Practical Technology

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KDE 4.1: Have it Our Way


Over the years, I’ve grown quite fond of KDE for my Linux desktops. To me, it offered the right combination of ease of use and access to Linux’s power-user resources. Now, though, one of the forthcoming changes in KDE 5.1 is already annoying me and it’s barely in beta.

Aaron Seigo, a major KDE developer, has decided that KDE will no longer use desktop icons.. Pardon me? One of the other things I liked about KDE, as opposed to GNOME, is that it let me have the desktop my way. GNOME has a very clear idea of what makes up the ideal desktop. It’s just not my ideal desktop. I really resent KDE ‘telling’ me what my desktop should be. If I wanted that kind of attitude, I’d be a GNOME user.

What I find especially annoying is that, while there are ways around this radical shift, this vastly different desktop metaphor is the default. If they wanted to make it an option, I’d be fine with it. I’d never use it, but fine, make it available to users. If KDE users then en masse switch to a icon-less windowing system then more power to them for making it the default.

As it is Seigo describes how to set up a folder so that you can work out what he calls an “Old Skool” desktop. This won’t be an easy process. Oh, anyone who’s knows what’s what about a Linux desktop can put it together. Joe User, however, will be utterly bewildered by the process.

And, that, my friends, is my most important objection. This change is a radical one, and I don’t think it will make the Linux desktop one whit friendlier to most users. The developers certainly have the right to change the desktop any way they want, but I don’t think it’s going to help KDE gain any popularity.


  1. I agree with you 100%.
    While I won’t have a problem working around this strange default behavior, I don’t think my mom will. I guess she’ll be sticking to 3.5.x at least until 4.2 comes out.

  2. Good post. I agree with you about the attraction of KDE being its customization capabilities. I am a gnome user but I have been thinking about switching to KDE. However, every time I test out KDE it seems buggy. After a couple bad experiences, I started looking around the blogosphere and I see other people saying the same thing about KDE’s lack of stability. If they move in the direction of taking away some flexibility, I don’t think I’ll ever try KDE again. Gnome is actually pretty flexible and easy to customize, plus it is stable — at least in my experience.

  3. Hm I really don’t see a problem. If you already have a folder Desktop in your home folder the icons from this folder will automatically be put on your desktop. So you are automatically back to what we practivally have now. This new system just gives the opportunity for people who want more flexibility with icons on their desktop. Now you will be able to show icons from any folder on your computer. And not only this. You will be able to show icons from multiple folders at the same timw. In addition you will also be able to show icons by some filter (just imagine: showing only pictures which are less then 10 days old and have a score more than 3 and have a tag “holidays”). I think this is a big improvment over what we had so far.

  4. As I understand it, it’s not quite that easy as using the desktop folder. I’m playing with the code now on one box and, for now at least, it requires some hoop jumping with transparency to get it to work correctly.


  5. Well if you have some ideas and suggestions for improvements that could make it easier to use it I can only suggest you add a bug/enhancement report to
    And in a bug report try to describe a use scenario in a lot of detail and say why do you think this is not good and how exactly it should work and why. All has to be as specific as possible.
    But otherwise yes, it is still a beta and the new way of handling desktop icons has just been added so it probably still has a lot of problems. There are 2 months left now to fix as many problems with this as possible and those specific and detailed bug reports can help to fix it more quickly.

  6. “Pardon me? One of the other things I liked about KDE, as opposed to GNOME, is that it let me have the desktop my way. GNOME has a very clear idea of what makes up the ideal desktop. It’s just not my ideal desktop.”

    I agree the new thing on KDE is deplorable but I use GNOME and have not found any particular lack of ability to customize. I clutter my panels any way I want and the desktop, too. It looks to me that KDE is taking the failing route of Vista: “What the heck? Let’s change the desktop any way we want. The users love us and will get used to it.”

    I recently took the time to figure out how “the ribbon” works in Word 2007. My mouse has to put in five times the distance to get the job done. Brilliant idea, well implemented, that is just unnecessary…

  7. I tried to voice the same argument in the comments of Aaron’s blog post, but he didn’t seem to be having any of it.

    He just doesn’t seem (or, perhaps, want) to understand that nobody has an issue with *adding* the functionality that has now been made not just the default, but the *only* option; however, many people strongly object to being forced into using this new functionality by having the traditional desktop icon functionality completely removed from the DE.

    Personally, I like the new desktop paradigm, and will find a way to use it to my liking. I pretty much don’t use desktop icons.

    I still don’t want the option taken away, for no good reason whatsoever.

    That’s the real problem: Aaron cannot (or will not) describe why leaving the option enabled poses any problem or risk to the DE or to its further development.

