Linux has a kernel, there is a desktop manager, a desktop environment, a distribution, and a whole bunch of other stuff. All these things and other things have version numbers and similar information associated with them. If you are a casual user, you probably don’t know the exact version of any or all of these things you are running at any one moment in time. Then, suddenly, you find out that “Version this-or-that of this thing-or-another is out, have you tried it?” or “The whatchamacalit version of the thingimijob is broken, if you have that upgrade or you will all die!!!” or similar. So then, you want to know what version you are running.
I’ve noticed that many file managers in Linux are changing in the way many Linux desktop environments are changing. They are becoming simpler. That is a bad thing. File management has not gotten simpler. If anything, it has gotten more complicated. I need a powerful tool, not a dumbed down stick. That’s why I like the KDE file manager, Dolphin.
Here are a few tips and tricks to tweak the dolphin.
Some of the most obvious things you can do are right in front of you, but this will depend on exactly what version of Dolphin you have. When I open Dolphin, I see a “preview” and a “split” icon on top. The utility of these buttons is obvious, and both are useufl. Note that with preview you can use a scaling bar at the bottom of the window to change the size of the preview.
I also see a “control” button over to the right. That leads to the menu that does most of the work in configuring the software. Play around with it. Below are a few specific suggestions that generally involve diving deepish into the menu structure.
Also, don’t forget to right click on everything until you’ve found out what all the right clicking mojo is. There is a lot of right-click mojo in KDE generally, and in Dolphin in particular.
Adding information to icons in Icon View
Dolphin has three modes for viewing files. One is “details” and to be honest, that’s all I want to know most of the time. But if you use the “Icon view” you may want to see the file size under the filename (below the icon) and the number of files under the folder icon, for each item. Or, you might want other info, like creation date, or file type. If you do, change the view mode to Icon, then under Control pick “Additional Information” and click whatever info you want to appear with the icon.
Obviously this also works with the detailed view to give you new columns on which to sort things. It also works with “compact” mode.
Making all folders behave the same way
One of the nice things about Dolphin, and this is true of many file managers, is that you can set individual folders to have specific behaviors, and those behvaviors will be there when you reopen the folder at another time. You can always change the behavior if you need to. But, an even nicer thing in Dolphin (but not in many other file managers) for some people is this: You can tell Dolphin to “Use Common Properties for All Folders” by going to Control, then Configure Dolphin, then under the “General” page, pick the Behavior tab, then check “Use common properties for all folders” as opposed to “Remember properties for each folder.”
Personally I prefer to have each folder remember its properties, but you may prefer the consistancy across all folders.
Group folders and files
Under “Control” you can select “show in groups.” Interesting things happen. Mainly, the files and folders get grouped up either alphabetically or by time. It is kinda freaky. You might like it.
Panels that show more information
Under Control >> Panel you can select several cool options.
A “details” panel appears on the right, and is like a “properties” tab, with information like file size, type, when it was modified, etc. There is additonal information that depends on file type. A picture will show the size of the picture, a video the length of the video, etc. This panel allows you to add tags and comments, and rate a file.
A “terminal” panel appears down below the file manager. As you switch around between directories, the termnial changes directory (and you can even see the cd [directory] command being implemented).
The “Places” Panel is probably on by default, and that is the strip to the left of the icon or details area. A navigation tree is also a panel, and it apears on the left.
You can resize the panels. And, if you unlock them (right click) you can move them around to a certain extent!
Depending on where on Dolphin you right click, you can bring up a menu with the various panels listed, as well as the main tool bar.
So, one thing you can easily do, is to set Dolphin to show previews, be in a folder with pictures you want to review, then turn off all the panels so your pictures can take up maximum room on your screen. Then you’ve got what acts like a dedicated photo album viewer, sort of.
I usually do nothing fancy with my windows. I open them. Later, I close them. In between, I may maximize them or unmaximize them. I move them around the screen.
The two fancy things I do are: 1) “Maximize” a window onto a portion of a screen using drag magic of some kind (most Linux desktop environments have this) or b) tell a window to move itself to a different workspace.
Most, nay, all, desktop environments have a larger set of fancy window behavior control than this. The whole idea of controlling, or even having, windows in which software runs, is fundamental to the *Nix environment, and Linux is the modern and most widely used version of *Nix. But I think it is possible that KDE has the mostest and bestest of these abilities.
