Anyone who has used a desktop environment can be up and running in KDE in a matter of minutes. However, KDE has a way of hiding more advanced features, and some of them can take months or even years to discover.
For example, here are 9 features that aren’t immediately obvious, but can enhance your efficiency and customize your desktop environment:
1. Optional Menus
KDE installs with a typical modern menu, confined to a single window and no more than three levels deep. However, this default is only one of several options scattered throughout the desktop. Right-click the menu button in the panel, and you select a classical menu, whose levels cascade across the screen. Alternatively, select Add Widget from the desktop toolkit, and you can install Lancelot, a compromise between the default and a classical menu. If you’re an advanced user, start up krunner, a control center with a small footprint from which you can start and close applications, as well as doing a variety of calculations and conversions.
2. Web Shortcuts
Sure, you can add sites to your browser menu. But buried in System Settings > Account Details > Web Shortcuts are forty keyboard shortcuts that you can enable as you choose, and to which you can add new ones. Instead of typing “duckgo.com,” you can enter simply “dd.” Over the course of day, such shortcuts can save you thousands of keystrokes, reducing repetitive stress injuries and getting you more quickly to your favorite sites.
3. Accessibility Tools
For over a decade, GNOME’s Orca has been a premier free software tool. In the last few years, however, KDE has been quietly adding its own tools. You can find most of KDE’s accessibility tools under Accessibility or Special Effects in System Settings, but the available desktop widgets also include a virtual keyboard. So far as I know, no disabled user has evaluated them thoroughly, but with magnifiers, mouse gestures, a text-to-speech tool, a mouse tracker, desktop zoom, and other features, KDE’s accessibility tools may have caught up with GNOME’s.
4. K3B CD/DVD Ripper
K3B is best-known as as KDE’s CD/DVD burner and probably the most feature-complete burner in free software. However, hidden in its menu is a ripper equally deserving of fame, with simple and effective tools for bulk naming of tracks and the handling of blank spaces. Most dedicated burners are harder to use than this feature that K3B throws in as an extra.
5. Optional System Setting Displays
Like most desktop environments, by default KDE displays its system settings in icons. However, if you prefer the old display from the third KDE release series, open System Settings and click the untitled wrench in the menu to open the Configure dialogue. From there, you can select Classical Tree View, and set its levels to expand automatically, if that’s your thing. KDE 3 passed into history seven years ago, but the option remains.
6. Rotating Icons and Widgets
If you are used to a classical desktop, you may dismiss this feature as excessive. Why, you might ask, would you ever want to set an icon at right angles to the bottom of the screen?
However, look at the shape of some of the available widgets, and you will realize that many are longer than they are tall. Rotate them ninety degrees, and they take up much less space on the screen. Granted, the verdict may still be out on rotations of forty-five degrees, but it can be a useful feature for customization. To use it, click Unlock Widgets from the desktop toolkit, then select an icon or widget and choose the rotation icon from its toolbar.
7. Multiple Clipboard
The clipboard is a standard feature of any desktop environment. However, KDE Plasma goes one better and supports a multiple clipboard called Klipper that sits in the notification tray. You only need to select the number of an item in the clipboard to make it the current pastable item, and you configure the number of available items and edit or clear the content as needed, making Klipper an invaluable tool for editing any type of document.
8. Customizable Virtual Workspaces
All major free desktops include virtual workspaces. However, their customization is generally limited to the number of workspaces and each one’s name. By contrast, click System Settings > Workspace Behavior > Virtual Desktops > Different widgets for each desktop, and each workspace can have its own collection of icons and widget. This feature allows users to set up each virtual workspace for different tasks, making an already useful feature more useful still.
9. Tabbed windows
Tabs revolutionized browsers by eliminating searches through windows and placing each open web page one-click away. KDE allows you the same conveniences on the desktop when you are working with more than one application.
To make one window the tab of another, select the window’s menu in the upper left corner, and select Attach. The catch? You have to be using the default Oxygen desktop theme.
Features Like Taxes
Users sometimes dismiss KDE as “bloated.” That is not particularly true, especially given the modern amounts of memory, as well as the latest Plasma 5, which rewrites much of the KDE desktop for greater speed.
However, even granting that the characterization has some truth, bloat seems much like taxes. Just as the tax rate is not as important as the services you get for your taxes, so bloat matters less than what you get for the larger memory footprint.
In KDE’s case, any extra resource usage is more than compensated for by the added customization and increased efficiency.
Perhaps KDE encourages users to miss features like the ones I mention by burying them in menus and dialogues and arranging related features in different places. But when you do discover such features — and there are many more that I might have mentioned — you may very well conclude that a little extra overhead is a small price to pay for all the benefits.