A guided tour of my KDE 4.8.4 desktop (Part 2)

In A guided tour of my KDE 4.8.4 desktop (Part 1) I gave a brief overview of the KDE desktop on my main laptop. This time I’m going to cover some applications, KDE and non-KDE, that I use. Just to prove that I don’t look at KDE through rose-tinted spectacles, I’ll also mention a few problems too.

I don’t use a desktop PC. This laptop is my main PC and I use it for all my professional and personal tasks. I travel frequently and have to connect to public and private networks (wired, wireless and broadband modems) and to many different network printers, so a reliable desktop environment and reliable network management software are essential. KDE satisfies the first requirement. The desktop environment-independent NetworkManager and its KDE front-end, the Plasma widget NetworkManagement, satisfy the second requirement. I also use my laptop for the usual leisure activities such as watching DVDs, video files and TV programmes; listening to music files, Audio CDs and Internet radio; messaging/telephony (PC-to-PC and PC-to-landline/mobile internationally); browsing the Web, blogging and so on.

So this is very much a mission-critical machine for me. The fact that I’m using KDE successfully for all these tasks is a testament to the power of KDE (and Linux, of course). I should also point out that, for a mission-critical machine, I’m living a little dangerously as I use the testing branch (a.k.a. unstable branch), rather than the stable branch, of Gentoo Linux. I’ve been using the unstable branch for several years on this laptop and its predecessor, with only a few hiccups, although I do have to keep an eye on the Gentoo forums in case someone reports a problem.

Office suites

Microsoft Word and LibreOffice Calc

Snapshot 1 - Microsoft Word and LibreOffice Calc

I use both LibreOffice and Microsoft Office 2007, the latter under WINE (see WINE tips: Giving each Windows application its own environment). Office 2007 guarantees me 100 per cent compatibility at work but I also find it easier and more reliable than LibreOffice with the large, complex documents and spreadsheets I create. That said, I also have many Word 97 documents and Excel 97 spreadsheets that I still need to access, and LibreOffice opens some of them that Office 2007 cannot. I prefer to use Writer rather than Word for simple tasks such as typing a letter, as I dislike the Ribbon Interface. And I’m happy to use Calc rather than Excel in the majority of cases.

Once I got Office 2007 running under WINE I did not have to boot into Windows any more, although recently that changed for one very specific task on one work project: checking out (downloading) a Microsoft Word file from a Microsoft SharePoint repository, editing it locally and checking it back in (uploading it). Using Firefox in Linux I can upload a Word file to the SharePoint repository initially, but I have to boot into Windows and use Internet Explorer and Word to check-out, edit and check-in the revised document. I’ve used third-party document management and collaboration software in the past that does not require the use of Internet Explorer and Word. I can see how Microsoft lock you into their product line, and I don’t like that.

For schematic diagrams and flowcharts I usually use an old version of Visio (5 Professional) I bought in 1999, again under WINE. I find Visio easier and faster to use than Dia, a GNOME application I also use sometimes for simple diagrams.

E-mail client

I use Thunderbird to access several POP3 e-mail accounts and, via the excellent DavMail, a couple of Microsoft Exchange OWA (Outlook Web Access) accounts at different companies. DavMail is a life-saver. Having to access those two accounts via a Web browser was a hassle and inefficient. A single e-mail client which can be used to access and manage all my e-mail accounts is a godsend. I still have work e-mails from more than ten years ago, and Thunderbird enables me to find information in them with ease. For professional use by ‘power users’, WebMail cannot hold a candle to a good e-mail client such as Thunderbird. I use a number of Thunderbird extensions which I find essential: Lightning (calendar); Provider for Google Calendar (bidirectional access to Google Calendar); Timezone definitions for Mozilla Calendar; Change quote and reply format (why isn’t this functionality built-in to Thunderbird?); ConfigDate (ditto); Enigmail (encyption/decryption of e-mails); ImportExportTools (conversion tools for different e-mail formats); Dictionaries for several languages.

One of the reasons I chose Thunderbird was because it is available for both Linux and Windows. As I can dual boot this laptop, I put Thunderbird’s data files on the Windows NTFS partition (Windows cannot access Linux file systems), and Thunderbird in either OS accesses the same data files. I virtually never boot into Windows, but it is good to know that I can access my e-mail accounts from either operating system using the same application.

Scanning

I occasionally use SANE scanner interface software and its GUI front-end XSane for scanning images and documents to create image files. But I am much more likely to use the GUI front-end gscan2pdf, as I often need to create PDF files for work. gscan2pdf is another application I find indispensable.

