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KDE 4.0 Visual Guide: Desktop



The KDE 4.0 desktop

Plasma is KDE's new desktop shell which provides new tools to start applications, presents the main KDE user interface, and offers new ways of interacting with your desktop.

Plasma's dashboard view replaces the old "Show Desktop" feature. Enabling the dashboard hides all windows and puts the widgets in front of them. Press CONTROL+F12 to show the dashboard view, for a quick glance at your plasmoids, read the desktop notes, check for new RSS feeds, have a look at the current weather situation, all that can be done with Plasma.

Plasma's dashboard

Launch applications, search and open webpages with KRunner

KRunner lets you quickly start applications. Press ALT+F2 to show the KRunner dialog. You can then start typing. While typing, KRunner shows options that match what you type:

Starting applications with KRunner


KickOff is the new KDE application launcher, or "start menu". Click on the KDE logo located in the bottom left of your screen. The KickOff menu opens, providing easy access to installed applications, recently used files and applications and more. Via the Leave tab, you can logout, shutdown and suspend your computer. The design philosophy of KickOff is that frequently used applications and search are quicker to access than navigating a hierarchical tree every time the menu is used.

Launch your favorite applications easily with KickOff

A traditional (KDE3-style) menu is available for those who prefer it.

The Panel

The Panel holds KickOff, the taskbar, pager, clock, systray and more applets

If you are looking for a specific tool, click on the K Button in the lower left corner to open Kickoff and then type what you're looking for. There is an automatic filter which takes a list of applications and attempts to find those that match your criteria. So entering "cd" finds applications to play an audio CD, burn a CD or DVD, or encode an audio CD. Likewise, typing "viewer" gives you a list of aplications that can be used to open and view all sorts of file formats.

The Plasma Panel holds the menu, the systray and a list of tasks. The taskbar, located in the panel, can show live thumbnails of windows that are currently hidden, the Taskbar Thumbnails.

On the panel, you can also find the Pager applet. Use this applet to navigate between your workspaces, also called "virtual desktops". By right clicking on the Pager, you can configure the number and arrangement of those workspaces. If you have the Desktop Effects enabled, press CTRL+F8 to show a full-screen overview of your workspaces.

Hint: To open KickOff, you can 'blindly' move the mouse cursor to the bottom-left corner and hit the left mouse button. As KickOff's button also covers the screen edges, it is extremely easy to access.

If you want to learn more about Plasma, check out the Plasma FAQ on TechBase.

KWin - The KDE window manager

KWin, KDE's proven to-be-stable window manager has been enhanced to use the capabilities of modern graphics hardware, easing interaction with your windows. Right clicking on the top bar of a window gets you, via "Configure Window Behavior", to the Window Manager settings. Here you can learn and configure the advanced features of KWin. In the Action configuration sheet, you can, for example choose to maximize the window when you double-click the window decoration.

Hint: KWin lets you easily move windows by pressing the ALT button. You can then just click on a window's content. While you hold the left mouse button pressed, windows will move. Hold ALT pressed and click on the right mouse button to easily resize a window. No need to aim precisely, just keep ALT pressed and manipulate your windows easily!

Desktop Effects

Enable the Desktop Effects to see new ways KWin offers for interacting with your windows. Right-click on the window decoration, choose "Configure Window Behavior" and go to the "Desktop Effects" sheet. Check "Enable desktop effects" and accept the new settings by clicking "OK", "Apply" or just hitting the Enter key. Now KWin's advanced window handling is enabled.

Switch applications using the Present Windows effect

Present Windows gives you an overview of your open windows. Push the mouse cursor to the top-left corner of the screen and press to arrange your windows side-by-side. You can click on a window to get it focused in front of you. Start typing a word from the label on a window and matching applicatons will be filtered. Hit Enter to switch to the chosen application. You can activate the Present Windows effect also with the keyboard through CONTROL+F9 or CONTROL+F10 to show windows from all virtual desktops.

Hint: With the Present Windows effect enabled, just start typing a word from the title of the application you want to choose and the grid of applications gets filtered. Just hit enter once you've picked the application you want and it will be zoomed in.

The Desktop Grid zooms your desktop out to show a grid of your virtual desktops or workspaces. Drag windows between the virtual desktops to move them between your workspaces. Click on one of the virtual desktops to zoom into the workspace.

Hint: You can press the number of a virtual desktop to switch to that workspace. Enable the Desktop Grid with CONTROL+F8.
Click with the right mouse button on a window to show it on all desktops.

The Desktopgrid Effect offers the same functionality as the Pager

The Panel holds an applet that provides similar functionality and is also available when Desktop Effects have been disabled. Right click on the "Pager"in the panel to configure the number and arrangement of your virtual desktops. Drag the pager applet from the appletbrowser to the panel or to the desktop. The screenshots illustrates this nicely.

The Pager allows you to switch between your workspaces

The effect Taskbar Thumbnails enables live previews of windows when you move the mouse over their entry in the taskbar. This makes for easy monitoring of activity in hidden windows and applicaton activity. Taskbar Thumbnails also provide visual hints to ease locating the application you want to switch to.

Task-switching enhanced with live thumbnails

The desktop effects, or more technically, the compositing features of KWin enable transparency effects in various applications. As an example, Konsole, KDE's terminal emulator, can use a transparent background, so applications lying behind it can still be seen. It also provides a pleasurable visual effect while you work. You can also change the opacity of a window by right clicking on the window decoration and choosing an Opacity level.

Change the opacity of individual windows and applications

In the "All Effects" sheet, you are provided with more detailed control over various effects. Often, you will find those effects to be configurable so you can fit how they work better to your personal taste. KWin tries to enable the effect automatically, based on the capabilities of your graphics card, so it is likely that the effects may be already enabled on your system.

If you want to find out more about KWin, especially its compositing features, refer to KWin's release notes on its TechBase pages.

Sweet Spots

KDE makes extensive use of the 'sweet spots' of the screen -- edges and corners, which are easier to aim at, make reaching the buttons of the window decorations more convenient. Slap the mouse to the top-right corner, click, and the window is being closed. The "Close Window" button has some space left of it, so you don't hit it accidentally when maximizing a window. The window button ordering can easily be changed to comfort your style of working. Right click on the decoration, the top frame of the window, choose "Configure Window Behavior".
Hint: To grab a scrollbar, the easiest way is to move the mouse to the edge of the screen, this way aiming and grabbing the scrollbar can be done quickly and conveniently.

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