KDE4 desktop

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The KDE4 Desktop basics

The KDE 4.x desktop which appears for the first time in MEPIS 8.5 is very different from the KDE 3.5 one with which most users are familiar. This section is designed to acquaint you with its basic features as well as some of the customization possibilities, liberally borrowing material from KDE.org documentation and other online resources such as Wikipedia.

NOTE: If you make a mistake configuring the Desktop that you cannot fix, you can restore the original default MEPIS desktop settings; Please see the MEPIS User Assistant tool described in Section 5.3 of the User's Manual.



Plasma provides the desktop interface for KDE 4, including the application launcher (start menu), the desktop and the Plasma Panel (formerly called the 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) 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 to become 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 created the same way.

What is commonly called the "cashew" is the Plasma logo you can find on the upper right corner of the default desktop, and on the right-hand side of the panel. By clicking on a cashew, you can access configuration options and features. You can also access configuration options and features by right clicking on the desktop.


One of the most useful and underused features is the plasma activities. The basic idea is that your desktop space is limited to how many widgets it can hold. Activities allow you to specialize each desktop (AKA "activity") to whatever task you need to accomplish to have a different set of plasmoids/wallpapers/information on multiple "desktops". Not really related to the traditional virtual desktops, but it looks like it at first.

Right-click on the Desktop --> unlock widgets, then left-click on the cashew and choose "zoom out". Now the desktop as you know it shrinks. Now choose "add activity". Now you should see a new blank desktop besides the old one. This can be repeated multiple times. Click on the + (plus sign) on the desktop you wish to use, and that gets you to the chosen activity. Set up your Desktop and when you have finished, do not forget to lock widgets.

What's the advantage? Every activity has its own configuration, which means that you can set a different wallpaper and a different set of icons or plasmoids for each of them, or one for every day of the week if you wish.


You have the option of 3 menus:

  • Kickoff: new style menu
  • Classic menu used in MEPIS 8.5.x (KDE3.5 style menu)
  • 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 if you want to use it. You can also keep the KMenu —Kickoff or Classic— on the Plasma Panel or right-click to remove it.

Plasma Panel

By default, the Plasma Panel 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!) everything that you might want quick access to.
Besides the Menu, where you can start applications, the panel is also capable of running docked applets like the pager, the taskbar, widgets like a clock or system monitor, and extensions, such as child panels.

There are options off the context menu when you left-click the panel's "cashew" on the right end:

  • 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 can also add other panels wherever you like, since they are treated as a widget.


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 from the Add Widget dialogue box.

To add a widget to the desktop, first right-click the desktop and unlock the widgets if they are locked. Then simply right-click anywhere on the desktop and select the widget from the list. Particularly useful widgets include:

  • Quicklaunch: by default thisallows up to 6 applications to be available with a single click, nice on the desktop for the most used apps. It can be configured to display more app icons for launching, as well as set the icon size.
  • System 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. They are found 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. Compiling instructions are included in the compressed file that the source comes in. You do need to have various compiling tools installed. If you get errors during the compiling process the compiling tools required will be listed and are available in the repos.

Folder view

This allows a user to display the contents of a file system folder within a widget on the desktop. It can also be used to launch applications, display remote file systems, filter large folders for particular types of files, and even serve as a traditional desktop.

You can open up Dolphin and drag any folder to the Desktop, then let go, and you will have a set of options that include Copy and Paste. Right click on the Desktop and choose Folderview. Right click on the Folderview titlebar and click “Folderview settings” to change the location and display options, including icon size.

Also see the Mepis Wiki page on Dolphin.

Netbook desktop

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To switch to the Netbook Desktop, System Settings > Account Details > Social Desktop, un-check Enabled, Go back by clicking arrow at the top left of the dialog, click on Workspace, change Workspace Type to Netbook, click Apply. Below is the default netbook set-up, Note the Cashew is at the bottom left of the screen. And by default the page is unlocked.

When Netbook is first launched, it will load additional login dialog's, cancel them. Click on Page One at the top of the page, and delete the Community and KnowledgeBase widgets. By clicking on the black cross in the top right corner of each, or by right clicking and selecting delete from the context menu (they can be reinstalled later if required) click on Search and launch tab at the top of the page to return to the main desktop.

Configuring Search and Launch Containment:unlock

Adding and removing applications, the icons in the lower part of the page are Menu's to access applications in that particular menu category. To add a program to the shortcuts in the page, for example Firefox, click on the cashew , and unlock the page, click on the cashew again to close the Dialog, click on Internet, place your mouse cursor over the Firefox icon, click on the yellow star in the Firefox icon, and it will be added, To remove a short-cut, click on the cashew , and unlock the page, click on the cashew again to close the Dialog, in this example we will remove the short-cut for Konqueror,place your mouse cursor over the Konqueror, click on the red minus. When you have finished all your actions click on the cashew and lock the page, then click on the cashew again to close the dialog.

