It’s normal and it works

I read a comment on Phoronix recently that reminded me why I love KDE Plasma:

“KDE is normal and it works”

We can ignore the argument to which this is a response, and forgive alcade for confusing the name of the community with the desktop environment. Regardless, “KDE is normal and it works” is in a nutshell what I think makes KDE Plasma such a unique and shining point of light in the FOSS world.

Plasma uses a normal, familiar layout: Panel on the bottom with an app launcher, pinned apps, system tray, and clock; desktop icons; visible buttons that mostly have text labels; minimize/maximize/close buttons on windows. You know, normal stuff. You can change everything, but it starts out normal, unlike other desktop environment projects that are explicitly abnormal–being controversially opinionated about matters of design or having an unusual component layout. This is fine! Their departures from what’s normal may in fact be better, and their developers and users they certainly think so. But tons of people out there don’t want “may be better”, they want “normal.” And that’s fine too. Our software is for them.

And KDE Plasma works. It has its bugs, but it is basically a solid and reliable piece of technology that isn’t missing major features, either because of a lack of resources or because design decisions preclude supporting them. It is not a hobbyist science project missing key functionality that might break entirely. It doesn’t re-invent itself every year or two and become something different that might stop meeting your needs or tastes. It has actionable plans for adapting to industry changes surrounding it that are actively being carried out; it is not on a path to become obsolete or a technical dead end. No, it’s just it’s an imperfect and boring piece of infrastructure you can nonetheless rely on.

I think the world needs something with those characteristics, and and that’s why I like it and work on it.

35 thoughts on “It’s normal and it works

  1. KDE Plasma is simply amazing. I run KDE since 20 years now and just love how it evolved. But even more importantly my parents and parents in law (>75) are running it as well. Certainly they sometimes call for help, as they would have done with Windows or Mac as well. Since a year both my kids (11/13) run it on their laptops and they certainly appreciate that they can adapt it to their own style. So in short for me it is this amazing flexibility that makes it so great (not even having touched on plasma mobile and the friendly community!!!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great thoughts. Besides being just ‘normal’, I love it for all those little things that make my everyday work so much easier. This really is software that is being developed with the user in mind — which does not seem to be the case with so many other products!

    I recently had to edit a number of file names in a folder by hand (no use case for a mass renamer) and I discovered that you can just use the arrow keys to move from file to file, while staying in edit mode. Objectively, this saved me just a few keystrokes (ENTER + F2’s), but subjectively, it made the difference between ‘cumbersome’ and ‘smooth’. It’s all those little things all over. Thanks so much, KDE developers!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. w00t?? I’ve been using KDE Plasma and Dolphin since 2008 and I never knew about that feature, I just tried it and it’s brilliant!

      Damn. I keep thinking there needs to be some kind of repository of KDE Plasma/apps usability features. There’s just so many.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. KDE has potential to be the leading linux desktop, and I think on Arch it’s becoming the most preferred one, what is needed is giving priority to stability and adding important features, for example replacing that broken baloo that needs purging after each heavy decompression or removing of big folder, and remove dependency with akonadi which means creating events, tasks, alarms, notes… could be done directly from calendar widget instead of relying on that broken akonadi that causes loosing data without any reason.

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    1. Please speak for yourself:

      I haven’t had any major issues with baloo in years, removing it would be really bad for usability. If it still has some serious bugs those should be fixed, but I haven’t experienced them (96k files indexed)

      About akonadi, the same. I think the biggest issue with akonadi is in the interacion with kmail. I love that I can add events and alarms in korganizer and then check them from kalendar or konsolecalendar, all thanks to akonadi.
      And I only had one case of lost emails but after thinking about it at the time I concluded that it was my onw fault.

      But kmail should really be fixed, when it works right is simply marvelous but the constant lag due to wating on akonadi, failure to filter emails, duplicaiton of emails, etc make it a daily struggle (unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be better alternatives for my particular use case)

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      1. +1 for baloo: It used to be IN my way, but now it IS my way — it’s sooo easy to locate and open files! For example, I have thousands of PDF files (scientific articles) organized in an elaborate folder structure, and I can almost instantly open them by typing just a few key words into KRunner. 🙂

        +1 also for the comment on KMail, I really on it heavily for work and I think it is the one best desktop MUA on earth, but it does have its issues (lag etc.), and unfortunately, there does not seem to be much development going on. 😦

        As for Akonadi, well, let’s say I can easily CTRL+R in my Konsole and find the line `akonadictl restart & disown`…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I failed to mention that if baloo really bothers you (it *can* be a pain on a slow HDD) you can configure it to only index names of files and not their contents, or even disable it altogether.

