Pimping my Desktop: have KWin Desktop Effects improved in KDE 4.6.2?

KWin Desktop Effects in past releases of KDE 4 were lacking in comparison to Compiz. After installing KDE 4.6.2 recently I decided to see if there has been any progress, and was pleasantly surprised. Although KWin is still not quite up to the standard of Compiz in all areas (the behaviour of 3D windows, especially around the corners of the Desktop Cube, being one example), KWin’s Desktop Effects are now very pleasant and a viable alternative to Compiz. I’ll talk you though my Desktop-pimping exercise using KWin on my main laptop running KDE 4.6.2, and then I’ll describe briefly a similar exercise using Compiz on the same machine.

KWin

I decided to have water and the colour blue as my theme. For wallpaper I chose a striking image created by Sabayon Linux user tarabaz.

I selected Oxygen for the widget and icons style (System Settings > Application Appearance) and for the Window Decorations (System Settings > Workspace Appearance), and Air for the Desktop Theme (System Settings > Workspace Appearance). With an attractive wallpaper, it is nice to have the ability, using the Folder View plasmoid, to contain the contents of the directory ~/Desktop in a window on the Desktop. The only other thing I placed on the Desktop was the excellent yaWP plasmoid. To download and install yaWP, follow the instructions on the yaWP page at KDE-Look.org.

I right-clicked on the Pager widget on the Panel, selected Pager Settings, and configured the Pager as follows in order to be able to switch Desktops in KWin in a similar way to Compiz:

General

  • Number of rows: 1

Virtual Desktops (Shortcuts on the ‘Switching’ tab):

  • Switch One Desktop Down > Ctrl+Alt+Down
  • Switch One Desktop to the Left > Ctrl+Alt+Left
  • Switch One Desktop to the Right > Ctrl+Alt+Right
  • Switch One Desktop Up > Ctrl+Alt+Up

The result looks like this:

KDE 4.6.2 Desktop

KDE 4.6.2 Desktop

KDE 4.6.2 Desktop with open windows

KDE 4.6.2 Desktop with open windows

I thought dolphins would look cool on the top and bottom of the Desktop Cube, and I found a gorgeous wallpaper from Vladstudio which matched my vision. I loaded the image into the GIMP, cropped and resized it to the required 800×800 pixels and saved it as a PNG image cubecap.png in my directory ~/Pictures/ (the images on the top and bottom of the Desktop Cube must be the same, unlike Compiz). To specify a KWin cubecap, you have to click on System Settings > Desktop Effects, click on the spanner icon for the Desktop Cube on the All Effects tab, and tick both ‘Show caps’ and ‘Display image on caps’ on the Advanced tab.

The KWin cubecap image must be stored in the /usr/share/apps/kwin/ directory. I backed up the default KWin cubecap first:

# mv /usr/share/apps/kwin/cubecap.png /usr/share/apps/kwin/cubecap.png.bak

and then moved my new cubecap to that directory:

# mv /home/fitzcarraldo/Pictures/cubecap.png /usr/share/apps/kwin/cubecap.png

For the background wallpaper behind the Desktop Cube (what in Compiz is called the ‘Skydome’), I selected a graduated undersea image that shows off the reflection of the base of the Desktop Cube and complements well the dolphins on the cubecaps. I saved the image in my directory ~/Pictures/. To set the background wallpaper, you have to click on System Settings > Desktop Effects, select the Desktop Cube on the All Effects tab, click on the spanner icon, and under Background on the Basic tab you’ll find a field in which to specify the Wallpaper. I hope you like the results, shown below.

KDE 4.6.2 Desktop Cube

KDE 4.6.2 Desktop Cube

KDE 4.6.2 Desktop Cube

KDE 4.6.2 Desktop Cube

KDE 4.6.2 Desktop Cube viewed from above

KDE 4.6.2 Desktop Cube viewed from above

KDE 4.6.2 Desktop Cube viewed from below

KDE 4.6.2 Desktop Cube viewed from below

Unlike the Desktop Cube, which I do find useful when I have many windows open, wobbly windows are pure ‘eye candy’. Nevertheless, they are fun to show off and impress users of that other OS. The trouble is, the default settings for wobbly windows in KWin Desktop Effects are too stiff for my liking, and the wobble is much less satisfying than in Compiz. Fortunately it is possible to adjust the behaviour in KWin, and I have found settings which make wobbly windows more like those in Compiz and more satisfying. To set the parameters for wobbly windows, you have to click on System Settings > Desktop Effects, then click on the spanner icon for Wobbly Windows on the All Effects tab. The settings that I like are:

