KDE's Panel Vacuum

KDE's Panel Vacuum

I’m quite amazed by how technologies which I used to discard as ‘hype’ (like, Solid or Phonon or so) actually seem to work. For real. Maybe I should feel a bit of shame but I don’t since this reflex of being sceptical of projects which have a fancy code name but not visible code base has proven quite useful in the past – helps to avoid working on vapourware.

Anyway, one of the KDE features of which I didn’t see anything other than mockups yet is KDE’s new panel framework thing dubbed Plasma. I was aware of the fancy web page for some time now (now that I view that page again – what the heck is ‘Appeal’? appeal.kde.org redirects to www.kde.org – is that an omen already?) but still, I didn’t actually *see* it yet. Of course, it’s listed as some integral part of the KDE4 architecture, but that’s pretty much all the information I could get out of KDE’s tech base regarding Plasma.

Okay, not quite. There’s the Plasma project page in the techbase. Unfortunately I can’t claim that it made things any less shady for me. Call me a pessimist but I don’t think that it’s a good sign the Raport Menu Plasmoid has a fancy logo but no code. Maybe I’m lacking vision or professionalism but I prefer to have something before I give it a logo or a name. And something means something which I can compile and run and fix.

Well, I’m not trying to be a naysayer here but I think that the situation around Plasma is kind of… shady. My impression is that it’s –> <– this close to dieing the dreaded buzzword hype death. On the other hand, this is maybe not such a bad thing…

I can imagine that, in the case parts of the Plasma/Appeal vision would be dropped, there would be a vacuum in KDE – we don’t have a functional panel, but we need one. This would be a pretty good opporturnity for new developers to chip in and just come up with something fancy (if you ask me, it can be pretty experimental and doesn’t have to look like a panel at all). If you had something which more or less reproduces the functionality of Kicker, then it wouldn’t be too hard to defend its place in KDE given that there are no alternatives. And with a bit of luck, your software will be part of the KDE 4.x releases – a pretty visible piece of software, too.

So, since I’m always a fan of new experiments on the desktop, I was wondering how such a replacement might look like. My latest crazy idea was to replace the dull K-Menu with some Serenity-style orb. This doesn’t have anything to do with Serenity the movie (which is a bit of a pity, I like Morena Baccarin), I’m referring to a World of Warcraft (yes, I’m addicted to it) addon with the same name.

The basic idea is to hide a lot of features (which are composed into some sort of hierarchy) into an orb which is surrounded by other smaller orbs. You can get a rough idea of what it looks like by looking at this screenshot. For the K-Menu replacement, the idea is that by default the large circle in the middle shows a big ‘K’ icon (or a clock maybe) and it’s surrounded by a few other icons like ‘Programs’, ‘Settings’, ‘Favorites’ and such. After clicking on any of the icons, they move to the middle and get larger, so that they replace the ‘K’ circle. Now, a new set of icons shows up around the larger Programs icon (one icon per application, for instance).

You can navigate back up in the hierarchy by right-clicking on the middle icon. Even better, if you manage to not have too many items in one layer (for instance, not more than eight icons visible at once for any given menu) then you could use the WEDCXZAQ keys to access any of the eight buttons (clock-wise). Combining that with Backspace (which means ‘navigate back up’), you can zoom through menu hierarchies very quickly. And you always need the same amount of screen space (which is nice if you look at how large some KDE menus become – and if you are unfortunate enough to move the mouse off some menu, then all menus collapse again).

21 Comments

  1. Tyler 13 years ago

    I didn’t understand exactly what you described as a replacemente (surely because of my bad english) but I do agree about kicker. It’s too old and very uncomfortable compared to the way gnome panels are organized.
    There is too much stuff on kicker, and it’s a mess.

    I would like to have improvements in it, like pop-up notifications, a strigi search bar just like the tracker one in gnome (I know strigi is not at tracker’s level yet). And especially a new way to display open windows, maybe something similar to Avant-window-navigator.

    About the K-menu… I hate those replacementes like kbfx or kick-off, they are totally ugly, they take half of the screen space and they are slow, you take too much to find an application (also for this reason I love katapult).

    Let’s hope we’ll see some exciting new features on this front in KDE4, or it’ll be a big delusion.

  2. Eatme 13 years ago

    Well, the Raptor page prodes the link to the svn repository which shows regular changes and commits by at least one user.
    Also, Aaron Seigo is maybe the main person behind Plasma, so there is at least one developer who takes the rap if Plasma fails.

