In it, Carla claims to be "90% satisfied" with KDE3 and "60% satisfied" with KDE SC 4.3. Why? "KDE 4 sacrifices customizability and efficiency for glitz. [...] There is a trend to dumb Linux down in a fruitless attempt to appeal to Jane and Joe Sixpack. Which is wasted effort, because in doing so computer-savvy users are being ignored and frustrated, and Jane and Joe Sixpack don't care anyway."
What's interesting about this for me is that Gwenview's redesign wasn't to appeal to Jane and Joe Sixpack. It was to take a powerful app with a rather clumsy UI and turn it into a powerful app with a slick UI. Now, I don't know about you, but I like tools that fit my hand when I use them; creating tools that fit the tentacles of an octopus might be interesting as an academic exercise in design, but I don't live in the ocean and I have arms with hands, not tentacles with suction cups. Similarly, I like slick UIs. I'm not the only one, as fans of MacOS and other nicely designed UIs will be happy to relate.
The example she uses is Gwenview: "In KDE 4.3, the same data have been shuffled around to different locations, it is far less configurable, and the thumbnails only display filename and date. To get any other information requires viewing each image one at a time. It's like being given a little porthole to look through. In KDE 3.5, Gwenview is very configurable [...] In KDE 4.3, where did all the configurations go? Why do they even bother with a configuration menu? "
It seems that Carla was "tricked" by a UI that doesn't scream in your face "I HAVE LOTS OF POWER!!!!! LOOK AT EVERYTHING I CAN DO BECAUSE IT'S ALL PLASTERED ON YOUR SCREEN IN SUCH AN INELEGANT WAY THAT YOU CAN'T IGNORE HOW POWERFUL I AM!!!! HOPE YOU WANT TO DO LOT OF POWERFUL THINGS, RATHER THAN VIEW YOUR IMAGES!" Yes, Gwenview in KDE 3 screams just like that. :) If you go from a "screaming" UI to an elegant one, one might assume the elegant one simply doesn't have much power to it because it's so much "quieter". Let's see if this is really the case with Gwenview.
(For simplicity, let's refer to Gwenview's KDE 3 version as G3, and it's current version as G4.)
Where I Agree
Let's start with where I agree with Carla: "The thumbnails display image size, file size, filename, and date, and I can see this information on several images at once." In G4 only filename, date and rating can be shown with the thumbnails. As far as I can see, G3 lacked rating information in the thumbnails, but you could make it display file and image size as well. I think adding back those two bits of information to the thumbnails wouldn't be a horrible idea for G4.
Even here, though, we start to see some real differences. To set the thumbnail preferences in G3 you would:
- Open the Settings menu and select "Configure Gwenview"
- On the "Image List" page there is a section called "Thumbnail View"; under that are the various options
- Click Ok or Apply+close the window
- Open the View -> Thumbnails menu
- Select an item to show
This is rather quicker to do and puts the options within reach under a menu that is topically relevant ("View"). There is no reason the two extra size entries from G3 couldn't appear in the G4 menu, as well. Maybe Aurelien (or someone with some time and patch-fu) could do this for KDE SC 4.5.
So here we have an example of a UI that is quicker to use, particularly if you just want to turn on/off some extra details in the thumbnails, but which currently has one new option but missing two old ones. Will this pattern continue?
Where Has All The Configuration Gone?
Carla asks, "In KDE 4.3, where did all the configurations go?" after showing a screenshot of G3's settings dialog. That certainly does look impressive! Look at all the knobs and levers one can push and pull! True, G4 doesn't have nearly as "impressive" a configuration dialog. Where have the features gone? Let's see what G3 offered:
- "Show folders and archives": This is indeed gone in G4 because the browsing has been merged into one view so that you aren't bouncing around the window with your mouse. In the version I have here, there is an (optional) tree view of your file sytem in case you do want to bounce around like that.
- "Margin between thumbnails": Seriously? Setting the absolute number of pixels between images in the view is at all worth it? Bzzt, gone.
