Tuesday, July 27, 2010

KDE SC 4.5 Release Candidate 3 is out!

Codenamed "Canny", the third and last release candidate for KDE SC 4.5 is now out, available for testing. Version 4.5 of the great KDE software compilation is raising expectations both because of an impressive list of new features and also because of the great results obtained with the current 4.4.x series.

As is the case with any other ambitious software project like this one, a big effort is required to make KDE SC 4.5 stable and bug free from the moment it is released. The best way to ensure that happens is through good testing and bug reporting, which, in this case, can only be achieved with the help of the community.

Unfortunately, as you can see from a post in the official KDE.org BLOG, there are still some things not working as expected, which probably means they need more help on the testing and bug reporting side.

If you want to give them a hand and get involved in this amazing project, follow the instructions in the official ANNOUNCEMENT to download the binaries and install them. Should you find any bugs, report them at the KDE Bug Reporting PORTAL.


Monday, July 26, 2010

KDE file transfer with KBluetooth

After many years being a Windows user, I took my first steps as a Linux user under Ubuntu. As I started to learn more about the GNOME desktop manager, one of the pleasing and welcome surprises was to find out how incredibly easy it was to transfer files from and to my mobile phone using Bluetooth. From that point on, I tend to use this feature more often, uploading MP3 files or wallpapers to my mobile, or downloading pictures I took from its on board camera. In Windows XP I had always avoided the matter, not willing to download a few hundred MB just to get Bluetooth file transfer to work, or simply too lazy to install Nokia's own software and have to use their specific cable.

If you have used Bluetooth file transfer in GNOME, you'll probably agree on how easy to use it really is. In my experience, the best way to go about it is to register your device first, so it's all about sending and receiving after that. The device itself appears listed from the moment it is registered and all one has to do after that is choose whether one wants to send or browse the device to retrieve files.

Starting the registration process for my device using the Device Manager.

As I started using KDE, I naturally wanted to get the same Bluetooth functionality, but I found that things were not as intuitive. Coming from the GNOME model, I wanted to register my device (A Nokia E65) so I could easily send files or browse its contents after that initial registration. Here's how I did it:

My mobile found was quickly found by the Kbluetooth Device Manager.

After starting KBluetooth, I opened the device manager and tried to register my device. The application ran a scan and found it. Unfortunately, KBluetooth claimed my device did not support input service, which made it impossible for me to complete the registration.

KBluetooth apparently didn't like my device.

I found this error message surprising, especially because my device was fully compatible and could easily be registered under GNOME. I then started the usual "Googleing" process to try and find some more information about this error message. I found a THREAD that had been open for some time on the subject. If you read that thread, several models from different manufacturers are still not supported. In my case that meant I didn't have an intuitive way to browse or retrieve files from my phone.

KBluetooth provides an easy way to send files to any detected device.

Luckily, sending files to the device was quite simple, but how could I retrieve files from it? I was thinking of using the PC as the control mechanism, and it never occurred to me that I could actually send files from my mobile to the PC!! Somehow I thought that "input service" error would make it fail.

I gave it a try one day, and Voila! ...it worked like a charm. All I had to do was change KBluetooth preferences > Bluetooth Adaptors and make my computer visible. After that, I could send any file I wanted from my phone to my computer.

This solution is very simple, so much so that I was ashamed I had not found it earlier. The downside is that it always requires a new device scan before sending files, which can be a bit annoying, but at least I can send and download files to and from my mobile using KDE's own KBluetooth. Hope this helps in case you were having similar problems.

Note that it is possible to install GNOME Bluetooth manager to work around this problem, but I didn't want to go for that solution.

Thanks for reading

Thursday, July 22, 2010

POLL: Best Linux packaging strategy?

Whenever Linux weak spots are up for discussion, the current packaging strategy is one of the star topics. Not surprisingly, the lack of a widely accepted standard has many significant consequences, ranging from hardware support to application scarcity. Before I continue, let me back track a bit and cover the foundations of this concept for those not familiar with it.

