A study of what-if scenarios which posit what KDE would look like if it took a different approach to certain aspects of design. Note that these posts are in no way “the direction KDE is going” and are simply a study done to reference designs and ideas we may never have investigated.

Forward

First, a brief overview of Windows 8;

Windows 8 was Microsofts’ first step towards creating a unified ‘experience’ between the range of products running Microsoft Windows. Before Windows 8, early tablets which ran Windows typically ran a traditional Windows desktop; because desktop Windows was designed for mice, it typically required a stylus, trackball, or other similar input; keyboard solutions were universally sub-par. Microsoft ideally wanted its mobile audience to use laptops and phones instead of tablets. Apple and Google later devoured the tablet/phone market with iOS and Android respectively, and touch-screen devices became the norm. With their advantage in touch input, these two systems grew into tablets. This left Microsoft in a bind; Windows mobile was not capable of delivering a capable experience, so instead of taking the route Android and iOS did (growing their OSs’ up) Microsoft decided to begin shrinking its more capable desktop OS down. Windows 8 was the first step in this process, and essentially laid a touch-centric layer on top of a traditional desktop OS. The end result was an OS with split personalities and it required desktop users to work around touch components, while mobile users more/less had a decent – but more limited – experience.

Windows 10 is Microsofts’ attempt to correct the design flaws of Windows 8; Mainly by allowing the interface to vary between form-factors, such as including a start menu and introducing a multi-desktop mode.

Consumption vs Work-Oriented Design

In terms of design, Windows 8+ has a much more consumption-oriented design, as opposed to a work-oriented design; and it has a large amount of data throughput even in the main menu. This is appealing to mass-market users who desire quick access to information, and the ability to quickly act on it. For example, the twitter live-tile not only shows the latest updates, but is a one-click access point to that data. We don’t have that efficiency; we can launch applications, or display plasmoids, but we don’t have an efficient solution that does both. On the other hand, users have complained that the live-tile interface can become chaotic, with literally dozens of tiles calling for attention.

Desktop Linux and KDE have traditionally kept towards work-oriented designs, and consumption efficiency is left in the hands of the applications. This is trouble for KDE, because we don’t bundle simple applications which other environments do; i.e weather, maps/directions, or a clock/timer/alarms app. We do keep these as desktop components, but instead of simply launching applications, KDE requires a user to use complex editing tools to add and configure those widgets. In addition, if we did bundle those applications plasma widgets still do not launch relevant applications; our weather plasmoid does not launch a weather app, our photo widget does not launch a gallery. This poses another problem because a user must also know how to create a dash with independent widgets and know how to invoke that dash if they do not wish to crowd their desktop with plasmoids.

One way this could be solved would be creating a class of “launcher widgets” which are read-only QML widgets the system would treat as icons. Additionally, we might create a new file-level protocol for a QML “icon widget” format which could enable dynamic icons for application launchers. For example, a weather app might have a QML-based icon which displays todays’ weather. Though this could cause serious performance ramifications if implemented poorly, and adds dramatic complexity to simple file-browsers.

It should be noted that you can launch plasmoids in KDE through KRunner, but this method is pretty much inaccessible for regular users. This feature is much more slanted towards development than actual real-world usage.

KDE should consider allowing widgets to flag themselves as being “launchable” – allowing them to be launched similarly to applications from a proper applications menu. Sometimes you need to make quick notes about something without the need to save files or open the “KDE Advanced Text Editor”. Maybe you just only need the dictionary once in a blue moon. Allowing these to launch as KDEs’ version of “modern apps” might be highly beneficial, and give access to KDEs well-designed plasmoids without the need to modify the desktop. Also, our container application which actually contains the widgets could offer buttons to do things like quickly add the app to the current desktop, panel, or dash. This could later be integrated into Martin Gräßlins’ server-side-decorations.

The notes plasmoids - launched as an application
The notes plasmoids – launched as an application

While a great deal of applications are being written in QML, launchable plasmoid applications for KDE might be a good option when use-cases are simple-enough to be desktop-ready, but still useful enough to work as ‘standalone apps’. This might also make plasmoid development more attractive to developers who work more in traditional applications. Things like maps, directions, notes, cloud-based services, contacts, and other simple utilities – especially those which piggyback off the system – would be especially viable if developed under this model. Not only would we have our own ‘metro apps’, but these ‘Plasma Apps’ would be incredibly flexible in their ability to integrate to the desktop.

The dictionary plasmoids - launched as an application
The dictionary plasmoids – launched as an application

Start Menus

The Windows 10 Start menu has embedded live tiles. For plasmoids which aren’t big enough to be launched as applications, or not used consistently enough to be placed on the desktop or in the panel, Plasma could offer a launcher that has an embedded widget tray, or offer pop-up containments which could house collections of plasmoids.

