KDE has courted controversy in recent releases. It's improved now, but it's far from being perfect. We straps on our goggles, dive into the Plasmoidal soup and dredge up some suggestions for change.
01. Stop adding so many features
KDE needs stability - in both senses of the word. Stop moving things around and concentrate on making it fun to use again.
Stability in terms of it not crashing is a lot better these days, but having things move around with each upgrade is disconcerting.
It's like when they move the coffee in the supermarket, forcing you to trawl around the shop floor to find the life-enhancing stuff.
02. Easier-to-find configuration options
KDE's System Settings panel is a huge beast with a lot of separate modules, making finding the right place to change a setting much harder than it would otherwise be. The Search box is a great help, far improved compared to how it used to be, but rather too discreetly tucked away.
There needs to be something else. Perhaps a searchable FAQ built into the program where you click, 'How do I set up a…' to go to the correct module.
03. The program names
Do we really need so much help in identifying KDE programs? I mean, kome on, do they have to kall every program by some kontrived moniker that kontains a k somewhere?
You don't see the other Linux desktop starting every program name with g... Oh, sorry, you do.
04. Make GTK programs look good by default
It's taken as read that GTK programs look bad on KDE (and Qt apps look bad on Gnome), but this doesn't have to be the case. There are third-party options to theme GTK to fit in with the current Qt theme and this should be built into KDE.
There's no point pretending KDE users don't run at least one GTK program, even if it's only Firefox when Konqueror can't handle a site.
05. The name
There's nothing wrong with the name KDE, it's just that it's too similar to a popular but completely different desktop environment from a few years ago.
That desktop - called KDE 3.5, or often just KDE - did nearly everything its users wanted in a way they understood. Giving the same name to a completely different product was not a good move.
06. More tutorials
The KDE Help Centre is a good source of reference information, but KDE is a complicated suite of software that's capable of carrying out many different tasks.
What the current KDE documentation is sorely missing is tutorials or how-tos. A series of 'how to do this KDE 3 task in KDE 4' documents would have greatly eased the pain of transition.
07. Video documentation
WHAT'S MISSING?: The Help Centre is a good reference manual, but where are the helpful tutorials, or even videos?
YouTube has shown us that video tutorials can be extremely useful and informative (and it's shown us a lot more besides, but we won't go into that here).
A set of introductory videos explaining what's what for both new users and KDE 3 migrators could go a long way towards improving KDE's reputation.
08. The name (the other bit)
KDE used to be a desktop environment, a term that conjured (konjured?) up visions of a fully integrated suite of software. Now it's merely a software collection, which implies a far looser connection between the various components.
KDE is an integrated whole - be proud of it!
09. Layered configuration options
There used to be a separation between standard and advanced settings, but sadly that's no more. We still think an option to show or hide the more advanced settings, set globally but alterable by a button in each section, would help tidy things up.
Maybe profiles could be introduced, so a desktop profile would hide network management, battery and touchpad settings, for example.
10. Network management
Where's the KDE equivalent of Network Manager? How are KDE-using road warriors supposed to switch between various wireless, 3G and VPN connections?
This is a basic requirement of laptop users these days, yet KDE offers no way of easily switching between networks without manually setting up each one first.
11. Reduce resource usage
There's no doubting that KDE 4 uses a lot of system resources. We may use it on a multi-core processor and with 4GB of RAM, but we'd rather use that power to run our programs, not draw windows.
Sure, the eye candy is handy for impressing Windows-using friends, but a leaner, meaner desktop that still retains all the KDE functionality would be grand.
12. Less bling
The popularity of Gnome-using distro Ubuntu shows that people don't necessarily go for lots of eye candy, or even attractive colours.
Dozens of colourful Plasmoids, often duplicating the functions of others, isn't necessarily the way to attract new users, which are what KDE really needs.
13. Improve power management
KDE 4.5 removed some power management options, particularly those related to CPU scaling. The management code is still there, but not the GUI to control it.
KDE has always been a good choice for those who like to extensively tweak their systems, so stop treating them like Gnome users.
14. A simple initial interface
Gnome is simple and uncluttered; ideal for new users. KDE has what the power user wants, but - and it's a big but - people don't want to change desktops once they're comfortable. Which means that when a Gnome-using newbie progresses to a more expert standing, it's too late for KDE to appeal to them.
15. Show how easy it is to use
A lot is made of the complexity of KDE. It certainly has plenty of options, but that doesn't make it difficult to use. A set of default configurations (profiles, if you like) to set it up quickly for different users and situations would help to dispel some of the 'difficult to use' myth.
16. Improve Konqueror
In the KDE3 era, we used Konqueror all the time as a web browser, file manager and even for remote filesystem access. The KIO-slaves that make this possible are as good as ever, but Konqueror as a web browser is too slow when compared with the likes of Chrome, and still struggles with some sites.
17. Work to win back lost users
The earlier releases of KDE 4 did a lot of damage. Many users switched to alternative desktops - some because of stability issues and others because they didn't like or 'get' the new KDE concepts.
Deep down, many of those lost users are still fond of KDE, or at least KDE 3, and they're the ones KDE should now be looking to tempt back. It's not a commercial endeavour, so more users doesn't necessarily equal direct rewards, but a larger community does give a stronger product.
18. Learn that fun trumps clever
There's no doubting that KDE 4 has some clever ideas, but where's the joy of using it gone? When using the desktop becomes a chore, the search for an alternative isn't far away.
We don't want clowns popping up on screen or the like, just something that lets us work as we want, which was always one of KDE's greatest strengths.
19 No brown. Ever
However much it appears to work for certain other desktops, please don't think that colouring everything a dull brown will ever improve your popularity. It won't.
First published in Linux Format Issue 143
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