Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Case for Configuration Options

KDE is criticized for having too many configuration options. Too complex, confusing, and in the end unnecessary. I will make the case, from real experience that options are necessary, along with easy to access configuration.

The Eeepc has a small screen, clear and bright but small nonetheless. Opening a browser window, with a window bar at the top, menu bar and toolbar leaves little space for the content. With a panel at the bottom and the screen is full of everything except what you want to look at. Same with other applications. The default KOrganizer has many panes showing interesting information, much of it filling corners that are left, but again with a small screen there is too much.

A standard configuration doesn't work. Hiding the panel, having a full screen browser, being able to show only the desired panes make it possible to use.

I wondered why Asus didn't use KDE as desktop in the stock simple mode. The answer became apparent as soon as the thing was set up. KDE takes too long to start. On my desktop machine this isn't an issue since I rarely shut the thing off.

From you post I don't understand if in the EeePC you have to customize KDE to better fit screen real estate or if Asus already did the job. In the 2nd case, which I suppose is the correct one, it has nothing to do with crowded configured panels or whatever, advanced options should exist but should no be directly exposed. It's distributor's work to create a sane default set.
Asus default is icewm with a very limited and tightly defined set of applications. To get the thing to boot into kde requires installing a couple of packages and renaming a file in /usr/bin as root. The kde that comes up is 3.5.4 (I think) from Xandros. Or as I did, installing a completely different distro.

The default setup is inadequate for my use.

If it is the distributor's work to create a sane default set, god help us. It is a nice sounding idea, but horrible in practice.

I know I'm late with my comments, but still :). You make an interesting case for wide and deep configurability in your post. That is, that configurability makes apps usable in limited systems like EEE, since you can configure them in such way that the content is presented in optimal way, when considering the small screen.

But to me this presents a whole different argument: An argument for sane defaults. I think that the UI should be clean and minimal by default, but with the possibility for users to add to it. If we go the opposite way, and show everything, while expecting users to remove what they do not need, we will intimidate new users. Newbies don't necessarily know how to configure the system. Powerusers who want advanced features know how to add those features. Why not cater to the newbies (who are unable to make changes), while giving the powerusers the option of changing things (which they are capable of doing)? Right now we do the opposite.

That said, it's been few years since I have been really involved with Linux. I have been in Mac-land for last few years, and before that I used GNOME. So it's been a while since I REALLY used KDE. But I'm thinking of giving it another go. And when I do, I will probably write another lengthy opinion-piece :)
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