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An Ode To Skulpture

Unknown Lamer posted about 2 years ago | from the next-step-forward dept.

KDE 56

jrepin writes with an excerpt from an an article at OSNews musing on the virtues of those "ugly" old interfaces that were common before Apple's Aqua drove everyone to use visual gloss for its own sake: "Thom Holwerda tends to believe that the best interfaces have already been made. Behaviourally, CDE is the best and most consistent interface ever made. It looked like ass, but it always did exactly as you told it to, and it never did anything unexpected. When it comes to looks, however, the gold standard comes from an entirely different corner — Apple's Platinum and QNX's PhotonUI. Between all the transparency, flat-because-it's-hip, and stitched leather violence of the past few years, one specific KDE theme stood alone in bringing the best of '90s UI design into the 21st century, and updating it to give everything else a run for its money. This is an ode to Christoph Feck's Skulpture."

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CDE was consistant. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42452617)

Consistently awful. Being bad every time is still bad.

Nobody pines for "good ol CDE".

Re:CDE was consistant. (2)

AaronW (33736) | about 2 years ago | (#42452971)

I agree. I had the misfortune of having to work with a Sun computer as my desktop PC. I helped port KDE to Solaris in order to have something useable (I wrote the Solaris ARTS support). A bunch of my coworkers also switched from CDE to KDE on Solaris. Window management on CDE was unusable, especially if a lot of console sessions were opened.

Re:CDE was consistant. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42453041)

You know I am just not enough of an artsy-fartsy rump-ranger fart-knocker butt-pirate faggot to care about how fancy my desktop theme is.

Maybe this would have been a great Apple post? Lots of those Apple fanbois and graphic designers are known to play the skin flute from time to time.

Pass the Astroglide baby, cuz its better than KY!

Re:CDE was consistant. (1)

CdBee (742846) | about 2 years ago | (#42453247)

I am tempted to agree with the submitter actually - My first experience of UNIX was on a SAP production server running CDE and I found it very usable and consistent. Also I like 'CDE' as it's my initials.

Re:CDE was consistant. (2)

mungtor (306258) | about 2 years ago | (#42453317)

Damn right. Openwin was way better.

Re:CDE was consistant. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42454443)

Like most of the other consistently bad Unix UIs, CDE and the underlying Motif are now free. CDE might look bad but it never let a browser or other ill-behaved pop up a modal dialog or by default shift window focus when I bump the mouse while typing. I also never had the UI do something weird because I accidently brushed the control key.

Re:CDE was consistant. (1)

Shag (3737) | about 2 years ago | (#42457435)

CDE never did anything unexpected - as long as you were expecting the mouse cursor to randomly become invisible, which keeps happening on one or two of the SPARCs where I work.

To be fair, after it did that a few times, we did expect it, I guess.

Re:CDE was consistant. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42459273)

Consistently awful. Being bad every time is still bad.

Nobody pines for "good ol CDE".

Used AIX for 5 years developing the AIX base platform. CDE is the only thing that comes default with an AIX installation. Used it only once in 5 years, and that too, to nail down a X-windows crash :)

Re:CDE was consistant. (1)

Ranguvar (1924024) | about 2 years ago | (#42459669)

Thanks for your well-put-together analysis.

Do we still give reasons why we hate shit around here?

TL;DR Version (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42452625)

Some guy found a KDE theme he really liked.

Re:TL;DR Version (1)

firewrought (36952) | about 2 years ago | (#42453973)

Some guy found a KDE theme he really liked.

Not only that, but it's a very washed out, low-contrast design. Great if you're trying to write some rainy day poetry maybe, but hardly good design.

Also, it's easy to diss "visual gloss for it's own sake", but I think it's fair to judge user interfaces as successful when they positively influence how people feel about the product. As always, emotions are super-important, regardless if your aim is to pull more ordinary users into computing (e.g., grandma and Joe sixpack) or just make a boatload of money (a la Apple).

Re:TL;DR Version (1)

operagost (62405) | about 2 years ago | (#42454283)

I only like the 3D menus, which resemble OS/2 2.x and 3.0.

Re:TL;DR Version (2)

Darinbob (1142669) | about 2 years ago | (#42456171)

Well here's a nice thing: you can actually have themes and change a significant amount of the look of KDE. Compare that to Mac or Windows where you take what you are given with only a very tiny amount of customization.