According to the Wikipedia definition, Linux packaging formats "are the different file formats used to package software for various Linux distributions". There are two main categories: binary and source, but I will concentrate on binary packages for this discussion. To make an analogy (and I am aware this is a long shot) with the Windows world, Linux binary packages play a loosely similar role to Windows MSI files.

Binary formats include several variations, DEB and RPM being the most popular, but there are others like PISI (used by Pardus), PUP and PET (used by Puppy Linux), etc. DEB packages are used by Debian and its many derivatives, Ubuntu among them. RPM packages are used by Red Hat, Fedora, Mandriva, PCLinuxOS, etc.

The lack of a widely accepted standard means that anybody wanting to release software for Linux will need to package it in a big array of variations. In other words, If a hardware manufacturer wants to release a video card and make it compatible with Linux, they will need to sit down and package it in several formats (four or five at the very least). That effort obviously implies an investment of both time and money, which could only pay off if aimed at the major distros. This guarantees many "not so popular" ones will not be supported out of the box. As you can imagine, the situation is technically complicated and not clearly financially viable, which results in many companies not even bothering. The same applies to software companies releasing applications. They many times stick to their Windows versions only, but if they decide to support Linux, the support is incomplete at best.

Skype is offered for a few popular distros, but the complexity is already there.

On the other hand, some claim the fragmentation in packaging formats in Linux provides a nice collateral effect: Security. Rightly so, as it is difficult for companies to support Linux, it is also difficult for those with more obscure intentions to attack it. In other words, packaging a piece of malware so that it has a significant impact on the Linux community is almost impossible.


With all the above in mind, what do you think is the best strategy moving forward? Should Linux have a single packaging format? If so, which one? Should the situation stay as is?

Go ahead and vote on the poll applet on the right!


Monday, July 19, 2010

Firefox 4 and a glance at the near future

If you have read some of my past articles, you probably know I like Firefox a lot. The project went through some rough times when the competition (namely Google Chrome) pushed the envelop and created a small revolution. Chrome brought some interesting concepts forward, including:

- An internet browser does not need to be a heavy application, it should be light and start up quickly.
- Different tabs should be independent, so if one of them crashes, the rest of them remain untouched so the user can continue working normally.
- Javascript engines have a big word in making browsing fast.
- The UI should be simplistic and not get in the way of the user.

These and other concepts gained lots of attention, and not surprisingly, Chrome downloads grew by the millions. Mozilla found itself in the middle of nowhere, trying to achieve the impossible task of redefining itself and the browser that no longer seemed to be wrapped up in fire. There were many different fronts the developers needed to focus on. Startup time, faster browsing, independent tabs... A lot to do and not a lot of time in an unforgiving environment. People don't want to wait, they simply choose what's best for them and leave the rest behind.

Early in the process it looked like all those things that were missing could be fixed by the time Firefox 4 was out. Naturally, lots of expectation raised around this version of project, with many doubting Mozilla would be able to deliver. After watching some videos from the Mozilla Summit 2010, I am happy to say Mozilla did more than delivering, they have created a product that (apparently) overcomes its shortcomings but also brings many new things to the table. The following video shows a brief introduction to some of those Firefox 4 new features, quite impressive stuff!

And how about looking into the future a bit? This video presents an impressive introduction to HTML5, CSS3 and other concepts, all naturally supported by Firefox4.

Hope you like these videos as much as I did!

EDIT: I thought I´d share some instructions on how to install Firefox4 Beta for those of you using Ubuntu 9.10, 10.04 or 10.10. From the command line, enter the following commands:

Add the corresponding PPA:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-mozilla-daily/ppa

Update your sources:

sudo apt-get update

And finally, install Firefox4 Beta:

sudo apt-get install firefox-4.0


Saturday, July 17, 2010

POLL RESULTS: Best 2010 Linux Distro Release

[In a Radio host voice]

Three weeks...
430 voters...
One "Champion" Distro...

...And the award goes to... PCLinuxOS 2010!!!!!
(Hey, what's not to love about a bit of staging and drama? ;-) )

PCLinuxOS 2010 obtained the most votes, almost twice as much as the next distro, Linux Mint 9. I have to say I am not all sure that first position is truly representative, though. PCLinuxOS was way behind Linux Mint and Ubuntu most of the time only to quickly overtake them in the last few days...

