Solid Ideas VS Glass Ideas

When my postings could not get more weird than this, I am going to take you through a few ideas of mine on the elements that conform the KDE desktop on OpenSUSE. These ideas may not have been thought of as the new KDE 4 was being developed but this is my personal take on it. I am trying to understand the basic idea behind the KDE desktop stylistic elements as shown by the Plasma Desktop and in OpenSUSE.

From what I remember, the Plasma desktop wanted to be a full rewrite of the underlining technologies that were part of KDE. One focus of the graphical developers of KDE was a stress on glossiness or rather glassiness. I think that many of them, although there are many differences, used Windows Vista as an inspiration for the desktop. KDE graphic developers stressed glassy looks and a lot of shine in the widgets. They created the Oxygen theme, which at the beginning was pretty rough but still people found it interesting and soft.

I remember when Nuno Pinheiro showed me some of the early mockups for the upcoming Oxygen window style and I loved it. He told me, at the time, that although this style was beautiful, there was a great bridge that had to be crossed between design and practicality. The style looked great on the mockups but, in my opinion, still not the same as the mockups. Another thing was also pointed out somewhat to Nuno, and it was the fact that the style lacked contrast. I believe this is still true, the Oxygen style needs better contrast and better outlining.

But these things aside, the overall idea of the KDE 4 desktop, at least on the front face of it, was to give it a shiny and glossy look. My problem with this approach, which sometimes is unorganized because of the many contributors to the project, that KDE has lost sight of what they really want the desktop to look like. They seem to rather focus on what the desktop "can do," not what it "can look."

If I compare basic thought and ideas that I associate to glass, I always think of things that I can touch but very carefully, such as a flower vase, a chandelier, a glass of water. These objects are artfully molded but very delicate. I want to appreciate them but not touch them.

However, when I think of solidity, I associate this word to things like rocks, metal, strength. These objects can be molded in many different ways and they do not seem to break. They are rigid and they feel solid enough that I can rely on their strength or sturdiness.

When it comes to graphical environment design, I see many differences and even confusion as to what the idea behind the whole is. I believe that there should be an overall idea behind the construction of a GUI, but as of right now OpenSUSE seems to be a little divided between the solids and the glassy elements of its KDE desktop.

Here is a solid-like design that I got to use a long time ago. I love QNX. It was only 45 MB and it was very nice looking. I think it still is, but now it's not so readily available.

Others have decided that transparency and glassy ideas are better. I just think it could lead to confusion.

Where does OpenSUSE stand on this?

OpenSUSE has a mix of various solid and glassy elements on it. The solid comes from the Oxygen window style. A very pretty element, but in my opinion, I think it lacks contrast that can give better understanding of its solidity as a window. Maybe a different color scheme or, even better, a brand new style just made for OpenSUSE. One that can bring out the beauty of the green and gray.

OpenSUSE also shows solidity on the Kickoff menu. But even here there are design elements that can be improved. For example, the way the colors and highlights are used seem very insubstantial. They do not clearly show what you are selecting. Again, an element that adds confusion to the overall line between solid and glass.

An area where SUSE shows glass is on the panel. It is equipped with a few icons for the Internet, desktop switching and it features a few buttons, plus the system tray at the right end. System tray however, does not seem solid. The same goes for the buttons featured in the panel appearance control.

I know well that this sounds like rant against KDE 4 and OpenSUSE, but I assure you that it is not. This is just an attempt to find an overall scheme in the design of OpenSUSE.

What should OpenSUSE do about glass versus solid?

So, OpenSUSE should try to look solid. Why? because solidity shows a stronger idea of strength and reliability. Glass looks are good and glossy, they are very eye candy, but could give the impression that it is something that can't be touched.

This means that OpenSUSE should have it's own window style, with custom buttons and window borders. Do not use Oxygen. Change the overall plasma theme and use graphics that show solidity. Use for example an updated version of the Domino style:


Is Creating Graphical Environments an Artistic Endeavor?

I have worked on my blog for the past two weeks and I have received a few comments about what a desktop is and is not. I guess this is something that the KDE and Gnome people would be very much concerned about. I created a project called "OpenSUSE  Revolution" in a personal effort to make SUSE understand that they really need to stand out and create better design. This is to make OpenSUSE more accepted by people who are migrating to Linux. To me, this is something that involves art and good design.

I compared a couple of ideas on the desktop to a piece of art by Cezanne. In it, I explained that this expressionist painting was able to make people who looked at it, understand that although it is expressionism, you still understand the shapes and forms in it and relate them to elements in real life. Later, I received this comment "A desktop is a tool, not a piece of art." Is this true? I want to put this question to you all.

