7 Ways to Beautify Your KDE 4 Desktop

Part of the big hype over the release of KDE 4 was its new and improved eye candy, mostly due to the Plasma workspace. Those who liked the changes, loved the new KDE from the beginning. Those who did not are still complaining about it. But like any good desktop environment, you are by no means stuck with the default look. In fact, KDE offers more easily customizable features than any other. What follows are 7 ways to get the desktop look you dreamed about when you were a child.

1. Plasma Themes

The plasma theme engine is quite straightforward. It controls the look and feel of the KDE panel, the widgets/applets, the Krunner command interface, and any pop-ups from the panel or widgets. To change the theme:

1. Open System Settings (systemsettings)
2. Click Workspace Appearance
3. Click “Desktop Theme”

You can then select the theme you want. To download other themes from KDE-Look.org, just click “Get New Themes…”

Get new themes plasma dialog

Best of all, with Plasma, you can mix and match any themes you want, add your own components, or create your own new themes. To do so, click the “Details” tab. Each theme item will have an associated source. In the drop-down menu, select the theme source or select “File” to choose one you have created. Finally, tick the “More” box to save your new theme or even export it to share with others.

Plasma customize theme

2. KWin Themes and Desktop Effects

With your new sexy looking desktop widgets and panel, you now need to match your window decorations. KDE’s window manager, KWin, has a number of themes you can choose. While still in “Workspace Appearance”, click the “Window Decorations” button on the left side. From there you can choose the decoration you want, customize the buttons, configure shadows (for some decorations), or click “Get New Decorations…” to find user-created gems.

KWin also has a plethora of desktop effects you can use, depending on your video card. In System Settings, click “Desktop Effects” and choose the effects you desire.

TIP: If you ever need to suspend desktop effects, simply press Alt+Shift+F12.

3. Wallpapers, Slideshows, and Viruses

A wallpaper can make or break a desktop. With KDE, you can choose a simple color, patterns, images, an entire slideshow, or other desktop effects, such as the “virus” or “globe” options. To choose the wallpaper you want, right click on the desktop and click “Desktop Settings”. If you have your own wallpaper you want to add, click “Open…” You can also click “Get New…” to find more wallpapers.

KDE wallpaper configuration dialog

TIP: Make sure you choose the right positioning for your wallpaper. If it already has the right aspect ratio but not the right size, choose “Scaled”. If it has neither, choose “Scaled and Cropped.”

4. Icon Sets

Manually changing an entire icon set can be tricky in KDE, but it is easy to download one from KDE-Look.org and install it. Just follow these steps:

1. Download the icon set from KDE-Look.org
2. Open System Settings
3. Click “Application Appearance”
4. Click “Icons”
5. Click “Install Theme File…”

You can also download a set from within the dialog by clicking on “Get New Themes…”

5. Widgets

Plasma has built-in support for desktop and panel widgets. In addition to native Plasma widgets (plasmoids), it also supports Google Gadgets and many other widget types. To place new widgets, right click on the desktop or panel and click “Add Widgets…”

6. The Art of the Panel

You have full control over the KDE panel. You can resize it, move it, hide it, and more. To modify it, make sure your widgets are unlocked and click the little cashew at the end of the panel. This will open a configuration pop-up.

KDE panel - more settings

TIP: Want windows to cover your panel but do not want to hide it all the time? Click “More Settings” and choose “Windows can cover”. A maximized window will hide the panel, but moving your mouse to the edge of the screen will raise it, just like a hidden panel.

7. Folder View and Shelf

Clutter is something that has always plagued Windows, Mac, and Linux desktops. The desktop is probably better described as a workspace, and people want drag images, files, and other items onto it. Over time, however, it gets very messy. With Folder View, you can still have items on your desktop, but you can keep them organized in boxes and categories. With Shelf, you can have launchable icons for anything, organized in nice rows on your workspace.

Experiment and Create

KDE can be anything you want it to be. That freedom is what makes free and open source software so great. Try out new looks. Impress your friends, and share your creations.

Tavis J. Hampton

Tavis J. Hampton is a freelance writer from Indianapolis. He is an avid user of free and open source software and strongly believes that software and knowledge should be free and accessible to all people. He enjoys reading, writing, teaching, spending time with his family, and playing with gadgets.

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