    But I have to admit that I also wonder in what state Plasma is – the first promisses like this one:
    http://img125.imageshack.us/img125/9743/kicker4transparentfloatingexpa.gif
    where pretty impressive, but I haven’t seen anything like that lately…

  3. Serhiy 13 years ago

    What I can actually see in the svn repository is that what is called rator menu is just a latest kbfx without any major differences in gui design. But I think that from we already have a much better idea and implementation of Suse’s kickoff menu. I find idea with different tabs in menu and the way they are organized great.

    Why don’t adopt kickoff as default menu for KDE 4?

  4. Sam 13 years ago

    I am trying to stay tuned with latest kde new and I am disturbed with the status of plasma. If there is not enough people to maintain this project maybe it is better not to deliver it as part of default KDE distribution. Because it is a radical change and there should be someone available to maintain it though the life cycle of KDE 4x.

    I do want so that KDE improved panel and start menu but maybe it is better just to define realistic tasks and work on them. Instead of speaking of something really revolutionary.

  5. mon1 13 years ago

    I hope they include something like Gnome’s gimmie or the OS X dock– I like having all winodws of a given application pop up when I click on their icon, plus it’s really pretty. I know many geeks love taskbar navigation and hate the OS X way, but I’ve tried OS X and loved the whole dock/menubar experience (KDE already has the menu bar part). For me a taskbar is a relic from the past.

  6. Siraj Razick 13 years ago

    We can’t publish Raptor Mocks yet as Plasma API is at a very early stage..but work is going on in playground… but there are few concepts we are building … http://nookie.kbfx.org/pics/raptor/

    Bye 🙂


    Sj

  7. kwilliam 13 years ago

    I have the same misgivings. The “Road to KDE4” series hasn’t had anything on Plasma, and I haven’t seen any new screenshots since I first visited the Plasma site months ago. Actually, the mockup just mentioned (http://img125.imageshack.us/img125/9743/kicker4transparentfloatingexpa.gif) is one of the only mockups I know of. 🙁 My dream of Plasma was something that let Superkaramba widgets move into and out of the Kicker; widgets that took on different shapes depending on whether they were embedded in the kicker or free floating. However, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a Plasma of some sort will emerge. Maybe it’s not too hard to write these things, and it will miraculously appear at the last minute? Anyway, I’ll be happy simply if Superkaramba is integrated into KDE, uses real transparency, and I can use a hot key to make all the widgets appear (like Apple’s Dashboard). Again, it would be *nice* if Plasma completely blew away every panel and widget engine that has come before, but the new underlying technologies in KDE4 (dbus, Qt4, strigi, etc) are going to make development for KDE so sweet, I think I’m gonna LOVE KDE4 regardless.

    (Regarding the kicker: I actually like it. It beats the heck out of the Windows equivalent. Maybe *your* kicker isn’t functional, but mine has app launchers, CPU monitors, workspace switchers, date and time, you name it. I’ve even seen applets on kde-look.org that display your Amarok now-playing song info.)

    Regarding the K-Menu: I tried KBFX. (Mediocre) Tasty-menu. (Decent, but too big.) and Suse Kickoff (Good, but the interface doesn’t feel consistant with the rest of KDE, and navigation is SOO SLOOOW.) Frankly, *anything* will be an improvement on the KDE3 K-menu, so I’m not too worried. What I really hope is that meta-information about installed programs, when they were last used, etc, is available to any applet, so anyone can write a Kicker Applet that is a “K-Menu”.

    Regarding “taskbar is a relic from the past”: Agreed! I have my own ideas about how the taskbar/system tray system could be superceeded. If the API for writing taskbars and system trays is easy enough in KDE4, I may try it.

    @ Siraj Razick: (Will people quit posting each time I hit Refresh? I’ll never finish this comment, lol.) Hey, that looks alright. I particularly like the first pic. Like you said, it looks like “a very early stages” but admittedly, KDE4 is still several months away.

  8. Radick 13 years ago

    @Tyler
    I hate kbfx too.
    But I really like kickoff. Yes it takes more space than traditional menu but you have almost everything you need in one place. These are the programs list with ability to search, “placesâ€? and “favoritesâ€?. I think that design of kickoff is really innovative and is great.

  9. Radick 13 years ago

    @Siraj Razick
    Can I ask you where is this mockup from?
    I mean are you creating such mockups by yourself or you conduct some usability studies? Because I can’t imagine how are you going to use this.
    According to techbase

    The main goal of Raptor is to deliver a unique menu for KDE, which is easy …

    Why is the main goal is to be unique but not to be usable and convenient???
    I agree that your mockups are something unique. But from my point of view it something absolutely not usable.

  10. Pablo 13 years ago

    While your contribution seems nice, it’s radical enough that it would be preferable to conduct a number of usability studies before deciding whether to use it or not. In fact, the panel is one of the most visible elements in a user desktop (e.g. it is featured in almost all of the screenshots you can find when looking for a new distro) , so I believe the safest bet is for the design to be an evolution over what we currently have.

