intended to be a one-size-fits-all tool as Konqueror currently attempts. It is intended to optimize your file management related tasks, and present an easy to use file manager for casual KDE use. That doesn't mean it won't be powerful or configurable, only that Dolphin is being built for a single purpose.

Dolphin isn't a total rewrite however, and is not intended to compete with Konqueror, rather the two applications will be complimentary. Dolphin uses the already existing IO slave facilities of the KDE platform to perform remote or local file management, meaning that it will be capable of doing all of the 'remote management' type activities that Konqueror has already matured. Dolphin just won't show web pages or PDF files embedded as Konqueror does.

And Konqueror will benefit from Dolphin as well. Konqueror is not going to disappear for KDE 4, although its user interface may yet see some adjustments as its primary utility will not as the default file manager. Of course, Konqueror will still be available for file management tasks as it has been in the past - there will be no changes in this regard. Changes made to KDE's icon view parts through the development of Dolphin will also help to improve Konqueror's icon views, as they both share these libraries. As stated before, Konqueror loads all of these icon views as pluggable libraries called KParts - improvements to the underlying KParts automatically benefit all users.

So lets take a look at Dolphin and Konqueror as they currently exist in KDE's Subversion repository. Please keep in mind that these snapshots represent developer work-in-progress builds and, while publicly available, are not representative of the final appearance or intended functionality of either applications, nor are they recommended for everyday use.

Konqueror currently looks something like this, and the icon views only half work. The problem is that these file views are simply direct ports of the KDE 3 codebase. Konqueror will eventually receive the same fileviews that Dolphin is currently using.

You can tell from Konqueror's default configuration of using tabs, and various other related interface choices that Konqueror is now mostly a web browser that also happens to do file management. While Konqueror's roots are truly derive from file management, it is more frequently operated as a browser these days by many KDE users. Konqueror does a great job as a web browser, underpinned by the fact it now implements CSS 3, including the highly-anticipated 'opacity' tags.

So while Konqueror continues to improve as a browser, it will continue to maintain KDE 3.x file management standards, providing a baseline functionality, and will be improved as code is shared between itself and Dolphin.

Dolphin is a whole different animal. It is a 'real' file manager - it's interface has a lot of elements which are specific to a file manager and cannot really be justified in a browser. This is best demonstrated with a screenshot.

Notice the implemention of a 'breadcrumb'-style directory selector, which works well for file management in a lot of cases, but is totally useless if you need to enter a URL when using a browser, and so becomes the sort of widget which is only useful when dealing with file hierarchies. Breadcrumb widgets may be familiar to anyone who has used OS X's Finder or GNOME's Nautilus. Another comment about the above screenshot: clicking and holding a breadcrumb item displays a list of directories that are at the same level as the one clicked, allowing for more efficient navigation.

However, using the breadcrumb widget is not essential, and if you are more comfortable with a Konqueror-style location bar, this mode of operation is easily configurable, as seen above. In fact, much of Dolphin is configurable, illustrated below.

This screenshot evidences the amount of effort KDE is spending trying to make configuration layouts sane while still providing as many options as reason allows. Also note the improved appearance of the configuration dialogs in KDE 4. Of course, this is going to be revisited somewhat as the dialog is too tall for some screens at the moment. After the Oxygen visual components go live, this dialog will be even easier on the eyes.

So, Dolphin's functionality is not entirely new, other than it presents itself in a new way. It can be seen as a hybrid between the power of Konqueror and the structure of Nautilus. Dolphin still builds on a strong KDE base, reusing existing technologies like KIO slaves and so forth. Right-click actions that were available in Konqueror will still be mostly present (except that Dolphin will necessarily load files externally instead of using embedding viewers). And Konqueror can now improve its web browsing experience even more, doing so without losing the file browsing support that has been there since KDE 2.0.