Wobbliness: move the slider to More
Wobble when moving: ticked
Wobble when resizing: ticked
Enable advanced mode: ticked
Stiffness: 10
Drag: 50
Move factor: 9

KDE 4.6.2 Desktop Effects - Wobbly Windows

KDE 4.6.2 Desktop Effects - Wobbly Windows

So, there we have it. With little effort it is possible to set up an attractive and eminently usable 3D Desktop environment in KDE 4.6.2. I was so pleased with the result that I’m keeping it for the moment.

I have not yet tried it, but, as with Compiz, it is possible to configure KWin to use a Desktop Cylinder or Desktop Sphere instead of a Desktop Cube.

Compiz

I’ve been using Compiz, its ‘mother’ Compiz-Fusion and its ‘grandmother’ Beryl since 2007. As is the case with the newer KWin Desktop Effects, Compiz is a mixture of useful 3D effects and eye candy. I like Compiz very much. I use the Fusion Icon on the Panel to switch between KWin window manager and Compiz window manager. So, now let’s look at pimping my Compiz Desktop in KDE 4.6.2. This time I chose a darker theme.

I used a brushed aluminium wallpaper created in the GIMP by Sabayon Linux user alonsoty. I saved the wallpaper in my directory ~/Pictures/ and used the standard KDE 4 method of setting the Desktop wallpaper.

A dark Panel looks best with this wallpaper, so I selected a user-customised Desktop Theme (System Settings > Workspace Appearance) ‘(Customized)’ that is installed from the Sabayon Linux LiveDVD, although KDE’s Oxygen theme looks similar to this and would also work.

KDE 4.6.2 with Compiz Desktop

KDE 4.6.2 with Compiz Desktop

I used the Fusion Icon to launch the Emerald Theme Manager, and selected DarkLight v1.1 as the window theme. This Emerald theme was originally developed for use with Beryl and still looks gorgeous today with Compiz.

KDE 4.6.2 with Compiz Desktop with open windows

KDE 4.6.2 with Compiz Desktop with open windows

The above images show that Compiz looks good with KDE 4.6.2. The only problem I have found is with the Pager on the Panel: occasionally it shows all four Desktops, but usually only displays Desktop 1. Nevertheless I can rotate the Desktop Cube using either the keyboard shortcuts or the mouse, so this is only a minor issue. The CCSM (Compiz Config Settings Manager) is used in a similar way to System Settings > Desktop Effects in KWin. However, CCSM has an even more bewildering set of configuration options and is more complicated to use than the KWin equivalent.

Unlike KWin, it is possible for the cubecaps on the top and bottom of the Desktop Cube to be different to each other. I downloaded from the Web an image of the Earth and Moon from space for the top of the Desktop Cube and and an image of the Moon for the bottom of the Desktop Cube, saved them in my directory ~/Pictures/ and used CCSM > ‘Cube Reflection and Deformation’ > Appearance and specified the location of the top and bottom image files. Unlike KWin, they can have any file name.

The Skydome (the background wallpaper behind the Desktop Cube) is specially designed so that it pans when you rotate the Desktop Cube, providing you have selected ‘Animate Skydome’ in CCSM > Desktop Cube > Appearance > Skydome. The image, which must be 2048×1024 pixels, looks distorted when viewed in a browser window or graphics application but looks good in Compiz. This is more sophisticated than KWin’s Desktop Effects. Various Web sites have Skydome files for Compiz (Skydomes for Beryl and Compiz-Fusion work in Compiz too), and, in keeping with my space images on the top and bottom of the Desktop Cube, I downloaded a space-themed Skydome to my directory ~/Pictures/ and used CCSM > Desktop Cube > Appearance > Skydome to specify the file. Any file name is allowed.

Compiz Desktop Cube in KDE 4.6.2

Compiz Desktop Cube in KDE 4.6.2

Compiz Desktop Cube in KDE 4.6.2

Compiz Desktop Cube in KDE 4.6.2

Compiz Desktop Cube viewed from above in KDE 4.6.2

Compiz Desktop Cube viewed from above in KDE 4.6.2

Compiz Desktop Cube viewed from below in KDE 4.6.2

Compiz Desktop Cube viewed from below in KDE 4.6.2

Setting up wobbly windows was as simple as ticking Wobbly Windows in CCSM. I stayed with the default settings.

