How to Make KDE 4 Look Like KDE 3

When KDE 4 was first released, it was met with both hope and dismay, depending on the person you asked. Some loved everything from the new interface to the improved functionality. Others called it a significant step, but one in the wrong direction.

Those purists still love KDE 3.5, and many of them continue to use the supported version of it called Trinity Desktop Environment. Others, however, mainly just preferred the KDE 3.5 look over the current Plasma Air appearance. If that is the case, Plasma gives you the flexibility to make your KDE 4 desktop look like KDE 3.5.

The Panel

In terms of functionality, much of the KDE panel has not changed. You still have a “K” button, a pager, a task manager, a system tray, and a clock. The default Plasma appearance, however, looks radically different. Furthermore, the Kickoff menu is big and clunky compared to the simple KDE 3.5 menu.

To change the panel’s appearance, do the following:

  1. Download the “Vintage” Plasma theme (Unfortunately, there is a problem with the packing of this theme on I repacked it and have made it available here.)
  2. Unpack the theme and copy it to your desktop theme folder: /hom/[username]/.kde/share/apps/desktoptheme
  3. Open “System Settings”
  4. Choose “Workspace Appearance”
  5. Click “Desktop Theme”
  6. Choose “KVintage”
  7. Click “Apply”.

KDE 3 Desktop appearance in KDE 4

The Desktop

The default KDE 4 desktop uses folderview widgets and icons that are also widgets. If you prefer a desktop that functions like the KDE 3 desktop, KDE 4 can handle that too.

  1. Right click on the desktop
  2. Click “Desktop Settings”
  3. If necessary, click “Unlock Widgets”
  4. For “Layout” change it from “Desktop” to “Folder View”
  5. Click “OK”

Desktop settings for KDE 3-style desktop

You should now have a more traditional-looking and functioning desktop.

The K Menu

The kickoff menu is very robust with a great deal of functionality, but if you want the simple menu from KDE 3, simply remove the application launcher widget and replace it with the traditional one.

  1. Right click on the “K” button on the panel
  2. Click “Remove this application launcher”
  3. Right click again on the panel and click “Add widgets”
  4. Drag the “Application Launcher Menu” widget to the panel

You should now have the traditional application launcher menu from KDE 3.5.

The Icons

The default KDE icon set is called Oxygen, but you can use whatever icons you want, as long as they are properly configured for KDE4’s structure. Fortunately, someone has repackaged the KDE3 CrystalSVG icon theme.

  1. Download the icon theme manually
  2. Open “System Settings”
  3. Click “Application Appearance” and then “Icons”
  4. Click “Install Theme File”
  5. Locate the icon set you just download and select it
  6. Choose the icon theme from the list and click “Apply”

Konqueror with CrystalSVG icons

Application and Window Decoration Appearance

Most of the old KDE 3 window decorations and styles are still around in KDE 4. To use them, all you have to do is select them in System Settings. To change the style:

  1. Click “Application Appearance”
  2. Next to “Widget style” select the theme you want, “Plastique” for example
  3. Click “Apply”

To change the window decoration:

  1. In System Settings, choose “Workspace Appearance”
  2. Choose “Window Decorations”
  3. Select the theme you want, such as “Plastik”

The File Manager

One of the most monumental changes from KDE 3 to KDE 4 was the introduction of Dolphin, a new file manager to relieve Konqueror of one its multiple responsibilities. To have a true KDE 3.5 experience, you will need to make Konqueror your default file manager.

  1. Open “System Settings” and choose “Default Applications”
  2. Select “File Manager” from the left pane
  3. Select “Konqueror” and click “Apply”

Once you have all of these changes in place, you may start to see KDE 4 in a different light. Although many features under the hood have changed, it is still possible to get the KDE 3.5 look and feel back on your desktop.

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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