10 things you might want to do in KDE SC 4.4

With the release of KDE Software Compilation 4.4, many may feel tempted to give KDE Plasma Desktop (previously known as just “KDE”, see Repositioning the KDE Brand) a try. Plasma Desktop introduced in KDE SC 4 behaves quite differently from other popular desktop workspaces, and without doubt many new users will feel slightly lost and confused the first time.

I’ve gathered some tips for new users to get a more familiar desktop, based on frequently asked questions I’ve seen in various places. This is in no way a “10 things you should do” list – it’s up to you to decide which way you like better.

The post is mainly aimed at those who are new to Plasma Desktop, but even experienced users might learn something new.

KDE Plasma Desktop

Just a short note before we begin: the images with a play button are linked to short screencasts – just click to watch them. The screencasts are encoded in GIF and can therefore be played in most web browsers without any additional plugins. The downside is that the quality is quite poor, hope you can bear with it.

Without further ado, here are 10 things you might want to do in KDE SC 4.4:

1. Change the application launcher

The default application launcher in most distributions

Some like it, others don’t – it’s about the default application launcher “Kickoff”. Fortunately, it’s very easy to switch to a more traditional application launcher, similar to the one featured in the KDE 3 series:

Switch to Classic Menu Style

  1. Unlock widgets if they’re locked
  2. Right click on the application launcher icon and choose “Switch to Classic Menu Style”

There is also a more advanced application launcher called Lancelot. This widget, among others, is usually found in a package called kdeplasma-addons. To find out how to add Lancelot to your panel, see section 6. Tweak your panel.

Classic Menu (left) and Lancelot (right)

2. Switch to a traditional desktop with icons

The “traditional desktop” I’m talking about is the type of desktop where you basically have a fullscreen file manager with a nice wallpaper. You can put icons on it, create new folders and files etc.

Traditional Desktop

The default desktop type in Plasma Desktop behaves in a different way. Instead of icons, you put widgets on it – for example icon widgets, or a widget to show the content of a folder (called Folder View). To switch to a traditional desktop, all you need to do is change desktop type:

Switch to traditional desktop

  1. Click on the toolbox (or right click on desktop) and choose “Desktop Activity Settings”
  2. Click on “Activity”
  3. Change “Type” to “Folder View”
  4. Click on “Apply” or “OK”

Options for the Folder View desktop type will appear in the Desktop Activity Settings dialog. Note that you can still put widgets on the desktop if you want.

For more information about desktop icons, see this blog post. Although it’s written for KDE SC 4.2, most of the things are the same in 4.4.

3. Choose your wallpaper

While this is similar to how it works in other workspaces, Plasma Desktop offers some extra functionality that are worth mentioning. If you only want to change the wallpaper image:

Change Wallpaper

  1. Click on the toolbox (or right click on desktop) and choose “Desktop Activity Settings”
  2. Make sure “Type” is set to “Image”
  3. Either select a wallpaper in the list, or click on “Open…” to select an image file
  4. Click on “OK”

As you probably have guessed, there are other wallpaper types as well. Below is a short description of those shipped with KDE SC 4.4 (some found in kdeplasma-addons):

Color

Paints a solid color or a gradient between two colors on the desktop.

Virus

Viruses that mutate, spread and slowly eat your wallpaper. The better a virus adapts to your wallpaper, the higher is the chance that it’ll survive and pass on its DNA to future generations.

Virus wallpaper

Mandelbrot

Shows a Mandelbrot set fractal on your desktop. You can move the fractal by holding down your left mouse button and drag the Mandelbrot around. Even better, zoom in/out with your mouse wheel or by holding down the middle button (scroll wheel) and move the mouse cursor up or down.

Mandelbrot wallpaper

Note: If your right click menu disappears after changing to this wallpaper type, you can open the Wallpaper dialog by clicking on the toolbox (located in the top-right corner by default) and press “Desktop Activity Settings”. When you’re happy with your Mandelbrot set it’s possible to lock the view (from the wallpaper dialog) to get the mouse actions – such as the right click menu – back.

Weather

Displays different wallpapers depending on the current weather. You can decide which pictures to show for certain weather conditions from the Advanced dialog.

Pattern

Repeated pattern painted on the desktop.

Image

Probably the most commonly used wallpaper type. Pick an image to show as your wallpaper.

Slideshow

Can’t decide which picture you want on your desktop? No problem, with slideshow you can have them all. The images will automatically switch after a set amount of time.