Compiz Wobbly Windows in KDE 4.6.2

Compiz Wobbly Windows in KDE 4.6.2

Compiz has some more features up its sleeve, though, and I show a couple of them below.

Compiz window top corner pulled down in KDE 4.6.2

Compiz window top corner pulled down in KDE 4.6.2

Compiz window top centre pulled down in KDE 4.6.2

Compiz window top centre pulled down in KDE 4.6.2

The picture above illustrates one area where Compiz (and its predecessor Compiz-Fusion) is less sophisticated than Beryl used to be: notice the polygonal shape of the top of the window that I was pulling down. I won’t bother posting one of the images I have from my Beryl-using days, but, with Beryl, the top of the pulled-down window had a smooth curvature and looked much nicer.

Something else which I don’t believe KWin Desktop Effects has is the ability to vary the transparency of a window by using the Alt key and the mouse wheel, as illustrated in the image below.

Compiz window transparency changed by mouse in KDE 4.6.2

Compiz window transparency changed by mouse in KDE 4.6.2

EDIT (April 28, 2011): Reader lefty.crupps has pointed out that it is possible to do this with KWin too; see his post in the COMMENTS section for how to do it.

Summary

I hope I have given you a taste of what is possible in KDE 4.6.2 using either KWin or Compiz. I have only scratched the surface of either window manager, as there are many features. And, hopefully, KWin Desktop Effects will continue to improve in future releases of KDE, as it has improved noticeably in this release.

About these ads

About Fitzcarraldo
A Linux user with an interest in all things technical.

24 Responses to Pimping my Desktop: have KWin Desktop Effects improved in KDE 4.6.2?

  1. Jim says:

    It is always interesting to see how others use features of their system. I never use the cube but do find other effects like translucency useful.
    I’ve always found Compiz to be less stable on KDE than Kwin and so avoided it. I hate the way it screws up the pager and the windows settings. I haven’t used it for a while but I don’t think it plays nice with activities either. It has more effects than Kwin but they don’t make up for the issues that bug me.
    Thanks for an interesting article.

  2. jrdls says:

    For kde 4.7 there’s been work to use opengl-es 2.0 for rendering backend. I wish I could have a video card that supports it since you get better performance.

    • Manja says:

      As far as I know OpenGL ES is just a subset of full OpenGL, so you can’t expect any speed-ups with it, since if graphics card supports OpenGl it also supports OpenGL ES and more. No wonder since ES edition was designed for embedded and mobile systems which don’t have such powerful hardware.

  3. EdB says:

    It looks promising, but I do not need kWin lockups after using some effects, different results with different video chips, AMD/ATI, nVidia and Intel.
    I had no lockups with Compiz, but it always compromised my (KDE) desktops.
    So still waiting for the better solution ;)
    Thanks for your pictures.

    Ed

  4. lefty.crupps says:

    > Something else which I don’t believe KWin Desktop Effects has is the
    > ability to vary the transparency of a window by using the Alt key and the
    > mouse wheel, as illustrated in the image below.

    Yes, it can do this. I think it needs to be set tho. In KDE 4.4.5 (Debian Stable), this is in System Settings > Look and Feel > Window Behaviour icon > Window Behaviour section > Advanced tab > Window Actions tab > Inner Window section, (whew), using the [Alt] key as modifier and change the Scroll Wheel dropdown to ‘Change Opacity’. It works well on my laptop with either [Alt] key, but at my office I am forced to only use the right [Alt] key which makes no sense to me.

    • Fitzcarraldo says:

      Hey, thanks for letting me know. I found the option in KDE 4.6.2 as follows:

      System Settings > Window Behaviour > Window Behaviour > Window Actions

      In the ‘Inner Window, Titlebar & Frame’ pane:

      Modifier key: Alt (the default)

      Mouse wheel: I changed this from ‘Nothing’ to ‘Change Opacity’

      On my keyboards (laptop’s and external USB) it works with the Alt key to the left of the Space bar, but not with the ‘Alt Gr’ key to the right of the Space bar.