Hmm... Do I smell some PCLinuxOS fans around? :-)

Here are the final results:

Distro Release Votes (%)
PCLinuxOS 2010.1 137 (31%)
Linux Mint 9 78 (18%)
Ubuntu 10.04 (and brethren) 63 (14%)
OpenSUSE 11.3 47 (10%)
Fedora 13 20 (4%)
Arch Linux 2010.05 19 (4%)
Pardus 2009.2 18 (4%)
Other 16 (3%)
Mandriva 2010.1 13 (3%)
Slackware 13.1 13 (3%)
Sabayon 5.3 4 (0%)
CentOS 5.5 2 (0%)

And the same results in a neat little graph:

I was pleased to see that most voters seem to agree with me on the quality of the 2010 releases for the most part. PCLinuxOS and Linux Mint are both in the lead, while the Ubuntu family is comfortably sitting in a well deserved third position. If you have read my review you probably know I was a bit disappointed with Ubuntu 10.04 myself, but I guess it was more about it failing to deliver according to the expectations it had raised, rather than because it was a bad release per se.

OpenSUSE 11.3 gets an impressive fourth position, a significant achievement considering it was released very late. Fedora 13 gets little support for a distro of its popularity and relevance, but I can't say I am surprised, as I wasn't particularly impressed with Goddard myself. Arch Linux does pretty well in sixth position, slightly ahead of Pardus. Particularly surprising is the low support for Mandriva, a popular distro which has had quite an important follow up. My guess is that the late changes in the company have had an impact, the most obvious being a very late release, which might have prevented people from having a taste of it.

As usual, thanks to all who voted and a big CONGRATULATIONS goes to the PCLinuxOS team for their amazing work! (Actually, congratulations to everybody behind these and all Linux distros, it is a small "miracle" what they achieve year after year!)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Beautify your GNOME desktop

I recently wrote articles on KDE, a great desktop manager for Linux. One of the KDE strengths is Look&Feel, an element that KDE developers have focused on from the start. Coming from a different perspective there is GNOME, another desktop manager for Linux whose aim has always been ease of use and stability. In fact, GNOME has always been deemed "the ugly" one.

GNOME doesn't look that impressive out of the box.

I personally think GNOME can look stunning as well, but I have to admit it may be hard to believe based on its looks out of the box. On this article I want to discuss several ways of making GNOME look great.

- GDM themes
- Icons and Icon themes
- Window borders and controls
- Colors
- Compiz FX
- Cairo dock
- Transparencies
- Wallpapers
- Fonts

The end goal is something along these lines:

Now, ain't that better...

NOTE: I am very much aware that anything having to do with Look&Feel is subjective, so all my comments here are simple recommendations based on what helped me customize the GNOME desktop to my liking. There are many relevant topics and certainly many parameters I am not talking about here, but hopefully you will find something here that you consider interesting and fun.

On a different note, Ubuntu is by far the Linux distro with a GNOME desktop manager I use the most. I have installed others, but I feel most comfortable with Ubuntu's implementation. Some of the items I cover on this article may be specific to it, not necessarily pure GNOME.

WARNING: Some of the concepts discussed in this article involve downloading media from the Internet. For the most part, they are simply compressed files that contain images inside, completely safe. Having said so, please avoid downloading scripts or any piece of code unless you can understand it completely.


GDM (GNOME Display Manager) themes can easily be changed from the System > Administration menu. This is a neat thing to customize, so you can get your login screen to look the way you want it to. There are plenty of GDM themes put together by the community that look outstanding, most of which you can find at GNOME-LOOK.ORG. Simply download those you like the most and go for it!

Ubuntu changed the way they managed GDM themes after release 9.10, which effectively resulted in an interesting piece of customization no longer being available. Because Ubuntu is such a popular distro, I will discuss here how Ubuntu users can recover that element of customization.

GDM2 is an interesting tool writen in Python and designed to facilitate the customization of certain GDM parameters. Changing the wallpaper, icons and controls is just a couple clicks away. Unfortunately, themes are still not supported, though.