When KDE 4 is released, Dolphin will be configured as the default application for the local file:/ protocol, as well as the default file manager listed in the applications menu. Konqueror will ship as the default web browser, and will still be usable as a file manager to those that prefer the historical lifestyle. Users of KDE will have the ability to set the default file browser, much like how KDE 3.x can use third-party applications such as Krusader as the default file manager. Stay tuned for more information as Dolphin and KDE evolve towards 4.0.


viewing and managing are two things! viewers have "save as" to rename the current document. managers don't, cause they don't _have_ a document. isn't that different enough?

by olahaye74 (not verified)

You can do HTTP PUT

Using roxen web server and konqueror, I can upload pages by drag and dropping pages from my local file-system to the web server.

by KDE User (not verified)

I'm sorry but you want to remove my precious Up button from Konqueror? Yes, I use it and I consider it a very useful feature for web-browsing. You want to turn the default file manager into some crippled Nautilus clone? You want to turn KDE into GNOME?

Please, don't do this. I'm begging you. If I wanted GNOME, I would use GNOME.

by Thiago Macieira (not verified)

The button will probably be disabled for web browsing, but you can bring it back.

We don't want to clone Nautilus; we don't want to cripple anything and we don't want to turn KDE into GNOME.

I find it offensive that you posted your message to the news without bothering to read any of the comments. Don't be obnoxious.

by Lans (not verified)

I haven't read all the comments yet (only around half of them), but I'm tired of "Dolphin is a Nautilus clone", or "No, don't turn KDE into GNOME!".

As far as I understand, the most remarkable missing features in Dolphin is the web browsing part. At the moment, I prefer Konqueror, but Dolphin hasn't had the time to mature yet; I'm sure we'll lots of improvements for KDE4.

And I don't really care about this Dolphin vs Konqueror, as long as I can use which one I like as my default file manager. And I'm not even sure it will be Konqueror in the future.

Thank you for all your hard work. And thank you Troy for writing about all these interesting things!

by Grósz Dániel (not verified)

"And I don't really care about this Dolphin vs Konqueror, as long as I can use which one I like as my default file manager."

But file management functions will be improved in the default file manager. If it's going to be Dolphin, it will have extra functions over Konqueror. If it's going to be Konqueror, these improvements will be included in Konqueror. The more mainstream Dolphin is going to be, the mode developers will work on Dolphin instead of Konqueror.

by Sebastian Kügler (not verified)

I don't think that's right. Usually, the number of developers attracted are a function of the itch that needs to be scratched. Another one might be documentation, size of the team ("This thing sorely needs someone to take care of it"). It is also often the case that the mainstream thing scares away people ("I'm not good enough to work on the default option", "I want some freedom in what I'm working on", or even "I don't want to adhere to the release cycle" (the latter not being an option for something that's included by default of course)).

And then, most of the code will be shared, of course. Furthermore, the final decision of what is default will be made by the distro people or system integrators.

by Grósz Dániel (not verified)

"And then, most of the code will be shared, of course."
I know. But if everyfeature of Dolphin becomes realized in Konqueror, there is no need for Dolphin as its feature set becomes a subset (a proper subset) of Konqueror's. If not, that means several things that could be included in Konqueror are included in Dolphin only - as all the current extra features of Dolphin could be implemented in Konqueror.

There are very nice mockups for Konqueror 4 on, e.g. Will these (basiaclly file management related) improvements (basiaclly file management related) written and included in Konqueror as I (and probably many others) would want to continue using of Konqueror for file management because of its range of functionality, e.g. kparts integration?

by ac (not verified)

you don't understand.

dolphins purpose IS to be a subset of konqueror. dolphin doesn't show files or websites. so even if the filesystem managing functions are completely the same, there is still a need for dolphin for many users. same functions doesn't mean same look/usability. removing all those viewer functions from the managing functions alone makes dolphine way easier to use...

by Grósz Dániel (not verified)

If Dolphin truly was a subset, then nobody would use it. Its purpose is to be better in file management, isn't it?

by ac (not verified)

what about reading my post? the problem of konqueror are not its file managing functions. the problem with konqeror as a filemanager are all the other functions. if you remove them you allready got a way more useable application. now put some more filesystem oriented ui ontop and ou got dolphin...

most of the filemanaging stuff is inside the kio-stuff and the filemanager kpart. as i see it, the plan is that konqeror and dolphin are using the same code for this in kde4, so they will have mostly the same filemanager features.

by whatever noticed (not verified)

>>Will these (basiaclly file management related) improvements (basiaclly file management related) written and included in Konqueror as I (and probably many others) would want to continue using of Konqueror for file management because of its range of functionality, e.g. kparts integration?