Web browsing

Browsers and Google Earth

Snapshot 2 - Browsers and Google Earth

I use Firefox and the KDE browser/file manager/universal viewer Konqueror. I configured Konqueror to use the WebKit rendering engine instead of KHTML (Install the package kwebkitpart then launch Konqueror, select Settings > ‘Configure Konqueror…’ and select ‘WebKit’ as the ‘Default web browser engine’ on the General tab). There have been a few times when Firefox has not been able to display a Web page properly or at all, and Konqueror came to the rescue. The KIO Slaves I mentioned in Part 1 also add to Konqueror’s versatility.

I use the Oxygen KDE Firefox extension (see Snapshot 2), a theme for Firefox that makes it look like a native KDE application. Very nice indeed.

Google Earth needs no introduction. It runs well in KDE on my laptop, and I find it useful both in my work and for personal use.

I have the KDE blogging client Blogilo installed and it was easy to configure it to synchronise with my blog. In fact I started preparing this article in Blogilo but had to abandon it as Blogilo would not save reliably my incomplete work to my hard disk. After losing changes several times I gave up and turned to my tried and tested KWrite to draft the article offline first. Shame, really, as Blogilo looks really handy for preparing blog posts offline and then uploading them. Hopefully the next release will work for me.

For Web site creation and editing I use KompoZer. It’s not as sophisticated as Dreamweaver, but is easy to use and does a good job for my purposes.

Messaging and telephony

I use Skype for Linux for PC-to-PC and PC-to-phone communication domestically and internationally. There is simply no alternative if I want to communicate with my Windows-using friends, family and work colleagues: they are not going to switch to anything else. Actually, I find Skype for Linux perfectly usable (unlike Skype for Android on my Motorola Xoom tablet, which has a fiddly and rather annoying user interface). In some countries the state-owned telecom provider blocks Skype for commercial reasons, but I have been able to circumvent this using Tor (see How to install and use Tor for anonymous browsing or to access country-restricted content from another country). Furthermore, some office networks I use also block Skype, to enforce the use of another product or to stop personal communication, but Tor has helped me out there too.

Graphics

I use the GIMP quite a lot, mostly for photo editing/retouching for work purposes but sometimes to edit/retouch personal photos. I have only used the vector graphics application Inkscape a few times at work and at home. I enjoyed using it to produce the graphics for a laptop ‘Powered by’ sticker.

Gwenview

Snapshot 3 - Gwenview

Apart from the excellent KDE image viewer Gwenview, which gets better with every release of KDE, I use GQView. GQview has been around for many years and its UI looks rather dated, but it has some powerful features which I find useful at work (and at home). GQview makes it easy for me to assign keywords to image files and to search on keywords; to examine EXIF data; to print thumbnail proof sheets; to view multiple image files and page through directories of image files, and so on. This application has often been of help to me at work.

Okular and Adobe Reader

Snapshot 4 - Okular and Adobe Reader

KDE’s Okular document viewer and Adobe Reader are in frequent use on my laptop. I use them both but resort to Adobe Reader for the huge PDF files I sometimes have to view at work, as they load quicker in Adobe Reader. Also, Okular has had a rather irritating habit of printing Landscape pages in Portrait, and vice versa. This problem seems to come and go with different releases of Okular.

CAD

I hardly ever need to use CAD applications, but occasionally I do need to view some old AutoCAD files. For this I use an old version (2009-en-1.06-1) of VariCAD Viewer which opens those old files although it can’t open newer AutoCAD files. I tried unsuccessfully to install newer versions of VariCAD Viewer in the past, but have not tried again recently.

E-books

I only recently began reading e-books. The EPUBReader Firefox extension is an excellent and easy-to-use e-book reader, library manager and shop window for both free and commercical e-books in ePub format. The display of book pages when using the extension as a reader is better than many of the dedicated e-book applications I have seen.

Calibre is an excellent dedicated e-book reader and format converter that I discovered by accident when reading a review of the Amazon Kindle. If you are looking for an application that can handle all the various e-book formats, convert between them, manage your e-book library, upload and download e-books, and act as a reader, look no further. Even the application’s Web site oozes class.

Multimedia

SMPlayer multimedia player, and YouTube in Firefox

Snapshot 5 - SMPlayer multimedia player, and YouTube in Firefox

I have far too many multimedia players installed, but I like to alternate between them. In any case it’s useful to have several players installed because sometimes one of them is able to play a certain file that another cannot.

SMPlayer, VLC and Xine play DVDs, CDs, music files, video files, Internet radio, and digital TV (DVB). I like all three.

Miro is a music and video player, torrent downloader, Internet TV and podcast viewer, and more. Another very polished application I enjoy using.

