This is a text-only version of the following page on https://raymii.org:
Title : The awesomely epic guide to KDE
Author : Graham Morrison
Date : 04-05-2015
URL : https://raymii.org/s/articles/The_awesomely_epic_guide_to_KDE.html
Format : Markdown/HTML
This article was originaly published in [Linux Voice, issue 2, May 2014].
This issue is now available under a [Creative Commons BY-SA license]. In a
nutshell: you can modify and share all content from the magazine (apart from
adverts), even for commercial purposes, providing you credit Linux Voice as the
original source, and retain the same license.
This remix is converted manually to Markdown and HTML for ease of archiving and
Recently I removed all Google Ads from this site due to their invasive tracking, as well as Google Analytics.
Please, if you found this content useful, consider a small donation using any of the options below:
://leafnode.nl">I'm developing an open source monitoring app called Leaf Node Monitoring, for windows, linux & android. Go che
ck it out!
Consider sponsoring me on Github. It means the world to
me if you show your appreciation and you'll help pay the server costs.
ode=7435ae6b8212">You can also sponsor me by getting a Digital Ocean VPS. With this referral link you'll get $100 credit for 60
Other converted Linux Voice articles [can be found here].
* * *
Everything you ever wanted to know about KDE (but were too afraid of the number
of possible solutions to ask).
### The awesomely epic guide to KDE
Desktops on Linux. They're a concept completely alien to users of other
operating systems because they never having to think about them. Desktops must
feel like the abstract idea of time to the Amondawa tribe, a thought that
doesn't have any use until you're in a different environment. But here it is -
on Linux you don't have to use the graphical environment lurking beneath your
mouse cursor. You can change it for something completely different. If you don't
like windows, switch to xmonad. If you like full-screen apps, try Gnome. And if
you're after the most powerful and configurable point-and-click desktop, there's
KDE is wonderful, as they all are in their own way. But in our opinion, KDE in
particular suffers from poor default configuration and a rather allusive
learning curve. This is doubly frustrating, firstly because it has been quietly
growing more brilliant over the last couple of years, and secondly, because KDE
should be the first choice for users unhappy with their old desktop - in
particular, Windows 8 users pining for an interface that makes sense.
But fear not. We're going to use a decade's worth of KDE firefighting to bring
you the definitive guide to making KDE look good and function slightly more like
how you might expect it to. We're not going to look at KDE's applications, other
than perhaps Dolphin; we're instead going to look at the functionality in the
desktop environment itself. And while our guinea pig distribution is going to be
Mageia, this guide will be equally applicable to any recent KDE desktop running
from almost any distribution, so don't let the default Mageia background put you
A great first target for getting your system looking good is its selection of
fonts. It used to be the case that many of us would routinely copy fonts across
from a Windows installation, getting the professional Ariel and Helvetica font
rendering that was missing from Linux at the time. But thanks to generic quality
fonts such as DejaVu and Nimbus Sans/Roman, this isn't a problem any more. But
it's still worth finding a font you prefer, as there are now so many great
alternatives to choose between.
> Most distributions don't include decent fonts. But KDE enables you to quickly
install new ones and apply them to your desktop.
The best source of free fonts we've found is [www.fontsquirrel.com] \- it
hosts the Roboto, Roboto Slab and Roboto Condensed typefaces used throughout our
magazine, and also on the Nexus 5 smartphone (Roboto was developed for use in
the Ice Cream Sandwich version of the Android mobile operating system).
TrueType fonts, with their `.ttf` file extensions, are incredibly easy to
install from KDE. Download the zip file, right-click and select something from
the Extract menu. Now all you need to do is drag a selection across the TrueType
fonts you want to install and select 'Install' from the right-click Actions
menu. KDE will take care of the rest.
Another brilliant thing about KDE is that you can change all the fonts at once.
Open the System Settings panel and click on Application Appearances, followed by
the fonts tab, and click on Adjust All Fonts. Now just select a font from the
requester. Most KDE applications will update with your choice immediately, while
other applications, such as Firefox, will require a restart. Either way, it's a
quick and effective way of experimenting with your desktop's usability and
appearance. We'd recommend either Open Sans or the thinner Aller fonts.
### Eye candy
One of KDE's most secret features is that backgrounds can be dynamic. We don't
find much use for this when it comes to the desktops that tells us the weather
outside the window, but we do like backgrounds that dynamically grab images from
the internet. With most distributions you'll need to install something for this
to work. Just search for `plasma-wallpaper` in your distribution's package
manager. Our favourite is `plasma-wallpaper-potd`, as this installs easy access
to update-able wallpaper images from a variety of sources.
