3.3 KDE4 Intro

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First look

Introduction to KDE 4 Desktop

The KDE 4.3 desktop which appears for the first time in MEPIS 8.5 is very different from the KDE 3.5 one with which MEPIS users are familiar. This section is designed to acquaint you with its basic features, liberally borrowing material from KDE.org documentation and other online resources. For customization options, follow the Wiki link at the end of this section.


Plasma provides the desktop interface for KDE 4, including the application launcher (start menu), the desktop and the desktop panel (Kicker). Plasma also provides many standardized services such as artwork, presentation and script management.

Plasma uses a system of applets (any small application that performs one specific task, often within a larger application) that are collectively called plasmoids, but range from informative widgets (see below) to mini-applications like calculators and dictionaries. An applet may also contain another applet (known then as a containment). An important feature of Plasma is that there is no longer a distinction between panels (like the taskbar), desktop icons, and widgets; they are all created and treated the same way.

What is commonly referred to as the “cashew” is the Plasma logo you can find on the default desktop, on the upper right corner, and on the right-hand side of the panel. By right-clicking to unlock widgets and clicking on a cashew, you can access configuration options and features; you can also just right click on the desktop.


A widget is a basic visual building block of the Plasma desktop (the GUI) which, combined in an application, holds all the data processed by the application as well as the available interactions with this data. Other common names are applet or gadget. Superkaramba Themes, Apple's Dashboard, Google Gadgets, Yahoo Widgets, Vista Sidebar Widgets, Opera Widgets are all examples of other widget systems, some of which Plasma also supports.

A certain number of widgets are supplied by default, and others are downloadable via the Add Widgets dialogue box. To add a widget to the desktop or panel, first unlock the widgets if they are locked, then simply right-click anywhere, select Add Widgets..., and choose the widget from the list. Particularly useful widgets include:

  • Folder View: displays the contents of any folder
  • Quicklaunch: allows up to 6 applications to be available with a single click, nice on the desktop for the most used apps
  • Systen Monitor: various monitors: hard disk, network usage, temperature, etc.

When you are done configuring your widgets (including the panel), don't forget to lock them by right-clicking on the desktop (or the panel, under Panel Options) and selecting that command. This will prevent your widgets from possibly moving around or disappearing.

Additional widget source files can be obtained from KDE-look.org under plasmoids. Those that are not directly downloadable (as binaries from the "Add Widget" dialog) can be downloaded as source files that will need to be compiled (see Section 7.3). Compiling instructions are included in the compressed file that contains the source code.


By default, the panel (Kicker) appears along the bottom of the screen, and takes up much of the width of the screen. It is something of a one-stop shop for almost anything that you might want to access quickly. MEPIS comes with a default panel described below, but the panel is also capable of running any docked widgets and extensions, such as child panels.

Icon key to default panel:


  • Left side (icon tray), from left to right:
    • Start (KMenu)
    • Show Desktop
    • System configuration
    • Home folder
    • Default browser (Firefox)
    • Personal information (Kontact)
    • Upgrade notifier
  • Middle (here: empty) is the taskbar, used to keep track of running applications.
  • Right side (system tray), from left to right:
    • Sound mixer (KMix)
    • Storage devices (KwikDisk)
    • Clipboard (Klipper)
    • Network interface (KNemo)
    • Power configuration (KPowersave)
    • Calendar (KOrganizer)
    • Date and time

    There are other options off the context menu when you left-click the panel's cashew on the right end and select Panel Settings:

  • The arrows on the right will adjust the maximum and minimum sizes of the scoreboard. The left arrow indicates the starting position.
  • Screen Edge allows you to choose the location by dragging.
  • Height determines the height of the dashboard by clicking / dragging. The result is visible in the release of the click.
  • More Settings gives you a sub-menu of more options such as hiding, alignment, etc.


You have the option of 3 menus in KDE 4:

  • Kickoff: default new style menu
  • Classic menu as used in MEPIS 8
  • Lancelot, an automatic menu

The first two are installed by default, and are toggled by unlocking widgets, then right-clicking the menu icon and selecting the alternative. Lancelot must be installed as a widget; the classic Menu can be restored by installing the widget "Application Launcher."

System Settings

The KDE control center is called “System Settings,” and is the place to go to change any settings that affect the whole KDE environment. You can open it clicking KMenu --> Settings --> System Settings.

