Make Use Of KDE’s Desktop Features: Activities, Widgets & Dashboard [Linux]

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kde desktop featuresIt hasn’t been too long ago (since the beginning of this month, in fact) that I switched from using a GNOME desktop to a KDE desktop for my Linux system. Now, I’m not trying to start a flame war or anything, but I’ve personally found KDE to be better because, for me, it is more intuitive, has very nice eye-appeal, and comes with lots of options built-in. Now that the final missing feature (CalDAV sync) is coming in KDE 4.7, I will soon be switching all of my applications for their KDE counterparts.

If you’re in the same position as me, and are starting to see the full potential of the KDE desktop, this article is all about the features that are meant to boost your productivity and how to use them.

Activities

First off are Activities. This is a fancy name for saying that each virtual desktop can act independently, and that they do not have to have the same wallpaper and widgets on each one. With Activities, you can individually set each virtual desktop to use its own wallpaper and widget layout, so that you can optimally use each virtual desktop for whatever tasks you had in mind for it.

As an example, one could be customized for web browsing while another could be set up to help you with office or work tasks.

kde desktop features

Activities are most useful when you enable a disabled-by-default setting in your System Settings. Under the Workspace Behavior category in Virtual Desktops, you need to enable “Different widgets for each desktop“. Note that when you hit Apply your desktops essentially “reset”, although it’ll return if you disable the setting and hit Apply again.

So if you wish, you can click on the top right desktop button, hit Activities, and under Add Activity choose Clone current activity. In other words, the settings for that virtual desktop, the wallpaper and layout of widgets, are essentially the “activities”. By being able to individually set an activity for each virtual desktop, you gain the flexibility that wasn’t there before. Even without this setting enabled, you can easily switch out activities on your desktop via this feature.

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kde features

Widgets

kde features

Widgets themselves are another cool topic. You can add them to your desktop by clicking in the top right corner and choosing Add Widget. The KDE desktop, by default, doesn’t have icons on it, but rather widgets. If you pull an icon onto the desktop to make a Windows-like shortcut, you’re instead adding a shortcut that is in widget form.

These shortcuts do not go into the Desktop folder. Instead, to show the contents of the Desktop folder a widget named “Folder View” is added and set to show that folder. The widget can be configured to show any folder on the system, however.

You can add a great number of other widgets. Just look through the list of possible widgets you can add, and try them out. You’ll be sure to find some favorites after a couple of minutes.

Dashboard

Finally, another great feature is called the Dashboard. This feature can be used in any combination of widgets and activities, and provides a nice unifying element to the entire desktop. The Dashboard is simply nothing else than a dashboard containing more widgets.

kde features

By default it is set to show the widgets currently on the desktop, but in the System Settings you can choose to have the Dashboard display its own bundle of widgets. This setting is very nice for those using different activities on each virtual desktop, as there will always be a global Dashboard to display your most used widgets (after you place them inside the Dashboard).

To call up the Dashboard, hit Ctrl + F12, and add a widget by right-clicking anywhere on the screen.

kde desktop features

Conclusion

In order to get the right configuration and level of productivity, you will need to find out what layouts work best for you. When you are finished, congratulations! Pat yourself on the back, because you just made the desktop work for YOU. Remember that you can always tweak many more things about your KDE desktop in the System Settings, such as adding more virtual desktops.

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Comments (5)
  • Geoffrey

    Like Miggs, I’m thoroughly enjoying my Debian KDE installation. I’ve tried Kubuntu and Linux Mint KDE before. Kubuntu was hopelessly unstable, while LM KDE crashed occasionally. I had given up on finding a stable KDE implementation—I’d given up on switching to KDE for good—until Debian came along!

    Thanks for the dashboard tip. The Independent Widget Set feature makes the dashboard really useful, especially since I like having a clean desktop.

    Without the Independent Widgets, the dashboard is no more useful than a “Show Desktop”, and I’d begun to wonder what the point was in having a dashboard! Cheers.

  • Julius Leachman III

    Good article Danny. I have plans on revisiting back to KDE once I switch to Arch Linux…

  • jonathan boatrinkin

    Yeah how can you install linux 10 mint kde along side of windows 7 like ubuntu does

  • Miggs

    I switched to Debian + KDE a few months ago. I enjoy it. It’s a well done DE and moreover it seems to be faster than Gnome 2 on my system ( always had significant performance increase when I installed KDE myself from Debian or Arch packages; out-of-the-box installs seem slow to me ). Anyway, the greatest plus for K are those unmatched apps like Dolphin, Krusader, K3B, Digikam, Kdenlive, Yakuake, Gwenview, etc. In my opinion, there are simply not good enough alternatives in Gnome for some of those.

    The only drawback I encountered was the NetworkManager gui client which gave me some headaches.

    Unlike many of you out there, I tend to like Gnome 3 as well and I’m going to give it a try when it’s ready for Debian. 

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.