Dragon Player is a KDE player for CDs, DVDs, audio and video files. It plays DVDs, audio and video files well on my laptop, but cannot play Audio CDs for some reason. It is not as versatile or as polished as the multimedia players mentioned above, so I rarely use it.

UPDATE (January 10, 2014): As of KDE 4.11.3, Dragon Player can play Audio CDs on my laptop. I believe this was due to an update to KDE’s Phonon and/or the Phonon backends.

Clementine music player

Snapshot 6 - Clementine music player

The music players I have installed are Audacious, Clementine and Amarok. These three applications focus on playing and managing collections of music files, Audio CDs and streaming Internet radio.

In the days of KDE 3 I used exclusively Amarok 1.4, which was darn near a perfect music player. But new releases of Amarok were buggy in early releases of KDE 4, and today Amarok still does not work as well for me as the KDE 3 version did. Some of the album covers disappear randomly from the album cover manager, and it is irritating to have to restore covers. Clementine, on the other hand, has no trouble managing album covers and I find it is more polished than Amarok and nicer to use all round. I cannot get Amarok to play Audio CDs with the KDE GStreamer Phonon backend, only with the KDE VLC Phonon backend. Even then the optical drive in my laptop spins very fast and produces a loud noise, making listening to Audio CDs painful. Audacious, on the other hand, plays Audio CDs quietly and perfectly on my laptop. Although Clementine is superb in other respects, for some reason it cannot play Audio CDs on my laptop, whichever KDE Phonon backend is selected. All three players can stream Internet radio without problem, although the long pre-configured list of radio stations in Clementine is simply excellent. If Clementine could play Audio CDs on my laptop, it would be my favourite music player.

UPDATE (January 10, 2014): As of KDE 4.11.3, Clementine can play Audio CDs on my laptop. I believe this was due to an update to KDE’s Phonon and/or the Phonon backends.

MIDI players and Karaoke

I have four different MIDI players installed. PyKaraoke (see HOWTO: PyKaraoke) and KDE’s own KMid can both play MIDI files with and without embedded karaoke lyrics. TiMidity++ is a MIDI file player, as well as an ALSA sequencer which can be used by the other MIDI player applications here. Drumstick has three applications: a MIDI player, a drumkit sequencer and a virtual piano keyboard. I enter the following command once before launching any of them:

modprobe snd_seq && timidity -iA -Os

Actually, I have put the above command in a Desktop Configuration File with a nice icon in my Desktop directory, so I just double-click on it. I could have instead loaded the snd_seq module automatically at startup by specifying it in the file /etc/conf.d/modules.

Audio CDs

KsCD is a simple KDE application with a sole purpose: to play Audio CDs. For me it fails miserably in this task, and has done in several releases of KDE. The last time I remember it working for sure was in KDE 4.3.3, and here we are today with KDE 4.8.4. The KDE Bug Tracking System has quite a few bug reports regarding KsCD. I don’t know if the application itself has a bug, or if the KDE Phonon backends are buggy, or if KDE has a bug, or if there is a problem with udev, or a combination. Anyway, whatever the reason, in my case KsCD is useless. Come to that, for Audio CDs Amarok is next to useless. Luckily for me, Audacious, SMPlayer, VLC and Xine can play Audio CDs perfectly on my laptop.

UPDATE (January 10, 2014): As of KDE 4.11.3, KsCD can play Audio CDs on my laptop. I believe this was due to an update to KDE’s Phonon and/or the Phonon backends.

YouTube

I should mention the excellent command line tool youtube-dl (‘YouTube download’) which is great for downloading videos from YouTube. You can specify the resolution, extract the audio, and various other tricks. Well worth adding to your set of mutlimedia tools. Or, if you prefer a GUI, Minitube is a cracking application for watching and streaming YouTube videos without using a Web browser, and also enables you to download them.

Backing up CDs/DVDs or ripping audio and video

K3b is a superb KDE application. It’s a one-stop shop for making back-ups of CDs and DVDs, creating data CDs and DVDs, and ripping CDs and DVDs. I use K3b to rip my Audio CDs to mp3 files.

Another well-known KDE application is the excellent K9Copy DVD ripper. Unfortunately the developer stopped working on it in July 2011. I hope someone else picks it up, as K9Copy has an intuitive GUI and I have used it on a number of occasions to rip my DVDs to my hard disk so that I could watch them when travelling.

dvd::rip does just what the name suggests, and I’ve used this excellent application too. The GUI is intuitive and the online documentation is very good.

Winki the Ripper is a good application for ripping DVDs to MKV files (it can also rip to AVI files). I have used it but noticed recently that the Web site is up for sale, so I hope the application is still being developed.