Changing a desktop background is easy with KDE, but it's not intuitive. Mageia,
for example, defaults to using 'Folder' view, as this is closer to the
traditional desktop where files from the Desktop folder in your home directory
are displayed on the background, and the whole desktop works like a file
manager. Right-click and select 'Folder Settings' if this is the view you're
using. Alternatively, KDE defaults to 'Desktop', where the background is clear
apart from any widgets you add yourself, and files and folders are considered
links to the sources. The menu item in this mode is labelled Desktop Settings.
The View Configuration panel that changes the background is the same, however,
and you need to make your changes in the Wallpaper drop-down menu. We'd
recommend Picture Of The Day as the wallpaper, and the Astronomy Picture Of The
Day as the image source.
> Remove the blue glow and change a few of the display options, and KDE starts
to look pretty good in our opinion.
Another default option we think is crazy is the blue glow that surrounds the
active window. While every other desktop uses a slightly deeper drop-shadow,
KDE's active window looks like it's bathed in radioactive light. The solution to
this lies in the default theme, and this can be changed by going to KDE's
`System Settings` control panel and selecting `Workspace Appearance`. On the
first page, which is labelled `Window Decorations`, you'll find that Oxygen is
nearly always selected, and it's this theme that contains the option to change
the blue glow. Just click on the `Configure Decoration` button, flip to the
`Shadows` tab and disable `Active Window Glow`. Alternatively, if you'd like
active windows to have a more pronounced shadow, change the inner and outer
colours to black.
You may have seen the option to download wallpapers, for example, from within a
KDE window, and you can see this now by clicking on the `Get New Decorations`
button. Themes are subjective, but our favourite combination is currently the
Chrome window decoration (it looks identical to Google's default theme for its
browser) with the Aya desktop theme. The term 'desktop theme' is a bit of a
misnomer, as it doesn't encapsulate every setting as you might expect. Instead
it controls how generic desktop elements are rendered. The most visible of these
elements is the launch panel, and changing the desktop theme will usually have a
dramatic effect on its appearance, but you'll also notice a difference in the
The final graphical flourish we'd suggest is to change the icon set that KDE
uses. There's nothing wrong with the default Oxygen set, but there are better
options. Unfortunately, this is where the 'Get New Themes' download option often
fails, probably because icon packages are large and can overwhelm the personal
storage space often reserved for projects like these. We'd suggest going to
[kde-look.org] and browsing its icon collections. Open up the Icons panel
from KDE's System Settings, click on the Icons tab followed by Install Theme
File and point the requester at the location of the archive you just downloaded.
KDE will take it from there and add the icon set to the list in the panel. Try
`Kotenza` for a flat theme, or keep an eye on `Nitrux` development.
### The panel
Our next target is going to be the panel at the bottom of the screen. This has
become a little dated, especially if you're using KDE on a large or high-
resolution display, so our first suggestion is to re-scale and centre it for
your screen. The key to moving screen components in KDE is making sure they're
unlocked, and this accomplished by right-clicking on the 'plasma' cashew in the
top-right of the display where the current activity is listed. Only when widgets
are unlocked can you re-size the panel, and even add new applications from the
With widgets unlocked, click on the cashew on the side of the panel followed by
More Settings and select Centre for panel alignment. With this enabled you can
re-size the panel using the sliders on either side and the panel itself will
always stay in the middle of your screen. Just pretend you're working on
indentation on a word processor and you'll get the idea. You can also change its
height when the sliders are visible by dragging the central height widget, and
to the left of this, you can drag the panel to a different edge on your screen.
The top edge works quite well, but many of KDE's applets don't work well when
stacked vertically on the left or right edges of the display.
There are two different kinds of task manager applets that come with KDE. The
default displays each running application as a title bar in the panel, but this
takes up quite a bit of space. The alternative task manager displays only the
icon of the application, which we think is much more useful. Mageia defaults to
the icon version, but most others - and KDE itself - prefer the title bar
applet. To change this, click on the cashew again and hover over the old applet
so that the 'X' appears, then click on this 'X' to remove the applet from the
panel. Now click on Add Widgets, find the two task managers and drag the icon
version on to your panel. You can re-arrange any other applets in this mode by
dragging them to the left and right.
By default, the Icon-Only task manager will only display icons for tasks running
on the current desktop, which we think is counterintuitive, as it's more
convenient to see all of the applications you may have running and to quickly
switch between whatever desktops on which they may be running with a simple
click. To change this behaviour, right-click on the applet and select the
Settings menu option and the Behaviour tab in the next window. Deselect 'Only
Show Tasks From The Current Desktop', and perhaps 'Only Show Tasks From The
Current Activity' if you use KDE's activities.
