Today, I found myself using Konqueror and needing to swtich back and forth from "details" view and "icon" view a lot. Unfortunately I couldn't find a toolbar button to do this in Konqueror. There may well be one, but one of Konq's major shortcomings and longtime pet peeves of mine is when you go to "customize toolbar" and there are what seem like hundreds of icons in there, 99% of which no human being in the history of the world has ever wanted or needed to be on their toolbar. Another shortcoming are the weird icons that are in certain toolbars by default, and when you remove them you can never add them back. Being powerful and configurable is one thing, but that kind of confusing behavior is overkill and helps no one.
In frustration, I googled a bit and found some links to Dolphin hinting that it may solve my problems. Dolphin is a minimalistic file-browsing-oriented alternative to Konqueror that will be part of KDE 4. By design it lacks a lot of the bells and whistles of Konqueror, like web browsing and embedded Amarok panes and whatnot that a lot of people probably could do without anyways. It turns out Dolphin 0.8.2 is already available through portage and works in KDE 3 just fine. So I thought I'd give it a try. Long story short, I'm very impressed with it and I plan to use it as my default file manager.
First thing I noticed was that Dolphin loads instantaneously, compared to the (short) lag that always hits when firing up Konq. After it loaded, the first thing I did, of course, was customize the toolbar. I'm happy to report that the list of available toolbar icons in Dolphin is much shorter than Konq's and most of what's there looks to be actually useful.
Dolphin does by default have buttons on the toolbar that let you switch view modes easily, which made me very happy and solved my original problem. The available modes are limited to Icons, Details, and Previews. These are probably the only view modes I ever found useful in Konqueror. Sure, File Size View is really neat, but I use it once in a blue moon and it should be a separate tool. Photobook is nice too, but if I want to browse photos to that degree of detail I'll use a dedicated program to do it. Perhaps the only one missing from Dolphin is some kind of Tree view.
Making "Previews" a top-level view mode instead of a sub-option of other view modes is something that never occurred to me, but it makes a heck of a lot of sense. I often find myself becoming annoyed in Konq when my neat rows and columns of icons is thrown off by the preview of a single enormous image file that happened to be sitting in a folder. Now I can easily flip back to Icons mode via a button on the toolbar.
The other thing Icons vs. Previews as top-level options lets you do is specify different icon sizes for each. I usually want very large thumbnails for previewing, and medium-to-small icons in icon mode, because the two view modes serve different tasks: scanning files by name and general "type" vs. scanning them by content. In the former case, you want as many filenames on screen as possible; in the latter, you want as much information from each single file as possible. Dolphin lets you give different icon sizes for each, so it fits this model well.
Dolphin also lets you specify different fonts and font sizes for each view mode. I think this is somewhat useless and I'm not sure of the point. Beyond that you can specify the grid size and how many lines your icon text will use. So Dolphin retains plenty of the configurability of Konq in this regard.
Aside from view modes, Dolphin's interface is polished in many other ways. For example it has a sidebar similar to OS X's Finder pane that contains shortcuts to various important locations like Home, Root, Trash, Network and Media. Konq has sidebars similar to this, but they are not as built-in and nice-looking as Dolphin's. The bookmarks that appear in this sidebar are configurable.
You can also change the side pane to show an "Information" view similar to Windows XP's sidebar and similar to Konq's Metabar; in Dolphin it shows a large icon with some file-related info and links to various "actions". For MP3s for example it shows Title, Genre, kbps etc. This information changes as you mouseover icons. I find this to be a very good alternative to the garish and sometimes intrusive large off-white tooltips that Konq uses to show the same info. I believe the "actions" in Dolphin's sidebar can be customized by using servicemenus similarly to Konq, but I haven't spent any time trying it; I'd like to see some GUI to let you change these, but such is life. Then again I'll probably never use this information pane anyways. On that note, if you hate all of the above, you can also disable the sidebar entirely of course.
The location bar in Dolphin uses a "breadcrumb" model similar to Vista, where each folder from your current location up to root or Home is a clickable button. But you can very easily switch back to a simple text field, with a little button on the toolbar. You can also force Dolphin to default to the text field, if you hate the breadcrumbs.
There are other little things, like when resizing the Dolphin window in Details view, the columns resize intelligently so that the text remains readable and no horizontal scrolling is necessary; this is in contrast to how Konq behaves when resizing, and is very nice in Dolphin. And some error messages that default to a pop-up focus-stealing dialog box in Konq now appear as a flash of text in the statusbar.
And a killer Dolphin feature in my opinion is how you can type a / to pop open a "filter" bar and then start typing to limit your current folder view to filenames that match a string. It's very similar to Firefox's type-ahead find. Konq already had a Filter bar you could display in the toolbar to achieve the same purpose, but to my knowledge Konq has nothing so similar to Firefox where you could simply start typing.
Overall I love Dolphin so far. Someone clearly did some research into ways to make a better file manager. Kudos to the KDE devs. I am looking forward to KDE 4.