Embedded widgets in a start-menu like launcher
Embedded widgets in a start-menu like launcher

Technical Challenges

For the most part, Plasma is already flexible enough to allow us to extend plasmoids into ‘Plasma Apps’. As a matter of fact, the plasmoid preview utility used by developers already gets us most of the way there. For the most part, there’s no real (obvious) technical hurdles.

One design aspect would be making a ‘native’ plasma theme for plasma running in an application mode.

Pros

  • Launching plasmoids as applications offers extreme occasional-use convenience.
  • Ensuring widgets can easily launch related full applications fits the “simple by default, powerful when needed” mantra.
  • Application developers might be more interested in plasmoid development when KDE users could launch it as a ‘real app’
  • It would help fill KDEs’ need for simple applications.

Cons

  • Users might not appreciate their program lists getting filled with plasmoids, especially if they can’t be hidden.
  • Plasmoids looking to be used as applications would need to account for more static contexts or alternate storage locations.
  • Everything listed here would add redundant applications to the system.
  • If plasmoids launched generic types of applications, we would need tonnes of default application types; default weather, default stock ticker, default dictionary, etc.
  • Applications lists would need to be overhauled to display plasma-apps.
  • Adding widgets to widgets (for the ‘start menu’) would need a clever editing UI, adding complexity.

Notes

Overall, the main issue KDE has is the disconnect between simple applications and simple plasmoids. KDE does have the functionality of other desktops in plasma, but it can feel more cumbersome to access it, especially if it’s in a situation where you may only need it on occasion. Plasmoids like the dictionary are the perfect example of this; I know no-one who refers to a dictionary often enough to constantly need one, but I can also say everybody likely needs one on occasion. For me, launching a browser and doing a Google search is faster than digging out the plasmoid. I don’t use the dash either, but even still do we want the KDE dash to be the junk-drawer of occasionally used widgets forever?

I found that adding live tiles was beneficial to the start menu, as it does become a simple notification area; I think it would be beneficial if we were capable of embedding widgets into launchers or secondary ‘container plasmoids’. I think KDE did do this at one point – can anyone let me know? I also think launching applications by directly clicking on plasmoids should be added; opening a full weather application would be great if we could package them together, and the same goes for stocks, maps, etc etc.

Chime in!

What are your thoughts on creating a more consumption-oriented design? What did I miss, any addendums? Let us know!

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29 thoughts on “What if… KDE Used Windows 10 Design Components?

  1. I would probably switch to XFCE. A key reason I use KDE (and Linux to a large extent) is because I am bored with Windows. I guess I am not a fan of copying good ideas. I am much more a fan of original ideas even if they aren’t quite as good as some competitor’s ideas because it’s the novelty I’m after.

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  2. Brilliant and beautiful. 🙂
    It’s so nice and refreshing to have a real designers’ team in KDE, which seemed for so many years to be technically excellent but visually and “usabilitily” rather beckwards. I hope this idea of yous becomes a reality. 😀

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    1. BTW, those “launcher widgets” re something that really NEED to be implemented. In the times of Android devices, where lots of apps have their launchers, and these ones are tied to their apps it’s almost “underdeveloped” we can’t have the same in KDE. Comes to my mind Kjots, an app that already has its “window” to the desktop in the form of a widget, but Kjots itself is so abandoned and outdated… (isn’t it incredible that in the times of Evernote and similars Kjots can’t even embed images in its notes -let’s not say videos, sounds or cloud synchronization support-?).
      So, I applaud your concept. Please, KDE devs, listn to this guy!! 😀

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      1. Oh, sorry, I should re-read my messages before posting. I meant “In the times of Android devices, where lots of apps have their WIDGETS”, not “launchers”.

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  3. I don’t see any use for plasmoids in the launcher. We can swap workspaces with ease, so just put small plasmoid notifications in one and when you want to look at them, swap the workspace. Or have an extra notification panel for them. The launcher is cluttered enough as it is.

    Meanwhile, having plasmoids run as separate apps could be useful. In fact, they could integrate with the desktop: instead of having an “add to desktop” button, have a “pin” button to transform it into a desktop plasmoid and “unpin” to pop them out (at the same place). In fact, that would even much simplify how plasmoids are arranged on the desktop (the whole hover-orient mouse-drag thing isn’t very intuitive compared to moving windows).

    As for launching advanced apps, I’m looking at the media player plasmoid off to the right of this box here and it clearly shows an “Open Amarok” button. So the functionality is there, just perhaps could be more standardised. And it should be a button, not just some random area that you press, plus clearly labelled (unless the plasmoid is iconised, obviously).

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  4. The complexity of opening X amounts of APPs with the main menu itself, I believe will also add into lower security.