Customize GDM in Ubuntu using GDM2.

To download this neat little tool, follow these simple steps from the command line:

1.- Add the GDM2 repository:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gdm2setup/gdm2setup

2.- Update your sources:

sudo apt-get update

3.- Install GDM2

sudo apt-get install python-gdm2setup


GNOME does a very good job at providing consistency for icon themes. In other words, applying a new icon theme has a system wide effect, something I still find lacking in KDE. There are lots of great looking icon themes available at GNOME-LOOK.ORG and applying them is extremely simple.

1.- Download the icon theme of your choice.
2.- Open System Menu > Preferences > Appearance and click on the "Themes" tab.
3.- Click on the "Install" button on the lower right, which will ask for a file. Simply browse to the location you used on step 1 and select the file you downloaded.

Note that if the file is big (often the case when themes are good), the import may eventually fail. Retrying the process until it works usually does the trick.

Using a good icon theme can make a huge difference!

I usually like crisp, high definition icons. In my experience, there are few themes that stand out because of their quality on that department: Magog White, Oxygen and its few "refit" flavors and Hydroxigen are good examples of themes that look amazing to me. If you like Apple stuff, ClearlooksOSX and MacUltimate Leopard will help you give your Linux desktop a Mac taste. Similarly, there are also very good Windows Vista and Windows 7 themes, in case you like how they look. The best part is that new themes keep coming and they only get better and better!

Aside from using Icon themes, which do apply system wide, I also like to get high quality icons I can use separately. For example, I like to customize the Cairo dock bar or the Nautilus Home folder.

Custom nautilus home folder.

There are several high quality icon sites available. I have used all three below among others:

- http://www.freeiconsdownload.com/
- http://www.iconarchive.com/
- http://www.freeiconsdownload.com/


Similarly to icon themes, window borders and controls do have a significant impact on the overall look of a given desktop. I personally feel the default controls and window borders in GNOME are far from being the best looking out there. Once again, there are tons of options that can be easily downloaded and applied.

Downloading and applying new window borders and controls is simple yet effective.

The Candido window borders and the inverted controls provide a modern look.

Installing window border and control themes is as simple as installing icon themes, for it is the exact same process. I recommend ART.GNOME.ORG in this case because pretty much all of the themes available can be easily installed. Once again, GNOME-LOOK.ORG does provide lots of great options as well, but they are sometimes more complicated to install as they rely on different engines to work.

I encourage you to try different things and be creative, but please remember that certain contents could be potentially dangerous. Only download what you can understand and/or trust.

Note that you could use Emerald as well, the Compiz window decorator (please refer to the Compiz section below to see how to install it). If you want to use Emerald, you will need to set it up as your default window decorator. In order to do so, run the following command from a terminal:

emerald --replace

Now, from System Menu > Appearance select Emerald and choose whatever theme you like. This will only work temporarily, of course. If you want to have emerald as your default window decorator, you will need to set it up to load by default. Access System Menu > Preferences and add that command to the list of applications GNOME loads when it starts.


GNOME is certainly not as flexible as KDE in terms of color scheme customization, but it does provide enough room for customization. Once again from the System Menu > Preferences > Appearance entry, access the "Themes" tab and customize your current theme.

Customize your color scheme easily from the Appearance applet.

I personally like to use color schemes that match the overall style of the desktop, which is usually dictated by the wallpaper. In this example, the wallpaper is mostly white, with an intense orange graphic in the middle. I consequently configured my color scheme accordingly to show the same colors on selected options and dialog boxes.

Nice consistent feel between menu colors and the background.


Compiz is not part of the GNOME desktop, but it does help in making any desktop manager look even more interesting, so I will briefly cover it here. Anybody who's ever used Compiz knows that you can go crazy with it. It is so powerful and flexible that you can spend hours and hours simply trying what's available.