The System Settings screen is divided into two tabs, General and Advanced. Beginning KDE 4 users should explore the General tab, which covers these areas:

  • Look & Feel (Appearance, Desktop, etc.)
  • Personal (About Me, Regional & Language, etc.)
  • Network & Connectivity (Network Settings, Sharing, etc.)
  • Computer Administration (Date & Time, Display, etc.)


Krunner is tool for searching and launching files and applications. It can also be used for more generic operations such as calculator or unit converter. Press Alt+F2 or right-click the desktop and choose Run Command to start it; it is also included at the top of the Lancelot menu. In its KDE 4 version, it performs many functions (click the question mark for help), for instance:

  • Application launcher
  • Begin to type the name of the application you want to run. Krunner will grow a short list of applications based on the letters you type. You can finish typing the name, or just click the right one from the new short list.

  • Calculator
  • You can use Krunner as an efficient calculator. Just type the expression you want to evaluate such as

    32*12= or =32*12
    (You can put the = sign before or after the expression). It is possible to evaluate more sophisticated expressions such as:
    =sqrt(4) + 32 * sin(60)

  • Converter
  • You can quickly convert measurements in Krunner by just typing in the value and unit. For instance, if you type

    3m in ft
    you will see the result: 9.84251968503937.

  • Running BASH commands
  • Krunner doesn't only recognize applications, but also all binaries throughout your system. You can use this ability to run bash commands such as cp, mv, etc. To do so, start Krunner and type the commands just as you would in Konsole, for example:

    cp ~/Documents/myFile ~/myFile

  • Internet commands
  • Enter any URL and the page will pop up in your default browser.

  • Task-oriented searches
  • Start Krunner and click on the wrench symbol --> User Interface tab, then select Task Orientated --> OK. This changes Krunner into QuickSand, an alternative front end. Just start typing to initiate a search. QuickSand represents matches to a query as a scrolling line of icons. A completion box of matches is also shown when the matches first arrive. The list can be scrolled using the up and down arrow keys when the completion box is shown or the left and right arrow keys.

File management

Dolphin is the default file manager in KDE 4. It includes several unique enhancements for the user that aren't available in Konqueror. By focusing exclusively on file management, Dolphin avoids many of the pitfalls inherent in Konqueror's approach, leading to such items as a more flexible sidebar system and a less-invasive notification system that doesn't interrupt user work flow. Konqueror can still be used as file manager (as can other alternatives, for that matter) and in fact it shares the fileview functionality with Dolphin.

On the left-hand side, Dolphin's Panel provides quick access to your most often used locations, called “Places.” Just drag a folder to the sidebar and be able to quickly access it, from not only Dolphin itself, but also from the KickOff Places tab and the Lancelot Computer tab. Right-click an empty space to see other options.

Some hints and tips to get you started:

  • Type Ctrl-F4 to open up a terminal at the bottom in the current folder.
  • For directories containing lots of images, press the preview button in Dolphin's toolbar and get previews of the files located in the current directory.
  • To quickly move between directories, click on the breadcrumbs located right above the main view screen (e.g., Home > Mail > Inbox). Clicking on the arrow next to one of the breadcrumbs lets you move swiftly to different subdirectories.
  • For a side-by-side view that makes copying files between directories easy, hit the “Split View” button.
  • Dolphin remembers settings for a specific directory, but you can also set global defaults by clicking Settings" --> Configure Dolphin.

For more tips and hints, as well as customization ideas, follow the link below to the Wiki.


There are a few programs you may want to investigate while booted to the LiveCD:

  • Firefox is the default web browser in MEPIS Linux.
  • Kopete is an instant messenger client that supports several popular IM services, such as Yahoo, AIM, and MSN.
  • Kontact is an all-purpose personal information manager application. It is primarily a calendar, email, and addressbook application, but incorporates other features such as sticky notes, journaling, and RSS aggregation.
  • MEPIS Linux includes a variety of games, such as solitaire or mahjongg. You can even play them while you install!
  • Amarok is a music player and organizer similar to iTunes. You can use it to play music files or CDs, tune-in to internet radio, transfer songs to your portable music player, or buy songs from Magnatune.

For more information on available applications, see Section 8.

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