Plasma – Desktop Icons in KDE 4.2

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”.

Icon Widgets

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).

Drag from Kickoff

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.

Icon Widget

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

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.

Folder view

Folder view

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

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.

Folderview Settings - Location

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.

  1. Create a new directory somewhere in your home directory (e.g. ~/applications)
  2. Add a new Folder View to your desktop and open its settings dialog.
  3. 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.
  4. Go to “Display”. Change the label to “Applications” and check “Align to grid”.
  5. 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:

  1. Add a Folder View widget.
  2. Point it to your download directory.
  3. You might want to change some display settings, such as setting the label to “Downloaded PDF files”.
  4. In “Filter”, choose “Show Files Matching”. Under “File Types:”, type “pdf” in the search bar.
  5. Check “PDF Document (*.pdf)” that appears in the list below. Click on OK.

Folderview Filter

Only show PDF files

Traditional Desktop

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:

  1. 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).
  2. Under “Desktop Activity”, you can see “Type: Desktop”. Change “Desktop” to “Folder View” and click on OK.

Folderview Desktop

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.

Have fun!


17 Responses to “Plasma – Desktop Icons in KDE 4.2”

  1. Mario Says:

    Thank you, I was searching a way to have the Desktop icons like in KDE3 and I eventually this. Thank you again, very nice explanation.

  2. Hans Says:

    Thanks Mario for your comment. Your feedback is highly appreciated.

  3. Woodstock69 Says:


    Good piece of prose, some interesting info about the Plasma Desktop.

    KDE 4 is moving along quite nicely, but lacks many features that people want or are used to from KDE 3.

    KDE 4 also has many, many new features that, and myself included, find difficult to comprehend as to their inclusion. this leads to the famous quip “I hate KDE4, it’s buggy, it’s not ready for the desktop” or some such similar comment. For example, as you pointed out, why would I want to rotate a desktop Icon? Yeah, it’s great that I can do it, but I don’t see the point of it, if it’s just to be different. That however doesn’t mean that the KDE developers didn’t have a different use for it that I’m not aware of.

    This is the crux of my problem at the moment. Does anyone have links or references for information pertaining to HOW and exactly WHY a feature is useful to the KDE 4 user? I know WHAT it offers, I want to know how to use them. I’m visual so I don’t like to read a lot (at least I like lots of graphics to illustrate ideas), I’d rather have it demonstrated.

    In the future as the feature set catches up with what was on offer from KDE 3 I feel that KDE 4 will be a killer DE.

  4. Hans Says:


    First of all, thanks for your feedback. It’s much more enjoyable to write articles if I know that there are people who appreciate them.

    > This is the crux of my problem at the moment. Does anyone have links or references for information pertaining to HOW and exactly WHY a feature is useful to the KDE 4 user?

    Unfortunately, I don’t know – if you’re subscribed to the Planet and visit the KDE forum, you might catch some nice tips.

    As part of a forum activity (called Kourses), some “students” made screencasts that explain some of the features of Plasma. Since you said that you wanted it demonstrated, maybe that could be something? You’ll find them on with the [KDE4.2] tag.
    I haven’t watched them myself, as is awfully slow here for some unknown reason.

    I’m going to continue to add tips here when I have time, for example I just found out that nepomuksearch: works with Folder View.

  5. redlove Says:


  6. 5PGuy Says:

    I quickly reviewing the comments, woodstock69 stated it best for my opinion. I had my KDE 3.5 all set up and then I upgraded to KDE 4.2. I’ve been on it a week and I want to return to my KDE 3.5. The word “comprehend” stands out for me. The second word that woodstock69 mentioned was documentation.

    I’ve tried retuning to KDE 3.5 but failed. So, I’m back to 4.2 and will live with it, until either I “get it” or find more documentation.

  7. Woodstock69 Says:

    Well, 5PGuy, I’m about to return to KDE 3.5 too. I’m using Linux Mint 6 KDE CD at the moment, but am downloading openSUSE 11.1 again to re-install KDE 3.5.

    To me the KDE 4 experiment has been a “successful” failure. I much prefer the functionality of KDE 3.5.10. I’ll make the comparison as much the same as between Vista and XP. Some like Vista some don’t. Some swear by XP and wont go past it. I’m at the stage now that when KDE 4.5 comes out, I’ll probably look at it again.

    I miss my Konquerer functionality, dual screens and themes. None of which feature in 4.2, or at least allude me. As regular participant at, I’ve decided to boycott any distro featuring KDE 4, until at least 4.5.

    I have real work to do (running a business) and don’t have time to fully learn (appreciate) the nuances of KDE 4.2, when KDE 3.5.10 is perfect.

    BTW. As I’ve stated, I do appreciate the work the KDE team and community are doing at progressing KDE 4 into a mature DE. It’s just not ready for me yet ;^)

  8. ScriptKiddie Says:

    This is effin ridiculous. I just want my damn icons to show up on the desktop in KDE4. I should not have to visit a blog like this to figure it out! I’m going to GNOME for good. Thanks anyway.