- Four thumbnail caching settings! The only one left in G4 is the "empty when exiting" option because that's the only one that matters: everything else simply follows the desktop wide settings for caching. Extra bonus for G4: it uses the freedesktop.org standard for thumbnails, thanks to KDE Dev Platform v4, which means those thumbnails are shared between Konqueror, Dolphin, the file dialogs, Gwenview and many more, including Gtk+ apps.
- "Enlarge small images when auto-zoom is enabled": In G4, this is still there and more sensibly labeled "Enlarge small images". But more importantly, this is only a default setting in G4. You can access several zoom controls directly when viewing the image, which puts it right where you can get to it when you actually want it (namely, the viewer). Again, G4 manages to keep the power but do so far more efficiently for the user.
- "Show scroll bars": This belongs with "Margin between thumbnails" and is probably there in part because G3's window is cluttered with so much irrelevant widgetry all the time that every pixel counts. Not so in G4 where things are well organized and where the fullscreen view seriously rocks. Another G4 win.
- "Background color": still there in G4, and in the settings dialog. Sensible.
- "Smoothing": 5 options for smoothing, all fairly cryptic in what the actual results will end up being. In G4 the smoothing is progressive and fast enough to not require such a configuration feature.
- "Mouse wheel behavior over image": two options, both till there in G4, and in the settings dialog.
- "Show busy mouse pointer when loading image": This belongs in the same rubbish pile as the margin pixel setting. Showing a busy pointer when the application is busy is a sensible default and follows basic user interface guidelines.
- Full screen "on screen display" configuration: this is a complex "format string" with things like "%f %p". In G4 when you are in full screen mode, there is a configuration button which allows you to set the meta data shown. You just point and click at what metadata you want. Much faster, much more intuitive and, most importantly, if you want to change it while in full screen mode (one of the most likely cases, actually) you don't have to exit full screen mode and hunt through a config dialog only to find yourself confronted with cryptic % escape values. Oh, and G4 allows you to show any metadata that is availabe for the file, not just the 10 hard code possibilities G3 offers.
- Moving and copying files: options to show or hide the move/copy dialogs and where the default destination is. This is all replaced by desktop wide defaults in G4, which means there is one system that applies to all your KDE applications. Say goodbye to tweaking dozens of apps individually so they all have that exact same preference.
- Deleting files: G3 lets you configure whether to move to trash or delete, and whether to ask for confirmation. In G4, both options are available in the side bar actions or in the context menu. There is no need for an option because G4 actually shows more features in the default UI!
- Slideshow: 5 options for controlling slideshows. Hey, didn't we have some full screen options previously? Yes we did, and on a completely different page in the dialog. Fail. In G4, all of these options are right there in the full screen view. Again, more efficient, same powerful app.
- KIPI Plugins: still there, and they are rocking in KDE SC 4.
- What to do when leaving a modified image: three options including "ask", "save silently" and "discard", but really this is a per-image choice isn't it? I don't want to set this globally! In G4 there is a bar that appears at the top of the viewing area when an image is (or images are) modified; you can even jump to the modified image if you navigate away. You can save them individually, or all at once. This unintrusive bit of user interface not only tells me more about what is going on and lets me work uninterrupted, but it obsoletes the need for these configuration entries.
- Automatically rotate image on load: G4 just pays attention to EXIF data. That's what it is there for.
- Remember state of filter on exit: G4 does not provide this. Debatable if it's valuable, but it could be a nice (re-)addition.
- Remember last opened URL: G4 implements a whole new system for this and it completely wipes the floor with G3 in this regard: there is a starting page shown which shows the last several locations you viewed along with places and bookmarks. All there in one nice view, adapts to your usage, integrates with other KDE software (thanks to the Places model) and doesn't require entires in the configuration dialog.
So by my count, and including the thumbnail info issue, G4 does 12 configuration topics better, 4 things the same and two things worse. It manages to do this with 12 items in the configuration dialogs instead of 43, with better text and layout in the dialog to boot. G4 isn't less powerful or less configurable: it's just better designed and so it isn't so painfully obvious that all those features are there.
What Does G4 Do Better?
So if G4 can match G3, does it go any further? I'd say miles and miles further.
