Back to Basics with KDE 4

After our review of KDE 4.6, we received a great deal of positive comments, but not all of them were sparkling assessments of KDE’s functionality. For that reason, I have decided to get back to the basics this week with a little how-to guide for KDE 3 users who may be reluctant to switch to KDE 4, Gnome or other desktop users who avoid KDE because of certain usability problems, and anyone who might be new to the software and its unique desktop interface.

At the end of this quick training guide, you should be able to:

  • Add printers and print
  • Configure and use bluetooth devices
  • Attach and configure external monitors

Printing in KDE 4

In the past two years, I have probably used a printer twice, and one of those times was unnecessary. But KDE is for everyone, not just me, and many people still need to print important documents. Fortunately, KDE has an easy printer configuration utility.

If your printer is attached and powered on, there is a good chance KDE has already detected and configured it. If not, unplug the USB cord and replug it. KDE should detect it, start configuring, and eventually tell you it is ready for printing.

KDE printer ready notification

To configure the printer:

1. Start System Settings (Find “System Settings” in the menu or press Alt+F2 and type it in).

2. In the “Hardware” section, click “Printer Configuration”

3. Click on your printer’s name from the “Local Printers” list.

4. If, for some reason, KDE did not detect the correct model name and number, you can click “Change” under “Driver Details” and select the correct one. You can also provide a PPD file.

5. Click the “Options” tab to change media size, paper type, resolution, and other settings.

6. Click “Apply” when you are finished.

KDE printer settings

If you need to add a network printer, click “New Printer” and then “New Network Printer”. Then select the printer according to the appropriate protocol. Printers shared on other systems may appear in the list automatically.

To share your printer, click “Server Settings” and check “Share published printers connected to this system”.

Bluetooth Devices

Those who complained about problems with KDE 4 and Bluetooth had legitimate concerns. Kbluetooth seemed to be one of the last things ported to the new version. The good news is that KDE bluetooth configuration is now as easy as a few clicks.

KDE bluetooth discovery

For devices with built-in bluetooth adapters, you should already see the bluetooth icon in the system tray. For a USB adapter, the icon should appear when you plug it in. To begin:

1. Right click on the bluetooth icon

2. Click “Add device”

3. Click “Next” (Devices set to be discoverable should appear on the list)

4. Select your device and click “Next”

5. If you know your device’s pin, select “Custom” and enter it.  If you are sure it does not have a pin in the documentation, you can try “Automatic”

Once your device is connected, you can configure it by right clicking the bluetooth icon and clicking “Manage Devices”.

KDE bluetooth device management

External Monitors

Connecting external monitors or multiple monitors in Linux and other operating systems that use X servers can be tricky because of the various issues surrounding graphics cards. That is more of an X-to-driver relationship issue than it is a KDE-specific one. For graphics cards with proprietary drivers, you may have to use special configuration tools, such as nvidia-settings. For drivers that ship with X, however, KDE has built-in support.

1. In “System Settings” in the Hardware section, click “Display and Monitor”. KDE will list the monitors currently connected.

2. Select the monitor you want to use and choose the size (resolution). If you want to disable the other monitor, choose “Disabled” under size.

3. Click “Apply” for the changes to come into effect.

KDE also has a “Multiple Monitors” configuration that gives you extra settings for virtual desktops, screen maximization, and more. Many of these settings may work even with proprietary drivers.

KDE Multiple=

KDE also has a program called “Resize and Rotate” (KRandRTray) that resides in the system tray and makes it easy to change monitor configurations. Right click on the icon for quick changes. Left click to open the system settings monitor configuration.

More Basics

I touched on three topics in this basic guide, but I am sure there are more questions that we can help you find answers to quickly and easily. Sometimes, you just need to know where to look, and the rest is easy. If you have more requests, please feel free to leave comments. Hopefully, we have made your KDE tech a little easier.

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.


  1. I’m thinking KDE 4 is going to see a lot of new users with Gnome 3’s radical changes. I will be one of the new users pretty frustrating teaching your parents how to use Gnome then they get rid of the window buttons.
    Please don’t pull a Microsoft/gnome and rearrange all the icons and buttons!
    Change for the the sake of change is a waste of time!

    1. Agree. GNOME is going beyond Apple’s interface. They are telling us we are stupid enough to close a window when we should be maximising/minimising it! So, no more window buttons. Linus was spot on when he called them ‘interface nazis’.

      1. Gnome’s “We know best” policy is exactly why I switched to KDE last year. I was sick of having to do things their way and then being told I was wrong when I suggested things certain should be optional. For goodness sake, at one time it was not possible to move the top of a window beyond the top of the screen!

  2. Okay, here’s one: still can’t figure how to change the background of EACH virtual desktop in KDE4. (And, no, I DON’T WANT to assign a single, exclusive task to each desktop. All desktops must be available for use for any and every application or utility I want to transfer to it at any minute, just as they were in KDE3.)

    1. I think what you are looking for can be done by selecting System Settings – Workspace Behaviour, then check the box Different Widgets for each desktop.
      You’ll find that you’ll be able to change the wallpaper for each desktop as well as the widgets.
      You can also do this by right clicking on the Pager and selecting Pager Settings then Virtual Desktops then check the box Different Widgets for each desktop.

      Hope this helps

  3. Is bluetooth device “a basic”? I am very much in doubt since I don’t have bluetooth on either of my laptops…

  4. Ive installed about a dozen KDE based distros (PCLinuxOS and Mandriva) for family and friends over the the last few years and Brother, HP and Canon printers have all worked (I recommend Brother usually for home laser printers), Never ran across a problem.
    I havent really come across anyone with Bluetooth so I cant comment but maybe the fact that no one has those devices says something about joe user.
    External monitors is along with the horror that is JACK my two biggest gripe with Linux desktops still.
    Remember how we all felt about Wifi on Linux about 5-6 years ago? Thats how much those two things bug me.
    Multiple monitors is always hit or miss and pluging in a laptop to an external monitor usually an adventure.
    I have tried this in a while, Im might give it a shot again see if things have changed the past 18mnths.

  5. Ok I am very new to Linux. I heard about it and never really thought about trying it. I just took a linux workshop at college last week for an extra credit and it worked great i put it on my computer the other day and i connected to the internet prefectly no trouble or anything well my boyfriend got on the computer and did something and i had to fix it but now i can connect to the internet but i cannot get on an actual webpage. I called TimeWarner cable and they basically don’t know anything about Linux and said to call Acer I was hoping that you all can help me out! Please Help me I have been messing with this computer for two days and it’s driving me nuts lol!!!

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