Frans Englich frans.englich at telia.com
Wed Nov 9 17:12:35 GMT 2005

On Tuesday 08 November 2005 01:09, Paulo Moura Guedes wrote:
> Hi,
> I was just reading the news about Novell and noticed some people are having
> an identity crisis about KDE.
> I think the KDE desktop has an history and a way to do things and that it
> would be a petty to lose the users that just love the things they do with
> KDE and can't be done with any other desktop environment.
> Though, this doesn't mean we can't target to other kinds of users.
> It is said a lot that KDE applications are bloated with actions and
> configuration options. 

This debate, "GUI simplicity versus complexity"(or, replace with appropiate 
words depending on what team you cheer on), has gone on for years. I think 
one can find interesting points in it.

One can find somekind of consensus along the lines of "Alright, maybe not a 
complex GUI is good for beginners and normal users." The idea that Powerful 
and Flexible GUIs is delivered through an interface which is complex with 
tons of knobs, is still present, it's just that beginners & normal users 
needs to be protected from it.

When an API becomes complex or a code path inefficient, developers takes for 
granted that it needs fixing -- because good code is beautiful & simple -- 
and that it simply needs lots of work and iterative improvement, hundreds of 

When it comes to GUI design one rarely sees the questions "How can this 
mechanism be generalized such that it fits more than one user type?", "Can 
the program be made smarter and take the decision by itself?". I think 
currently the no.1 solution to GUI design problems is to add more: instead of 
making the program smarter, another knob is added. In other words, back to 
stone age: the software's inadequacy is compensated by the user baby sitting 

This GUI debate gets quickly emotional, and I think it's because it is not 
about engineering. It's about identity.

The average geek gladly puts on display his three remote controls, his modded 
PC-case with builtin lights, or all the knobs on his surround system. I think 
this complexity geeks like is transferred to GUI development. Thus, no wonder 
simplifications meets resistance, regardless of actual implications.[1]

One can surely find many points in men's happyness for toys in how today's 
technology looks and is marketed, but a good example is one of Bang & 
Olufsen's first hifi systems which was designed to look "scientific" in order 
to appeal to men(and it worked).

How to solve the problem of KDE's complexity is another topic. I don't think 
the start is to look at it as a practical usability problem of the type "What 
color should this widget have?", but to acknowledge that some actual like 
when a GUI looks complex and mean.



1. That's one of the paradoxes with good engineering. A good design doesn't 
look spectacular and advanced, it just is there for the user. Thus, one can't 
satisfy a silly ego with good design because it doesn't look grandiose. 
Engineering is a service oriented business, it's there for consumers, users, 
not the creators.

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