  8. Will you people shut the hell up about icons! They went no where, and I have actually used KDE4 since 4.0. I setup a laptop just today with a fresh ArchLinux install and KDE4.1 Beta1 and enabled Icons with no problem. When I downloaded stuff to my ~\Desktop folder the crap still popped up as an icon on my desktop just like usual. After some testing I turned that crap back off and went on to enjoy the folderview containment. Once you realize the true potential of KDE4 with Containments you will wish you had kept your mouth shut until you tried it. Plasma is going to enable the power users to have not only virtual desktops but multiple “Containments” that contain your virtual desktops. Imagine having a custom “desktop” for image manipulation and then another for websurfing. Inside these containments you will then have you plasmoids that are related to the job at hand.

    Check out this link for a guide to plasma.

  9. Aaron was asked about the icon things on his blog and here are a few excerpts which I think you should take notice off:

    “my issue is not with people wanting icons on their desktop. my issue is with that being the only possible mode of interaction.“

    “…which is why we worked towards this particular solution: everyone gets to have their cake and eat it too. you shouldn’t care what i think about your desktop icons anymore than i should have to listen to people whinge about it 😉 “

    “…it doesn’t souud terrible at all. you have a specific audience and you are trying to tailor a solution for them. unfortunately in the past we had exactly one solution: icons representing files in a given folder (e.g. ~/Desktop) for all people to try and fit into.
    that is what i’m trying to dislodge, so that we can cater any number of audiences.
    in the process, some people are very concerned about change (the “we fear change” scene from wayne’s world comes to mind here =) “

    Personally, all I care about is that there be choice: the old school way of doing things and the new fangled way (and from what Ive seen of Plasma, it looks promising)
    He seemed to say that this was his goal too.
    (You can check the post by Rob Enderle 🙂 and Aaron answers it a little further down.)
    All I want to be able to do when i install Linux on some PC for friends/family is to be able to just make a few shortcut icons so they can find things like ‘it was’ on their old OS.

    Of course, I havent installed KDE 4.1 beta so Im not going to comment until I do. I know, I know… its a radical concept in tech… actually TRYING something before criticizing it but teh expression “RTFA” has become popular for a very good reason.

    I have no problems with them changing the default as long as I can use the old way too.
    What will have to be worked out it seems is how easy are they going to make it to go from the new default to the other way.
    No ‘hoop jumping’ please, but if they can keep it within three clicks of the mouse, I will be happy.

    Of course, this is a beta, which is where and when were supposed to be vocal about this without going into a chicken little panic.

  10. @lyle howard seave:

    Nice work, pulling Aaron’s quotes out of the post comments; however, how about a quote from the blog post itself (that “read the …article” advice being very good, and all):

    “I just committed a change to the default desktop containment that removes desktop icon support. Yes, it has finally happened … no more splattering icons from the “desktop” folder across the screen. Buh-bye.”

    Let’s parse that a bit, shall we?

    “I just committed a change… that removes desktop icon support.”

    What’s difficult to understand about the change Aaron made here?

    Granted, *similar* functionality can be achieved by using a containment-within-a-containment (a “Desktop” containment within the ~/desktop), or perhaps even by making plasmoid “icons” to replace traditional icons.

    The bottom line, though, remains: Aaron single-handedly, by fiat, removed a basic desktop functionality used (and liked) by many. (Again, I’m not among those many such users.)

    Rather than simply letting the new “containment” paradigm exist alongside the traditional desktop icon paradigm – a course of action that would have preserved the greatest degree of user options – Aaron instead *removed* one of those options. In his words:

    “… no more splattering icons from the “desktop” folder across the screen. Buh-bye.”

    If, in fact, the “old way” can still be used, then no harm, no foul. However, many have read Aaron’s words to indicate that the “old way” is no longer an option.

    Have we misread?

  11. “one of the forthcoming changes in KDE 5.1 is already annoying me”

    5.1? There hasn’t even been a 5.0! I thought this article was about 4.1?

  12. yes yes you have as I can tell you the option is still easily available

  13. “Have we misread?”

    Yes, because you actually need to read the entire blog entry to understand what really happened: the concept of having desktop icons as a separate mechanism that placed representations of the entries in ~/Desktop directly on the wallpaper (poorly, in 4.0 and annoyingly inflexibly in 3.x) has been replaced by a widget that lets you view folder contents in a way that gives the user the choice of when, where and how while putting it on equal (meaning “the same”) footing as all other widgets on the desktop or panel.

    I didn’t think that it was a difficult concept to understand, but blogs such as this one are proving me wrong on that point.

    p.s. My last name is not Aseigo; it’s Seigo. “aseigo” is what I use for my email addresses, irc nick, etc.

  14. @Aaron:

    Please don’t insult my intelligence by continuing to assume that I’ve not read your entire blog post.

    Also, please stop being disingenuous. The containment-view widget is *not* the same thing as traditional desktop icons, and we both know it.

    You have removed functionality. Why can you not bring yourself to state this simple, obvious reality?