Fonts! (1, Troll)

war4peace (1628283) | about 2 years ago | (#42452659)

Nope, still butt-ugly. It's a matter of taste, agreed, but those KDE fonts... man, they suck. ...And what's with the constant battleship-grey?

Re:Fonts! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42452729)

You sunk my battleship!

Come on, it's a little old school. But isn't that how most of us imagine KDE looks like when we're not using it?

Re:Fonts! (1)

Bambi Dee (611786) | about 2 years ago | (#42453169)

I'm curious... what's wrong with the fonts and/or what's specifically "KDE" about their wrongness?

(It'll use whatever colour scheme you pick (or create); not a fan of grey myself...)

Re:Fonts! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42453423)

The extremely heavy fonts (the text "Allows the manipulation..." in this [] screenshot) catches my eye in a really bad way.

Re:Fonts! (1)

Bambi Dee (611786) | about 2 years ago | (#42453699)

Well, it's a headline of sorts. Not sure that could ever bother me (but there are areas where KDE (or at least Plasma) rub me the wrong way aesthetically)

Re:Fonts! (2)

war4peace (1628283) | about 2 years ago | (#42456077)

I don't know how to explain. Slashdot fonts: good. Skulpture screenshots fonts: bad. I am looking at this screenshot: [] - observe how the "d" has a small protrusion at top, the "p" has a small protrusion at the bottom, etc. Each letter looks crappy, there's a tiny bit of extra information in each letter. Overall, it annoys me.
Take this screenshot: [] - kerning is messed up. Hint: look at "Text Edit" and "tri-state".
This screenshot: [] - bold + shadow + heavy text = ugly.
Et caetera.

Re:Fonts! (1)

Bambi Dee (611786) | about 2 years ago | (#42456257)

I'm not sure I can see the problems, except for the kerning issue in the small text. I'm mostly using Gnome Shell and GTK 2/3 applications at the moment and frankly didn't notice a difference versus KDE. Deja Vu Serif looks pretty much the same to me in Gedit (say) as in your first screenshot... maybe I'm just not used to anything better...

Re:Fonts! (1)

war4peace (1628283) | about 2 years ago | (#42460427)

Yeah, I think it's a matter of taste in the end. I remember I used to create such buttons and GUI items for the lulz in Turbo Pascal about 20 years ago, when I was in high school. Oh and they worked, too. Of course, there's a difference between ad-hoc graphical items and such a skin, but from a visual perspective, these are very, very simple to create. To me, "an Ode to Skulpture" means "an Ode to something that a teenage could create in Turbo Pascal 20 years ago". Hardly something to brag about.

Re:Fonts! (1)

Bambi Dee (611786) | about 2 years ago | (#42462967)

Oh, I meant the fonts, which don't have anything to do with Skulpture. I think Skulpture is nice enough in a "Windows 95 plus polish" kinda way... then again I'm not really looking for "Windows 95 plus polish". Liking my rounded corners and hipster flatness, actually...

Re:Fonts! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42453231)

Someone once experimented [] with something else than battleship grey. For some reason it didn't catch on.

Re:Fonts! (2)

mfnickster (182520) | about 2 years ago | (#42454141)

Someone else [] did too... but it also didn't catch on (maybe because it didn't ship as a standard feature).

This is why I like xfce's themes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42452661)

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against eye-candy, and I enjoyed using Gnome 3 for a while (believe it or not), but once the newness wore off I found that I really just want something clean and easy on the eyes with few distractions. I ended up switching to XFCE due to Gnome 3's reliance on hardware acceleration and the problems it has with AMD hardware, and really liked the xfce-basic theme. As a bonus, the xfce GTK+ theme engine is extremely fast and makes all my GTK+ apps feel snappy (well, the GTK+2 ones, GTK+3 rewrote their rendering stuff and is slow as hell even on my Intel Core i7 CPU)

Why is this so important? (1)

gtirloni (1531285) | about 2 years ago | (#42452683)

People learn to work with new things even if it takes some effort.

Are we measuring the nanoseconds that users are wasting? Or worried about our grandparents? They can adapt too.