    It’s also quite clear that people often want many different and even contradicting features in such a limited space, so plug-in support is definitely a plus (and was one of the main things behind Plasma IIRC, which is why it would be a shame seeing that project die)

    P.S. I *hate* captchas :S

  11. Paul Giannaros 13 years ago

    Interesting food for thought; it is indeed one of the few projects that you don’t hear much about in commit digests, and that’s not a good thing. Either there is not much work happening on it, or work IS happening but “behind the scenes” to cover it in a red curtain that’ll be shed at release… both of those are disturbing ideas — the second because it will leave too little time for per review. As there seems to be only one main developer, we might be receiving one person’s (well-meaning, no doubt!) ideas and notions on what is good and right, with possibly a handful of usability studies used as ammunition.
    Plasma was always one of the foggiest and most attractive (possibly for that reason) of the technologies to be added to KDE4. It gave people a taste for “ooh shiny” that I think KDE4 looks set to not provide :-(. Could we get more detail on current status and feasibility of completion in time for 4.0? I know people are constantly saying “not everything will be there for 4.0 and that’s fine!”, but plasma is such a core, hyped element that people will feel like they are not getting what was promised.

    With regards to raptor: it does seem frighteningly similar to Kickoff — just with less space, a collection of unintuitive icons (I couldn’t tell what they did by looking at them), and what appears to be a Konqueror swiss-army approach, with the last screenshot showing a picture in the menu! I suggest you see the (excellent) usability studies conducted for Kickoff (the PDF used for the talk at FOSDEM is at http://files.opensuse.org/opensuse/en/b/bb/FOSDEM2007-Usability_Research_for_KDE_at_openSUSE.pdf ) and is very, very good. I strongly suggest it is considered in adoption for KDE4.

  12. Suslik 13 years ago

    Plasma – Vapor-ware? Not quite. Look up “krunnerâ€? somewhere in aseigo’s blogs.
    “Where is Plasma?â€? is a wrong question at this time. The better question is still: “What is plasma?â€? Based on traces of discussions in the last year, my understanding of intermediate goals for Plasma:
    “A ‘replacement’ (a) library/infrastructure, (b) scriptable with JS, Python, Ruby and friends, utilizing (advertising) newest and greatest (c) visual tricks in Qt4, and allowing core hackers (Aaron) to shift the weight of (d) Kicker applets (and to some extent, (e) KDesktop-related functionality) tweaking from themselves, onto the (f) enthusiastic public. Based on the new, cool (g) API, enthusiastic public will create some (h) applets/widgetsâ€?
    The job of (e) killing Kdeskop and moving its functionality to “Plasmaâ€? (a) library is almost accomplished. (see Krunner as an example) I am uncertain if (d) Kicker’s core functionality (task management, etc) was moved into (a) libplasma yet.
    The (c) visual tricks, like true transparency, acceleration and compositing for desktop widgets (based on QGV) are tested quite successfully on the SuperKaramba side.
    The (b) scriptable backend of the day – Kross is being worked on very heavily (and tested with SuperKaramba), but because of complete lack of agreed-upon / exposed / created (g) API in (a) libplasma, there is nothing to link Kross to in Plasma yet. “Where is the API?â€? is the #1 question in plasma channel. C++-based test widgets are available (clock, etc.), but there is no stable, usable, comprehensive Plasma _scripting_ API anywhere on the horizon. As such, no astonishing, groundbreaking widgets for you for KDE4. (Yeah! Prove me wrong! 🙂 )
    The reality of thing is, it was significantly easier to add _some_ “plasmaâ€? features to SuperKaramba, than bring entire API, infrastructure and ease-of-widget-creation of SuperKaramba to Plasma. So, it is possible that the hyped-up “Plasmaâ€? experience in KDE4 will really be only 15% real Plasma (Krunner, Task Management, things here and there) and 85% much improved SuperKaramba.

  13. kollum 13 years ago

    Hello there.
    As I understand, plasma is a whole lot of things, and many of them are already ok/testing.

    But please, do not make kickoff the kde menu unless I’m able to :
    put tabs content in the pannel instead of tabs (many menus). I’m fed up whith going left, right, left again, up, right and finaly click, where I would be able to go not so left, up, right, click)
    have a FAST browsing clicking in menus. No slow sliding blocs of entries. because, whel, the time I whait for it to slide, I’m waiting, and the menu is used far to often to lose my time looking at a sliding efect.

    I personaly tested old fashion Kmenu, Kickoff and KBFX, and the more usable is still the old KDE3 default one (as my own feelings).