WINE

WINE menu in Lancelot Launcher

Snapshot 7 - WINE menu in Lancelot Launcher

I have mentioned Office 2007 already, but I have a few other Windows applications installed under WINE, such as IE7 (so that I can see how a Web site looks in a Windows browser), IrfanView, Lotus ScreenCam Player (so that it is still possible to view some videos of a specialist application running in Windows 95 many years ago), Notepad, Pinball and a few applications and utilities I need that are not available in Linux. WINE is not perfect, but it is wonderful software that also makes it possible to run some older Windows applications that are probably not able to run in Windows Vista and 7.

Utilities

Some utilities

Snapshot 8 - Some utilities

I used to use the brilliant command line utility ImageMagick to scale image files, but have not had to resort to the command line since the GUI front-end Converseen was released (see Converseen, a GUI batch image converter and resizer using Qt4 and ImageMagick).

I encrypt and decrypt some of my sensitive files using GnuPG GUI front-ends KGpg and Kleopatra. Kleopatra is slightly easier to use than KGpg, but they’re much of a muchness. The Enigmail extension I use in Thunderbird also uses GnuPG.

KAlarm is a handy KDE utility to produce sounds or pop-up reminder messages, or issue commands, at specific times or time intervals. The GUI is easy to use and KAlarm can be used in many cases as an alternative to setting up a cronjob. It was simple to configure it as a talking clock (see Setting up a talking clock easily in Linux).

AutoKey is a macro utility I use frequently. It can be used in a number of ways, but I use it to insert text in documents and e-mails. For example, I have configured AutoKey to insert the output of the Linux date command where my cursor is in an open document or e-mail if I press Ctrl-Alt-D: Sun Jul 22 14:41:25 BST 2012. For another example, I have configured AutoKey to enter my full postal address when I type “adr” and press the Space key (but puts it back to “adr” if I press the Backspace key). It is a very handy utility and can be configured to execute simple or complex scripts.

Easystroke is the mouse equivalent of AutoKey. For example, I have configured Easystroke to type “———- Original Message ———-” when I press the mouse scroll wheel and move the mouse pointer diagonally from left to right on the screen. As another example, I have configured it to launch an instance of DavMail to access a specific company’s OWA Exchange Server when I trace the first letter of the company’s name on the screen with the mouse cursor. It’s a clever utility!

BasKet Note Pads is a KDE application for recording and reading notes. The notes can be simple text or complex with embedded pictures, hyperlinks and so on. I switched to BasKet from Tomboy as the latter is a GNOME application and requires some GNOME-specific packages that I didn’t want cluttering up my hard disk. However, I can’t say I like BasKet: I miss the simplicity and easy-to-use UI of Tomboy which was a pleasure to use. I think I may have to try another KDE application (KJots) instead of BasKet, as it may fit my needs better.

KRename is a batch file renamer for KDE that has come in handy both at work and at home.

Filelight is a KDE utility that shows you graphically how much of each partition is occupied and how much is free. I like it because it makes it easy for me to see at a glance how much disk space I have left.

JDiskReport is another utility for showing you disk occupancy graphically. You can select pie carts, segment charts or bar charts. It is freeware but not open-source, but is nevertheless a nice utility to have in your set of tools.

Antivirus software

BitDefender Antivirus for Unices

Snapshot 9 - BitDefender Antivirus for Unices

As I run some Windows applications under WINE, and as I dual boot with Windows 7, I use both BitDefender Antivirus Scanner for Unices and ClamTk, the GUI front-end to ClamAV. That way I can scan my Windows directories from Linux. My work colleagues sometimes pass work files to me on USB pen drives, and I use these two anti virus utilities to scan the pen drives just to be a bit safer. Yes, it has flagged the occasional malware in Windows files.

Games

Games

Snapshot 10 - Games

I hardly ever play games, but still installed the entire KDE Games suite (you never know, after all!). Of the KDE games, I play KPatience, KCheckers, KBlocks (a Tetris clone), KBreakOut (takes me back to playing BreakOut written in Applesoft BASIC on an Apple II+!) and KMahjongg, a solitaire game using beautifully rendered Mahjong tiles.

I have also installed a few non-KDE arcade games such as Missile Command and Pacman Arena (nicely done in 3D). I loved Pac-Mania on my Acorn Archimedes in the early 1990s, so I also use SDLMame and its GUI front-end GMameUI to play Pac-Mania and a few other old favourites such as Frogger.

As far as chess is concerned, I installed the 3D DreamChess, as well as the older but perfectly decent XBoard and eboard.