Delete application Short-cut

Add Application Short-cut

Adding and removing menus from the page: Right-click on the page and in the dialog select, Configure Search and Launch.(you do not have to unlock the page to complete this action), click on Main menu, here you can add or remove menu category's click on OK when you have completed your actions to save close the dialog.

The panel at the top of the page in Netbook is set to auto-hide by default, If you require to access the panel when a page is loaded, push your cursor up to the top of the page, and the panel will show When you load a page in Netbook, the default netbook desktop plus any other applications you have running, can be accessed by clicking at the top right of the page, running apps.

Adding pages to Netbook: in this example we will add a page add Web Browser widget to it, and set it up to monitor the Mepis forum, refreshing the page every 5 min. Click on Page one, Click on the cashew and unlock the page, click on add page, click on Add Widgets, search for Web Browser and drag it on to the page, close the Widget bar, by default the web address will be http://kde.org, edit to read: http://forum.mepiscommunity.org/

Click on the wrench in the top left of the browser, check Auto refresh: click OK. Click on the cashew and lock the page, click on the cashew again to close the dialog, do the same in page one to lock the page.

You can launch Firefox from Web Browser to go directly to the Mepis Community site, but it must be set up as the default browser in System Settings first. Next to to the wrench at the top left of the browser is a square box with four arrows in it, click on it to launch Firefox.

System Settings

The KDE control center is called "System Settings," and is the place to go to change any settings that affect the whole of your KDE environment. You can open it using the tool icon in the lower left side of the panel, Kmenu (Menu >>> Settings >>> System Settings), or in Krunner (Alt+F2) with its command-line name, systemsettings.

NOTE about Root: If what you want to do requires root privileges, use Krunner (Alt+F2) and type kdesu systemsettings and hit Enter. Whatever you do in System Settings will be as root. If you run 'systemsettings' as ROOT you will be able to modify ALL settings in the system. However, if you run 'systemsettings' as just a normal user (e.g. 'systemsettings'), which is the DEFAULT way when running it from the KDE menu-system, you will NOT be able to adjust certain values...you will probably find them 'greyed out', which is an indication that some particular feature is adjustable ONLY with 'su' (super-user) privileges. If you frequently run System Settings as ROOT, One way to facilitate that would be to create an application-launcher, by right-clicking the Desktop, then select 'Create New' -> 'Link to Application', and define the command that it launches to be the command value "kdesu systemsettings" (without the double-quotes).

The System Settings screen is divided into a few main categories, with subcategories in each.

Under the General tab:

  • Look & Feel: Appearance, Desktop. Notification, Window Behavior
  • Personal: About Me, Accessibility, Default Applications, Regional & Language
  • Network & Connectivity: Network Settings, Sharing
  • Computer Administration: Date & Time, Display, Font Installer, Input Actions, Keyboard & Mouse, Multimedia

under the Advanced tab:

  • Advanced User Settings: Audio CDs, Autostart, CDDB Retrieval, Desktop Search, Desktop Theme Details, Device Actions, File Associations, Hardware, KDE Resources, KDE Wallet, Service Manager, Session Manager
  • System: K3b setup, Login Manager, PolicyKit Authorization, Power Management, Samba


There are two aspects to controlling fonts: installing new fonts so that they will be available to KDE/Mepis, and setting the default system fonts.

Installing New Fonts

If you have fonts you wish to install for use in Mepis KDE programs, follow these steps:

  1. Go to KDE System Settings under the General tab.
  2. Find Font Installer in the Computer Administration category
  3. In the Font Installer window, you will see a list of currently installed fonts. Here you can delete installed fonts, or add more by clicking the add button in the lower left. Add will give you a listing of your home/user directory. You need to navigate to where you have stored the font files you want to install. Note that you need to already have the font files stored someplace on your computer system; KDE will not download files for you from the internet.
  4. Highlight the font files you want to install, and click the button in the lower right: Open.
  5. You will be asked if you want to install fonts for Personal (current user only) or System (accessible to all users). If you choose "system" you'll need to enter the root password.

Setting Default Fonts

System fonts
  1. Go to KDE System Settings under the General tab.
  2. Click Appearance under the Look & Feel category.
  3. In the resulting Style - System Settings window, click the Fonts category in the left column.

There you'll be able to set various default fonts used by KDE, as well as set anti-aliasing and sub-pixel hinting, if desired for appearance, as well as forcing the Font DPI size, if desired.

Other fonts

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Firefox, Synaptic, Konsole, what else?


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 to start it; it is also included at the top of the Lancelot menu.

Application launcher

This you probably already knew: type in mepis and see the options you have. Krunner can also launch applications. Start Krunner through the menu or with Alt-F2, and 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.


You can use Krunner as an efficient calculator. It's very easy to use too. 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)

Running BASH commands

Krunner doesn't only recognize applications, but it recognizes 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

Running Internet commands

Enter any URL the page will pop up in your browser. Try web shortcuts, too:
will bring up Google search results.

Navigating through options

Say you searched for an item in runner that brought you more than one result. And say you don't want to move your hand to reach the mouse to select the item. How would you go about it? You can use the 'Tab' key on your keyboard to navigate through the results! Then just press Enter to select/run the item!

