The new desktop in KDE4 works quite differently from what many are used to. One thing many new users wonder is, “How do the desktop icons work?” In this post I’ll share my experience with icons in Plasma-desktop.
Note: I use the latest development version of KDE4, which means that some things may look slightly different on your computer.
Let’s start with the most simple icon. If you just want a “normal” desktop with icons, see the section “Traditional Desktop”.
You’ve probably already discovered the “Add Widgets” dialog, which lets you put all kind of stuff on your desktop: calculators, calenders, sticky notes and clocks, just to name a few. So how do we add an icon widget to the desktop?
There are many ways – a relative straightforward method is to drag and drop. For example, you can drag a file from the file manager Dolphin and drop it on the desktop. If you want a shortcut to an application, simply drag its icon from the application launcher. (Note that this requires your widgets to be unlocked).
Dragging an icon from Kickoff, the default application launcher
The result is an icon that behaves like the other widgets. You’ll notice that the black handle will appear on hover, and you can resize/rotate the icon.
The icon widget behaves like any other widget
Now you might wonder, “Why would anyone want to do that?”. I don’t know. But the fact is that this icon is a widget; for example, if you remove it from the desktop, the original file won’t be deleted. This has several disadvantages, such as not being able to sort icons and align them to grid. So how do we get more “traditional” icons?
Folder View is basically a widget that shows the content of a directory. By default, there’s a Folder View on your desktop that displays the files in your desktop directory.
You’ll find that Folder View, in contrast to the icon widgets, has the most features one would expect: you select icons, sort and align them to grid, create/delete files etc.
If you have a hard time understanding what the Folder View does, you can think of it as a Dolphin window (the default file manager) without any toolbars.
Folder View – Dolphin’s cousin living on the desktop?
The big difference is that you can’t navigate through directories (folders) in Folder View. Instead, it’ll launch your preferred file manager when you click on a folder.
You can add as many Folder Views as you want from the “Add Widgets” dialog and point them to different locations. In the next section, I’m going to talk briefly about how you can use Folder View.
First, let’s check the settings: right click -> Folder View Settings or press the wrench on the black border that appears on hover.
Folder View Setting – Location
First of all, you can set the location; i.e., the directory that the Folder View should show. Note that it isn’t restricted to local directories – you can also show files from remote FTP, SSH etc.
In “Display”, you can customize the look of the widget. Not much to say here.
The “Filter” page lets you set which types of items the Folder View should display. The default setting is “Show all files”, but you can choose to show or hide certain files based on their file name and type. For example. I might want to show all image files that begin with “kde” in a directory.
The last page, “Keyboard Shortcut”, doesn’t seem to be very useful at the moment. I think the idea is to set a shortcut to give the widget focus, but keyboard navigation in Folder View doesn’t appear to work very well at the moment.
Now, let’s give two concrete examples of how you can use Folder View.
Example 1. Favorite Applications
You might want to create a Folder View that shows your favorite applications. No problem.
- Create a new directory somewhere in your home directory (e.g. ~/applications)
- Add a new Folder View to your desktop and open its settings dialog.
- In “Location”, click on “Specify a folder:” and enter the location (e.g. ~/applications). You can also click on the button to the right to select directory.
- Go to “Display”. Change the label to “Applications” and check “Align to grid”.
- Press OK.
Now you can add applications, for example by drag and drop from the application launcher. When you drop the icon, you’ll probably see a list with different options. “Copy here” should do just fine, since you only copy the .desktop file of the application. “Link here” also works. If you don’t want to see the list, hold down
ctrl when you drag the icons.
Example 2. Downloaded PDF files
This main point of this example is to demonstrate the Filter option. Let’s say you want to show all PDF files in your “Download” directory:
- Add a Folder View widget.
- Point it to your download directory.
- You might want to change some display settings, such as setting the label to “Downloaded PDF files”.
- In “Filter”, choose “Show Files Matching”. Under “File Types:”, type “pdf” in the search bar.
- Check “PDF Document (*.pdf)” that appears in the list below. Click on OK.
Only show PDF files
So Folder View is great and everything, but what if I don’t want my icons in a box? There are many users that just want a traditional desktop. So they just have to resize a Folder View to cover their entire desktop and use a theme like Naked.
But that would be rather silly, wouldn’t it?
Actually, you can choose to use Folder View as your desktop, and it’s very easy to do:
- Right click on the desktop -> Appearance Settings (in my version it’s called Desktop Settings, but I think KDE 4.2 uses the former name).
- Under “Desktop Activity”, you can see “Type: Desktop”. Change “Desktop” to “Folder View” and click on OK.
Choosing Folder View as desktop type
You should now have a traditional desktop. Huzzah! To revert to the default desktop, right click -> Folder View Settings and change “Type” to “Desktop”. You’ll also find the Folder View settings in this dialog.
I hope that you found this somewhat helpful. To round things off, here are some tips:
- You can still add widgets to the traditional desktop. Click on the cashew and choose “Add widgets…”.
- Like any other widget, you can add Folder View to a panel.
- If you like the tip above, check out QuickAccess, “a small applet designed for the panel to have quick access to the most used folders”. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work with KDE 4.2 yet.