Plasma-Netbook Mockup

The following blog post is mainly targeted at plasma-devel subsribers and I expect possible discussion to take place there. I just published it here, because I needed an easy way to host images and then I thought I could also post the entire text here for a broader audience to see. 😉

While my task within KDE is mainly to translate K3b, I see myself as a usability geek as well. So while cycling through parks in my hometown and enjoying the spring weather, I thought about improving the netbook experience. And while I continued to think about it Plasma applets I already know exist and how they could be incorporated and refined. I also remembered using classic Mac OS which featured a pointer-based GUI that was targeted at screens that have roughly the same proportions as today’s netbooks.

I have to add that I don’t know how in what shape Plasma Netbook in current trunk is, so my suggestions may even already be obsolete. I also lack any talent to code, so obviously I’m hoping for an actual programmer to pick up my ideas.

So, enough introduction talk. Let’s get started.
First, here is a screenshot of Plasma Netbook from SC 4.4 showing the "Search and Launch" page:

Plasma Netbook how it looks today

Page One displays various Plasma applets in an aligned way. So overall I think this screenshot is pretty self explanatory. One aspect is worth pointing out: How task switching currently works. You click on the Running Apps "button" and get an Exposé view of all open windows.
This IMHO has some drawbacks. A.) it requires compositing (not available to everyone) and B.) totally breaks down if many windows are open.

Well, classic Mac OS had a simple drop-down list of running apps. Hardly fancy, but worked really well, so this is what I came up with:

Plasma Netbook mockup: No active app

I moved clock and tray to the far right where IMO it’s expected by many users anyway. "Show all windows" triggers the Exposé effect, so no functionality is lost. The menu could also be assigned to a keyboard shortcut.

When an application runs, the top bar changes:

Plasma Netbook mockup: App active

On the left side is still the app switcher, but now also featuring the options to hide or quit the app (Quit and Show All maybe should switch positions). The button title switches to the app name to indicate what’s running.
The pages bar is changed to the app’s menu bar. Plasma Netbook works in a similar fashion already, but by simply launching apps in full screen and hiding the window decoration. My proposal should look better esp. if smoothly transitioned from pages bar to menu bar (eg. using a slide effect).
A similar menu bar is already implemented by Bespin’s XBar applet. Another approach seems to be in development.

On the far left side, window control buttons move clock and tray. I figured that in this case it’s more important to keep users’ muscle memory for window operations intact rather than tray interaction.
The window controls are what we are all used to:
Minimize/Hide — Unmaximize — Close.
It can be argued that netbook users should run their application always in full screen anyway, but this would effectively kill the usage of multi-window apps. I also saw several people connect bigger screens at home to their netbooks. An unmaximized window can more easily be moved to the other screen. That feature is also already developed.

Any comments (praise, insults, volunteering coders) should be send to plasma-devel.

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16 thoughts on “Plasma-Netbook Mockup”

  1. I’m a KDE fan. However, when trying the plasma netbook interface, I really dislike it.
    First, the focus is on widgets, which for me is plain wrong.
    On netbooks, space is constrained, so I want more space for applications, not fancy widgets.
    And those “Page 1”, which is full of extra widgets…
    However, when running applications, all which is shown is the exposé effect.
    And the search and launch misses a few texts, indicating what are the sections: favorites, applications, widgets… Ah, and I also hate navigating in files with single click. However, this also makes the search and launch require double clicks to open items, which is plain ridiculous, as there’s no single click operation. The same applies to system settings.
    At the end, I just gave up the plasma netbook interface for now and I’m using the regular KDE on the netbook.
    And you know what? It runs pretty well… 🙂

  2. Hi! Regarding some points:

    — Exposè vs List of Windows

    A) Most (if not all) netbooks today have a graphics card capable of doing composite. And if composite is not available, it fallbacks exactly to a list of windows, so it seems that your idea is “quite already implemented”.

    B) From our research with users, they usually do not open that many applications on a netbook. However if this happens, then it would be a good idea to think about a good solution for “too many windows” and Exposè effect.

    — Titlebar

    Without closing the application, from your mockup there is no way to switch between activities without closing the application as the app’s menu is using the panel. What if I open an application that has a lot of menu options ? What should we do in this case ? Apple “fixes” this on OSX limiting the number of menu options that one can create.

    The window’s actions on the right are already implemented as a plasmoid and there is no need to show the minimize button: if you want to switch between applications you just do it, if you want to go to an activity you just use the panel for that and if you want to close, the button is there. In your mockup you’re duplicating the functionality: the same action can be triggered by the list of windows and in the right side of the panel.

    — Bigger screens vs Average netbook user

    In our research with *average* netbook users (not geeks), they usually don’t connect output monitors/keyboards and specially they don’t do much multitasking (when they do, the applications are always maximized anyway). That’s why we took the path of making all applications to run maximized too. This came from user feedback.

    One thing that we could improve, is the ability to switch to a regular Plasma desktop view if there is a monitor plugged in, as this is the case where you have a bigger place to do your mess 🙂

    @Luis: The space that the widgets consume are never preventing that space to be used by applications as they stay in your desktop, so I really couldn’t understand your point about “extra widgets vs more space for applications”. I also didn’t get the “search an launch missing a few texts”..could you elaborate a little bit more please?

    Single clicks vs Double clicks are configurable in KDE so it’s just a matter of configuring everything in system settings.


    1. I’ll answer on plasma-devel. I didn’t disable comments here, but I really think the discussion should be kept there. Judging by the posts in your blog, I guess your’re subscribed to the list.