Compiz is available on almost every Linux distro repositories, so simply install it as you would install any other package. There is a number of packages you need to install to get the best out of compiz:

- Compiz (the main package)
- Compiz Config Settings Manager
- Compiz plugins (main and extra)
- Emerald

I don't use an awful amount of desktop FX myself, only those that I find helpful from a productivity standpoint (desktop switching, window switching, etc.) With that in mind, I can still say that all people that have seen my desktop FX love them, so it is clear that Compiz does make a big difference!

Here are some screenshots of Compiz FX in action:

The famous Compiz desktop cube.

I find this one particularly convenient.

How about some MacOS vibe on window shifting?


Cairo dock is a great docking bar application for Linux that provides lots of functionality and flexibility. Similarly to the Compiz Settings Manager, the Cairo dock settings manager will allow customization to the smallest detail. Animations, icons, background, text and fonts are all customizable.

Cairo Dock does give a slick look to the GNOME desktop.

Cairo dock is very common and usually available from most distros repositories. Once again, if you want Cairo dock to load every time you log into your GNOME session, you will need to include it as another application to be loaded at start up.


I love playing with window, panel and pretty much any object's opacity. GNOME offers lots of possibilities around this concept, the panel being probably the most obvious. Certain window border themes use transparency as well, something pretty common in Emerald themes, for instance.

The panel and Gnome terminal are good examples of tweaking opacity levels.

Gnome Terminal also supports changes in background opacity which. Selecting the right background and text colors (consistency with other elements is important again here) can make it look great!


Wallpapers are probably the most obvious element to enhance the looks of any desktop and something everybody knows about. Because of that, I will simply share some of my favorite wallpaper download sites:

- http://wallpaperstock.net/
- http://www.hdwallpapers.net/
- http://www.ewallpapers.eu/

Personally, I like to establish a balance between the wallpaper and other elements on the desktop. If the wallpaper is busy, I usually try to keep my desktop clean. If the wallpaper naturally leaves room for other elements, I often add launchers or use Cairo Dock to make it look more interesting. My advice would be to stay away from making your desktop too busy, though.


Using fonts with high rendering resolution and optimum size can make quite a difference. Once again, personal taste should drive the final choice, perhaps along with screen size. In any case, I think Android fonts are the best out there and I usually use sizes 8 or 9 depending on the screen size. In addition, I find that "subpixel smoothing" is the option that gets best rendering results.

Fonts also play an important role in terms of overall Look&Feel.

Many distros made Android fonts available out of the box (PCLinuxOS, Linux Mint, etc.) Others uploaded them into their repositories and made them available for download. If the latter applies to your distro of choice, simply look for the package "ttf-droid" (package name may vary) and install it.


Hopefully you will agree with me that GNOME can look beautiful with a bit of tweaking. It just goes to prove that Linux users not only have plenty of choices available, but also that those choices are great ones!

Thanks for reading and have fun.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I know, I know, absolutely nothing to do with Linux,

Excuse me, but... Spain won the World Cup yesterday!!!

I am not a football (soccer) fan by any means, but I am just incredibly happy for my country and equally proud that the team managed to make it in the end and raised that beautiful cup up in the air.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

KDE Desktop Tricks

I started using KDE when version 4.0 was out. I had had a taste of KDE 3.5, which I didn't like, but release 4.0 looked like a big step forward, so I was tempted to give it a go. Just like so many others, I found KDE 4.0 disappointingly slow, unstable and unintuitive. However, I did see lots of potential in it and kept using it release after release.

Up until recently, I was mostly a GNOME user. I considered it faster, leaner, more intuitive... and certainly not as ugly as some say! No matter how hard I tried to like KDE, it would always feel a bit alien and I would always end up going back to GNOME. The tide has shifted lately, though, and I have found myself leaning towards KDE desktops more and more. I believe that is mostly a result of the incredible work the developers are putting in place to improve and polish the product, but also down to the fact that I have been learning more about its "secrets".

My current PCLinuxOS 2010.1 KDE SC 4.4.5 desktop

I would like to use this article for sharing some of those KDE "tricks", which are simply things that were not obvious to me initially, and have consequently helped me in customizing the environment so that it also felt like home. Hopefully you will also get some benefits from these little findings.


