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:

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Plasma HowTo updated

Just a quick note: The Plasma HowTo has now been updated for 4.4. With short screencasts encoded in animated GIF files, it shows how to perform common tasks in Plasma Desktop. For example:

Plasma HowTo - Move Widget

The screencasts are small and can be played in almost any graphical web browser, at the expense of reduced image quality. Given that the screencasts are meant as HowTos and not for showing off Plasma Desktop, I think the lacking quality is acceptable (for now) considering the advantages. In the future, with HTML5 and whatnot, the format will probably be Ogg Theora.

If you want to create your own animated GIF screencasts, I have written a small guide here (updated yesterday).

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Answer Day at KDE Community Forums, 4th February

On Thursday 4th February 2010, the KDE Community Forums is holding a new event called Answer Day. The event will start 00:00 UTC (ends 23:59 UTC), and everyone can participate! We’ll focus on doing the following two things:

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Dvorak – Two years later, was it worth it?

It’s been almost two years since I picked up a new keyboard and started to learn Dvorak. Looking back, was it worth the time and effort? Did it mess up my QWERTY skills? And which layout do I use today? That’s some of the questions I’m going to answer in this post.

First of all, what is Dvorak? Since you read this post, I’m sure you already know a little bit about it – for example, that it’s a keyboard layout developed by August Dvorak and his brother-in-law William Dealey. An example of the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard layout (United States version) looks like this:

The standard layout nowadays is QWERTY (although some countries use other layouts, such as AZERTY), named after the first six characters on the top row. If you use QWERTY, look down at your keyboard. Have you ever wondered why the keys are arranged in the way they are? It’s not very easy to find a pattern.

Sometimes one can hear that Dvorak was designed to be efficient, while QWERTY on the other hand was created to slow typists down. You could argue about the former, but the latter is just a common misunderstanding. If you want to learn why (and how) the two keyboard layouts were invented, and find out more about Dvorak in general, I highly recommend The Dvorak Zine.

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Building KDE SC from SVN

Today I finally succeeded to build KDE trunk (development version of KDE SC) after previously struggling with some Phonon-related problems. I decided to start from scratch, and while the overall process was quite smooth, I managed to hit some bumps along the way. Below I’ve shared my experience.

First I want to remind you that this isn’t a comprehensive guide to build KDE SC from SVN – you can find those on Techbase. I followed much of the Getting Started/Build/KDE4 guide to get started.

Introduction

I’ve found it easiest to build KDE trunk using a tool called kdesvn-build. From its Techbase page:

kdesvn-build is a tool to allow users and developers to easily download and build the latest versions of the KDE Software Compilation (KDE SC) from the KDE source code repositories. It automates the following tasks and more:

  • Performing the initial checkout.
  • Handling updates for modules that are already checked out.
  • Setting up the build system for the module.
  • Performing the build and install.
  • Specifying your CMake options or configure flags (so you don’t have to remember them every time).

It’s basically a script that does the hard work for you. And it’s pretty, too.

kdesvn-build in action

Since I want to keep my stable KDE SC version, I have a special user called kde-devel to run trunk. Everything will be install in this user’s home directory – no root access is needed, and if something breaks, the risk is minimal that it’ll affect my whole system.

You can do the same with your usual user and some scripts, see Increased Productivity in KDE4 with Scripts for more information.

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The Road to KDE Devland – step 5

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Are you still with me?

I’ve taken a long break from The Road for some time, but fear not, I haven’t forgotten about my initial goal. But since it’s been so long, maybe you have? Let’s start this step with a short recap:

  • Step 0 – At the beginning of the summer 2009, I started my journey to “KDE Devland” to become a KDE developer. By sharing my experiences I hoped that I could motivate others to do the same, and leave behind useful tips for those who wanted to walk the same path. The first step was mostly an introduction.
  • Step 1 – Before going on a journey, you should be prepared. In this step I shared useful links for soon-to-be developers and wrote about my plan and which books I would use.
  • Step 2 – I started with C++. This post went through pointers, something I found hard to understand in the beginning.
  • Step 3 – Talking about my temporary workspace and which applications I use to write the code.
  • Step 4 – At this point I finally had some screenshots to show. In this step I showed my achievements after the summer and wrote a little bit about Qt programming.

