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Common user interface mistakes in KDE applications, part 4: Being GNOME friendly

written on Saturday, March 26, 2011

Here is a new addition to my series on common user interface mistakes in KDE applications.

This time I want to talk about being GNOME friendly. While that may sound odd for a KDE developer to think about GNOME, assuming we want our applications to reach the largest possible audience, we should try to ensure GNOME users get a pleasurable experience. After all, a user is a user, there are efforts going on to ensure KDE works well on Windows and Mac OS X, I think we should also take care of GNOME users. They are at least as likely if not more likely to contribute back to our applications.

As usual with Qt, it already does most of the work for us: when a Qt or KDE application is running on a GNOME desktop, it will uses the "gtk+" Qt widget style by default. This widget style uses GTK+ primitives to draw widgets, which helps a lot to blend your application in the GNOME land.


You can of course test how your application behaves on GNOME by running it on the GNOME desktop. This is interesting to do, at least to keep an eye on what our fellow competitors are doing, but it takes quite some time. There is a faster way: start your application with these arguments: "-style gtk+".

KWrite running with the GTK+ style (Clearlooks GTK+ style):

"It doesn't work!"

What happened? If you get a message like that one:
The style 'gtk+' was not found

Tough luck: your version of Qt was not built with gtk+ support, not much to do here, except rebuilding Qt or using a different one.

If on the other hand you get something which looks a lot like Oxygen, chances are you are running the Oxygen GTK+ theme! This theme is great to integrate GTK+ and GNOME applications on a KDE desktop, but it's not really helpful here. There are a few ways to change your GTK+ theme from within KDE. The simplest one is probably "kcm-gtk", a GTK+ KConfig Module available from (Would be a nice candidate for inclusion in KDE SC!)

Making your application GNOME friendly

Enough testing, let's fix bugs now!

Double margins

First of all, be on the lookout for my all-time-favorite pet-peeve: "double margins". Oxygen often reduces the impact of double margin problems, but other styles do not. Here is for example a screenshot of Partition Manager with Oxygen:

Now, the same application, using the GTK+ style:

As you can see, there is quite a lot of wasted space. The fix is simple: call setMargin(0) on the layout in the embedded widget and the problem will go away.

  • note 1: QLayout::setMargin(int) is deprecated, and one should be using QLayout::setContentsMargin(int, int, int, int), but I can't get used to it: setMargin(int) is much shorter. Please Qt people, "un-deprecate" setMargin(int)!
  • note 2: Sorry for the french on the screenshots, hopefully it does not prevent you from seeing what I mean


Another good practice to make your application GNOME friendly is to use QFormLayout instead of QGridLayout for typical "label: [edit widget]" dialogs. Using QFormLayout ensures your labels will be correctly aligned: KDE 4 HIG says labels should be right aligned, while GNOME HIG prefers them to be aligned on the left.

Use standard dialog classes

One of the oldest GNOME vs KDE troll is button order in dialog boxes: KDE uses the OK-Cancel order, while GNOME uses Cancel-OK. If you use KDialog instead of QDialog as a base class for your dialogs, you won't have to worry about it: the button order will change according to the platform.

If you cannot use KDialog, for example because you develop a Qt-only application, do not create individual OK and Cancel buttons: use QDialogButtonBox. This class lets you define a standard dialog button bar: you just need to specify which buttons you need. If for some reason you develop a KDE application but do not want to use KDialog, be sure to use KDialogButtonBox, KDE version of QDialogButtonBox.


This one is for Qt-only applications: instead of embedding your own copy of the generic open, close, save... icons, consider using those coming from QStyle::StandardPixmap. Your application will automatically use GNOME icons when running on GNOME and KDE icons when running on KDE.

Update: Pau Garcia i Quiles points out you can also use QIcon::fromTheme(). You won't automatically get icons on Mac OS or Windows this way (contrary to using QStyle::StandardPixmap), but you get access to all icons from the current icon theme, this is likely to cover most if not all of your icon needs.


Sometimes you need to be ready to go the extra mile. For example, Gwenview start page used to be ugly and difficult to use with GTK+ themes because the tabs would not be rendered using the correct color. I worked around this bug by setting the style of the tab widgets to Plastique when running on GTK+.



If you are interested, here is the diff implementing this hack.


That's it for this episode, now lets see if can make our applications as beautiful on GNOME as they are on the KDE desktop!
This post was tagged kde and ui