Note that I am using KDE SC 4.4.5, so results may differ if you are using a different version. For each little finding, I will try to include a screenshot to clarify what I am talking about or how to make it work. Similarly, I am sharing concepts that result from my experience. There are surely other ways to achieve the same goals, probably more effective, but this is what I use.

Adding application launchers to the panel

If you are coming from Windows, chances are your intuition will tell you to right click on a menu item, which should in turn allow for the addition of that launcher to the panel. The catch, which can get frustrating if you don't know about it, is that widgets need to be unlocked for this to work in KDE.

Adding launchers to your panel is easy as long as widgets are unlocked.

If your widgets are locked, you will only see one option available when right clicking on a menu item: "Add to favorites".

Modifying file properties and defaults

Say you are opening a video file with .mp4 extension by double clicking on the file. The default video player is not working very well, so you would like to have another video player be the default for the mp4 file format. You right click on the file to edit its properties, but can't seem to find where to modify the default file association.

The little wrench to the right is the key here!.

As you can see on the properties window here, there is a small wrench icon to the right of "file type" line. Clicking on that icon will bring another window, which is where file association can be configured.

Add/remove or change the order of default file associations here.

This is an easy and quick way of changing default file associations, but file association management in general can be managed from the KDE Control Center.

Change application icons system wide

Customizing an application icon in KDE is fairly simple if you know where to look. Once again, if you think like a windows user it can get messy, because right clicking on an icon usually does not do the trick. In my experience, the quickest and easiest way to do it is through the main menu editor.

The main menu editor provides an easy way to modify application icons.

Simply right click on the main menu icon and open the menu editor. Once in, simply select the application of your choice, modify the icon to your liking and save the setting. Once saved, that icon will apply system wide.

Change application keyboard shortcuts system wide

Another element that was confusing for me initially was customizing application shortcuts. GNOME provides a small and simple application this, easy and intuitive, but things are a little more complicated in KDE.

I initially assumed that keyboard shortcuts could be configured from the KDE Control Center, which does have a section dedicated to keyboard shortcuts, but frustratingly, that section does not cut it.

Application keyboard shortcuts are easily configured from the KDE menu editor.

Once again, the KDE menu editor is the answer. Similarly to how application icons were configured, keyboard shortcuts can be setup in the same window. Select the application you want to customize, but this time choose the "Advanced" tab. The bottom section on that tab is where the keyboard shortcut can be configured.

NOTE: Not sure why, but this does not work in Pardus 2009.2.

Desktop activity... What??

An element that is signature to KDE, which could be confusing if you are new to it, is the concept of desktop activity. Most of us are familiar with the Windows desktop concept, you know, icons all over the place and a wallpaper in the background. KDE offers interesting alternatives to that approach.

The KDE plasma desktop offers alternatives to the traditional desktop approach.

Right clicking on the desktop, the last option reads "Desktop Activity properties". After clicking on it, a popup window appears. There is a menu on the right, which by default is on wallpaper selection. The second option, "Activity", is the one we are after. There are four options available on the right applet, and depending on your distro of choice, one or the other may be the default. Some distros like PCLinuxOS set the desktop as a folder (similar to Windows), so you can see files and/or shortcuts on it. Should you choose to set it up as desktop, it will not display the contents of the desktop folder, but you could easily use the "folder view" plasma widget to achieve the same effect.

All in all, I like KDE creativity and innovation around a concept that has remained pretty much unchanged for a long time. I encourage you to try the different options available and have fun with them!

Moving panel icons

Once again, if you come from a Windows background, you may be used to moving panel icon positions by simply clicking and holding the left mouse button, then dragging the icon to whatever position you desire.

Once again, moving panel icons can be a bit frustrating if you don't know how.

That concept works in Windows even with the taskbar locked, so it can get confusing in KDE if you simply assume the same. In this case, unlocking widgets is once again the key to making it work. Once widgets are unlocked, the functionality is pretty similar to that of the Windows taskbar, but I think there is an easier way to achieve the same end result. Simply click on the KDE icon on the left edge of the panel, which will allow for panel properties modification. Among other things, this allows for rearranging all panel elements, including the system tray, the main menu and obviously any launchers. Once you are done rearranging your controls, close that edit applet and lock your widgets again.