I feel fairly comfortable with Qt now, and try to learn some specific parts of the toolkit when I find the time and motivation. Right now I’m struggling with the Interview framework – I think I understand the theory behind it, but I need to get a feeling for how to actually use it.

In this step I’ll show you some of my own applications I’ve done to familiarize myself with Qt. If you still remember the last step you’ll recognize some of them, however they’re actually all made from scratch. First one out is the smallest application, but also the one giving me the most trouble.

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Not being able to contribute sucks

I’m a long term KDE user and would like to contribute back to the community. Unfortunately donations isn’t an option (I’m a poor student), and my free time is also very limited – there’s no time to learn KDE programming. 😦

Surely you’ve seen similar comments floating around. Want to do something about it? Then here’s your chance!

Introducing Klassroom

Klassroom is an initiative from the KDE Community Forums to give new contributors a small push in the right direction. In the Klassroom forum, students work on various KDE-related real-life tasks during courses under the supervision of mentors. You can read more about it here.

The first three courses were very well received by the community. Many looked forward to future courses, but due to a lack of mentors Klassroom had to be put on ice for a while.

Until a few days ago, when the continuation of Klassroom was announced. Now we’re looking for mentors to hold courses – it can be about coding as well as document writing, promo work, translation, bug hunting or pretty much any KDE-related task you may have in mind.

To make it clearer what kind of courses we’re looking for, here’s a small example:

  • Course on how to use Plasma – out of scope of Klassroom
  • Course on how to use Plasma, and then let the students write a Userbase article about the things they learned – OK!

Most courses don’t required much effort from the mentor, but will be much appreciated by people who wish to contribute but don’t know how. If you’re interested in holding a course, check the general guidelines for mentors and let us know. Questions can be posted in the comments section here, or you can talk to the forum team directly in #kde-forum on freenode.

By the way, we’re looking for an icon for Klassroom – if you think you can make one, please post a comment below.

Starting with Git

Recently I’ve started to use Git more and more for various projects – code, university stuff and important dotfiles, just to name a few examples. Not completely used to the workflow yet, but I feel pretty comfortable with the basic Git commands now.

In the beginning I had a hard time grasping the concept of Git and version control systems in general. Two online resources helped me a lot in understanding Git, which I also want to share with you:

  • The Git Parable
    After reading it, you’ll still have no clue how to use Git. But you will know for what purposes Git was designed, and what Git is. From here it’ll be much easier to learn the commands to use Git.
  • Pro Git
    Online version of the Pro Git book; well written text and many pretty pictures make it easy to understand what happens “behind the scenes”. Goes through most stuff you’ll need to get started with Git.

Thanks go to Luca (einar77) and Ingo (neverendingo) for the tip about Pro Git.

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How do you use activities?

Note: Activities in KDE Plasma Workspaces have changed a lot since this post was written. For example, activities now affect all screens and not only one screen as it is described here. In 4.5 it became possible to associate windows with activities, and this became the default behavior in 4.6.

As a response to this, I wrote a post about my vision of how activities can change the way I use my computer: Activities – A change in workflow?

A recent topic in the KDE Community Forums asks KDE users how they use activities in Plasma, or more specifically “Do you use activities or plasmoids extensively?”. It seems like many users don’t see why you would want plasmoids on your desktop (“they’re covered by the windows most of the time anyway”) or how activities can be helpful. So I thought I would share my setup here and in the forum – maybe it’ll give you some inspiration.
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The wonderful world of Go

No, not the World of Goo.

Go is a wonderful board game. The rules themselves are very simple, but the game itself is fascinating. It’s a bit like Conway’s Game of Life – with a few simple rules you can create something really interesting. However, the similarities pretty much stop there.

A game of Go

A game of Go

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