Another alteration we like to make is to reconfigure the virtual desktops applet
from showing four desktops as a 2 _2, which doesn't look too good on a small
panel, to 4_ 1\. This can be done by right-clicking on the applet, selecting
Pager Settings and then clicking on the Virtual Desktops tabs and changing the
number of rows to '1'.
Finally, there's the launch menu. Mageia has switched this from the new style of
application launcher to the old style originally seen in Microsoft Windows. We
prefer the former because of its search field, but the two can be switched by
right-clicking the icon and selecting the Switch To... menu option.
If you find the hover-select action of this mode annoying, where moving the
mouse over one of the categories automatically selects it, you can disable it by
right-clicking on the launcher, selecting Launcher Settings from the menu and
disabling 'Switch Tabs On Hover' from the General settings page. It's worth
reiterating that many of these menu options are only available when widgets are
unlocked, so don't despair if you don't see the correct menu entry at first.
No article on KDE would be complete without some discussion of what KDE calls
Activities. In many ways, Activities are a solution waiting for a problem.
They're meta-virtual desktops that allow you to group desktop configuration and
applications together. You may have an activity for photo editing, for example,
or one for working and another for the internet. If you've got a touchscreen
laptop, activities could be used to switch between an Android-style app launcher
(the Search and Launch mode from the Desktop Settings panel), and the regular
desktop mode. We use a single activity as a default for screenshots, for
instance, while another activity switches everything to the file manager desktop
mode. But the truth is that you have to understand what they are before you can
find a way of using them.
Some installations of KDE will include the Activity applet in the toolbar. Its
red, blue and green dots can be clicked on to open the activity manager, or you
can click on the Plasma cashew in the top-right and select Activities. This will
open the bar at the bottom of the screen, which lists activities installed and
primed on your system. Clicking on any will switch between them; as will
pressing the meta key (usually the Windows key) and Tab.
We'd suggest that finding a fast way to switch between activities, such as with
a keyboard shortcut or with the Activity Bar widget is the key to using them
more. With the Activity Manager open, clicking on Create Activity lets you
either clone the current desktop, add a blank desktop or create a new activity
from a list of templates. Clone works well if you want to add some default
applications to the desktop for your current setup. To remove an activity,
switch to another one and press the Stop and Delete buttons from the Activity
### Upgraded launch menu
You may want to look into replacing the default launch menu entirely. If you
open the Add Widgets view, for instance, and search for menus, you'll see
several results. Our current favourite is called Application Launcher (QML). It
provides the same kind of functionality as the default menu, but has a cleaner
interface after you've enlarged the initial window. But if we're being honest,
we don't use the launcher that much. We prefer to do most launching through
KRunner, which is the seemingly simple requester that appears when you hold
KRunner is better than the default launcher, because you can type this shortcut
from anywhere, regardless of which applications are running or where your mouse
is located. When you start to type the name of the application you want to run
into KRunner, you'll see the results filtered in real time beneath the entry
field - press Enter to launch the top choice.
KRunner is capable of so much more. You can type in calculations like
`=sin(90)`, for example, and see the result in real time. You can search Google
with `gg:` or Wikipedia with `wp:` followed by the search terms, and add many
other operations through installable modules. To make best use of this awesome
KDE feature, make sure you've got the `plasma-addons` package installed, and
search for runner on your distribution's package manager. When you next launch
KRunner and click on the tool icon to the left of the search bar, you'll see a
wide variety of plugins that can do all kinds of things with the text you type
in. In classic KDE style, many don't include instructions on how to use them, so
here's our breakdown of the most useful things you can do with Krunner:
### File management
File management may not be the most exciting subject in Linux, but it is one we
all seem to spend a lot of time doing, whether that's moving a download into a
better folder, or copying photos from a camera. The old file manager, Konqueror,
was one of the best reasons for using KDE in the first place, and while
Konqueror has been superseded by Dolphin in KDE 4.x, it's still knocking around
\- even if it is labelled a web browser.
If you open Konqueror and enter the URL as `file://`, it turns back into that
file manager of old, with many of its best features intact. You can click on the
lower status bar, for example, and split the view vertically or horizontally,
into other views. You can fill the view with proportionally sized blocks by
selecting Preview File Size View from the right-click menu, and preview many
other file types without ever leaving Konqueror.
Mageia uses a double-click for most options, whereas we prefer a single click.
This can be changed from the System-Settings panel by opening Input Devices,
clicking on Mouse and enabling 'Single-click To Open Files And Folders'. If
you've become used to Apple's reverse scroll, you'll also find an option here to
reverse the scroll direction on Linux.
Konqueror is a great application, but it hasn't been a focus of KDE development
for a considerable period of time. Dolphin has replaced it, and while this is a
much simplified file manager, it does inherit some of Konqueror's best features.
