How to Get a Dock-Like Taskbar in KDE with Icon Tasks

KDE has always given users the ability to add launchers to its panel, and it has always had a very usable task manager. Until recently, however, there has not been a comprehensive and well-designed merging of the two. The Icon Tasks widget has changed all of that. It is a robust plasma widget that includes support for task-oriented launchers and even the Ubuntu Unity API.

Once you start using Icon Tasks, you may never want to go back to the old traditional task manager, but until KDE 4.8 is released in January 2012, you may need some help getting it installed and working correctly. The following brief tutorial should provide some assistance and should also shine some light on the new features, even after they are merged into KDE’s task manager.

Fullscreen view of Icon Tasks

Icon Tasks is a binary plasmoid, meaning that it must be compiled from source before using it on your Linux or BSD system. The source code is currently available from KDE-Look.org. Alternatively, if you are using Kubuntu 11.10, you can install it from a PPA by doing the following:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gnumdk/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install plasma-widget-icon-tasks

You can also optionally install Firefox UnityFox support with this command:

sudo apt-get install libunity6

And you can install Docky helper support with this:

sudo apt-get install python-dockmanager

To install from source on other distributions, do the following:

  1. Make sure you have the necessary Qt and KDE development packages installed. You can build against KDE 4.7. Check your distribution’s documentation if you are unsure about package names.
  2. Download the source package and extract the contents

From the terminal:

tar xjvf plasma-icontasks-0.9.2.tar.tar.bz2
cd plasma-icontasks-0.9.2
mkdir build
cd build
cmake .. -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX=`kde4-config --prefix`
make
sudo make install

For full building instructions, see the Readme file included in the source archive.

After installation, you will need to remove your current task manager and (optionally) any launchers for single applications, since you can add those directly into Icon Tasks. Once you have removed the old task manager, place the new one on the panel wherever you want it to appear.

Any programs you start will appear as icons rather than the traditional taskbar entry (icon with text). Moreover, you can turn any task into a launcher by right clicking and then selecting “Show A Launcher When Not Running”. Alternatively, you can drag launchers from your Kickoff menu directly onto the Icon Tasks bar to instantly create new launchers.

Optional indicators in Icon Tasks

Icon Tasks has full support for standard KDE task manager functions, such as the Highlight Windows desktop effect, task grouping, and window preview popups. To change any features, right click anywhere on the widget, and click “Icon-Only Task Manager Settings”. There, you can enable/disable features such as progress bars over the file manager launcher during copy/move/delete operations, Unity feature support, recent documents, and media player controls in the preview popups of applications like Amarok.

Icon tasks with progress action

Icon Tasks is a game changer for KDE that once again demonstrates the flexibility of KDE’s Plasma desktop, which makes it easy for developers to introduce new features. It also increases the number of options KDE users will have, as those who wish to keep the traditional task manager will have that option. This only perpetuates KDE’s reputation for being one of the most flexible and easily customizable desktop environments.