All these UI discussions seem more about people trying to impose their preferences on other people than anything remotely rational.

Re:Why is this so important? (1)

Stormwatch (703920) | about 2 years ago | (#42452879)

If you could choose between a badly designed system, and a well designed one, would you just say "I'll deal with it" and stick to the bad one? And it's not a simple matter of personal preference, usability can be measured (somewhat) objectively, so certain interfaces ARE a hindrance.

Re:Why is this so important? (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about 2 years ago | (#42452965)

Nothing's changed... Bad UI design exists now just like it did then.

Re:Why is this so important? (2)

ilsaloving (1534307) | about 2 years ago | (#42455285)

Right, because Windows 8's new UI is so wonderful and revolutionary that people are trampling themselves trying to buy new devices that use it.

Oh wait...

The UI *is* important. In fact, it's *critically* important, because that is the face of the device you interact with. So much of new technology is different only for the sake of being different, and provide absolutely nothing of value that technology of yesteryear didn't already have.

The iPad practically invented an entire new market segment, despite the entire PC industry trying to do so for decades. Why? Because they made a UI that was both attractive AND intuitive to use.

No UI will perfectly suit everyone. It needs to compliment both the device and the users intended use of said device. Microsoft is discovering that the hard way with their idiotic push to Metro.

There will always be vociferous arguments about UI, because UI is so important that it can make or break a product.

That being said, a lot of the current UI problems are because developers are look at tablets, seeing that people really like the simplified interfaces, and decide that they should do the same thing on PCs, despite the fact that the use cases for the devices are very much different. So now, and unsurprisingly, people are starting to clamor for the UIs of old, when you could still do stuff without the UI trying it's best to hobble you. Hence mass abandonment of Gnome, and articles such as this talking about old and fugly, but otherwise useful, window manager skins.

Starting the year with the biggest troll of 2013 (1)

lorinc (2470890) | about 2 years ago | (#42452797)

CDE is the best and most consistent interface ever made.

OMFG! For about half a second, I thought you were serious, then I recalled clearly my student years were learning *nix was so much more easy with the CLI than with the plain mess that was CDE...

Re:Starting the year with the biggest troll of 201 (1)

sconeu (64226) | about 2 years ago | (#42453121)

It *was* consistent.... Consistently a PITA

Definitely News that Matters (4, Insightful)

ohnocitizen (1951674) | about 2 years ago | (#42452853)

One geek explores his nostalgia for old user interfaces the rest of us hated with a single screenshot retrospective of one in particular.

Re:Definitely News that Matters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42452947)

Dude, he penned an ode though, bro. That's not nothing.

Re:Definitely News that Matters (2)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 2 years ago | (#42454901)

In an attempt to salvage something....

It looks a lot like a number of themes for Amiga OS and other systems, i.e. fairly derivative. That's a good thing. Everyone used to copy everyone else with UI design, and design in general, to the benefit of all. Now we have design patents to put a stop to that advancement.

It's kinda interesting how mobile UIs are like desktop UIs from 30 years ago. At first they were mono-tasking, then you could switch apps with them running in the background, and now you can run two on screen at once. Now all we need to is get away from the desktop of icons and develop some kind of start menu.

violence (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42452919)

>Between all the transparency, flat-because-it's-hip, and stitched leather violence of the past few years

Violence? I get the feeling that this was written by someone who's never taken even a severe beating.

Re:violence (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42457499)

But apparently is begging for it.

KDE (0)

sanosuke001 (640243) | about 2 years ago | (#42452927)

I always thought KDE in general looked like crap; and adding K at the front of all their apps seemed more lame and ridiculous than Apple's iWhoring...

Re:KDE (3, Insightful)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about 2 years ago | (#42455599)

and adding K at the front of all their apps seemed more lame and ridiculous than Apple's iWhoring...

Why? It followed the older tradidion of X programs having an x in front of their name, like xterm, xcalc, xbiff, xedit, xlogo, etc.

Re:KDE (1) (886486) | about 2 years ago | (#42467609)

Unfortunately, this results in some weird menus. KDE should strip K out of their menus.. stop messing with the alphabet.