I don't think konqueror is wel suited for the looks in those mockups.
That is one of the reasons why kde wants to use a different filemanager..

by Anonymous (not verified)

I find it offensive that the Up button will be disabled for web browsing making me do *work* to get my KDE experience back. I find it offensive that you remove the location bar from the the file manager, making me do *work* to get my KDE experience back. Why not switch to firefox while I am at it. I can bring the Up button back there too. Why not switch to Nautilus while I am at it. I can bring the location bar back there too.

by anon (not verified)

Indeed, why not? Heaven forbid you might have to do *work* or sprain your wrist moving your mouse. God, to think you might even hurt your poor little finger clicking on that monstrously hard mouse button. So much damn WORK!

by Sutoka (not verified)

Wow, KDE is all about configurability and you're whining that the default is going to be SLIGHTLY different from your ideal situation? I find it offensive that you apparently assume that if the default isn't how YOU like it, its a personal attack on you.

by anonymous-from-... (not verified)

use F11(fullscreen mode) and alt+Up

by birdy (not verified)

In what way do you see Dolphin being exactly the same as Nautlius?
In what ways is Nautlius so baldy crippled?

by whatever noticed (not verified)

>>In what way do you see Dolphin being exactly the same as Nautlius?

the first screenshot of dolphin liks a bit like nautilus.
And you know how those critics are: they just look at one screenshot and start to screem!!

>> In what ways is Nautlius so baldy crippled?

That's a retorical question?

by kamel (not verified)

I am with you bro!

I smell some external influence here... maybe its Mike... I mena shulttelworth ...

by Sebastian Kügler (not verified)

After reading through all those 300 comments to this dot story, two things become evident:

- There's lots of armchair developers around who do not understand nor seem to want to understand the difference between simplification and optimization for a certain task
- Dolphin will rock your socks of like previous KDE applications did. It's not like we replaced KDE developers with monkeys that aren't capable of creating highly flexible and configurable applications that are a pleasure to work with.

Keep rocking! :-)

by Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for insulting your users/developers. That surely clears everything up.

by Sebastian Kügler (not verified)

I am not insulting *actual* developers, only those that know better without really bothering trying to understand why this change will be made.

Sure, it's scary if people seem to move away from an application you really seem to like, but that should be all the more a reason to digg into it and set aside the fear.

The question I'm posing is why the very same people that created excellent applications in the past should now suddenly start to design crippled applications that no one wants to use. The filemanager is important enough that the community *will* take care of it in a way that it'll become/stay a really great applications, and one of the cornerstone of a great KDE 4 series.

We gotta trust this community.

by John Tapsell (not verified)

Nice one coolo. Anyone that doesn't like the decision "doesn't understand it".

by whatever noticed (not verified)

Yep, that wasn't too hard to understand, was it?

by Sebastian Kügler (not verified)

Uhm, look at how often simplification and optimisation for a specific task are confused in the comments, then you see what I mean.

Ow, and I happen to not be coolo :-)

by mata_svada (not verified)

I've also tried to read most of the comments but I got too fed up with the same arguments appearing again and again.

I'd still like to add my two cents though:
I think that this has been a great decision. I've tried KDE4 and Dolphin a while ago and really liked it. Also I think that just because Konqueror has done and will continue doing a great job doesn't mean that there isn't a way of improving the user-experience when file-browsing. Another great thing is that Konqueror and Dolphin (as far as I understand it) are going to share a lot of code.

Peter Penz and all the other developers working on Dolphin: Keep up the great work!

by Felix (not verified)

I hope the Up button will be available while browsing on web pages. I use it a lot. E.g. It is faster for me to press Alt+Up two times, than going to the Location bar to remove "1172721427/addPostingForm" or klicking somewhere. This is really a important feature and also correct behavior as web pages not only have a forward/back dimension.