You can still split the view, for instance, albeit one only once, and only
horizontally, from the toolbar. You can also view lots of metadata. Select the
Details View and right-click on the column headings for the files, and you can
add columns that list the word counts in text files, or an image's size and
orientation, or the artist, title and duration of an audio file, all from within
the contents of the data. This is KDE's semantic desktop in action, and it's
been growing in functionality for the last couple of years. Apple's OS X, for
example, has only just started pushing its ability to tag files and applications
\- we've been able to do this from KDE for a long time. We don't know any other
desktop that comes close to providing that level of control.
### Window management
KDE has a comprehensive set of windowing functions as well as graphical effects.
They're all part of the window manager, KWin, rather than the desktop, which is
what we've been dealing with so far. It's the window manager's job to handle the
positioning, moving and rendering of your windows, which is why they can be
replaced without switching the whole desktop. You might want to try KWin on the
RazorQt desktop, for example, to get the best of both the minimal environment
RazorQt offers and the power of KDE's window manager.
The easiest way to get to KWin's configuration settings is to right-click on the
title bar of any window (this is usually the most visible element of any window
manager), and select Window Manager Settings from the More Actions menu.
The Task Switcher is the tool that appears when you press `Alt+Tab`, and
continually pressing those two keys will switch between all running applications
on the current desktop. You can also use cursor keys to move left and right
through the list. These settings are mostly sensibly configured, but you may
want to include All Other Desktops in the Filter Windows By section, as that
will allow you to quickly switch to applications running on other desktops. We
also like the Cover Switch visualisation rather than the Thumbnails view, and
you can even configure the perceived distance of the windows by clicking on the
The next page on the window manager control module handles what happens at the
edges of your screen. At the very least, we prefer to enable Switch Desktop On
Edge by selecting Only When Moving Windows from the drop-down list. This means
that when you drag a window to one edge, the virtual desktop will switch
beneath, effectively dragging the window on to a new virtual desktop.
The great thing about enabling this only for dragged windows is that it doesn't
interfere with KDE's fantastic window snapping feature. When you drag a window
close to the left or right edge, for instance, KDE displays a ghosted window
where your window will snap to if you release the mouse. This is a great way of
turning KDE into a tiling window manager, where you can easily have two windows
split down the middle of the screen area. Moving a window into any of the
corners will also give you the ability to neatly arrange your windows to occupy
a quarter of the screen, which is ideal for large displays.
We also enable a mode similar to Mission Control on OS X when the cursor is in
the region of the top-left corner of the screen. On the screen edge layout,
click on the dot in the top-right of the screen (or any other point you'd
prefer) and select Desktop Grid from the drop-down menu that appears. Now when
you move to the top-right of your display, you'll get an overview of all your
virtual desktops, any of which can be chosen with a click.
Two pages down in the configuration module, there's a page called Focus. This is
an old idea where you can change whether a window becomes active when you click
on it, or when you roll your mouse cursor over it. KDE adds another twist to
this by providing a slider that progresses from click to a strict hover policy,
where the window under the cursor always becomes active. We prefer to use one of
the middle options - Focus Follows Mouse - as this chooses the most obvious
window to activate for us without making too many mistakes, and it means we
seldom click to focus. We also reduce the focus delay to 200ms, but this will
depend on how you feel about the feature after using it for a while.
KDE has so many features, many of which only come to light when you start to use
the desktop. It really is a case of developers often adding things and then
telling no one. But we feel KDE is worth the effort, and unlikely some other
desktops, is unlikely to change too much in the transition from 4.x to 5. That
means the time you spend learning how to use KDE now is an investment. Dive in!
All the text on this website is free as in freedom unless stated otherwise.
This means you can use it in any way you want, you can copy it, change it
the way you like and republish it, as long as you release the (modified)
content under the same license to give others the same freedoms you've got
and place my name and a link to this site with the article as source.
This site uses Google Analytics for statistics and Google Adwords for
advertisements. You are tracked and Google knows everything about you.
Use an adblocker like ublock-origin if you don't want it.
All the code on this website is licensed under the GNU GPL v3 license
unless already licensed under a license which does not allows this form
of licensing or if another license is stated on that page / in that software:
This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify
it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or
(at your option) any later version.
This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the
GNU General Public License for more details.
You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
along with this program. If not, see
Just to be clear, the information on this website is for meant for educational
purposes and you use it at your own risk. I do not take responsibility if you
screw something up. Use common sense, do not 'rm -rf /' as root for example.
If you have any questions then do not hesitate to contact me.
See https://raymii.org/s/static/About.html for details.