Customizing the main menu icon

Most distros include their own signature icon for the main menu, which are OK sometimes, but since I like to customize the hell out of everything, it doesn't last long.

I usually set my main menu icon to proudly show KDE colors.

Just right click on the main menu icon and select "Application launcher menu properties". A popup window will appear, with a few items on menu on the left. Select the second entry, "options", and simply customize the icon to your liking.

Changing the KDM theme

KDM themes (basically, the login screen look&feel) are often customized to the distro style and branding, which you may or may not like. In my opinion, the best KDM themes are downloadable from KDE-LOOK.ORG or through KDE itself, and it is good fun to change your login page every now and then.

Customizing the login page is really simple.

In recent versions of KDE, you can edit your KDM settings from the KDE Control Center. Access the System section and open the "Access manager". You should be prompted for admin credentials before you can change anything, but once you are in, click on the "theme" tab to customize it to your liking.

Keeping your panel from getting overcrowded

An element that is often part of the default panel setup in KDE is "Smooth Tasks", which is basically the portion of the panel in which open an minimized windows are docked.

I love keeping my panel from looking like a subway station at rush hour.

I have found that the KDE default Smooth Tasks setup docks all open windows on the panel, regardless of which desktop the sit in. In other words, if you have a 4 desktop setup and open one application on each desktop, all four will be docked on all desktop panels by default. I personally don't like this configuration, I prefer keeping each panel docking only the applications open on that particular desktop.

If you like that approach as well, simply right click on the window docking area of the pannel and select "Smooth Tasks properties". A popup window will appear with a number of options available. The section "Filters" at the bottom is the one that matters for this specific topic. In my experience, you need to tick both "Show current desktop tasks only" and "Show current screen tasks only" for the trick to work.

Custom workspace themes

KDE distros usually come with standard or custom workspace themes. In other words, the panel and plasma widgets style is either one of the "classics" available from KDE (Oxygen, Air, etc.) or the distro's own design. Someone new to KDE may think that's all there is to it, but as in most things KDE, there are tons of options available.

I have found that many of the themes available for download are awesome!.

Access the KDE Control Center "Style" menu and choose the second tab on the right applet, "Worspace". You will see a number of different workspace themes previews, but the interesting bit is downloading others. Click on the button at the bottom and download your favorite themes from the many available.

NOTE: Because many of those themes are community efforts, sometimes they are not uploaded to the right locations, but to file managers like Rapidshare or even Dropbox. When that happens, those themes can't be downloaded this way. Fortunately, there are many beautiful themes that do work.

Customize your system tray

Once again, KDE is an extremely flexible and customizable environment, one characteristic that is translated into its system tray configuration as well. You can in fact select which widgets make it to the system tray, if they should show or hide, etc.

Customize your system tray with a few clicks.

Right click on the system tray area and select "system tray properties". As usual, we get a popup window with a menu on the left. Select "plasma widgets", which should display the elements that can be customized on the right applet. If you have not unlocked your widgets, you may see all entries greyed out, effectively not in editable state, which can be confusing. Again, unlock widgets before you edit the system tray properties and you should have no problem personalizing its configuration to your liking.


KDE is a great desktop manager with some great features, but some of them are not exactly intuitive, specially if you come from a different OS and make incorrect assumptions. The "tricks" I shared on this article helped me overcome some of my early frustrations and be much more comfortable using KDE... Hope they help you too!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 2, 2010

POLL: Best 2010 Linux distro release?

We already got past the first half of 2010 and we have seen many great releases from all kinds of distros in the last few months. I have reviewed several of them and I am sure you have probably tested some as well. While some important releases like Mandriva 2010.1 and OpenSUSE 11.3 are still in the works, we already have an idea of what they will look like based on their release candidates, so it is time for you to make up your mind and decide which one was the best in your opinion.

Vote on the survey to the right of this entry!


NOTE: I obviously cannot include every Linux distro here, but I will try to get the most popular ones!