  9. 10 things you might want to do in KDE SC 4.4 « Who Says Penguins Can't Fly? Says:

    […] 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 […]

  10. Baldemar Huerta Says:

    I can’t find the answer to this anywhere. What is the black circular plus sign next to the icons for? It changes to a minus sign if you click it, but does nothing. Opensuse 11.3 4.4.4 (KDE 4.4.4) “release 3”

    They just showed up suddenly. I want to make them go away as they are superfluous, and look sucky.

  11. Hans Says:

    @Baldemar Huerta:

    Same as the + sign in Dolphin – clicking on it selects the icon. You can disable it in Dolphin but not in Folder View, as far as I know. A possible (“hackish” workaround could be to modify the theme and remove the plus icons.

  12. Baldemar Huerta Says:

    Well, they suddenly appeared, after not being there, no theme change, just an update. So there must be a setting somewhere in KDE or opensuse. When you say “selects the icon, I assume that’s the same as ctrl+click? It looks that way. Again, extra effort to click the plus vs ctrl+click.

  13. Hans Says:

    You won’t get an option to disable every feature that’s introduced. In 4.5 you will get another icon, an up arrow to open the folder popup (the one that shows up on hover in 4.4). There is no option to change this either because no one had time to implement it, but there will be in 4.6.

    Yes it’s the same as Ctrl+left click. Sometimes it’s useful when you don’t have your other hand on the keyboard, and I’m sure there are people who find clicking on the plus easier. And it’s easier to discover as well.
    Personally I like to use keyboard modifiers, for example Alt+left click to move a window or Alt+right click to resize it. But most people I know drag the titlebar or borders to move/resize windows.

  14. mobiusinversion Says:

    Great tip, thanks, was looking for how to do that! 🙂

  15. HerbertHornBlower Says:

    Firstly a big thanks to the author of this article but a hell of a shame it’s fcu*ing necessary to find something like this just to do very basic normal things on a desktop like use f**ing icons as normal basic shortcuts and actually HAVE THEM SHOW UP AT ALL (ie. I like to set the download destination in Firefox to the desktop so I can always see the newly downloaded item/icon appear).

    THIS JUST GOES TO SHOW HOW HALFWITTED MOST OF THE LINUX/KDE DEVS TRULY ARE, now obviously these types are good at coding and I really respect that but when it comes to “real life” or basic common sense they are so stupid, even a Tortoise is bright in comparison. I have used linux for nearly 2 years and had a good experience with Gnome 2.xx, until now that they also show how stupid they are by giving everyone a touchscreen interface with NO choice in the matter, KDE is the only nice looking alternative, so I have switched in the last few weeks and find that it takes so much reading and begging just to find the way to do some really basic things in KDE, like many of the things mentioned above and in those basic ‘how to’ animations.

    Oh, and btw, dragging & dropping between 2 open windows side by side in KDE is a joke aswell, perhaps some kind soul might write a whole new blog on this just to help the poor folks who will be sticking with this crap.

    Unfortunatley I can now see why so many millions of people all over the place like forums, Youtube etc etc say “Linux Sucks” because basically, it does, hows about another “LITTLE” thing like the categorically bad appearance of Firefox in just about every single KDE distro, people then yap on about GTK+Oxygen themes and a whole load of similar garbage, the fonts look so bad in firefox it could seriously damage someones eyesight for chrissakes!. So do I really want to spend ages messing with fonts, changing stupid themes just to view any webpage with the naked human eyes? NO

    Back to a proper, professionally developed OS for me, WIN 7 Ultimate 64bit, perfect fonts, perfect stability, far better apps, far better appearance, no messing with fonts and stupid “folder views” just to get a “traditional” desktop, yes the downside is damn security suites and their updating etc but at least I can actually enjoy computing and finally, so many of the stupid Linux users remarks about “blue screens of death”, what bsods? I haven’t seen a bsod since Win 2000, Vista & 7 are rock solid stable.

    Enjoy the garbage that is KDE & all other modern DEs since the only half decent one, Gnome 2.xx, is now a thing of the past !!! LOL and BYE 🙂

  16. vilhelm von gutenborough Says:

    Well then…now that’s out of the way 🙂
    I personally enjoy ‘putering in many distros and as well Windows.
    It’s all so fascinating. When you think of how far we’ve come since the late eighties when it was all about unix, ftp and telnet (very fascinating time of socially connecting )…it’s wild to think about it. Linux will always be a sandbox of vast creativity, tweakable eye candy and enjoyably useful for me.
    Anyway I too am perplexed by the plus and minus sign in the latest kde editions…haven’t found reference to this in the help section.

  17. Tim Says:

    @HerbertHornBlower – Well I would not have put it exactly that way (ahem) but I mostly agree. The “mobile interface on the desktop” thing is ridiculously stupid. It’s a shame that KDE is one of the only alternatives that is an actual desktop, but there is mate (a fork of gnome 2.x), but mate does not work with compiz at all (compiz is half-abandoned anyway) so that leave KDE as the only desktop which allows 3D effects, many of which are very useful. But I’ve been using linux as my desktop since the mid 1990’s and KDE is too goofy and nerdy even for me. I thought Gnome 2.x was the best desktop of all including OS X and Windows.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: