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Gnome and KDE Wrestle With Menus - page 2

Classic Menus, Newfangled Fancy Thingies

  • September 30, 2009
  • By Bruce Byfield

These improvements make Lancelot something of a compromise between the classic menu and Kickoff. Yet it, too, has its limits, including an inability to configure views or to do much to reduce the number of entries in the Applications view.

Still, both Kickoff and Lancelot are worth investigating if you are an intermediate user who wants a single navigation center and already has a reasonable sense of what applications are available.

Advanced Menus

Throughout the history of desktop computing, menus have generally included a Run item for executing a single command. If anything, this item has been even more important on the free desktop than on proprietary ones, since free desktop users are more likely to want to enter commands.

In recent years, however, Run has expanded into a minimalist tool for advanced users. One of the first examples of this expansion was Deskbar, a GNOME applet for searching for both applications and files that has found its way into a number of applications.

Some distributions continue to ship Deskbar as a separate applet. But, increasingly, its popularity seems to be eclipsed by GNOME's Do and KDE's KRunner, two parallel projects with a close resemblance to one another.

At first glance, Do and KRunner superficially resemble the basic Run command placed in a floating window. At second glance, though, greater complexity quickly reveals itself. Both applications allow you to search for and open anything on your hard drive from a directory to an email, using auto-completion as you type.

In KRunner, this basic functionality is available through a task or command-oriented interface. Which one you use depends on whether you would rather type (for example) "email" "or KMail."

The two applications also have other uses. KRunner, for example, can be used as a converter from one unit of measurement to another, although you have to learn a simple syntax to use this feature. Similarly, Do, includes a plug-in called Docky which makes it a launch bar that you can populate with favorite applications.

The advantages of KRunner and Do is that they occupy a minimum of space and, even with tab completion offering several choices, vastly reduce the number of options displayed at one time -- two problems that neither Kickoff nor Lancelot manage to solve.

The drawback of both applications, of course, is that, KRunner's task-oriented view notwithstanding, you still need detailed knowledge of your system to use them efficiently. Although advanced users may find KRunner and Do convenient time-savers, a complete beginner would find them next to useless and could only learn what was available by trial-and-error use of the automatic completion features.

The Search Continues

As these examples show, the search for a menu that is both efficient and able to please everyone continues. Unlike the panel, the menu is a part of the desktop that everyone uses sooner or later, so the ingenuity and effort devoted the search is understandable.

However, add these goals to the wish for customization, and the wonder is not so much that no effort is completely satisfactory so much as the fact that any aspects of the problem has been addressed at all.

Still, if the present state of desktop menus is not ideal, it does have one compensation: The variety of solutions has produced possibilities for every level of user. Instead of settling on a design for the least skilled user, with menus, solutions for other levels of expertise have also been developed.

Personally, I would appreciate seeing more of that. Beginning, intermediate, and advanced users simply do not always have the same needs.

The variety may not be tidy nor easy to maintain, but who cares? At least it gives something for everybody.

ALSO SEE: Why I Switched from GNOME to KDE

AND: GNOME vs. KDE: Which Has the Evolutionary Advantage?

Article courtesy of Datamation

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