Of course it would be nice, if you could have a webpage dimension description in html, so the browser knows what up means in e.g. a dynamic page (something for 2040 I guess ;))

Also nice would be if up doesn't stop on but wents to (or if has no HTTP server listening).

So why removing something usefull which is _not_ in IE and Moz ?


by Grósz Dániel (not verified)

"Of course it would be nice, if you could have a webpage dimension description in html, so the browser knows what up means in e.g. a dynamic page"

Not standard but works in Opera.

by Felix (not verified)

Wow, nice, I guess I can also have a onclick instead of a href ? But as long as it is not a standard, not very usefull.

by Grósz Dániel (not verified)

No. Opera has a Navigation toolbar on which Home, Contents, Index ... and Up buttons are aviable if the page set them in a link tag. Many of these are standard but unfortunately Up isn't. See also:

by superstoned (not verified)

Konqueror has this too. Enable the extension under settings -> configure extensions and then access it under tools.

by Grósz Dániel (not verified)

Good to know... it can also be accessed in a separate toolbar.

by mikroos (not verified)

not too much to say, Dolphin simply looks good and reasonable :) I hope its quality will be as good as the visual impression it makes!

by Anonymous (not verified)

338 comments.. wait, 339 =)
Is this the most commented story on the dot so far? [/curious]

by Learning From H... (not verified)

People don't want to hear this, but it's important that this be said because this is exactly what happened to GNOME.

A bunch of so-called and self-appointed usability experts took over GNOME (lead by a guy named Havoc). These experts felt and feel that they know everything about usability and they made all the decisions. They completely ignored all the protests and input from the common user, not only because they were experts but also because they had other motivations. They were leaders and they lead.

The old GNOME users were not important to them, they had bigger contracts and deals they were interested in. They even tell their users to go use KDE if they are not happy with GNOME. So the experts went ahead with their plans. GNOME got a lot of money, contracts and enterprise suport, and yes lost the old users it didn't care about anyway but money was most important so GNOME did the right thing.

This is what is happening today. Finally some leadership is emerging in KDE and big decisions is to be made. This is about the enterprise. We need to leave the old users behind to get the money. GNOME led the way, there is no shame in following them. If this means simplifying the File Dialog and File Manager to breadcrumbs for the enterprise, then so be it. If this means making Konqueror more like Firefox by removing Up button, then so be it.

Linux is free, if you don't like it you can reconfigure it and if you still don't like it you have the source code.

by Grósz Dániel (not verified)

I don't know why gnome is more popular in enterprise distros (maybe because of the less restrictive linence) why is this only about the enterprise? This approach is that I hate in gnome. Why should we follow them?

by whatever noticed (not verified)

1 - RedHat uses gnome since the beginning
2 - Novell bought Ximian, a Gnome company, before bying SUSE, a Linux distro with KDE and lots of other stuff
3 - dunno any other enterprise distributions :)
4 - RedHat ships with kde as alternative, so does novell suse enterprise. Opensuse has no default desktop.
5 - Ximian made a deal with SUN about replacing CDE with Gnome.
AFAIK SUN recently decided to ship KDE as alternative desktop.
6 - although redhat and novell tend to use gnome as default, their customers don't allway agree. Take for example the Birmingham Library, that chose KDE over Gnome on SUSE, the Dutch weather service, using KDE on RedHat, the record store chain FreeRecordShop, using novell enterprise with kde, etc. etc..

by Ben (not verified)

Xandros is designed for an enterprise desktop in mind, KDE.
what about Canonical? Gnome is clearnly their default, although KDE is an option.

And dose these companies put the same effort into KDE as gnome?

by whatever noticed (not verified)

canonical only offers support for 3 years on the desktop.
Not really an enterprise mentality....

by Ben (not verified)

As intresting as history is, that dosn't quite fit in with the present. If you read comments posted by Dolphin devs they are planning to add more features for the KDE4 version (continueing past 4.0), the much requested tree view was just comitted in the other day for example.

the plan is to have a similar level of file browseing power as konquorer, but without web-browseing.