Scrabble and Boggle are popular games in my family, so I installed XScrabble and GBoggle, the latter being one of only a handful of the packages mentioned in this article that I had to install outside the Portage package manager because there is no ebuild (another being the commercial game Machinarium, which is available for Linux, beautiful and I recommend highly).

I occasionally play TORCS, which is not bad for a car racing game.

There are a lot more Linux games to discover, if you’re that way inclined.

Summary

I’ve just scratched the surface, but hopefully have given you a taste of how I use KDE (and Linux). Of course my needs and uses are different from everyone else’s, but I hope this and the previous article have shown you the breadth of KDE and Linux applications, and that they are completely viable on the desktop. If you have not tried KDE yet, I hope this has tempted you. And, if you’re new to Linux, I hope this has tempted you to try Linux too.

A guided tour of my KDE 4.8.4 desktop (Part 1)

I have used GNOME, LXDE, Xfce and others, but KDE is my favourite desktop environment and I’ve used every release since 3.5.2. Although there are a few things that still need improving, by and large I find KDE to be an excellent desktop environment with every feature and facility I need, and highly configurable. It is the only desktop environment I choose to use professionally (I virtually never have to touch Windows at work, although I can dual boot Windows 7 on my laptop just in case I come across an application that only runs in Windows), and it is the main Linux desktop environment I use at home, although from time to time at home I use Xfce on another laptop, Android 3.2 on my Motorola Xoom tablet and Windows Vista on the family PC. I can honestly say that Windows Vista and Windows 7 feel clunky and old fashioned to me after using KDE, not to mention less easy on the eye.

All but one of my work colleagues use Windows or Mac OS X, and they notice the KDE desktop on my laptop and ask questions about it. So I thought I’d provide a guided tour of the KDE desktop on my laptop, as it might be of interest to newcomers to Linux or to Linux users contemplating trying KDE. There is too much to show in one or even two articles, but I thought I’d at least cover some of the main features in a couple of articles. So here is the first installment…

KDM greeter screen

The KDM Greeter screen (log-in screen) is the first KDE screen to appear, and it follows the framebuffer console decoration (‘bootsplash’) displayed after I select Linux from the GRUB 2 bootloader menu. I chose a simple KDM log-in screen called gentoo-linux-kde that I downloaded from the openDesktop.org Web site.

KDM Greeter screen

Snapshot 1 - KDM Greeter screen

Incidentally, if you’re wondering how I made a snapshot of the KDM log-in screen, I used a tip by Todd Partridge and added the following command to the file /usr/share/config/kdm/Xsetup and restarted my machine:

sleep 10 && import -window root /tmp/kdm.png &

KDE Splash Screen

The KSplash screen is displayed briefly after log-in. I chose the Air and Ariya Splash Screen, one of the splash screens that comes with KDE 4.8.4 and is selected via System Settings > Workspace Appearance.

KDE Splash Screen

Snapshot 2 - KDE Splash Screen

If you’re wondering how I made that screenshot, System Settings > Workspace Appearance has a ‘Test Theme’ button. I just clicked on that and pressed the Prt Sc key on my keyboard to capture it with the KSnapshot utility, which I had previously linked to the Prt Sc key by using System Settings > Shortcuts and Gestures.

My desktop

The five icons on KSplash pop up one by one and the KDE desktop itself then appears. I’m using the Air desktop theme with Oxygen windows decorations, Oxygen icon set, Oxygen Black cursor theme, Oxygen widget style and DejaVu Sans 8 fonts.

KDE desktop

Snapshot 3 - KDE desktop

I tend to change the wallpaper quite often, but the rest has been the same for I can’t remember how long. This wallpaper is a poster image of beautiful Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang (who doesn’t really have blue eyes) in Memoirs of a Geisha.

In KDE the number of Panels (‘task bars’, in Windows parlance) and their dimensions and position are up to the user, but I prefer to have only one Panel, and I prefer it to be situated at the bottom of the desktop. I suppose I’m traditional that way.

Everything you see on my desktop is a KDE Plasmoid (also known as a ‘Plasma widget’), and there are many KDE widgets to chose from, both bundled with KDE and available for download from the Web. Some excellent widgets have been developed by individuals who have nothing to do with the KDE development team. The positioning of widgets, be it on the desktop itself or on the Panel, is entirely up to the user. In fact, there is nothing stopping you from having mutliple instances of the same widget. For example you could have two instances of the Comic Strip widget, each showing a different comic strip.