        In fact, on a shared PC at $WORK (Kubuntu 18.04) we used to disable it for performance reasons but since recent versions (we switched to Kubuntu 20.04) it doesn’t affect us that much.

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  4. Really application windows opening in corners with an inappropriate size are application bugs?
    I use KDE since 1996 and this is one of the obvious reasons that stresses my desktop experience.
    In multi-monitor setups with different resolution screens it is very unpleasant either with Wayland or X11. Dolphin doesn’t remember its last used window size and Konsole in background-mode always opens in a tiny window, no matter what was its last window size. Most other application window/dialogs don’t remember their window size or have to be enlarged most of the time.
    Don’t know how Gnome or other DEs behave but maybe these window sizing “bugs” should be considered VHI priority if they aren’t already.

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    1. Applications opening in corners is a window manager decision which was changed in Plasma 5.24, so that’s addressed now.

      Apps opening with windows that are too small by default is an app issue, yes. Apps decide the default sizes of their windows.

      Apps are also responsible for remembering their window sizes and positions. On Wayland in the future we might be able to remember window positions, but apps will always be responsible for setting and remembering their window sizes.

      It’s the same in GNOME.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for the explanation. Anyway, if apps are responsible for setting their window sizes, KDE developers are responsible for applying sane window size defaults. Task Manager and many systemsettings window dialogs (mostly all the shortcuts dialogs) are way too small to be used without changing their sizes. Dolphin and Konsole, at least in a multimonitor setup, don’t remember their size, with Konsole always opening in a tiny window. And these are all core KDE apps. Lukily custom window rules come at handy!

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          1. or was it if the left-most had a different size than the others? something like that, don’t remember exactly and don’t want to read the entire report again.

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          2. It might be your first guess: I use a laptop to which I connect a TV (when working from home) or a monitor (when at the office), both of which are different size than my laptop’s panel.

            They always go to the right of my laptop’s and windows usually remember their positions and sizes.

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  5. Definitely. Apart from that time with Dolphin and menus (space for items in toolbars etc) where it seemed like people were jumping the gun on changes, which seems like an out of character hiccup now and probably just people getting excited about new things, the user experience has been very stable and dependable personally.

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  6. Made myself a ‘golden image’ of KDE Neon with 5.24 and all my apps. Maintain it in a VM and spin to a custom, live install-able ISO with “Penguin’s Eggs” (Finally, after tons of searching, something that works for this well! And can go over 4GB!).

    First reason was just to test, but now I think it’s ready to deploy on my PCs. It’s almost weird how using it feels like a huge relief. I had almost gotten used to expecting something I use to be removed upon every new GNOME release. That’s not even a knock. It’s just reality. I have family looking at this now after buying a new laptop with Windows 11 and curious about KDE Neon taking it’s place. No pressure, no “run Linux!!!”. Just some everyday folk seeing it for themselves and going “I think I’d rather have that”. That’s a pretty good indication that this train is on the right track.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. “Normal” is a loaded word, of course. Back in 1994, Jef Raskin argued that “Intuitive equals Familiar” (google it), and I think that’s the case here: 79-year old Windows users can sit down with a KDE system and make it work because they are familiar with its design, and have already learned how to use it. Users get grumpy when Gnome and KDE make changes that make existing knowledge obsolete and require new learning. But it is unlikely that major improvements to functionality will preserve familiarity.

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    1. Improvement is equally extremely subjective. Most people aren’t Data from Star Trek, reacting at high speed, so speed metrics for desktop use aren’t very relevant. A key “measurement” of functionality is whether the user can put things where they want them, even if defaults are supposedly new and improved.

      There’s nothing really new anyway, unless you’re looking at VR which pops up every few years over the decades and quietly gets put back into its box. Mouse use, keyboard shortcuts, layouts, gestures, etc are all old and anyone claiming their take on things to be modern is essentially just masturbating about being able to influence other people’s defaults (or taking them away in the case of Gnome).

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  8. I am using KDE because this same desktop paradigm has endured for decades now. For me it is plenty functional, and I don’t feel it has had to change too much to remain so. Someone from 1995 could feel fairly at-home with this interface, and yet I don’t find it “antiquated”. I think that is a powerful endorsement.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Don’t care for GNOME. Never have. Feels too tablet-like for a computer. I’d rather use Xfce or KDE.

    Each to their own, though.

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  10. Even Linus agrees when he was pressed on KDE. “It’s fine,” he said. And I don’t disagree – sure, some rare case needs to be better accounted for (like the notification possibly not being noticeable in larger screens) but UX wise it was…. fine.

    That I could go from a Windows-like default UX to a more macOS-like UX on Garuda and any other distro and have THAT be reliably working just fine across updates is what wins *me*, but ultimately, I think the default is fine.