Task-oriented searches

Start Krunner and click on the wrench symbol --> User Interface tab, 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. Dolphin includes several unique usability enhancements that aren't available in Konqueror. By focusing exclusively on file management, Dolphin avoids many of the pitfalls inherent in Konqueror's approach, such as a more flexible sidebar system and a less-invasive notification system that doesn't interrupt user work flow.

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 fileview. Clicking on the arrow next to one of the breadcrumbs lets you move swiftly to different subdirectories. To quickly move between directories, directly above the fileview, click on a directory name. Clicking on the arrow next to one of the directory names 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. While Dolphin remembers settings for a specific directory, you can also set the defaults to your personal taste via the "Settings" | "Configure Dolphin" menu.

On the left-hand side, Dolphin's sidebar 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 from the "File Open" dialog of all your applications.

Konqueror can still be used as file manager (as can other alternatives such as the speedy pcmanfm, for that matter) and in fact it shares the fileview functionality with Dolphin.


See the Mepis Wiki page on Dolphin for more detail on Dolphin's basic features, plus suggested time-saving customizations.</p>

KDE 4 Desktop customization

Desktop Effects

If you have the necessary video driver installed (for your particular graphic hardware), then the Desktop effects will be enabled (a few basic ones).

For example, the 'snowflakes' one should work by default (if you've met the video-driver requirement). [In contrast, though, the 'Desktop Cube' will probably NOT work, after you select/enable it, UNTIL you do some other things. At a minimum, to get the 'cube' to work, you'll need to: (1) have FOUR virtual-desktops defined (so that you get a 4-sided cube). You`ll also want to: (2) enable 'keyboard mapping', and (3) map the META-key (as described in `setup` below).]


First set up the Meta Key: system Settings > Regional & Language > Keyboard Layout --> Advanced > Alt/Win-key behavior here you have a choice, check Meta is mapped to the left Win-key or Meta is mapped to the Win-keys. Apply.

Then enable the effects: System Settings --> Desktop --> All Effects tab. Check the following: Mouse Mark, Wobbly Windows , Snow, Desktop Cube. (Once Desktop Cube is enabled, click on the tool icon and set up the cube by selecting Always Enabled in the box for Switch desktop on edge. Here you can also switch background wallpaper if you like.) Click Apply or OK to close System Settings. Log out or reboot for these changes to take effect.


Snow on the desktop

Ctrl + Meta (Win-key) + F12 to stop or repeat the action.

Write on the Desktop

Shift + Meta, move the mouse to write, To delete :- Shift + Meta + F11 To delete last action :- Shift + Meta + F12

Desktop Cube

Ctrl-F11 toggle: (and/or) move cursor to left edge of screen: To spin, hold down the left-mouse-button and drag mouse; to quit, press right-mouse-button.

Switching among virtual-desktops should now result in you seeing 'cube rotation'. Remember that 'switching among virtual-desktops' has its own separate activation-binding, which is a different operation from spin/manual cube-rotation/inspection. You might not even have a scroll-wheel so, of course, these various bindings are changeable/configurable.</p

(NOTE: To use the scroll-wheel for desktop-switching, you MUST have mouse-cursor over an open-area of the desktop, otherwise the mouse-focus will send the scroll-event to the specific window's application, which won't allow it to go to the desktop-switcher.) Cube end-caps: It is quite easy to change the image that appears on the two end-caps of the cube to a custom-image of your own choosing. Simply replace the system-file:


with a .png image of your own. It's a good idea to first copy the existing cubecap.png to 'cubecap.orig.png' in that same directory, so that you could restore it later, if desired. HINT: To convert an image of another filetype into a .png file, you can simply use a file-manager (such as Dolphin) to open your favorite image of another type, and then do 'save as...' and choose 'png' as the new type, and it should auto-magically get converted into a .png.


To change wallpaper, right-click the desktop and select Desktop Settings.

For the weather wallpaper, right click on the desktop > Desktop Settings > Wallpaper Type change to Weather Change, from the dialog that comes up type in your City/Town amd change the Provider to suit using the Search button, Then Apply, and the desktop will now reflect your local weather.

For KDE 4 and Mepis 8.5 open System Settings --> General tab --> Desktop (or Folder) View Settings --> Appearance and change Wallpaper.

Different Wallpaper for each Desktop

It's actually quite easy to get a different wallpaper for each virtual desktop.

  • Use the pager to go to the first desktop
  • Click on the cashew in the upper right corner, select activities
  • Create at least 4 of them (as many as you want different desktops) by clicking the plus sign in the lower right corner and choose "clone current activity"
  • You should have 4 icons in the bar now. Double-click the first icon and close the bar.
  • Now, right-click the pager and choose Pager Settings. Click Virtual Desktops in the left panel.
  • Click the checkbox "different widgets for each desktop" then close by clicking "okay".

Now you should have 4 different, independent workspaces which can be differently configured; each can have its own type (like desktop, folder or search), its own plasma programs and its own wallpaper.

Useful links

Textual links

Visual links

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