For example. You can right click on the top bar on the window and pick “more actions” from the context menu. This gives you “move,” “resize” and such, which you have access to in other ways. GBut it also gives you check boxes to “keep above others” or “keep below others” which is very hand when your multiple monitors start to fill up with stuff because your workflow has gone fractal.
Burrow deeper and you can get to “special window settings.” This allows you to control behavior of a particular window in very detailed and even scary ways. You should probably not do any of this, but you should have a look.
In between these two cantos of configuration, you can find “Windows Manager Settings” in the window title bar context menu. This allows you to mess with windows decorations, screen edges, desktop effects, etc. You can get to all this via other configuration tools, but this is a handy way to make adjustments on the fly while you are actually using software.
One thing you may want to adjust here is when and how windows become translucent. I never used that feature before, and having the windows become semi-translucent when being moved is the default in KDE. I think people like this because it is a quick and dirty way to see what is behind the window. I find it a bit disconcerting because I sometimes am still reading what it is a window while I’m moving it. I wonder if there is a way to make a window go translucent optionally. Probably. OK just checked, there is.
A key feature you will want to adjust is active screen edges and corners. Here you can turn on or off features that maximize, either to a full screen or a “tile,” the window you drag to an edge. This allows for quarter tiling. Right now I have the ability to mazimize a window by dragging the title area of the title bar to the top middle of a screen, to tile over the left or right half by dragging it to the appropriate side edge, or quarter-tiling the window by dragging it to a corner. It is a bit funky when I drag towards the second monitor … can get confused as to which monitor to tile the window on.
Windows. Not just for Windows any more. Never were, really.
Buddy Hackett once said, “As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: Take it, or leave it.”
On your computer desktop, you often have multiple choices ON your menu, choices of recent documents to open, applications to open, system features to configure, or an option to shut down your machine or log out. Gnome, Mate, and many other desktops have a default menu built in. You can change the menu by installing alternative software. In the case of Mate and some other Gnome alternatives, the desktop comes with the “new and improved” sometimes called “advanced” menu that isn’t the default, and isn’t really an option … you have to fiddle to find out about it, mess around to make it install, then when you run it, you may run into trouble if it crashes. The version Mate supplies, in my experience over several years, crashes regularly.
The KDE Linux Desktop is a step above Buddy Hackett’s home life. Out of the box, you get three distinct options for what kind of menu you like. One of the main reasons people chose different desktops is how the desktop offers the user access to applications, documents, etc. In the old days, a multi-level menu was common. Then, the fancier menus were invented, sometimes called launchers, that would typically open with a list of favorites, or commonly used, software, and possibly recent documents, and a search function to find your things. Eventually, the full fledged dashboard, or “hud,” was invented. This is where the entire screen (or one monitor’s screen if you have multiple monitors), opens up with a bunch of icons and stuff. And, as noted, which of these approaches a given desktop environment was designed around often determined which desktop people liked to use.
Do not mistake this evolutionary scenario for an ordered list of betterness. All three methods have their benefits, and different people will prefer different methods.
You can have any of these three paradigms with pretty much any standard Linux desktop environment, but you will probably have to install, tweak, and mess with software that may not be reliable.
Or, you can use KDE and have all three paradigms as easily accessible, built in, well optimized, maintained options.
The KDE Application Menu looks like this:
You click on the dotty-looking thing on the lower left, and out pops the usual top level menu. There can be three levels in total. You get quick access to power-off or log out, recent applications or documents, and you can alternatively add recent contacts. Note that there is a search window.
The KDE Application Launcher looks like this:
Sorry, this may be a bit hard to see, but in real life it is totally readable. (Also, I think you can configure the transparency option of the various transparent things in KDE). This shows favorite software, which is configurable. Note that I’ve not configured mine, were I to do so it would have a very different list. Just start typing when this launcher is visible, and you are now searching for software. See those partly visible icons along the bottom? They are normally totally visible (my screen shot is imperfect). They are “favorite,” “application,” which is basically the multi-layered menu but a bit different, “Computer,” which is places, “history” and “Often used,” (not currently configured) as well as the non-removable button to shut down the computer. You can pick among these choices, have all, none, or a subset.