Globe

A globe for your desktop. There are many different map themes to choose among, and you can set the movement to Interactive, Follow the sun, Rotate and Do not move.

Globe wallpaper

4. Set different wallpaper on each virtual desktop

One feature many ask for is the ability to have different wallpapers on different virtual desktops. This is not directly possible in Plasma Desktop – however, you can have different “desktops”, formally known as activities, on each virtual desktop.

You may think of an activity as what you usually call “desktop”. Other than a name, an activity also has a wallpaper, some features (e.g. display icons) and can contain other widgets – namely the ones you put on the desktop.

The name “virtual desktop” is quite confusing, since it’s actually a group of windows. By default you have the same activity – and therefore also the same wallpaper – on all virtual desktops. To enable different activity on each virtual desktop:

Different activity on each desktop

  1. Open the application “System Settings”
  2. Browse to “Desktop”, “Multiple Desktops”
  3. Check the checkbox “Different activity on each desktop”
  4. Click on “Apply” and close System Settings

Now you can have not only different wallpapers, but also different widgets on each virtual desktop.

5. Tweak your panel

The panel, often confused with the taskbar (which is a widget that shows your running applications), can be tweaked in many ways. The first two steps are always the same:

  1. Unlock widgets if they’re locked
  2. Click on the panel toolbox to the far right, or right click somewhere in the panel and choose “Panel Options”, “Panel Settings”. Note that the latter won’t work everywhere, for example not in the taskbar or system tray

Now you see the panel options. Here are some stuff you can play around with:

Change the height (screencast)

  1. Click on the “Height” button and hold down the left mouse button while moving the mouse cursor up or down

Change the width (screencast)

Panel sliders to change the panel width

  1. Depending on the panel alignment, you’ll see two or four sliders with arrows. Drag those with the mouse to change the panel width. The arrows pointing out from the panel define the maximum width and the ones pointing inwards the minimum width

Move the panel (screencast)

  1. Hold down the left mouse button over “Screen Edge” and drag the panel to the desired screen edge
  2. Adjustments can be made with the panel slider pointing at the panel. It’s also possible to change the panel alignment

Add widgets to panel (screencast)

  1. Click on “Add widgets…”
  2. Drag the desired widgets to the panel or double click to add them

Move widgets (screencast)

  1. If you’ve opened the panel toolbox, you can move widgets in the panel with simple drag and drop operations

For more ways to configure your panel, see Plasma HowTo.

In Plasma Desktop, you aren’t limited to one panel – you can add as many panels as you want. However, it’s not possible to change the background and transparency for individual panels – these properties are determined by the workspace theme. If you want to change the appearance for all panels, either change workspace theme or create a custom one. For more information, see the next section 6. Customize the appearance.

6. Customize the appearance

You can change the appearance of many things in Plasma Workspace – everything from icon theme to the look of the window decoration.

Let’s start by launching System Settings and click on “Appearance”. To the left you see a list of modules to configure various parts of the workspace.

Appearance section in System Settings

The names are pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll let you play around with the settings yourself. Just a few notes:

  • Most modules have a button to download new content, but there are a few exceptions: application styles, window decorations and fonts. The reason the first two don’t have this button is because native styles/window decorations has to be compiled – they’re best installed through your package manager
    • With that said, the Aurorae Theme Engine allows you to download and install SVG-based window decoration themes. Under “Windows”, select “Aurorae Decoration Theme Engine”, click on “Get New Themes…” and download to your heart’s content
  • If you want to use the window grouping feature, only some window decorations support it at the moment – for example the default decoration “Oxygen” and “Tabstrip”
  • The workspace theme (panels, widget backgrounds etc.) can be change from “Style”, “Workspace”
    • If you want greater control and change the theme for individual workspace components, click on “Overview” in the toolbar and browse to “Advanced” tab, “Desktop Theme Details”

7. Activate/deactivate screen edge actions

Don’t like how windows maximize or tile when you drag them to a screen edge? Or maybe the desktop effect when you hit the top-left corner with your mouse irritates you? No problem – in either case you just need to change an option in System Settings.