The only widgets I want on the desktop itself are, clockwise from top left:

Folder View

I use the Folder View widget to view the icons in my ~/Desktop directory. This is perhaps one of the most confusing concepts for Windows users to grasp, and also confused a lot of KDE 3 users (me included). On a traditional desktop the user can place icons for applications, directories (folders), files and shortcuts. In KDE 4, if you wish, the icons in the ~/Desktop directory can be shown in a Folder View widget on the desktop instead of on the desktop itself. Initially I preferred the traditional way, but I finally came to like using a Folder View widget to show the contents of my ~/Desktop directory on my desktop. The width and height of a Folder View widget are user-configurable, so I can keep it out of the way of the wallpaper image yet still easily access my most commonly used applications, scripts, directories and files. The widget automatically adds scroll bars when you resize it.

Folder View widget

Snapshot 4 - Folder View widget

Folder View widget showing tooltip

Snapshot 5 - Folder View widget showing tooltip

By the way, you can see above that I have Microsoft Office 2007 installed on my machine. It runs under WINE (see my earlier article WINE tips: Giving each Windows application its own environment for how I installed Office 2007). I use LibreOffice too, but have found that Office 2007 does some things better. Those three Office 2007 icons in my ~/Desktop directory launch Bash scripts that set up the WINEPREFIX and WINEARCH environment variables and issue the WINE command to launch the relevant Office 2007 application.

Folder View also allows the user to preview the contents of directories and sub-directories, so you can drill down very quickly into nested directories without clicking.

Folder View widget viewing directory contents

Snapshot 6 - Folder View widget viewing directory contents

Note that you can have as many Folder View widgets as you want on your desktop, and they can be used to view any directory, not just the ~/Desktop directory.

Hardware Temperature

This widget displays the current reading of the two ACPI temperature sensors in my laptop, both as trend graphs and on dashboard-type dials.

Network Monitor

This widget displays trend graphs of throughput in KiB/s for network interfaces specified by the user. I choose to display both wired (eth0) and wireless (wlan0) network graphs.

yaWP

yaWP is an excellent weather widget with a lot of options. It is easily configurable for multiple locations, which is handy for my frequent travels.

My Panel

The widgets I added to the left end of my Panel are Lancelot Launcher, Takeoff Launcher, Pager (the four rectangles; more about that later) and Dictionary. The widgets I added to the right end of my Panel are: System Tray, Digital Clock and Wastebin. With the exception of Wastebin, all the icons shown on the right side of the Panel are inside the System Tray widget. Additionally, I placed the Icon-Only Task Manager widget in the middle of the Panel, to display an icon for each running application (file manager, browser, and so on), be it maximised or minimised.

An application launcher is a common feature of any Desktop Environment, and a number of launchers are available for KDE. The standard launcher is Kickoff, which originated in openSUSE. Naturally it is also a widget and, as with any widget, can be placed anywhere on the Panel or on the desktop itself (or both, if you feel like it!). Although I find the Kickoff launcher good, I prefer another launcher: Lancelot. I placed the Lancelot widget on the left side of the Panel, and configured it to use the Genxigen KDE menu icon. A click on the icon reveals Lancelot’s intuitive menu:

Lancelot Launcher

Snapshot 7 - Lancelot Launcher

The three System Actions buttons along the bottom of the Lancelot launcher pane are configurable. I have configured them to be Lock Session, Leave and Switch User. Clicking on Leave displays a menu with buttons Log Out, Reboot, Shut Down, Suspend to Disk and Suspend to RAM. A nice feature is that you can configure KDE to display a sub-menu for Reboot that allows you to specify which of the entries in your GRUB 2 bootloader menu you wish to boot (see GRUB2/BURG Integration in KDE).

I used to have more widgets and icons on my Panel, to enable me to quickly launch the applications I use most frequently (Firefox, Konqueror, Thunderbird, Dolphin, KCharSelect, KWrite, KCalc and so on). However, the icons took up space on the Panel and reduced the space available to the Icon-Only Task Manager for displaying the icons of running applications. So I added a second launcher widget on my Panel: Takeoff Launcher, the icon next to the Lancelot widget’s icon. I downloaded a crisp SVG Gentoo icon to use as that launcher’s icon on the Panel. Takeoff Launcher is a full-blown launcher, but I only use its Favourites pane, to launch my most frequently used applications.

