KDE 4.0.82 beta testing report

This week-end I upgraded my KDE 4 test installation to KDE 4.0.82, which is now included in Mandriva Cooker. Time to follow up on the bugs I reported last week and to take a deeper look at Plasma, the new desktop concept introduced in KDE 4.

KDE 4.1 desktop with Dolphin

Plasma

The good news is that the Folder View widget, which is used to display desktop icons, has been fixed so that right clicking on a file now gives a meaningful menu. So finally you can easily trash or rename icons in the folder view widget or execute other common actions for normal files.

However, the more I use KDE 4, the more problems I see with this whole Plasma thing. Especially the Folder View widget is problematic, not only because of bugs, but especially because the whole thing works rather counterintuitively.

In other desktops (including KDE 3.5, GNOME and XFCE), icons can be placed on the whole desktop surface and those files and application launchers are saved in the ~/Desktop directory. KDE 4 takes a radically different approach. All items on the desktop are Plasma widgets. Plasma widgets can be small applications (like an RSS readers or a clock) but also file and application launchers and they do not correspond with a file in ~/Desktop. To circumvent this limitation, the folder view widget was created. It’s actually a widget which shows all the files in a certain directory. By default, a folder view widget showing the contents of the directory ~/Desktop is added to the desktop. This creates a highly confusing situation:

  • Because the contents of ~/Desktop is not shown over the whole desktop but only in a widget, files in ~/Desktop can only be shown on a limited area on the desktop.
  • All widgets get some sort of transparent overlay over the desktop wallpaper. In my opinion, this looks ugly. It creates unnecessary complication, while it is not aesthetically pleasing to my eyes, because it ruins the background too much.
  • There are now two different ways of creating items on the desktop: either by creating a separate plasma widget which represents a file or application launcher, either by putting the file or application launcher in the the ~/Desktop directory.

Because of this fundamental change and some bugs which worsen the situation, very strange things can happen:

  • Moving files or applications to or from the visible desktop folder view widget does not work at all,
  • Move a file from KDE’s program menu to the desktop, outside of the folder widget. A Plasma widget representing the program is created at the location where you dropped it, however it only shows the “broken” icon. The application name is ellipsized to three letters. At the same time the icon is also added to the folder view widget, so there are now two desktop icons…
  • I could drag and drop a Kopete avatar image file to the desktop, so that a Plasma widget was created. There was no way to copy or move this file to another location any more, so I could access it somewhere with my file browser…
  • When moving a file to the desktop, in the past this moved the file to ~/Desktop, so you could easily find the file there in all applications. Now the file is not moved anymore, but a Plasma widget linking to that file is created. That means that in applications, you can’t find the file anymore in ~/Desktop, although the file is shown on your visible desktop.

Even with the impossibility of dropping files on the folder view widget and the double icons when dropping outside the folder view widget fixed, the two different type of icons on the desktop, will be very confusing for users. At work there are users who are constantly using the desktop for saving files. If there does not come a complete rethinking of the way the desktop is implemented in KDE 4, I am planning on migrating these users to GNOME instead of KDE 4, because this Plasma thing will cause too much support interventions because ueser won’t find their documents anymore.

Half of the Plasma widgets are still not working for me. The most widgets, only show a grey area when I drop them on my desktop and I still could not add the Show Desktop widget to the panel.

Changing the size of a Plasma widget neither is very intuitive. You have to click on the resize icon which appears normally at the left upper side of the widget (but this can be the right side too, if your widget is near the left side of the screen!), and then the widget will be expanded or reduced around the centre of the widget. This is of course very annoying if your widget is already near the side of the screen, as this means you’ll probably have to move the widget too. I don’t understand why the same idiom of resizing and moving application windows was not reused.