    Keep information where it should be and when it should be. Actually, Mint is doing this thing right. If you search on a term, not only does the nearest application which matches the term show in the search result list. You also get option to either add that application or remove it, and as I recall it, go to wikipedia for that term. That is also action based. It only shows when the user really arte looking for it. Else, the main menu in Mint Mate acts as just that – a quick menu application launcher. Nothing more.

    And, I could add what is happening in the main menu Slingshot in elementaryOS. It have icons, but NOT animated ones
    (!) and a search field, from within you can search for application… or do math. It’s also a nice concept, because it still keeps all the complexity away from the user unless he really needs it.

    The main thing here is, the search field is the launcher of advanced funtions, and that is the way it SHOULD be to be user friendly. …Actually you could built in a small terminal in that search field, but yeah… But if the search field is not used, it’s just a quick app launcher. That is IMO really the ingenious part. And, why I will never ever use anything which even remotely looks like Windows8+

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  5. While I can see the value of the “live info” type of plasmoids, I’m not sure that it makes sense to embed them in a traditional type menu – to me it seems that they are there because you were looking for a place to store them, not so much because they add value to the typical use of a launcher menu.

    I think they actually make much more sense in a fullscreen launcher (eg Homerun or similar) where space is not at so much of a premium. Maybe there is also some way to integrate them into what is currently the Widget Dashboard (ctrl + F12) and turn this into a hybrid dash/launcher.

    From personal experience, I rarely use the launcher menu anyway – for launching applications I use krunner. Currently I have file search disabled in krunner and use Milou for this (Using meta + F2). Note this is in KDE4 – the combined krunner in Plasma 5 seems to handle the mix of applications/files a bit better although I have only experimented with it so far, not used it full-time. This isn’t exactly discoverable though once you get used to this workflow it’s much more cumbersome to access applications any other way.

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    1. While I am not KDE user, allow me to reply to this anyways.

      This is the exact reason for not wanting the window10 design style.

      Having consistently updated “apps” in a main menu is awkward. If I want to look how the weather is, I have a nice indicator (cloudy and 11 degrees celcius at the moment) in the system tray.

      Clicking this icon, I get further options.

      This is action based. It doesn’t go in the way of what I’m doing, but I can still get to its advanced functions quickly when needed. It’s very much also following design rules of unobtrusive design. Do not disturb me when not needed!

      The main menu is for launching applications quickly, not more than that. This is also why this menu shouldn’t ever be full screen, as it breaks the users work flow, when the user cannot keep an eye on where he’s coming from. Which Microsoft… somehow? seemed to have realized now.

      The constantly changing icons is not and will never be user freidnly. Like you write, they all constantly “call for a reaction” and it stresses the user quite a lot, adding further to complexity and breaking work flow.

      There is a reason why in web design world we got rid of pages filled with ani GIFs. It was a HUGE annoyance to the user. And it still is now, when ads are shown in huge banners, also changing all the time. Ask yourself… why so many install adblockers. This is a very good reason.

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  6. The plasmoids in launcher concept looks great. It’s better and more functional than Win10 will ever be.
    The great thing about KDE is that it’s open and customizable so I am sure someone at some point will make a real launcher like that.
    I don’t think this feature in particular would be that hard to implement, unlike the others in these “what if” articles.

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  7. Your final note reflects well my opinion on plasmoids. For example, I sometimes need to quickly set a timer up (when I cook something) but the current way to add a plasmoid timer looks just cumbersome to me.

    Not sure if this is really related to your post but I love the fact that I can embed plasmoids in panels. In there, they don’t take too much space and are still quickly accessible. However, I don’t think I can associate a specific panel (and a set of embedded plasmoids) with each of my virtual screens (please correct me if I missed something…)

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  8. Windows 10 does that horribly. Your mock-ups on the other hand are very beautiful. The design is much more coherent. I’d like to have W10-like launcher menu with integrated plasmoids. Even more having plasmoids open in new windows is actually needed. I’ve been using KDE for a long time and plasmoids are still pretty much unused by me, folder view and notes aside which can handily be overlayed above others with ctrl+F12. I like these things.

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  9. I absolutely love your thoughts, ideas and designs…

    I think this could even go further : launch the weather plasmoid from some panel/live-tile, etc., get the current weather view… maximize the window : it adapts to a full-blown weather application. The transition would be seemless.

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  10. I find these designs very elegant a pretty consistent with the overall kde theme. I specially find the start menu very well though out and really opens up new possibilities. I critize only the choice of showing plasmoids as a integrant part of the menu since they seem a bit out of place, at least for me. I’m no design expert, but perhaps a flat version of the plasmoids are more well suited for this purpose (maybe monocolor like the symbolic icons?). I feel a more focused collection of customized plasmoids with a consisten look can take the kde menu to the next level, and these concept art images realy shine and make want to test them out as soon as possible. Keep up the awesome work 😉

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