Re:KDE (1)

fromhell091 (1572879) | about 2 years ago | (#42459763)

All their apps/projects? Calligra, Dolphin, Marble, Gwenview, Owncloud, Plasma... are you sure? The K naming is something from the past, now you can name your app in KDE as you want...

CLI vs GUI (5, Insightful)

ios and web coder (2552484) | about 2 years ago | (#42452941)

"looks like ass, but..."

Usability is something that really gets short shrift from artists, designers, coders and engineers. In fact, it is often met with hostility and direct resistance.

There are so many elements involved in a truly usable interface. "Doing what I expect" is one. "Giving me exactly the correct information" is another, as is "appropriate and timely feedback."

However, aesthetics also play a huge role in a usable interface. It needs to look usable. Maybe not "attractive," but a button needs to look like something that you WANT to click.

I grew up on CLI. Since I've been doing software development since the early 1980s, I have used some of the scariest CLIs ever made (Is a hex keypad a "CLI"?).

These days, I greatly prefer a GUI. I often need to go into the CLI on a system to do stuff, but prefer to stay out of it.

I have designed skeuomorphic UX (I'm actually a fairly decent graphic designer, so I could make stuff look quite "real"), then trashed that for flat, and am basically settling into a "middle ground," where elements of 3D are used, but sparingly. I have found that performance is also a usability coefficient. When you have big-ass 24-bit PNG images, the software spends a great deal more time tossing stuff around in memory and/or disk. That can slow things down.

I'd like to see everyone agree that GUI and UX is every bit as important as the engine that drives it.

I don't think we're there yet. I suspect this comment thread will bear that out.

Re:CLI vs GUI (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42457167)

You are right about what good user interfaces should be. However, this is not easy to achieve in practice. Sometimes you are dealing with a sophisticated backend that solves hard problems. Then it becomes hard to actually implement the interactions that you want to have and csompromises start to appear in the UI. It also gets quite difficult if you have modular applications where plugins are supposed to extend the UI with the interactions they need/work best with. This soon escalates into "everything in the UI must provide hooks" combined with "unknown third party plugins must never stomp on each other's feet although they were not developed considering each other."

Projects like Eclipse deal with a superset of all of these issues. I am not surprised that these programs have some noticable usability deficiencies. I basically tried to do the same thing in a 3d modeling program, which never got far partly because it deals with a difficult problem. A good UI sometimes should blend things together that ideally should be independent modules from a software engineering perspective. So you either risk turning everything into a bowl of Spaghetti in the name of usabiliy or you write a technically beatiful complex software with a UI that probably cannot do its job properly.

Re:CLI vs GUI (1)

ios and web coder (2552484) | about 2 years ago | (#42457329)

Eclipse? Usability? Same Paragraph?

Wow. Now I've seen everything.

Eclipse is an awesome program. A real Swiss army knife.

However, as you seem to infer, it tends to be a little difficult to use. I suspect one reason is that it tries to be All Things to All Men.

UIs are completely context- and audience-dependent.

If you've ever ready any of Tufte's [] stuff, you have seen some truly hairy interface elements that require training to understand. However, once you understand, the UX is extremely immersive, intuitive and useful; feeding you a great deal of complex data.

For example, This is actually a highly usable data display [] . Millions of people use it, or displays just like it, to navigate all over the world's largest metropolitan area.

Then, there's just plain dumb. []

"Dumbed-down" is often mistaken for "usable."

Inherently all the SAME basic UI w/skins (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42452959)

C'mon, debating CDE vs. KDE vs. Photon has nothing to do with UI design and everything to do with being a skin/theme OCD.

Is this how low we have gotten on Slashdot?

2013 - the year I left.

Missing the big picture (2)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about 2 years ago | (#42453057)

UI design evolved as the resources justifiably allocated to it multiplied. Transparency requires CPU power, something a ways more scarce on a PII than an i7. A modern AJAX enabled website can spin a 90s computer for a least a little while CPU-wise before loading. For nostalgia though... I remember the icons being a little bit more pixelated in the older Linux GUIs.

And... anybody looking for a similar thing to do with their windows when turning off aero isn't ghetto enough, deviantart has some "classic classic" themes you can try.