Configure active screen edges

  1. Launch System Settings
  2. Navigate to “Desktop”, “Screen Edges”
  3. Click on the different squares in the monitor to set/unset screen edge actions for that location
  4. Use the checkboxes under “Window Management” to enable/disable quick tiling of windows
  5. The setting at the bottom enables you to switch virtual desktop by moving the mouse cursor to a screen edge
  6. When you’re happy with the settings, hit “Apply”

8. Configure mouse actions on the desktop

Two groups of people will be especially happy for this new feature in 4.4:

  • Laptop users who sometimes accidentally scroll through virtual desktop when moving the mouse cursor over the desktop
  • Persons who want to set a custom menu to pop up when clicking on the desktop

Even if you don’t belong to either group, you might find this option useful.

Customize mouse actions on the desktop

  1. Click on the toolbox (or right click on desktop) and choose “Desktop Activity Settings”
  2. Choose “Mouse Plugins”

Each action consist of a row with 4-5 items (from left to right):

  1. Trigger - Mouse button/wheel to trigger the action. To change the trigger, click on the button. It’ll remain pressed and say “Input here…”. Now, click with a mouse button or scroll in a direction over the button. Note that you can combine this with modifier keys (such as Ctrl)
  2. Action list – Choose the desired action from the dropdown list
  3. Configure button (not always shown) – Lets you configure the selected action
  4. Information button – Shows an About dialog for the action
  5. Remove button – Removes the mouse action

To remove an action, simply press the remove key on the same row. At the bottom there’s a button to add new mouse actions.

If you don’t set “Standard Menu” to any mouse trigger, you can still access the Mouse Actions dialog from the toolbox (by default in the top-right corner).

Similar to other settings in this window, the mouse actions are activity-specific. If you have more than one activity, you have to change the mouse actions for all of them – or you could have different mouse actions on different activities (see section 4. Set different wallpaper on each virtual desktop for more information about activities).

9. Configure other settings

You’ll find more KDE software options in – surprise, surprise – System Settings. Here are some favorite modules of mine:

  • Look & Feel: Desktop, Desktop Effects – If your hardware supports compositing and you’ve installed the required drivers, it’s possible get various useful (and less useful) desktop effects. In this module you can Suspend/Resume Compositing (Alt-Shift-F12 is faster if you do it regularly), play around with effects and find other relevant options
  • Look & Feel: Desktop, Launch Feedback – I don’t like the bouncy icon that appears when you launch applications, so that’s one of the first things I disable in this module
  • Look & Feel: Window Behavior, Window Behavior – A lot of options to control how your windows should behave
  • Computer Administration: Keyboard & Mouse, Global Keyboard Shortcuts – Configure global keybindings. Change the components with the “KDE component” dropdown list
  • Computer Administration: Input Action – More advanced module to set different input actions, such as keyboard shortcuts, mouse gestures and window actions
  • Advanced User Settings (Advanced tab): Autostart – Manage autostart programs and scripts
  • Advanced User Settings (Advanced tab): Session Manager – If you find that applications not listed in Autostart still start up with Plasma Desktop, it’s probably because you restore the previous session (“A session contains of a collection of applications as well as application-specific information that reflects the state of the applications at the time the session was saved” — Techbase). This module lets you change this behavior under “On Login”. Personally I like the option “Restore Manually saved session”. When this option is selected, the session can be saved from Kickoff (the default application launcher) or the classic menu

If you find it troublesome to navigate back and forth in System Settings, you might prefer the classic tree view style:

Tree View in System Settings

  1. Launch System Settings
  2. Click on “Configure” in the toolbar (if you’re inside a module, you can’t see this button)
  3. Select “Classic Tree View” under “View Style” and click on “OK”

10. Check out online resources

To round off, here are some recommended KDE websites where you can find more interesting things:

  • kde.org – The official KDE site where you’ll find announcements,  useful information about various parts of KDE and links to other relevant sites
  • userbase.kde.org – Wiki for KDE software users. The screencasts in this post were taken from http://userbase.kde.org/Plasma/HowTo/4.4
  • forum.kde.org – KDE Community Forums. Here you can get help from other users (including contributors such as KDE developers), post ideas in Brainstorm, have discussions with KDE enthusiasts and much more
  • kde-look.org – Get new themes, wallpapers, icons, widgets and other stuff. Or why not share your own creations?
  • kde-apps.org – Same as kde-look.org but for KDE applications

I hope you found some of the tips useful; if you think I missed something, just drop a comment below. Feedback in general is also much appreciated!

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26 Responses to “10 things you might want to do in KDE SC 4.4”

  1. Mariano Says:

    Wow! Very, very usefull and inspiring. This is one of the best KDE SC post I have ever seen.
    (and thank you for the easy explanation about activities)

  2. Christoph Says:

    Wow! Thank you! This is a very good tutorial, and I wonder what needs to be done to make it more visible.