  14. Johnny 13 years ago

    Maybe, just maybe, you should do some – or just a little bit – of research before coming out and saying that a ‘project’ is dead. A. Siego has been very open this last year about the state of plasma. I don’t think a project that is being actively coded on, has workable features and a modular scripting engine can quite be called ‘vaporware’.

    Seriously… Unable to find anything about plasma? Search the planet archives. Sheesh.

  15. Paul Giannaros 13 years ago

    “Plasma – Vapor-ware? Not quite. Look up “krunnerâ€? somewhere in aseigo’s blogs.”
    That is one little application (that basically replicates what Kickoff does). It’s meant to be proof that Plasma is live and kicking? I don’t think so.

    The intermediate goals that you mention have nothing to do with Plasma at all, so they really can’t be cited as a reason why we’re not seeing anything _new_. Kross was implemented primarily for KOffice/Kexi. QGraphicsView was already there. True transparency? Qt4 and a compositing manager.
    Plasmoids are obviously an integral part of it, but they can’t exist without whatever it is that is meant to host them, so there’s not much point asking for an API… As it stands it just looks like Plasma is set to merge kdesktop and Kicker and make it a little easier to start SuperKaramba applets. It really doesn’t appear to be the completely new concept we were hoping for.

  16. Paul Giannaros 13 years ago

    “A. Siego has been very open this last year about the state of plasma. I don’t think a project that is being actively coded on, has workable features and a modular scripting engine can quite be called ‘vaporware’.”

    The point, however, is that the one small item that is being flaunted about (krunner) is not the panel/desktop magic that Plasma is meant to be. The modular scripting engine is not Plasma specific at all…

    “Seriously… Unable to find anything about plasma? Search the planet archives. Sheesh.”
    Have any links? On aseigo’s blog I see 4 posts about krunner and 2 about plasma. Hurray.

  17. Kelly Clowers 13 years ago
  18. Author
    Frerich Raabe 13 years ago

    @Johnny & Kelly: I was assuming that mentioning all the pages I could find in three minutes which mention Plasma communicates that I’m aware of people *talking* (sorry, of course I meant ‘envisioning’) about Plasma. Unfortunately I’m apparently lacking the right gene or something, I don’t get any excitement from plans or visions or mockups or anything.

    My point is: last time I checked, the release schedule was more or less aiming at the May/June are for a feature freeze. Since I’m not seeing Plasma coming anytime soon (which is okay, don’t get me wrong), I’m pointing out that there might be a good spot for other people to jump in and simply do *something* nifty. I’m saying that pretty much everybody agrees that Kicker (or at least the menu) is kinda dull – in case Plasma doesn’t come around for the dot-zero release but maybe for .1, there’s still a need for something new, a vacuum.

    Of course you’d have to put the email addressesof a gajillion self-proclaimed usability experts in your killfile then in case you ever want to get sleep again, but oh well. 🙂

  19. link141 13 years ago

    For those of you that haven’t heard, the 1st alpha of KDE 4 is already out! I checked out this page: http://www.kde.org/announcements/visualguide-4.0-alpha1.php , it proves that plasma will make it in time, and that it’s being worked on. Just go down to the section where it says “Eyecandy and Plasma” and you’ll see a screenshot (although it’s still in a really early stage of development, so it’s not the prettiest thing in the world). From the looks of it, it appears that it will be composite-enabled, meaning true transparency!! I also downloaded the KDE Four live-cd, and tried it out. It worked pretty darn well for an alpha release, and the Run Command dialog (the first plasmoid) had snapping enabled as well as being able to float above windows. It didn’t have any kind of transparency implemented yet (afaik, could be in the composite-branch) but it worked well for a desktop widget. I’ve also read some articles where the KDE developers announced that plasma would also use animated SVGs and integrate with applications better (among other things). Afaik, almost all the major work under-the-hood on KDE 4 is nearly complete, and they’re going to start overhauling the interface soon. I have no fear KDE 4 will be an awesome new experience for the desktop.

  20. Siraj Razick 13 years ago

    The screenshot is Krunner.. not really plasma

  21. nookie 13 years ago

    Hi!

    I’m the one who are making all mocks of kbfx and raptor..
    As i always say if you don’t like it then don’t give a shit to use it right.

    Im currently designing raptor and i design it my way not as anybody else is telling me how to do or any usability team. Why i do this? Because one we want to show kde people that kde can contain some colors and look good and two the usability team ain’t always right..

    We will always continue to do this menu our way and that’s it!!
    When it comes to raptor none of people will see it until it’s done..
    Those are just mocks and will remain like that until menu is done and that doesn’t mean that menu will look like that.. None of you will ever know until we release it.

    Bye!
    /Nookie

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