  5. lorne greene says:

    Im using 4.6 right now and while I use Kwin to some extent, I havent noticed anything different.
    Its there, it works, it does the little sliding effects, zoom and a few others but its really not a big deal after a while.

    >KWin’s Desktop Effects are now very pleasant

    Thats why opinions are rather meaningless unless youve tried it yourself.
    The corners of the cube arent perfect? Oh noes…. the inhumanity.

    Im not doubting you because honestly Ive never paid attention or cared about eye candy.

    Sure, I will fire them all up and impress friends with it…. its amazing how eye candy attracts attention but
    I also use KDE without effects on a Celeron based dinosaur and rarely miss it.

    Maybe im not as picky with eye candy as I am with network managers and such but its ‘now pleasant’ is truly overkill of the highest order. It was pleasant before to all Ive installed it before but then ubergeeks are always more demanding.

    I will upgrade to .2 later this week and see this great improvement you seem to see.
    Could be. But honestly, if you think it wasnt usable before or pleasant, I cant say I trust your judgement…

    Our netbook has Kwin all pimped out with explosions, fire and snow (kids use it mainly) and well…its nice and then gets annoying quickly.

  6. AlonsoTy says:

    Beautiful desktops, excellent into two different styles… ;-)
    Beryl and Compiz have certainly left their mark also for the developers of KDE and Gnome…

    Honestly, at the time of Beryl, I had the strong conviction that the whole project of 3D Desktop were a “big toy”!
    I confess that I enjoyed surprising my friends (but then, in reality, I never used it normally)!

    …but with modern hardware available I started using Compiz assiduously from some time … and I believe that some features related to a moderate use of some effects actually can improve the usability of the whole environment!

    Now, the major desktop environments, are trying to include what Compiz can really offering for the environment (I hope without exaggerations).

  7. Chezzeeee says:

    I’m not quite sure whats funnier- the good number of KDE users stating that they are not so much concerned with eye candy, or the huge number of people/posts boasting KDE is for those who like eye candy. Also, if your running an old machine – especially on a dinosaur like a celeron, why would you run KDE as opposed to XFCE or LXDE? Regardless – from my experiences, I would just as well rather run Gnome. Better packages IMO and Compiz/Emerald+AWN can really deck out a desktop (or screenlets if you like – not really my thing though). Plus, Gnome 3 (although resource hungry) looks to be progressing quite nicely – looking forward to trying it out with Fedora Lovelock in about 10 days. KDE is going to have to step up to the plate with Gnome Shell and Unity out now.

  8. Pingback: Moving Compiz to a local overlay in Gentoo « Fitzcarraldo's Blog

  9. Pingback: A guided tour of my KDE 4.8.4 desktop (Part 1) « Fitzcarraldo's Blog

  10. Richey says:

    Nice tutorial, I just added the kde package to fedora 17, I wasn’t all that crazy about Gnome 3, this tutorial was very helpful.

    • Fitzcarraldo says:

      Thanks for letting me know. As you’ve installed KDE you might also find some of my other blog posts helpful. One example would be the post explaining how to toggle KWin compositing on and off easily using an icon on the Desktop.

  11. FeRHaD says:

    What I like to do with Compiz is setting the desktop background transparent and being able to see whatever happens on other virtual desktops of the cube.
    Your post is some old but it seems it is not possible to do this with Kwin after so many years…

  12. Pingback: Dragging windows between sides of the KWin Desktop Cube | Fitzcarraldo's Blog

  13. Ken D'Ambrosio says:

    Hi! Just read this post — it was instrumental in me making the switch to KDE, something I’ve been considering since GNOME 3.x came out. I love Compiz — still do — but it’s wildly unsupported, and that makes me sad. In the meantime, I’m a little confused. I see you showing off your endcaps, or skydome, or whatever you call it… but I have no idea how you do that. I couldn’t find any mouse bindings for manipulating the cube like I can in Compiz. Don’t *need* it, per-se, but it sure makes for a smoother experience finding the desktop you’re looking for by just swirling the thing around, instead of going from virtual desktop to virtual desktop, one-at-a-time. Were you able to make that happen?