    I personally would love some sort of built-in UX changer by default though. I know global themes can change that, but something that’s included by default so that it’s available in every distro (*cough* Fedora *cough*). It’s the main selling point of FerenOS, Zorin, Manjaro-Gnome, and Ubuntu Budgie for me, but feels weirdly under represented in KDE side.

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  11. I like KDE – it doesn’t get in your way. There weren’t always bright times, the KDE 4 migration was “rough”.
    But I sticked to KDE.

    I don’t like a workflow being forced up on me (e.g. GNOME / Apple), nor a complete disaster of “yeah we started an migration, then another one, but we don’t finish any of it” (Windows).

    That’s the part that makes KDE in my opinion right—when KDE as a community and project start something, they finish it.

    Especially a huge thanks to Nate and the whole KDE devs for keeping the planet alive and the amount of information that comes from it.

    Many projects leave one “hanging” without any detail of what’s going on and when – which is different, from my opinion, with KDE as a project and it’s community.

    Reading Planet KDE gives you always a glimpse of what’s going on, even if you don’t participate actively in the community, you don’t feel left out and know in what direction the project / community is headed and the awareness level of the project / community.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Praising KDE/Plasma as something “normal” feels a bit weird and uncanny to me. Doesn’t being “normal” in this context just implicate that something works roughly the same way than the majority of computer users is used to? While this _might_ be something positive, it makes no general assumption about the quality of the thing that is considered “normal” (look at all the really terrible things being done in human history that nevertheless represented some sort of “normality”). For example, experiencing bugs or crashes is unfortunately something normal for many people using computers, but I think nobody wants KDE/Plasma to be “normal” in this regard 😉
    Also, doesn’t KDE/Plasma represent currently sort of a niché as a desktop environment compared to the most mainstream ones like Windows and MacOS, especially in being Free Software and protecting your privacy? That’s why I would consider KDE/Plasma to be something very special (in a positive way!) rather than something “normal”. And isn’t the particular goal of KDE to provide a highly flexible and configurable desktop something that makes it different from other (more “normal”) desktops, and something that many people especially love about KDE?
    So to cut this short, in this comment I want to celebrate KDE a bit for being extraordinary instead of normal 🙂

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  13. I like both GNOME and KDE. I really liked that you can now have Activities Overview in KDE, and would like to see both DEs grow in their own ways 🥳

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  14. Yeah, considering the way that GTK4 apps fonts look now with greyscale-only rendering, Plasma and KDE apps are normal and work. It amazes me how everyone in Gnome dev world are so HiDPI-minded that they just literally say “fo” to all who have normal FullHD screens.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hey Nate,

    I was reading through the comments on Phoronix and I noticed you said you were working to stop the Internet connection notification on login as you agreed it was a “UX bug”.

    I find it useful when I am using networks where we need to provide login through a web page. I think it is called captive portals in the industry. The notification has a subtitle of “You need to login to this network” and there is a “Login” button within it. This is common in airports, cafes, coworks, and in some corporative environments.

    Sorry if it is not clear enough, English is not my native language, but I hope you get what I meant.

    Please when working in this feature take that case in consideration. I am not always opening a web browser upon login and I am afraid some services, such as Akonadi, would not prompt me to do this extra step and I end up missing something that needs internet connection.

    By the way, thanks for all the hard work both on KDE and in this blog. Very much appreciated.

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    1. You’re welcome!

      Your use case shouldn’t be affected; the change I made only suppresses “Connection activated” notifications sent within the first 10 seconds of logging in. All other notifications (such as the “Captive portal” notification) are unaffected during that time, and “Connection activated” notifications will be sent normally after the time has elapsed.

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  16. I think that KDE is indeed close to being intuitive and normal, but only let down by the minimize/maximize/close buttons being designed to look cool, rather than visually represent what the buttons do. I think the “ClassiK” window decoration hits this problem on the head rather nicely and would be a better default.

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  17. Typing this up again since idk if it properly went through the first time

    One thing that I think adds an extra layer to the “it’s normal and it works” thing with KDE is that the same applies to quite a few other DEs. Cinnamon is also gonna feel familiar to Windows users, as would vanilla Budgie. Some distros’ default layouts for MATE, Xfce, LXQt and LXDE are also gonna feel pretty similar to older versions of Windows. KDE, MATE, Budgie and Xfce can also be molded into something more familiar to Mac users – Ubuntu Budgie even uses a Mac-like layout as its default layout.

    Even elementary OS’s Pantheon DE, while less familiar to Windows users, is gonna have that “it’s normal and it works” feeling to Mac users.

    Meanwhile vanilla GNOME feels like this weird lovechild of a tablet UI and a TWM, and while I think that’s really interesting, it’s very odd to get used to in a desktop setting. I really wanna try it on a tablet though.

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