    I understand that desktop-icon functionality was not well-implemented in 4.x. I understand that the containment-view widget functionality better implemented, and far more flexible. Neither of these points changes the fact that containment view is *not* the same thing as traditional desktop icons.

    Again, have I misread? With the current revision to 4.x, is it possible to place an icon on the desktop as a stand-alone entity (i.e. *not* within a containment)? If the answer is “yes” then I have misread. If, however, the answer is “no” then I understand correctly.

    You know, the kicker is, I don’t use “traditional” desktop icons, and will probably love the containment-view widget.

    Aaron, you pretty much created your own problem here. You intentionally inflamed KDE users with the wording of your blog post and title, without considering the unintended consequences.

    What would have been so difficult about saying, “desktop icon functionality in KDE 4.0 was never implemented in way with which the developers were satisfied, and rather than waste more effort, we have decided to focus our efforts on the desktop containment view functionality. It is different, but far more powerful and flexible – especially once it is finished.”?

    Such a statement would not have inflamed or insulted your readers, and would have framed the discussion in a far more beneficial manner.

  15. “The containment-view widget is *not* the same thing as traditional desktop icons, and we both know it.”

    yes, it is. when you use the folderview as your containment, you get a fullscreen icon view showing a given folder (e.g. the Desktop folder) that floats “under” the widgets.

    it is *identical*.

    this isn’t by accident either.

    “With the current revision to 4.x, is it possible to place an icon on the desktop as a stand-alone entity (i.e. *not* within a containment)?”

    yes, that’s exactly the idea. it *is* a containment. containments are also applets (though not all applets are containments). isn’t that a cool system?

    here’s a screenshot of it in action:

    that’s a zoomed out plasma with 5 different containments, 4 of them the default desktop one (one in the default configuration with the folderview on it) and one folder containment.

    “If the answer is “yes” then I have misread.”

    so .. where do we go from here? you’ve ranted about this and unjustly called me “disingenuous”. you’ve added to the FUD out on the internet about my work.

    personally, i’d hope for a retraction on your blog to make up for this piece of butchery.

    if you’d like to discuss this in private, my email is aseigo at kde dot org.

    “Such a statement would not have inflamed or insulted your readers”

    just keep blaming me, and not the people who couldn’t keep their angst in check for two moments to ask questions and accept answers instead? hm.

  16. Basic functionality trumps power users every day of
    the week. (i.e. Joe-User aka KDE-3.x-familiar-user is King)!

    What SHOULD have been in KDE 4.0 but isn’t, is the ability to
    right-click the desktop and create an application-shortcut
    JUST LIKE IN KDE-3.x! (Even if that wasn’t gonna be the
    ‘final implementation’!) I recently read, how it WAS SUPPOSED to
    work is: ‘click add-widget, choose the ‘generic-icon’ widget,
    drag it to the desktop, and tailor it as you did in 3.x.

    But, that is totally broken in two ways: (1)The permissions are
    WRONG (2) There is no ‘application tab’, so you can’t define
    the launch-command.

    Meanwhile, with their heads mostly up their arses, the openSUSE
    community mistakenly decided to make KDE-4.0 the default for
    their new 11.0 release. From their KDE-LiveCD install kit,
    you get 4.0 and must ADD KDE-3.x support if you want that.

    Luckily, saner heads prevailed over at Debian, where for their
    upcoming ‘Lenny’ release, they’ve decided on 3.5.9 for the default.

    Meanwhile, all the power-users [who have TEST partitions]
    are all scrambling around and being told to go try out
    ‘KDE 4.1-beta’ to “see how great KDE4 is gonna be!’

    [In my view, someone from KDE 4.2 development should be
    physically dragged back by the short-hairs to retrofit a patch
    for KDE 4.0.4 to make basic application-shortcuts (the GENERIC-ICON) work.
    It should only take 5-minutes to fix (well, ok, maybe all
    morning to test and do the paperwork).]

    Just my 2-cents…

  17. Just a thought…

    As someone who first used KDE back before 1.0…

    This sort of thing seems to be a ‘history’ with them…

    First there was the big tiff over single-click-to-open as a default… ‘Double Clicking is bad’, etc… Fortunately, they left that one easily ‘fixable’ in Settings…

    Now, we take the desktop icons thing….

    Remove all support for a traditional desktop (you know, the style that’s been around from MacOS classic, through the various versions of Windows, and the early KDE)….

    And replace it with the desktop verision of a ‘Junk Box’…

    The Containment thing is – as near as I can tell – NOT a ‘traditional’ desktop icon system…

    Any icons you ‘want’ have to be in the ‘folderview’ box… Which by default sits up in the top corner of your screen, is *not* transparent, and does *NOT* organize icons like you’d expect a ‘normal’ system to do…

    Nor does it have the standard ‘special’ icons that have been with most graphical systems since the early days of MacOS…

    It reminds me of Windows 3.1, with a taskbar instead of Program Manager… And a box on the screen to chuck stuff into….

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