  3. @Markus: I’m not subscribed to plasma-devel, nor want it, as I already have heavy traffic on other lists…

    @MoRpHeUz: Nice you’ve joined the discussion. I’m brazilian too, was on FISL last year on KDE events, and longing to be there again this year….
    Well, maybe I’m an exception, but I don’t follow the “netbook users run a single application at a time”. For instance, many times I have firefox, dolphin, konsole, amarok, gimp (yes, gimp, with a wacom tablet attached) running at the same time in a netbook, with 1024×600 resolution and 2GB RAM. And it works well with Kubuntu Lucid beta.
    I’ll try to clarify my complaints (never meant to troll or rant, so I’ll try to be as constructive as possible):
    * I’d rather have a task manager which shows only icons for background apps and the title and maximize / restore buttons for the foreground app, in place of the current activity switcher, which takes more than half of the available screen width. And I agree with Markus that the clock should be by default in the extreme right side. It’s where users of all platforms expect to see a clock and a system tray. Also, in the current form, depending on the window title length, the clock position changes, and keeps “jumping” when switching applications.
    * About the single / double click: Search and Launch is there basically replacing the menu. It doesn’t makes sense to make it honor the single / double click settings, which is supposed to be to navigate in files. In files, 1 click selects, 2 clicks open. In the SAL, 1 click does nothing. It’s just like making the Kickoff requiring double clicks to navigate in menus. This is the same complaint I have with system settings: if I choose double clicks to navigate in files, the system settings also requires double clicks.
    * About the texts in SAL: if someone which has never seen it is shown just a screenshot (like, he sees some icons on top, a search box, some other icons and widgets at the bottom. There is nothing that says: “these are the favorites”, “here are the applications”, and so on. On Kickoff, there’s the “Favorites” and “Applications” tab. The ubuntu netbook remix has the sections on the left side. Having such an indication would be more intuitive.

    I think that it would be nice to more screen space on netbooks, but I’m not alone: some other people here in my work also tried the netbook interface and had similar complaints. I know it’s impossible to please every user, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the one which found the current netbook interface hard to use.

  4. Should there still be a way to display non-maximized windows?

    It is great that somebody will implement the mac-style-menubar. 🙂

    1. > Should there still be a way to display non-maximized windows?

      IMHO yes, but apps should (again: IMHO) be maximized by default.

    2. There have been mac-like menubar long time now. Since 4.2. Just use XBar. There is two themes what supports it, Bespin (the XBar maintainer) and QTCurve. And there is a other bar in trunk but I do not know its status.

      And XBar is a widget. You can add it to any panel you want.

  5. I really like the mockup and the “running apps” applet should have option to display a simple drop down. it can however, also have the fancier expose’ like option.

    Also, the only hitch i see is the shifting system tray — when there is no app active as compared to a running app, maximised.

    Otherwise, I prefer your version very much, especially with the global menu.

  6. One issue with 4.4 plasma-netbook interface – it’s not well designed for real netbooks like EEE PC 701 (no, 12 inches laptop with ION2 and a few core is not a netbook for me ;-). There are so many widgets on panel, so big – same lot of wasted space in actual desktop view. And another thing – it lacks simplicity. I’m not complaining – I know it’s still in heavy development – but please take care about us 😉

  7. @Jreznik

    “it’s not well designed for real netbooks like EEE PC 701”

    Well, those are first generation netbooks but today the standard is 1024×600 resolution, with two threaded Atom and 512-1Gb RAM.

    The EeePC 701 is littlebit such that it does not run anything so well.

    Important thing is that user can customize such GUI. By removing unwanted widgets.

  8. Yep but there are now two sorts of netbooks – that 12″ big netbooks and new category of small ARM netbooks that are capable running KDE as well (not all but lot of) and new are expected with more power. What I’d like to see is some more lightweight panel – too many items, too much information there. I tried customization but it’s not easy – some widgets are resizing not very well etc…

    We’d like to have Fedora KDE netbook spin, some students are going to work on it as part of Fedora Summer Coding – I’d like to see more input from us to upstream so we try to help you as much as possible.

  9. Markus, thank you for this post, I enjoyed reading it. I have been using a netbook myself for about 8 months as a primary computer with Ubuntu/Gnome, and I agree with you than screen space is a real pain. However, I do not agree when you say that full screen kills multi-windows applications. Netbook screens are so small, we shouldn’t waste any bit of it. As for multi-windows applications, you can still switch from one window to the other, right? (alt-tab is your friend!)

    Actually, I am working myself on an application to optimize screen space in Windows XP and Windows 7, it is called ScreenSpace. I know, it is for Windows… but remember that I am a Linux user 😉 So ScreenSpace enables the user to choose which part of an application he wants to see in full screen, like for instance the central text area in a typing application (Word for letters, Eclipse or Visual Studio for coding). I think that it solves a lot of the issues created by the reduced screen size on netbooks. ScreenSpace is not freeware right now, but I have a freeware version called ScreenSpace Lite that you can test. I have made a small video to show how it is working that you can watch here:, and there is more information about the options in ScreenSpace here: If anyone of you guys want to give it a glance, I’d be happy to hear what you think of it. Markus, let me know if you want to try the full version of ScreenSpace, I’ll give you a license so that you can evaluate it properly.

    Also, for Linux users, I have a small tip that I find extremely useful. I am sure that you all know that Firefox and other browsers can go full screen, but did you know that you can also do the same thing with terminals!? So for example I use vim when I code, it is running in a simple terminal. In order maximize it to full screen, I just choose “Full screen” in the “View”, or type F11. This makes me win quite a bit of space and I can use more screen space that way. I hope this can be useful to anyone…

    Thanks again for the post,


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