To me, being an artist is something that extends beyond the scope of pictures and sculptures. Art is a form of expression to beautify things around you. I believe this is definitively something that can reach the Linux desktop as well. But every time people in the Linux community receive a push for artwork of a better quality, along come people who simply think this way, that your desktop is "just a tool."

One could say the same things about cars. A merely utilitarian tool, right? If this is so, then why do these companies have to spend so much time and effort designing new model of car. They hire people who can design something beautiful that is attractive to people so that they buy it. Then, making a car becomes a work of art, where art will become a functional mean to create attention and potential sales.

One could say the same thing about houses, furniture, etc. The list could go on and on. But one thing is clear, although the Linux desktop is a tool for everyday use it is by no means a tool that is devoid of artistic expression. This is the reason why it is so important for people involved with graphical environments to make the Linux desktop better looking. They work hard into making it pretty usable and a masterpiece.

The problem comes when you want to make your desktop prettier than it is. When your ideas are something that involves art. To make the Linux desktop better and prettier requires an artistic endeavor, then it becomes harder to do because there are those who think that involving art and computers is simply not possible and stupid. Certain people just do not understand the artistic world. They think that placing some glossy buttons on the desktop is as far as you go with being "artistic" on your graphical environment.

Art is design, design is artistic. You cannot separate the two. If you are going to design a graphical environment, you will always aim for what is better. That includes art.

Art is expression that speaks to the mind and senses. Art is part of our daily lives. When I use a graphical environment I look for what looks best. That which is simple and pretty. I enjoy an environment that is flexible enough that will allow me to customize it. Change the buttons, wallpapers, style, etc.

If you think differently, post it. But I doubt my opinion will change.


Combined ideas about SUSE and KDE

Hello you all.

I just created a simple animation that could become a replacement for the waiting bar when Suse is launching. I think that having something like a throbber or spinner is better than having a progress bar. Why? because progress bars are nice but they have a "promise" within them. The promise is that once the bar reaches the end, then you will have your desktop ready to use. Spinners, however, do not have this promise in them and are still able to convey the idea that you have to wait until the system loading is over. I tried a few things before like this:

Of course, that was a little rough. I used more as a proof of concept, not the final product. Then I worked on it a little harder and this is what I got:


Better Design

Because you guys have been so great and have visited my blog about 3000 times now. I have decided to make a little investment on it. I went to campus (Yes, I am a college student) and decided to get a drawing tablet. It's a basic one, the Bamboo Pen made by Wacom. I like it a lot and it does feel easier for me to start coming up with conceptual artwork for the blog. I think better design is related to having better tools and I hope that from now on, the idea posted on this blog become more appealing to you.

If for some reason, you are not satisfied with my designs, bear in mind that I am not a graphics artist nor a computer science student. I study history, from the Middle East, so although I now about ancient design, it's hard for me to come up with something very professional. Either way, enjoy and this Wacom is a gift to your visits and great comments.


A Revolutionary Road to Get Around.

Hey you all. I would first like to thank all of you who have visited this website and looked at the ideas I have posted. I am deeply honored that many of you too have considered these ideas worthwhile and would like to see them implemented.

Well, here comes a good one I think. As I was talking to some people on the KDE IRC channel yesterday, there was a comment made about a possible way to orient new KDE users on how to use the desktop. However, I believe that users should be left clues to discover their desktop on their own. There should not be an intro popup or anything like that. Ponder about this for a moment.

What can you say, for example, about paintings. Paintings are not "explained" to anyone. You look at it and you get it in your own particular way. That is enough for you and you know what it means. The clues left by the artist are clear enough to your mind that you find meaning in the painting. You intuitively "know" what the purpose of the painting is. Reflect for a moment on this Cezanne and know what it means.

Nature morte (Paul Cézanne)

Beautiful. I love this painting.

Anyway, for KDE this idea is not very clear, I think, neither is it for the folks at OpenSUSE. Here is what they do:

You see that huge pop up in the middle of the desktop? I sure do, and if anything, it does not feel like it's there to teach me what the desktop does. Not for novice people either. Just think of the message at the bottom about the "build service" provided by OpenSUSE (which is excellent). That is certainly not geared to me. Moreover, there is a link within it where you can find an "introduction to KDE" which ends up being an internet link. How does this, if I may ask, teach anyone how to use the buttons and bars located behind this huge pop up?

It reminds me of this

And my behavior toward pop up windows has not changed since I started using the Internet. I close the pop up. I do not want it there. I believe this is a behavior shared by many, given the fact that novice users are Internet users primarily. The Internet is easier to use than many apps in their computers.

Here is the Revolution Idea that I thought of. I have seen things like these before and they have worked great for me. Simply add a notification upon first start. Give 2 simple instructions and then let the user discover.