    One correction (I only read it quickly): The QtCurve theme already supports window tabbing, as far as I know.

  3. Fri13 Says:

    What about making this kind 10-points-tutorial to KDE SC start on first login? User could get small prompt “Do you want to see a demostration of basic features?” with nice graphics. And if user answers “no”, then it would be placed to Help menu. It would have a basic usage of some most used apps as well. Like Dolphin, how to navigate, how to create new folder/file. How to copy/move a file, change the preview ON/Off or how to tag files etc.

    Then the Help could have the links to userbase for video tutorials and not just screenshots of it.

  4. Fri13 Says:

    @Mariano, I suggest to watch Chani’s screencast about activities. It goes them pretty well trough.

  5. Laurent Maillard Says:

    “KDE Software Complication” ? Funny typo, or is it a typo ? :)

    I haven’t read it yet, but the article looks very interesting.

  6. DeKay Says:

    You mean I can finally turn off the hated desktop switching on vertical scroll???? THANK YOU KDE DEVS!

  7. Hans Says:

    @Mariano:
    Thank you for your kind words.

    @Christoph:
    Cool, didn’t know that QtCurve already supports window tabbing. However, as far as I know, it’s not shipped with KDE SC – so I’m still half right. ;)

    Nevertheless, I reworded the phrase. If you want more people to find the article, just link to it where you think it will be appreciated.

    @Fri13:
    There have been plans for a “Welcome Plasmoid” for quite some time (I remember seeing something like that in pre-4.0 times), but no one has got around to do it. Who knows, maybe I will…

    If I decide to do it – and that’s a big if – I’ll make sure to gather feedback from users, developers etc. first.

    @Laurent Maillard:
    Gaah! I always spend time on proof-reading my articles, but still manage to overlook the silliest things. But I agree – funny typo, and believe me, not intentional at all. My fingers aren’t used to writing “compilation” yet. :D

    Fixed now, thanks for pointing it out.

    @DeKay:
    There was a workaround before (switch to “Folder View” desktop type, even if you didn’t want icons) but now you can disable it regardless of desktop type. Hooray!

  8. Serge Says:

    Nice tips, but this is my number 1.

    I always rebind the key of krunner to alt-space, because krunner is often faster when you want to start up a program than kick-off or classic menu.

  9. Wade Says:

    These are nice tips. You should check to see if such topics are in userbase or the KDE forums, and if not, add them.

    Keep on writing!

  10. Martin Says:

    The way you describe the Folder View activity as a “traditional desktop” option does not make clear — in fact it seems like you may not even be aware — that you don’t have to choose between “a fullscreen file manager with a nice wallpaper” and using desktop widgets. You can use plasmoids on top of the full screen folder view just fine. Try switching to “Folder View” mode now: the widgets stay.

  11. jospoortvliet Says:

    I’d like to echo the comment about adding this as documentation somewhere, at least as a link to this blogpost… userbase seems the right place for it. After all the planet is not read by everyone, and even if every KDE user would read it they might miss this :D

  12. Hans Says:

    @Serge:
    Yeah that’s a nice one I do myself. For those who don’t know, KRunner is the dialog that shows up when you press Alt-F2. To remap the shortcut:

    1. Launch System Settings
    2. Navigate to Keyboard & Mouse, Global Keyboard Shortcuts
    3. Choose “Run Command Interface” in the list of KDE components
    4. Click on “Run Command” in the shortcut list, click on the button “None” and press a keyboard combination (e.g. Alt-Space)
    5. Click on “Apply”

    @Wade:
    I’m going to do some work on the “Getting Started” section in Userbase when I find some time. As for the forums, I guess I can post a topic in the Tutorials & Tips section. =)

    @Martin:
    I’m aware of it (actually if you read the other blog post about desktop icons I linked to, you’ll see that I’ve written it there). I’ll add a small comment about it to make it more clear.

    @jospoortvliet:
    As I wrote above, I’ll help out with Userbase once my TODO list is less overwhelming. I don’t feel very comfortable linking to my own blog in the wiki, but if someone wants to do it or use parts from the article, that’s OK with me.