Takeoff Launcher

Snapshot 8 - Takeoff Launcher

Lancelot also has a Favourites pane, but Takeoff is easy to configure to have a large pane with big, widely-spaced icons, and it is therefore good for quickly launching my most-used applications. So the only application I have left on the Panel is the KDE dictionary widget:

Dictionary widget on my Panel

Snapshot 9 - Dictionary widget on my Panel

System Tray

System Tray on my Panel

Snapshot 10 - System Tray on my Panel

The System Tray widget is the ‘notification area’ and holds a number of applets and widgets. The KDE icons for Clipboard, Volume, Device Notifer, Network Management, Printer Applet, Notifications, KOrganizer Reminder daemon, Desktop Search File Indexing and Battery Monitor (some of which are themselves widgets) are monochrome. I don’t think it is a coincidence that they were made monochrome after Microsoft changed to monochrome icons in the notification area of Windows 7. I wish I could change those KDE icons, as I prefer coloured notification icons in a System Tray: I find coloured icons quicker to recognise and I also prefer coloured icons from an aesthetic point of view. The coloured icons you can see in my System Tray are, from left to right, Compiz Fusion Icon, Easystroke, AutoKey, BasKet Note Pads, KAlarm and Keyboard Layout (clicking on the flag allows me to switch to other keyboard layouts, each with its own flag). One of these days I’ll get rid of the Compiz Fusion Icon, as I rarely use Compiz anymore because KWin Desktop Effects are now a match for Compiz in most areas.

EDIT (July 16, 2012): I have just discovered that there is a way to change the System Tray icons: see How to Use Custom Tray Icons in KDE.

Notifications applet pop-up messages can be disabled, but I prefer to leave them enabled as they come in handy when I’m sending photos from my phone to my laptop via Bluetooth. Here is what a pop-up from the Notifications applet looks like when Yakuake is launched at start up:

Notifications applet

Snapshot 11 - Notifications widget

By the way, Yakuake is another cool KDE application. Pressing F12 toggles a slide-down/up terminal window:

Yakuake

Snapshot 12 - Yakuake slide-down window

System Settings

The main GUI configuration menu for KDE is System Settings, which I can launch from either launcher. This is used to configure account details, workspace and application appearance, file associations, shortcuts, hardware settings, applications to run at startup, and just about anything else you can think of. I never bother to use System Settings to configure printers, though, as I prefer to use the CUPS Management interface http://localhost:631/ in a browser window.

System Settings main window

Snapshot 13 - System Settings main window

The items in the System Settings menu depend on which KControl modules are installed. For example, I installed the UFW KControl Module (the package kcm-ufw) so there is an entry in System Settings for UFW.

Firewall - System Settings

Snapshot 14 - Firewall - System Settings

One of the other configuration menus in System Settings is Desktop Effects, to configure the 3D and compositing effects that the KWin window manager provides. For screenshots of some of the effects see my earlier article Pimping my Desktop: have KWin Desktop Effects improved in KDE 4.6.2?

UFW KControl Module

Snapshot 15 - Desktop Effects - System Settings

Some people derisively call these effects ‘eye candy’ or ‘wobbly windows’ (the latter being one of the available effects) but I find some of them useful. The Desktop Cube (Ctrl-F11) and windows transparency (Alt + mouse scroll wheel) are two that I often use at work. Being able to place open windows on different faces of the cube, and flip quickly between them either with a mouse click, mouse wheel scroll or keyboard shortcut is handy. And sometimes I need to refer to text in a window underneath the one I’m typing in, and being able to make the latter transparent or semi-transparent quickly just to check something is also handy. Wobbly windows themselves are pure eye candy, but cool nonetheless. I’m so used to wobbly windows that I miss the effect if using another machine without it.

KWin Desktop Cube

Snapshot 16 - KWin Desktop Cube

I have configured the Pager widget to display the four virtual desktops (cube faces) as a row of four rectangles on the Panel, and I can click on any of the four rectangles to rotate the cube to the relevant virtual desktop (cube face). I have also configured the Pager’s keyboard shortcuts so that Ctrl-Alt- and Ctrl-Alt- rotate the cube left and right, respectively (see Switching from Compiz to the KDE Native Composite Engine).

Selecting Plasmoids (widgets)

Adding widgets to a Panel or to the desktop is easy. There is a small Tool Box icon in the top right of the desktop. Because of its shape, this icon is often called ‘the cashew’.

Tool Box ('the cashew')

Snapshot 17 - Tool Box ('the cashew')

You just click on it, select ‘Unlock Widgets’ then ‘Add Widgets’ (right-clicking on the desktop allows you to select ‘Add Widgets’ too), and a scrollable menu bar with widgets appears above the Panel:

Widgets menu

Snapshot 18 - Widgets menu

You can then select the widget you want and drag it to a place on the Panel or on the desktop itself. A ‘Get New Widgets…’ button allows you to search for, select and download other widgets from the Web or to install a new widget from a local file you downloaded earlier.

While ‘Unlock Widgets’ is selected there is also a cashew icon (‘Panel Tool Box’) at the right end of the Panel. If you click on that a menu pops up to allow you to configure the Panel itself (position, length, height, auto-hide, spacers and so on).

