KDE 4 is not user ready

It is often said that many open-source-software is not enterprise-ready. But in order to be enterprise-ready, software must first be user-ready. I want to give you a feeling what I mean.

I am in a small team where we provide a Linux Terminal Server (LTS) for a company. It is based on NX. Every employee in this company can use the service, however, we provide it free of charge and out of enthusiasm. That means, we are not paid for setting it up nor for giving phone-support. We sometimes have 70 concurrent users on the server, that may mean we reach 500 users on the whole. The server is running KDE 3.5 as desktop environment. Recently, we evaluated - no, let me keep this understandable - we sat together and discussed the possibility of upgrading to KDE 4.

Everyone including me was against the upgrade. This is especially ashaming for me as I am spending every weekend to develop KDE. So what were the reasons?

If you install a KDE 4 desktop by default, you do not have the possibility to add icons to your desktop by right-clicking onto the desktop. That would mean to us: Take 500 phone calls, explain users why it is no longer possible, explain 500 times why we do a change if it is a change to the worse... You got it, 500 times an ENOTAMUSED.

If you install a KDE 4 desktop by default, you do not have the possibility to move the clock in the panel. For me, the clock is ticking constantly on the left where I do not want it. Our users will be upset seeing another change to the worse. Yes, there is a work-around but it is so complicated that I do not want to tell it 500 times on the phone :(

If you install a KDE 4 desktop by default, you get a strange icon in the upper right corner. No one could explain to me what it is called, but everybody said it was something about Plasma. Users will click on it and eventually hit "Zoom out". Then, their screen is filled with strange gray squares. Just imagine you have to sit on a phone and answer 500 phone calls (for no money) from users who all tell you something about "squares" not knowing they should call it "activities".

OK, so you probably say I should point every user to http://userbase.kde.org/Tutorials/KDE3toKDE4 where all the work-arounds are explained? Or maybe invest time and change the settings from default to whatever I like? Frankly, no. Why should I do this as long as there are other desktop environments that leave me from yelling colleagues phoning me? Users do not want to decide on things. They want them to be right in the first place.

If I compare KDE 4.2 with KDE 3.2 in that spirit, KDE 3.2 was more user-ready. The easy things were possible easily. The easy things that mere users care about, like placing an icon on the desktop. And there was no confusing Activity concept. How could this happen? I think the first disaster were the goals for KDE 4. When I read them, they almost only contained developer stuff:

  • Base development on QT 4
  • Revised API
  • ...and so on

Nothing like "make KDE faster". No word like "make it easier to use by...". Only: "Make it different to program".
So we come to Thorsten's law: If you ignore the user uses your software to accomplish something, you will fail.

"This is open-source", you will say, "file a bug and it will get fixed.". Bad luck, my dear. The reason why I write this is it does not get fixed. I filed a bug report about the missing icon functionality and one about the missing movements in the panel. Both were closed. Makes the impression we do not want to improve doesn't it?

Can we please make KDE more usable by default?


If the users that you are providing for "are not ready" for an upgrade or a change of concept, Don't do it! There is nothing wrong with 3.5.
Alternative: Give people the option of running either one.
Apparently it's a very conservative environment. If people can't stand the change then don't do it before it's necesary.
Personally I'm loving the way that the new kde-desktop works.

By pascal_a at Sat, 02/07/2009 - 00:52

In openSUSE at least, default configuration for new users.

Is it not possible to use with NX?

By Ramón Cantó at Sat, 02/07/2009 - 11:42

The problem is not on the KDE4, it is on the users old habits. That is the thing what you can not fix with the software. Best way to avoid that, is to keep software as it has always be. Was it bad or good, you can not develope any new features, make changes for better usage or similar. Only other way, is to do all changes so slowly that users can adopt it. But that means that every update brings something new, something has changed and we are back on the original problem. Best way might be, to redisign whole desktop at once and then give tutorials and infos how UI is working so on.

One of the bests way is to do a PDF what is placed to desktop/panel, name it as "Read me" or "Tutorial". Place it so that all the users finds it and can open it with mouse.

Other idea is to make a video, what is about 2-3 min long and explains the basics. Just like how to add icons on the desktop:

1) Right click on desktop and select "Unlock widgets"
2) Go to K-menu -> Applications and find wanted application and right click the entry.
3) Select "Add to Desktop" from the list.
4) To move icon to wanted position, move mouse cursor top of icon and drag it from sidebar what shows up, where you want it.
5) Repeat 2-3 steps to add other icons you need.
6) To lock icons to desktop, Right click desktop and click "Lock widgets".

And this is for the _default_ KDE4 desktop, what is the "Desktop" mode when you right click the desktop and select "Appearance settings". From there you can select "Folder view" what works just like on the 3.5.x version. So you can right click on desktop, Add New --> Link to application etc. But I preferr the new version because I can have multiple folder-views on desktop, to show wanted files via Nepomuk and get much better usability in the end.

And the icon change on the toolbar, I never liked the KDE 3.5 way, because too many times I dragged the icon littlebit etc. Now I can keep them locked and I am sure that they do not move around the toolbar or desktop because I have them locked. I do not play with these icons more than one minute when I format my /home/username or I just delete the ~/.kde4 directory, so I loose my settings. I was first against these changes because it added the one extra function, but now I am happy that it was done. I have much cleaner desktop, only few functions shown. And _zero_ changes that something just "happens" like on KDE3.x could happend.

And really, only problem here is the users habits and you just can not do anything about that than keep the old one, if they do not want to get better desktop. Some point they need to make the change anyways. Question is, what kind documentory they get for that change?

I readed the bugreports what you have sended, and I can not do more than agree with them. KDE 3.5 is history... and your clients just need to understand that they need to learn new better ways.

To make things easier for your clients, make the /etc/skel configuration so that desktop is unlocked by default. Then you can just drag icons from menu to toolbar or to desktop. No problems there.

So just do default settings 1) "Folder-view" and not "Desktop" on the Desktop appearance and 2) Unlocked widgets.

If you just give your clients a change, with good nice simple 2 page PDF tutorial what is the idea of lockin/unlockin the desktop and folder-view widget with nepomuk etc. Many of them will love it.

So mayby the problem is the _default_ settings for users who has old habits?

By fri13 at Sat, 02/07/2009 - 14:04

Sorry I was very emotional about this topic and decided not to write any more about it the last month. I am a KDE developer and I would like nothing more than to write "KDE 4 is best". To answer your question, yes, man, you understood me! We need to fetch the users we have from KDE 3.5 to 4. And we are scaring them away with glitches like "adding icons works, but you must first switch to folder view".

No one objects against Plasma in all its beauty. But the default setting must be the one where I can add my beloved "xawtv" icon to the desktop without much hazzle :)

By tstaerk at Thu, 03/05/2009 - 07:05