Plasma 5.10: Folder View as default desktop mode

Plasma with desktop icons
New defaults: Plasma 5.10 with desktop icons

A brief history lesson

To set the stage, we need to briefly recap some of the problems with the KDE 3.x desktop that (among others) Plasma initially set out to solve.

In the KDE 3.x desktop, three separate applications performed the duties of today's Plasma shell. kicker was in charge of putting panels on screen edges, kdesktop put wallpapers and desktop icons on screens, and SuperKaramba allowed for (quite shakily) putting widget windows in an extra layer between the desktop and application windows. kdesktop was essentially non-extensible (i.e. you couldn't make it put anything other than icons on the desktop by installing an add-on of some kind), while kicker and SuperKaramba could be extended by new plugins at runtime, but using incompatible plugin formats that couldn't share any code and had to do their work using entirely different sets of APIs.

With Plasma 4.0, things got a lot better. Plasma widgets need to be written only once, using one set of APIs, and can then be added to both the desktop and to panels - tuning their UI to their respective surroundings. Moreover, things like the desktop and panels themselves are plugins as well, and can be similarly swapped out (allowing us to make very different UIs for different devices within the same framework). And multiple plugin can share the same data sources in the back, also cutting down on overhead.

Enter Folder View

Folder View is one of the bundled plugins, and it illustrates many of the above concepts. It does what kdesktop used to do - visualize folder contents. But not only can you use it to put icons on the desktop, you can also put additional Folder View widgets on top of that desktop, or put Folder View in your panel, all of them showing different folders. In the panel, it will usually take the form of a button that brings up a popup (which can use either list or icon view modes), but it will expand into the panel itself if the panel is roomy enough, allowing even for a file system sidebar.

No more icons on the desktop?

Back in Plasma 4.0, we made the decision not to use Folder View as the default desktop layout (default being the operative term - users could change this in config, returning to a more traditional icon desktop). Instead, we left the desktop surface empty by default, and had Plasma add a Folder View widget on top of it.

We had reasons for that. We wanted to let users know about Plasma's new abilities: highlight its more modular nature, encourage experimenting with new setups and personalized mix-and-match. We didn't want the desktop to be constrained by the skeuomorphic desktop metaphor that at the time looked like it might well be on the way out (as indicated e.g. by a pervasive shift from spatial to browser-style file management across systems). It was exciting to ponder what things might fill the void left by shedding those icons.

Yes - icons on the desktop

More recent history has shown, however: Icons are here to stay. In mobile, there's been an explosion of new platforms that have really doubled-down on the icons-on-the-homescreen thing, making it more popular than ever. Many of those platforms also mix in widgets as we do, meaning nine years after 4.0, both our long-time and our still to-be-recruited users get all of this with ease now. We no longer need to try so hard when it comes to doing the onboarding for Plasma's key concepts.

The evolved landscape leads us to believe that Folder View is now the better default, and this is what Plasma 5.10 will be shipping (some distributions, of course, have beaten us to this, or have always done so). It will still be possible to have an empty desktop (it's that "Layout" option in the desktop settings), but it's a role-reversal in what's opt-in and what's opt-out. Likewise, extending Plasma with new desktop layouts is of course also still possible.

Better icons on the desktop

Given Plasma 5's incarnation of Folder View is about to be put front and center, we're putting a lot of effort into making it really shine throughout the 5.10 development cycle. Performance has been improved greatly. We've been thoroughly auditing for interaction issues, sorting through feedback and talking to people about how they use Folder View. This has lead to numerous small improvements, often subtle, that improve the feel of using Folder View - e.g. tuning the sizes of various hitboxes and hitpoints to make rectangle selections and dragging icons around that extra bit less cumbersome. Sizes and spacing have been tweaked as well in response user feedback, resulting in a tighter icon grid than before. And there's even some cool new functionality as well.

How you can help

We're committed to making the default experience of Plasma 5.10 - desktop icons included - rock more than ever. If you want to help, several distributions offer live images or packages of current development snapshots. Use them to take a long good look at Folder View, and then let us know about your experience!


Heh - see sibling comment!

By eike hein at Wed, 03/01/2017 - 20:27

There's a hidden ace: We recently tweaked the Folder View drop menu to merge in Plasma containment drop actions. So when you drop a folder on the desktop, you will not only get the Copy/Move/Link options, but also the option to spawn a Folder View widget for that location, for the first time ever (and other appropriate widgets for other MIME payloads). This will aid discoverability.

By eike hein at Wed, 03/01/2017 - 20:25

I remember a few years ago that aseigo complained about HTML/JS was finally getting DND and all those nice interactions we have on desktop since... forever... His main complain (very rightly so) was : so what? Whey are you trying to emulate in something we had in native applications in a very crappy programming model (JS/HTML/DOM)? (not his exact words... but the main idea remains... I hope).

And now... we finally got in Plasma what we had in KDE3... we got to the same functionality. But now we require a very "heavier" stack (Qt5 is more demanding than Qt3 etc, the graphics driver need to support 3D otherwise the desktop will not work etc). Does it fell like... we "wasted 7 years"?

I think I am being too cynical, right? I am also too lame/lazy to actually log in. Sorry :)

By el-cuco at Thu, 03/02/2017 - 08:09

Yes, you're being too cynical, and also technically wrong :) "3D" is now the most efficient way to use modern programmable graphics hardware (which internally don't really have "2D" anymore), so it's lighter in terms of efficiency and power usage. Plus it's not really the *same* functionality, either - Folder View in Plasma 5 packs a lot of features that KDE 3.x didn't have!

By eike hein at Thu, 03/02/2017 - 08:16

After having a folder view widet covering most of my desktop I recently (in the last 6 months) switched it off

I was fed up with it being resized every time a game changed the resolution of the screen, making the widget smaller but never bigger on the resize

By Mike Lothian at Thu, 03/02/2017 - 11:12

Note having a Folder View widget is different from using it as desktop layout as discussed here :)

By eike hein at Thu, 03/02/2017 - 13:12

I like this choice, but while your screenshot looks nice, it is missing showing the desktop toolbox which is still placed top left by default.

With the folderview as the default desktop containment, an old issue of desktop items (icons etc) overlapping that toolbox is now quite obvious and not looking too pretty.


maybe ref:

By Rik Mills at Sun, 03/05/2017 - 09:25

Good catch! We're currently working on an approach where hovering an icon item that's overlapping the toolbox will lower the toolbox below Folder View. We'll see where it goes, but we're aware of the problem.

By eike hein at Mon, 03/06/2017 - 20:21

why cant we just hide that horrible widget box by default?
I'm sick of having to remove that thing every time i setup a new screen. An i've only been on kde since 5.9.

Its already in the right click menu, why do we have to have it there at all?

By Bronson at Wed, 03/22/2017 - 12:01

By KDE User at Sat, 05/27/2017 - 22:09