Activities

Activities are another unique KDE feature, and probably the least understood and least used of all KDE features. If you select Activities in the cashew menu (see Snapshot 17) or in the Widgets menu (see Snapshot 18), a new menu pops up:

Activities config menu

Snapshot 19 - Activities menu

Apart from my existing ‘Desktop’ activity (my normal environment with its four virtual desktops), I have three template activities titled ‘Search and Launch’, ‘Photos Activity’ and ‘Desktop Icons’. I could delete any or all of those or customise them as I wish (I could also click on the ‘Create Activity’ button to create further activities). For example, if I click on the ‘Photos Activity’ icon, I see the following desktop, which I could go on to customise by adding widgets and wallpaper that are unique to this activity.

an Activity

Snapshot 20 - an Activity

To see a screencast of Activities in action, check out ChaniBlog post Activities in Action. To read more about KDE Activities, see The Mystery of KDE Activities.

To be honest, I’m not particularly interested in using Activities, as I find the traditional virtual desktops in KDE adequate for my purposes. But I can see that Activities might have their uses. You can read some comments on the current state of Activities design, and suggestions to improve it, in the article Nine Ways to Make KDE Activities More Useful.

Docks

Mac OS X has made the dock concept popular, and there are a number of dock widgets specifically for KDE, such as Daisy. Cairo Dock is not specifically designed for KDE but works well in KDE. As you can see from the snapshot below, I installed it. To be honest, though, I never use it, as Lancelot Launcher, Takeoff Launcher, Folder View and the Panel do everything I want and more.

Cairo Dock

Snapshot 21 - Cairo Dock

Desktop Search

‘Desktop Search’ is one of the entries in System Settings. If I double-click on that entry I can then enable or disable Nepomuk Semantic Desktop (tagging and rating of files), Nepomuk File Indexer (searching of files by content instead of just by name) and E-mail Indexing (full text search in e-mails and their attachments).

If I click on the ‘Desktop Search File Indexing’ icon in the System Tray (the icon to the left of the Keyboard Layouts icon in Snapshot 11) then the following window pops-up, telling me the status of file indexing:

Nepomuk

Snapshot 22 - Nepomuk

To give you an example of how I use Desktop Search, I was looking for a MIDI file of The Monkees’ ‘I’m A Believer’ that I saved a long time ago. I can press Alt-F2 to launch KRunner, and enter a search string:

Searching via KRunner

Snapshot 23 - Searching via KRunner

or I can click on the Lancelot Launcher icon and enter the search string there:

Searching via Lancelot

Snapshot 24 - Searching via Lancelot

Either way, clicking on the file they find launches KMid, the KDE MIDI file player:

Searching via Lancelot

Snapshot 25 - KMid

By the way, both KRunner and Lancelot will accept commands as well as file names.

File Managers

Dolphin file manager

Snapshot 26 - Dolphin file manager

Dolphin is the default file manager in KDE. It has a raft of features and is very easy to use. Features have been added to Dolphin in each KDE release, and it is now a powerful file manager. Other KDE file managers I use frequently are Krusader and Konqueror, the latter also a Web browser that I have found will sometimes display Web pages that Firefox cannot (I installed the kwebkitpart package and configured Konqueror to use the WebKit rendering engine by default rather than the KHTML rendering engine). Konqueror is not so popular since the advent of Dolphin, but I use it quite often as it has several strings to its bow.

Konqueror and Dolphin can use KIO Slaves (in Gentoo these are available by installing the packages kdebase-kioslaves, kdemultimedia-kioslaves and kio-sysinfo), which provide additional functionality. One of the KIO Slaves for Konqueror is sysinfo:/, which I have bookmarked to save typing it in the address bar:

Konqueror using sysinfo:/

Snapshot 27 - Konqueror using sysinfo:/

For more detailed system information, I select System > KInfoCenter from the Lancelot menu, or enter the command kinfocenter in KRunner or in the input field of Lancelot or in a terminal window (you are spoilt for choice in Linux!).

Applications and Tools I use

If you’re wondering what I used to capture the images for this article, apart from the ImageMagick import command to capture the KDM Greeter screen, I used KSnapshot:

KSnapshot

Snapshot 28 - KSnapshot


And, after installing the package media-gfx/scrot, I used the following command in a Konsole window to take the above snapshot of the KSnapshot window:

$ scrot -d 6 -b -s snapshot.png

Coming in Part 2…

In my next article I’ll show you a few of the other applications and tools – both KDE and non-KDE – that I use regularly in KDE on my laptop.

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