No icons on the KDE 4.1 desktop?
For over a month, rumors of this change have been sweeping through the free software community, adding to the controversy that has surrounded the popular desktop since version 4.0 was released in January.
However, like many of the concerns about the latest releases of KDE, these rumors have more to do with misleading media reports and users' fear of change than any reality. Behind the rumors, the truth is a new feature called Folder View, which, far from overturning established desktops, enhances them in a number of useful ways.
The rumors started because Aaron Seigo announced Folder View with a blog entry entitled "no more desktop icons in 4.1." Seigo immediately followed the title with "Now that I have your attention with that title," adding a smiley to show that he was joking.
Unfortunately, his next words -- "I just committed a change to the default desktop containment that removes desktop icon support" -- seem to reaffirm the title. As a result, most reports of his news reprinted his title, and the result was an outburst of indignation (often, I suspect, from careless readers who never read the rest of the reports). Many, in fact, swore either never to use KDE again, or to stay with the 3.x series as long as possible.
Compared to the rumors, the truth sounds disappointing at first. All Seigo was announcing was Folder View, a new applet written by Frederik Hoglund that allows you to put folders with a variety of views on to the desktop. What his dramatic title seems to indicate is that the desktop would no longer be confined to representations of single files or URLs -- although you can continue to use them if you wish.
Or, as Seigo wrote, "This is all yet another set of steps in the move away from a file-centric system and toward one that is flexible enough to work the way you do rather than making you work the way the computer thinks you should." And, very possibly, he is right, which makes the news almost -- if not quite -- as dramatic as the rumors.
Touring Folder View
You can judge Folder View for yourself by taking a look at the KDE 4.1 second beta -- for convenience, I suggest using the openSUSE KDE Live CD.
When the Live CD starts, youll see a transparent region of the screen entitled Desktop. This is the contents of the /Desktop folder in your home directory, and contains the icons that, in previous versions of KDE, you would find on your desktop. If you choose, you can also add new Folder Views by opening Add Widgets from the desktop toolbox in the upper right corner and scrolling down to Folder View.
As you start to work with Folder View, the first thing to notice is that, contrary to the rumors, it can co-exist with what Seigo calls "Old Skool" icons. True, icons within a Folder View do not -- for some reason -- have the collar of small icons around them that icons on the actual desktop do. However, if you drag the Install icon in the Desktop Folder View on to the desktop, it converts to a regular icon. You can also still create icons by dragging them from the menu or from the Dolphin file manager.
The only added complication is that, if you add a Folder View of an actual directory on your hard drive (as opposed to a folder you created in Folder View) to the desktop, you have the option of creating an icon or a Folder View. If you choose to create an icon, then the folder opens in Dolphin, giving you file manager capabilities that, in many cases, you never really need (and why desktop folders should be bound to the file manager is a tradition to question another day). But the point is, you are perfectly free to use traditional icons rather than a Folder View.