  13. westfingers Says:

    I uploaded new images

  14. Links 5/3/2010: Elive Stable 2.0 Topaz, Canonical CEO Speaks | Boycott Novell Says:

    [...] 10 things you might want to do in KDE SC 4.4 With the release of KDE Software Compilation 4.4, many may feel tempted to give KDE Plasma Desktop (previously known as just “KDE”, see Repositioning the KDE Brand) a try. Plasma Desktop introduced in KDE SC 4 behaves quite differently from other popular desktop workspaces, and without doubt many new users will feel slightly lost and confused the first time. [...]

  15. Liens en vrac #15 | Pressenux Says:

    [...] L'apparition de Plasma (système de widget) sur KDE depuis sa quatrième version me semble un peu déroutante, pour remédier à cela et avoir un bureau plus familié voici 10 astuces que vous pourriez avoir envie de faire sur KDE 4.4 [...]

  16. Links 9/3/2010: Yellow Dog Linux for CUDA, OpenArena 0.8.5 | Boycott Novell Says:

    [...] 10 things you might want to do in KDE SC 4.4 With the release of KDE Software Compilation 4.4, many may feel tempted to give KDE Plasma Desktop (previously known as just “KDE”, see Repositioning the KDE Brand) a try. Plasma Desktop introduced in KDE SC 4 behaves quite differently from other popular desktop workspaces, and without doubt many new users will feel slightly lost and confused the first time. [...]

  17. dj Says:

    “What about making this kind 10-points-tutorial to KDE SC start on first login? User could get small prompt “Do you want to see a demostration of basic features?” with nice graphics. ”

    This is a great suggestion from Fri13 above. KDE 4 is dying for some sort of wizard to help a user configure all the visual options. Someone told me that Ubuntu Lucid provides an improved/new installer for Grub2 which prompts/shows the user features. They said this is an example of what KDE 4 should do. This would greatly help improve KDE 4 and get new users up fast and with fewer problems — then they can start tweaking. There are so many places to change the visuals in KDE 4 and some of them stomp on one another.

    Nice list.

  18. 10 things you might want to do in KDE SC 4.4 « Who Says Penguins Can’t Fly? « Okwari Says:

    [...] 10 things you might want to do in KDE SC 4.4 « Who Says Penguins Can’t Fly? Posted in: Tech ← Scrivener 2.0 Be the first to start a conversation [...]

  19. Wolfgang Hahnl Says:

    Hello Hans,

    your side is very interesting. I enjoyed it. Do you know were I can find some more information about working with different virtual desktops. I have KDE 4.4.4. with openSuse 11.3.
    At the beginning I worked with 4 desktops with different wallpapers and applications for work, for multimedia or others. To learn more I played with the hook in front of Different activity on each desktop you described under point 4. Suddenly my desktop 1 disapeared. As I minimized the desktop with the cashew on the right corner I saw my desktop with all others but didn´t get it . After I added 2 more virtual desktops I got it bag.

    Thanks in advance

    Wolfgang

  20. Hans Says:

    Hi Wolfgang,

    Sorry for the late response, I’ve been on a vacation and then got overloaded with work when I came back. Also, thanks for your kind words.

    I don’t use the “Different activity on each desktop” option myself so unfortunately I don’t know much about how it works.

    If you want to know more about activities, then you can find some nice screencasts on Chani’s blog. Activities will be more than groups of different widgets/backgrounds, and hopefully we will see more applications taking advantage of it in 4.7.

    If you have any specific questions, you can ask in the KDE Forums.

  21. Moeen Says:

    Really This entire tutorial was worth reading; It’s the best kde customization tutorial i have ever seen !

  22. yt Says:

    Hi there,
    this was really helpful. Maybe you got an Idea on my actual Problem.
    I’m using the newest KDE Desktop and a Wine Application. But it shows Scrollbars, overlapping in that Window. Theses Scrollbars are not close to the edge and overlay some part of the application.
    Any suggestions on how to get rid off these Scrollbars or place them right?

    Thanks in advance,
    yt

  23. Hans Says:

    @yt:

    Does this problem occur for all applications, or just applications run with Wine? Can you post a screenshot?

    I’ve never heard of this problem before so I’m not sure if I can help you. In general, you’ll get better help with KDE software in the KDE forums: http://forum.kde.org/
    For Wine they also seem to have a forum: http://forum.winehq.org/

  24. yt Says:

    Thanks for your response. You are right, I’ll have to ask in WineHQ.

    Because KDE is so heavy configurable, it sure would have been easy to fix , so I hoped to find an answer here :)
    I changed the style of KDE and such things, with no Effect. So it is obviously no KDE Problem.

    Thank you.
    yt


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