For one, there is the above described welcome page which is so much more intuitive and easy to use that it isn't even funny. You don't have to manually create bookmarks and it adapts to your behavior and usage. G4 uses a breadcrumb navigation (which with one click becomes a trusty old plain text URL editor) that we know from many other KDE 4 Powered apps. I never have to open a file dialog in G4 as a result. Speaking of which, the file dialog handling in G3 was very difficult to use: try to open a folder to view (nope, it isn't File -> Open, and that file dialog will not give you any hint about that).
In G4 I can easily resize, remove red eye and much more right from the side bar. I can also just hover an image and click the rotate buttons (or select, or save, or..) in the little toolbar that floats right above it. This is so much faster it isn't even funny, and it lets me select multiple images without having to resort to one hand on the keyboard and one hand on the mouse.
G4's full screen view offers instant access to configuration options and it provide a thumbnail bar. It also offer an auto-play slideshow feature that is really handy.
G4 keeps the image I'm viewing in focus. If I want to view and browse at the same time, there is the thumbnail bar right at the bottom. That's right next to zoom options for "Fit", "100%" and a free moving slider. This is not only more featureful and easier to use than what is in G3, it's also consistent with the browsing view where you can resize the thumbnails!
That's just what occurs to me with a quick glance through both applications running side by side.
G4 provides a cleaner view with less clutter and manages to not only keep almost all the features of G3 but adds a large number of new features as well. As an added bonus, G4's interface works far better on netbook-sized screens (I've used both G4 and G3 on them; G3 is, frankly, unusable on such a device). It looks nicer, but that's just icing on the cake. The two configuration features that I can find missing in G4 have lot of room to be added back.
Complaining about how Gwenview (and all of KDE 4 software as an extension) has been "dumbed down" and is "less featureful" because two small options aren't there (yet?) when the rest of the app is actually more featureful, powerful and elegant is pretty hard to understand.
On A Personal Note
Carla is a KDE user, and she has been really happy (by her own admission) with KDE3. That's awesome, and as someone who contributed a fair amount to KDE3 that makes me really happy.
How should I feel when she posts a really poorly crafted critique on a big web site like Linux Today? Should I start to not feel happy, maybe resent Carla's existence in our community because she writes such things? I mean, if the analysis was accurate and honed, that would be one thing. But it isn't. Human nature is to experience negative feelings attached with such an event.
That's not good at all! Carla is a member of our community and someone who, from what I can gather, not only means well but contributes via communication on Linux Today. I do not want to have wedges driven between people in our community needlessly, but that's what we risk happening when we let loose from the hip and start proclaiming that the sky is falling.
I wonder if Carla sent an email to Gwenview's author, to one of KDE's "front line communicators" such as myself, Sebas or Jos, to kde-promo or one of the press contacts on kde.org? Would that have resulted in a better article, one that would have done less unnecessary, unearned damage?
On A Less Personal Note
KDE has taken a change in direction with the 4.x series. We are more committed to sleek, elegant and organic user interfaces. We aren't always going to get it "right", at least not on the first try. These kinds of apps are far more difficult to write, but we are making great progress and seeing successes. Yes, like Gwenview.
We aren't interested in creating less powerful software, however. We should not confuse the two things, nor should we mistake how others may have approached the "how to make the UI elegant" question with how KDE is doing so.
I fully recognize that there are some people who really do like very complex, cluttered interfaces that expose "everything" all at once and hide "everything else" in arcane configuration dialogs. To those people, I can only say that I'm sorry if KDE no longer fits your worldview. I suggest maintaining KDE3 or working on new software that fits that worldview. I know that is hard because there aren't that many of you in that category, but that may also explain why KDE itself isn't making that kind of software as much anymore.
For those who are interested in powerful software that exposes that raw power through an elegant interface, I welcome you along for the journey we are on known as "KDE 4". It's exciting and it even feels a little "dangerous" at times because we are trying some new moves out here. I'm really amazed by how far things have come already and the direction is very promising. I was working on a patch to KDE 3 yesterday for a company that is supporting a KDE 3 deployment, and after that experience I was left with the realization of how much we've done.
That said, there's a lot more to do as well, and I should probably get back to that. Cheers ...