    • Fitzcarraldo says:

      Do you have compositing enabled in KWin? Firstly, you need to have it enabled. One way to enable/disable compositing in KWin is via ‘System Settings’ > ‘Desktop Effects’ > tick/untick ‘Enable desktop effects at startup’ > ‘Apply’. This change only takes effect when you restart KDE. A way to toggle compositing on/off is to use a keyboard shortcut. The default keyboard shortcut for this in KWin is Alt-Shift-F12, but KDE on my machine tells me that Qt does not like the use of the Alt key in this shortcut, so I used ‘System Settings’ > ‘Desktop Effects’ to change the shortcut to Ctrl+Shift+U, which does toggle compositing on/off.

      Once you have enabled compositing and restarted KDE, you can then use ‘System Settings’ > ‘Desktop Effects’ (the ‘All Effects’ tab) to configure the various options, including the Desktop Cube cubecaps, the background wallpaper and keyboard shortcuts.

      As far as mouse manipulation of the cube is concerned, the scroll wheel on my mouse rotates the cube, or clicking on the four virtual desktop icons of the Pager widget (Plasmoid) on my Panel also rotates the cube. If you don’t already have the Pager widget on your Panel, just add it and configure it as I explained in my blog post. Also, if I have pressed Ctrl-F11, I can then use my mouse to drag the cube around (left-click and hold). Press the Esc key to ‘pull’ the cube back to the foreground. See also my post ‘Dragging windows between sides of the KWin Desktop Cube’ for how to configure Desktop Effects to enable you to drag windows around the cube (without pressing Ctrl-F11).

      • Ken D'Ambrosio says:

        I’m sorry — I wasn’t clear enough. I’ve got the cube enabled, as well as wobbly windows. I don’t know why I enjoy them as much as I do, but I do. Anyway, the primary thing I’m looking to figure out is *HOW* you got to see your endcaps. Was it through mouse manipulation? Because I really preferred being able to use the mouse to manipulate the cube, instead of just keyboard shortcuts, which are kinda clunky.

        • Fitzcarraldo says:

          I just press Ctrl-F11 and the cube appears. Then I can use my mouse (left-click and hold) to drag the cube left, right, up and down, and therefore see all faces of the cube, including the top and bottom cube caps. I can also use the cursor control keys (the four arrow keys) to rotate the cube left, right, up and down, and therefore view the top and bottom cube caps. So, with the exception of pressing Ctrl-F11 (the default, which can be changed via ‘System Settings’ > ‘Desktop Effects’), I can see the cube caps using my mouse.

          However, if you want to avoid pressing Ctrl-F11, select ‘System Settings’ > ‘Workspace Behaviour’ > ‘Screen Edges’, click on e.g. the small box at the top centre of the picture of a monitor below ‘Active Screen Edge Actions’ and select ‘Desktop Cube – Cube’ from the drop-down menu, then click ‘Apply’. Then you can move your mouse pointer to the top of your screen and the Desktop will recede and you’ll see the cube, which you can rotate in any direction by doing any of the following: a) left-click-and-hold and dragging; b) using the mouse scroll wheel to rotate the cube around an axis passing through the top and bottom cube caps (whilst viewing the cube caps); c) using the cursor control keys to rotate the cube horizontally and vertically. Moving your mouse pointer to the top of the screen again will make the nearest cube face move forward and re-occupy the full screen.

          So you can do everything using your mouse, including viewing the cube caps. Try it and see.

          Notice the thin bar that appears along the top edge of your screen when you move the mouse pointer there, to denote the active area. It does not stretch to the full width of the screen, so it does not stop you doing other things.

          I think KDE also has the ability to record gestures (System Settings > Shortcuts and Gestures) so I assume it would be possible to create other mouse gestures to emulate the Ctrl-F11 and therefore avoid touching the keyboard, but I have not bothered trying that. Alternatively, a third-party utility such as easystroke could be used to create a mouse gesture to emulate the Ctrl-F11 and therefore avoid touching the keyboard. As I happen to have easystroke installed I have just tried it with easystroke to prove easystroke could do it, which it can.

  14. Ken D'Ambrosio says:

    Woo-hoo! Thanks!! It still misses some of the niceties of Compiz — e.g., one cube face wrapping around to the other, so you can just shuffle windows among faces as if it were one long screen — but that’s called “Not all apps do all things.” I’m sure there are things that KWin does that I’ll find Gnome/Compiz left out. This is now Officially Awesome. Thanks for all the help!

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 51 other followers

%d bloggers like this: