System Settings is a major usability gain for Kubuntu over the default KDE's KControl. Here we review the layout and inclusion of modules in System Settings to improve usability further.


The high number and partial redundancy of configuration modules in Kubuntu's system settings makes it hard to find configuration options. This is especially problematic for first-time users who want to set up their basic system (network, hardware, appearance). If they do not succeed, they are likely to de-install Kubuntu before even probing to use it for everyday tasks.

Use cases

  • Jon installs Kubuntu. After the initial startup, the user goes to System Settings to set up the network and the appearance for his desktop. He then adds a new user for his girlfriend.
  • Maisie has been using Kubuntu for a while and wants to add a printer, she wonders where to do so.


The Kubuntu System Settings should be an easy tool to set up the system. KDE power users who want the full and complex functionality can fall back to KControl.

For Edgy, we will concentrate on improving the current first-level structure of System Settings, i.e. modules like Desktop, Network or Printer. While unneeded modules are removed, the remaining ones are grouped by relevance for the users. That means that options which have to be configured frequently, which are relevant to the majority of users, or are crucial to keep the system functional are grouped in a primary category. Settings which are relevant for specific user groups only, or which need to be set in very few cases, are moved to a secondary category. In both areas, the modules are then grouped in usage-related categories.

As far as possible, the modules themselves will be streamlined by removing unneeded submodules and ordering them by priority. Where obviously necessary, submodules will be moved to a new category.


The system settings will be optimised in continuous interaction between development and usability. At the Ubuntu Summit in Paris we made a first attempt to separate relevant from less relevant modules and find a better information architecture. This preliminary design will be refined using several methods of usability engineering.

The usability contributor has started to perform user tests with the preliminary information architecture and labels to refine them gradually. This process of refinement will continue until the development has finished to separate sub modules that have to be moved to other categories.


First-level separation

On the first level, modules will be separated into modules needed by every user versus modules needed by only specific use cases. Buttons to switch between the two views will be placed on the toolbar. Their current working title is "General Settings" and "Advanced Settings" and will be refined during the ongoing user tests.

General settings:

  • Appearance
  • Desktop
  • Sound and Multimedia
  • User Account
  • Regional (Regional & Accessiblity should be split into two)

  • Accessibility
  • Keyboard & Mouse (including joystick)

  • Printers
  • Display
  • Sharing
  • Bluetooth
  • Network
  • Date and Time
  • User Management
  • Power Control
  • Font installer
  • Zeroconf

Advanced settings:

  • Connections
  • Login Manager
  • Disk and Filesystems
  • System Services
  • KDE components
  • Storage Media

Dropped settings:

  • Panel, available through the panel menu. Launch feedback then needs to be moved to the panel configuration dialogue.
  • Digital Camera, no longer needed if we include Digikam
  • Security and Privacy, available through KWallet which is launched by default
  • Desktop sharing, available through krdc


The modules in each first-level area need to be grouped in categories.

To have sane categories is crucial for the findability of the configuration options. The below suggested categories therefore need to be verified by appropriate usability methods. Preliminary categories:

General Settings (Working Title):


  • About Me (== User Account)
  • Date, Time & Timezone

  • Region & Language

    • Country/Region & Language (without shortcuts, keyboard layout, input actions)

    • Spell Checker
  • Accessibility
    • Accessibility
    • Input Actions

Look & Feel

  • Appearance
    • Colors
    • Fonts
      • Font Installer
    • Icons
    • Style
    • Window Decorations
  • Desktop
    • Background
    • Screensaver
    • Behavior
    • Multiple Desktops
  • Splashscreen
  • Window Behavior
    • Window Behavior
    • Window-Specific Settings
  • Notifications
    • System Notifications
    • System Bell

Computer Administration

  • Keyboard & Mouse (including shortcuts, keyboard layout and input actions; mouse; Joystick)

  • Display & Monitor

  • Printers
  • Sound (Arts)
  • Power Management
  • User Management
    • Users
    • Groups

Network & Connectivity

  • Network Settings
    • Network Interfaces
    • Routes
    • DNS
    • Network Profiles
    • Advanced: Zeroconf
  • Sharing
    • File Sharing
    • Local Network Browsing
  • Bluetooth
    • Bluetooth Services
    • Paired Bluetooth Devices

Advanced Settings (Working Title):

System Administration (Working Title)

  • Disk and Filesystems
  • System Services
  • Login Manager
  • Connections

Removable Devices

  • Storage Media
  • Audio CDs

KDE Components (Working Title)

  • Default Applications
  • KDE Resources
  • Service Manager
  • Session Manager

see freemind mindmap


Keyboard navigation in System Settings needs to be fixed to ensure arrow keys move between icons as expected and tab moves between categories.


The Personal menu lacks a .directory file meaning it can not be translated, this needs to be added.

Loading Speed

At the moment System Settings loads all modules in a category when the user clicks on that category. To speed up loading it should only load a module when that specific module is needed.


I believe that Kubuntu's System Settings breaks the consistency of KDE.

It's really confusing for the Kubuntu users when they realize that there are two central places (System Settings & Control Center) to configure their computer.

It's really important that there is a universal&unique path for configuring KDE (Control Center -> Desktop -> Behavior for example) so as everybody can refer to that.

If the Kubuntu Team that System Settings thinks that it is necessary cause it helps new users you could just integrate the "System Setting View" inside KControl as a new "more user friendly" mode.

Finally there should be a way (package) to remove it (System Settings) like the kubuntu-default-settings package.

I hope you take into account my comment.

YanisKekatos Sun Nov 19 17:25:46 EET 2006


el (july 21st)

I finished the usability review. Here a mockup:



The complete information architecture is documented:

  • in a spreadsheet showing the different navigation levels and the required changes.

  • in a freemind map giving an overview over the complete information architecture.

It's simple rearranging of the modules and change of labels.

el (august, 4th):

Default size of the window:

  • All in all, we got more space in the window now. That either means we can make the default window size more compact, or we can apply another layout (less congested; increase distances between groups and items). The first one might interfere with the default sizes of many panels that increase the dialog's overall size.... What do you think?


  • Can we use bigger icons to increase the size of the toolbar? I want to make sure it is not overlooked. Also different icons for the two groups would be good - is there a reason for not using the ones I suggested?

About Me:

  • User Information page is missing - it should still be there, together with paths. Sorry if that was unclear in the mindmap/spreadsheet!

Country/Region & Language:

  • The minimum size of this panel is ~200px larger than the one of the other panels. If possible, please reduce the minimum size of the panels.
  • In each case, add horizontal and vertical scrollbars to ensure they are accessible with huge font sizes. Add them for the window, not the panel, to make sure the apply/cancel buttons are accessible.

Spell Checker:

  • Same as Country/Region & Language

Keyboard Layout:

  • Same as Country/Region & Language


  • There needs to be an indicator for the number of search results on each tab. As the search needs a redesign which shows the user which panel are relevant for a given search term, I suggest as a "quick fix" that we give status information about the number of hits in "general" and "advanced".

Maybe a tooltip? It might appear with a little delay after the user stopped to type and remain for ~6 seconds. When you return to the overview from a subpanel, it may re-appear until the search field is cleared. See:


A better solution, but requires more implementation, is a Dropdown-list (& Automatic) text completion for the relevant modules. Selecting one of the entries directly guides the user to the relevant module.

As another quick fix, is it possible to set the font colour of the gray modules to gray, too?

Simon Edwards (2006-08-04)

The initial implementation was done under dapper. It sounds like somethings are broken. El, can you test using the crystal iconset which kubuntu uses. Your iconset may be missing some icons. Missing icons usually get replaced with that blue folder.

Re: Toolbar - the icons are not intended to be blue folders - bug.

Re: About Me - bug.

Some of the other icons/labels appear to be wrong. Once I have time and edgy installed on my test machine, then I'll go through and fix things up.

el (2006-08-07)

Re: Icons: I'll ask Ken which icon to use. He is currently working on an icon taxonomy.

Update (el, 2006-08-09) Ken says the icon we used for the advanced tab is ok and he'll consider it in the icon taxonomy.

Simon Edwards (2006-09-05)

Added the search "hit indicator" to the right of the search box, in the toolbar itself.

Simon Edwards (2006-09-08)

Added the Gtk-fonts module back in under Appearance, on Tonio's request.


KubuntuSystemSettingsUsability (last edited 2008-08-06 16:24:32 by localhost)