Two simple instructions that can lead to great discovery. No Internet links, no desktop blockers, just empowering instructions. These notifications can go away after clicking each of them, I guess, and they could come back if there was a link on the desktop or something of the sort.

I know what you're thinking, the notification on top does not describe the menu that is showing there. Don't worry, I know that. It's just that I love the BeOS like menu up there. But the plasma widget selector is a good one too.

Tell me what you think. Let's make this idea grow. And in case you are wondering where all these ideas are coming from, here is the book that inspires me the most.

Don't feel like you have to get the book, you'd better check out his blog. Garr is an amazing presenter and designer.


New Logo!!!

Hey friends, as you may notice I made a new logo and put it on top of this blog, I have created a simple image with Inkscape to brand my blog a little better. An image is worth a thousand words, I hope this proves true for me :D.


Revolutionary Desktop Switching: An Analysis

This is an old favorite of mine. Here is the problem, switching desktops on a Linux machine with or without compiz is not intuitive. Why? because it is related to some window keys Ctrl+Alt+Right or Left Arrow, it is a secondary menu, or it depends on the mouse being at the corner of the window.

All of these ideas, while being well-intentioned, in nature, simply become annoying because they are hard to discover, they are somewhat hidden, and they tend to be not novice user friendly.

The other problem is that as people talk about being user-friendly, they generally say that they don't want Linux to be "dummed down," or made so simple that only stupid people can use. The fact of the matter is, though, that, in my view, no one should expect its Linux distribution to be a puzzle only solvable for the "smart" people that can figure out its tricks. In the scientific world there is the idea that the simplest answer to a question is always the right one. When many theories explain one phenomenon then they choose the simplest one to reveal its truthfulness.

This idea can also be applied to the desktop. In the desktop we have a few "theories" about how one should take use of virtual desktops.

Here are some of them:

This idea shows how compiz handles virtual desktops. You could assign a mouse gesture or a key combination to bring up the any virtual desktops you have at your disposal. It is very simple to use, but again, there are key combos to do and hot corners on the desktop to work with. It happens many times to people that use my laptop that they want to drive away the mouse pointer and end up hitting the hot corner which pans out showing you the desktops, then it's harder for them to figure out what happened and need a way to get back to that space.

Here is another one:

In this one, the panel has a square with many smaller squares which represent each virtual desktop. although this idea is simple and straightforward, I see some difficult things to deal with. One is, of course, size. Size is a problem since the space in a desktop screen is limited, and the space used by this applet (which also exists in KDE) is very reduced. You have to click right into that small section within the applet and then you will be able to switch between desktops. Very practical but too small.

This one is a little more complicated than the ones before (also part of extra functions on KDE windows)
Here you have to use the right button on your mouse to send the desired window into a different workspace. You have to choose which one and in some cases, you could even name them differently so they are easier to use. But who in the world does this? Who uses a secondary menu to send a window to an adjacent virtual desktop. No one. Instead, people often choose to clutter their current workspace and leave it as it is because it is less bothersome.

Then, what is the answer. I believe it starts with simplicity first. Using KDE current widget power, a set of arrows can be placed on the desktop to have users switch between them. I have seen KDE work really hard on creating widgets for the desktop but more often than not, I feel like KDE just found a way to clutter the desktop and think that it looks pretty. It is the same that happens with Opensuse, because this is something that they have not really thought about or wanted to change.

Here is a screenshot of my idea:

Why do I think that this is better? I think that being able to see where you could go is more simple than figuring out where to go, like the other models. This idea also resembles the way a book is viewed forward and backwards, page by page. In a book, for example, we realize that there is a numeric marker at the bottom, a page number, that tells us where we are, where we've come from and where we can go. With these arrows on the desktop, it is the same thing. We know where we are and can go wherever we want to. This idea could even be taken further and imitate another good idea from the land of Apple.

If you notice on the iPad book reader, there not only a page number but also a tracker in the middle that shows you how far you are into the book.

If my idea of desktop switching arrows is simple enough, then people also need to know where they are in their desktops, or how far are they into them.

So, tell me what you think...

Anditosan :D


From the Land of the Reptiles

Well Revolutionaries, I am here again to give you some of that Gecko magic lost over time by Opensuse. Here is a batch of Geckos I found on Fickr that I thing are great pictures. I believe this could end up being part of the native wallpaper collection included in the next version of Opensuse.

And, you know, thinking about the flare that comes with opensuse; the only thing that brings back that Gecko green feeling is the Opensuse icon spread in the system. I don't think people understand the reason why Opensuse ships this one icons with a gecko face in it. I mean, does it look like a gecko anymore?

You be the judge after checking out these wallpapers.