Other problems

There has not been much progress in my bug reports of last week. Most remain unanswered or only have got a “I can’t reproduce” answer. Most promising for the moment is the KMail text encoding bug, where I was able to find some more information about the circumstances which trigger this problem. Let’s hope this helps in fixing the problem soon now. The slowliness of KMail’s message list is getting more and more annoying too. Actually already in folders with only a few hundreds message, the slowliness is noticeable. Speaking about slowliness, Konqueror’s KHTML web browsers also feels very sluggish today, compared to Firefox 2 and 3. Scrolling with the mouse scroll wheel often feels sluggish, as does the loading and rendering of complex pages. Konqueror’s KHTML on my Athlon 64 3500+ feels much slower than Epiphany/Webkit on my old PowerPC G4 laptop. It’s unfortunate that GTK+ and QT/KDE Webkit are still not really ready for production use.

List of today’s new KDE bugs:

Update 15 June 2008: two new bugs related to the Plasma desktop problems:

3 Replies to “KDE 4.0.82 beta testing report”

  1. Plasma is indeed about reinventing the desktop and the “workflow” which depends on it. So, it’s normal that innovation can make people learn something new.
    By th way, for people wanting to have the same behaviour thant in KDE3, it will be possible to have the folder view that covers all the desktop ; unfortunalty, it seems that you’ll have to wait for 4.2 for this stuff.
    For more details about folderviews :
    http://blog.lydiapintscher.de/2008/06/14/folderview-is-the-awesome/
    And the future of Plasma, from it’s creator :
    http://aseigo.blogspot.com/2008/06/maybe-people-will-understand-picture.html

  2. Unfortunately, it seems your build is somewhat broken.

    “A Plasma widget representing the program is created at the location where you dropped it, however it only shows the “broken” icon.”

    This works just perfectly, in fact.

    “most widgets, only show a grey area when I drop them on my desktop”

    Yep, broken install. Your widgets are out of step with libplasma, which has gone through a number of API (and therefore ABI) changes in the last months in preparation for stabilization in the official 4.1 release.

    “All widgets get some sort of transparent overlay over the desktop wallpaper. In my opinion, this looks ugly. It creates unnecessary complication, while it is not aesthetically pleasing to my eyes, because it ruins the background too much.”

    Without a background, you wouldn’t know when/where rubber band selection on a set of icons worked, you wouldn’t be able to easily figure out why right clicking on a widget behind it pulls up a file operations menu instead of the (apparent) widget’s menu, etc.

    There are a lot of design issues that are not at first apparent; thankfully we have a great team of people thinking hard about them and then testing things. If we designed by blog entry, things would really end up sucking.

    Good news though: not every widget has a background; just ones that benefit from it (such as folderview).

    Even better news, you can use folderview as your desktop, have your traditional experience and have less to gripe about. You’ll be happier as you’ll have what you’ve grown comfortable with, others who want something different/better aren’t held back by that, and I’ll be happier since I’ll read fewer half-cocked blog entries about usability.

    You can see a screencast showing folderview in full screen action here:

    http://plasma.kde.org/media/folderview_containment.ogg

  3. Thank you for your feedback.

    After verifying, I can confirm that the non-working widgets are probably caused by an out of date extragear-plasma package in Mandriva Cooker. All of KDE is now version 4.0.82, but extragear-plasma is still at 4.0.80-0.812694. I contact the Mandriva packagers so they can fix this problem.

    About the other problems, I base my information on KDE 4.0.82 included In Mandriva Cooker which, according to http://mirrors.dotsrc.org/kde/unstable/4.0.82/src/ dates from only 5 days ago and so should be reasonable up to date. So apparently the feature set of Plasma is still evolving very quickly: so quickly that I wonder why a beta of KDE 4.1 was already published a few weeks ago. Now bugs are already obsolete when people report them, so in such a case it only makes sense for testers to use daily svn.

    (Update: seems that it could also be an issue specific to the Mandriva pacakges I’m using. Time will tell…)

    Anyway, let’s see what beta 2 brings us next week.

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