This follows the UNIX philosophy of "do one thing and do it well" Weather you agree with this is a diffrent matter, but the devs have promised konqoror is going to be their for those who like it. I see no reason not to trust the devs when thay say dolphin won't have a detremental effect on Konqoror.

by Steve (not verified)

If they can make it a useable tool then I'll use it. I'll look at the Dolphin bundled in KDE 4.0 and evaluate it... again.
The Dolphin I've seen so far should not have been released as it is clearly not ready. Because it is not ready there is alot of negativity around it.. and so there is alot of resistance, not to mention bad feelings towards those who foisted this incomplete poorly functioning tool onto the KDE users at large.
Just thinking of having to use Dolphin as it is now makes my hair hurt. Thinking of having to uninstall and reset the default file manager to Konqueror for each KDE using distro is enough to make me select UBUNTU and not KUBUNTU.
Now having said all that, if... (and thats a big 'if') Dolphin becomes a useable tool hen all of those dreads in the above paragraph will instantly vanish... but from where I stand now it sure as heck looks like someone is trying to make a silk purse out of a sows ear.

by Ben (not verified)

me again, this time I'd just like to ask where can I read about the Havoc period of Gnome's history?

by whatever noticed (not verified)
by Ben (not verified)

hehe uncyclopedia rocks, but it was a serious question.

by Kigrwik (not verified)

It's not all-100% Havoc, but check out the archives around those times, lots of good discussions, and with 5 years hindsight, we see that those good intentions led to the GNOME which is quite inadequate for my uses:

I do fear the excessive simplification of KDE4, but I also have great confidence in the KDE devs, so I'll just wait and see.

Hope you'll find these archives interesting.

by Ben (not verified)

Thanks for the link

>I do fear the excessive simplification of KDE4, but I also have great confidence
>in the KDE devs, so I'll just wait and see.

I've got zero problem with simplificaiton, on the other hand, I can't stand the delusion that you can't simplify without removeing features.

That said I havn't seen any evidence to say the KDE devs are following Gnome's mad philosophy.

by Sebastian Kügler (not verified)

I think that simplification in itself is a good thing. I wouldn't want to make anything less simple than what's reasonable. (The computer is a tool, after all.) The point is not to dumb down the interface, and not to limit the user.

At the same time, lots of people seem to fear oversimplification and that is being confused with specialisation. Dolphin is all about specialisation, so this tool can be optimised for a certain task, and that was one of the things that proved to incredibly hard with konqueror in the 3.x series.

Konqueror is much more a shell you can run anything in, a bit like the whole desktop that is the shell for all applications. I think stating that having dolphin as a filemanager will draw away resources from the shell konqueror is a bit of a vague assumption, because they're very different tools, and the most important parts of konqueror-the-shell are kio, kparts and the filemanager part in particular. None of those are likely to get less attention in the future, simply because they're core KDE technologies and used all over the place.

by redeeman (not verified)

As long as konqueror doesent get lower prioity, or phased out im happy. But i really really like konqueror as it is, and thus wouldnt want it to go

by semi (not verified)

For me, it is THE feature of Konqueror (kio-slaves make close second). This is what makes KDE so usable for me. I really, really like the ability to, say, browse the Internet looking for some scientific articles and then open the pdf-files in separate tabs in the same application, together with some ps-files and web pages. As users are interested in data, not in formats, it's so easier to have all the needed information of the same type in one place, and not separating it because of different formats.
Back when I was a Windows user and used IE (ah, sins of the past) I was thrilled when I saw the tabs in Opera. (That's actually how I began to look for the "alternative" software.) It really made sense to me, and the concept of Konqueror even more so.
Sure, it doesn't always work perfect, but the prospect of having to open 10 instances of kpdf/okular, 5 instances of kghostview and what else not while gathering some information on the net isn't very compelling. Talk about bloat of the desktop ...
That obviously makes me non-user of Dolphin. And of course, I will still use my beloved Konqi.
But I think you are throwing out a great concept, which really made the qualitative difference, and in the end you're making harder to switch to KDE, since you're offering one great idea less.
And if my opinion isn't enough to change the minds of KDE developers, let me add that my wife thinks the same. If you knew my wife you would change your mind immediately :)

by whatever noticed (not verified)

Wow, 360 comments in just 4 days time!!

Did we break a record with this amount?