Re:Missing the big picture (2)

CdBee (742846) | about 2 years ago | (#42453299)

The irony is that in 2001 I had a PC with a 1.1ghz Athlon which could boot Windows 98SE to desktop in 11 seconds. A modern Linux OS with a really stripped down UI can boot on modern fast hardware in about the same length of time but a full bells and whistles UI takes 20 to 40s - windows or linux.. Its almost as though additional UI features were added to the max and extended every time PC power improved in order to deny too fast an experience...

Re:Missing the big picture (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about 2 years ago | (#42453615)

Might seem that way to most, and the thing is... you have to a DIY builder to get around the curve you're talking about. Bleeding edge parts regardless of era have always exceeded computing requirements for 99.9% of users, just be prepared to spend some $, and that's where anything from Dell, HP, IBM gets decisively smoked.

Re:Missing the big picture (1)

hvdh (1447205) | about 2 years ago | (#42459501)

A modern AJAX enabled website can spin a 90s computer for a least a little while CPU-wise before loading.

A few years ago, eBay had some flash animation on it's start page showing off a few items with rotation and scaling.
It caused constant 70% CPU load on my 1.8GHz Athlon64!

WOW windows 95 (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42453099)

Who would have thought that windows 95 interface is so great

Before Mac OS X... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42454091)

I have been an official Apple Developer for ages.

When Mac OS X was still in development, they gave us pre-release builds.

These did not use the Aqua interface. They basically used the original OS 9 interface.

These prerelease builds were REALLY FAST.

Then, we got the official Aqua release at the WWDC.

The OS had slowed right back down to OS 9 speeds.

Since the original Aqua, Apple has been steadily draining out the eye candy, and moving towards a simpler interface.

The irony is that the hardware can now support eye candy.

CDE... looked like ass (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42454301)

This is now the #1 contender for 2013's understatement of the year.

Re:CDE... looked like ass (2)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about 2 years ago | (#42455701)

CDE was pretty dated in 2000.

In 1994, the choices were some MacOS, Windows 3.11 for workgroups, IRIX and CDE. By the standards of the day, Motif with its 3D chiselled look was actually quite nice. IRIX was cooler though.

Re:CDE... looked like ass (1)

maztuhblastah (745586) | about 2 years ago | (#42456515)

Motif with its 3D chiselled look was actually quite nice. IRIX was cooler though.

Maybe my memory's faulty, but didn't IRIX use Motif for the Indigo Magic Desktop?

Re:CDE... looked like ass (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about 2 years ago | (#42459989)

OK, this is going back a bit.

Quite a few programs on the SGI were Motif based since they were ports to/from other unices.

For the desktop, they used 4DWM, and there was some file manager. Given the use of the knurled wheel widget for the vector icon scaling, I'd guess they were Open Inventor based.

That was on things like the O2 (much later) and the big green tower SGI whatever that was and if my memory serves me correctly.

The Saddest Part (1)

utoddl (263055) | about 2 years ago | (#42457153)

The saddest part of this whole story to me is the screenshot itself. I'm looking at it on a 10-year-old IBM ThinkPad T42, and there's considerable blank space in my browser window both above and below that screen image, plus my browser's title bar, menu, location bar, bookmark bar, my gadgets at the top of the screen, and my bar thingy at the bottom of my screen... The ancient screen is 1050 pixels high; the screenshot is768 pixels. Modern laptop displays are missing a quarter of their vertical pixels! Why did people ever stoop to buying this crap? Nobody sells any laptop with anything close to the 10 year old standard in vertical pixels in any reasonable price range these days.

I guess it matters more now than ever how good a UI is, because it has to work in such tight vertical spaces -- rather like a coal miner. With so many other aspects (pun intended) of computers improving year after year, this one thing -- vertical pixels -- seems to have taken a turn for the utterly stupid. It makes me sad.

It's easy really (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 2 years ago | (#42458303)

Things a windowing UI should do:
Conserve screen pixels:
no start/home bar - let me bring up common apps or shell via a right click (hello, TWM and brethren)
thin window borders
small but simple icons for close/minimize/maximize


Things your windowing UI should NOT do:
be a web browser
manage my printers or wireless network interfaces
act as a filesystem
block when 1 app wedges

We don't need brushed metal, transparencies, cube-shaped 3d representations of your windows, wiggly xterms, just give me a palette to work with and GO AWAY.

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