If you chose as your “menu” option the “Application Dashboard,” you get this:
This takes up the whole screen, and gives you this giant icon-rich borwsing for stuff experience. Note the menu-ish list on the right. and, you can search by just typing. This is a bit like the Ubuntu Unity dashboard.
Each of these items is very configurable. This is an example of the configuration menu for the Application Menu:
You chose which menu-launcher-thingie method you want to use by right clicking on the menu doohickie in the lower left and chosing “Alternatives.” Then you pick one and chose “switch.” Easy. Looks like this:
This is what is built in. You can do all sorts of other things to enhance your menu-application experience. I suggest you don’t. Stop fiddling with your computer and get to work. But the nice thing about KDE is that you have three highly configurable approaches to finding your applications and recent files, which are built in, maintained, and not broken. This separates KDE from most or possibly all of the other possible Linux desktops.
There are two other ways to get to your applications. One is to hit alt-F2 or the hot key or Krunner, which is a simple one line window that pops up. You can run apps from this, and do a lot of other things as well. The other is to put an icon for your commonly used software on the panel (menu bar, whatever you want to call it) which is probably along the bottom of your screen.
Me? I put the icons for the five or six most commonly used apps on the panel. I’m not sure if I want the application launcher or the multi-level menu to be the default, but I’ll only rarely use it. That makes me think I’ll go for the multi-level menu. When I use the menu to find an app, I’ll appreciate the organized traditional hierarchy to help me find it.
In some Linux desktops, what you get is what you get when it comes to desktop icons.
You can usually specify if you want network locations or storage devices shown as icons, or maybe a trash can, shown, but not much else. This is where Linux looks stupid compared to at least some earlier versions of Windows and the Mac, where you can do more with icons.
But in KDE, icons are very very configurable.
(See this post for a short diatribe on why you should try KDE even if you haven’t considered it lately … I myself am a recent convert to this particular desktop.)
In KDE, you can right click on the desktop, then chose “icons” on the context menu.
You can then arrange the icons horizontally or vertically on the screen.
You can align them to the left or right of the screen.
You can sort them by the usual sorting criteria.
You can specify sizes, ranging from “tiny” to “huge.”
And you can lock them. When unlocked, you can move them around.
The images shown here are exemplars of some of these options, in various combinations.
I’m pretty sure the very first Linux desktop I ever used was KDE. I didn’t realize that it was actually a bit painful until I later discovered Gnome. I switched to Gnome because it worked better for me, and seemed to use fewer resources.
I never left Gnome, but Gnome left me. I won’t go into the details here, but as most Linux users know, Gnome 2.x was the high point of that particular world of Linux desktops (see THIS POST for definition of term “desktop”). With the demise of Good Gnome, mainly caused by Ubuntu (a distribution I otherwise have a great deal of respect for), I poked around among the various Gnome 2.0 desktop alternatives. Among them eventually emerged Mate, which at first, I thought was great. I used it as my main desktop for several years, until just recently.
But Mate had two major flaws. The first flaw was an attempt to simply everything. Mate never made an application to be part of its own desktop environment, but rather, it took old Gnome applications, then broke them slightly or failed to maintain them (but the Mate project developers did rename them all, to take credit for them, and add confusion). The second flaw was not fully maintaining the parts of the desktop environment it was responsible for, or fixing basic problems. For example, it has always been true that most people have a hard time grabbing window boundaries with their mouse in Mate. To fix this you have to go down into configuration files and manually change numbers. That is a bug that should have been fixed three years ago. I can only assume that the maintainers of Mate don’t have that problem on their particular desktops.
Among the main functions of a maintained desktop environment is keeping basic system configuration tools clean and neat and functional, but Mate messed that up from the beginning. I vaguely remember that an early version of Mate left off the screen saver software, so in order to have or use a screen saver, you had to install the old Gnome screensaver. The configuration and settings capacities of the Mate desktop are distributed across three or four different applications, at least one of which you have to find out about, find, install, and learn to use yourself, just to carry out simple functions. Basic categories of settings or configurations are distributed among these applications in a haphazard way. To do basic things like change the desktop appearance or mess with screen savers, etc, you have to be a power user.
But I thought Mate was still better than KDE partly because KDE was so strange. For one thing, single clicking in KDE was like double clicking everywhere else in the universe. Yes, you could reconfigure that, but it is still strange. The nature of the desktop, of panels, or widgets, of all of it, was just a little odd for me. Everything felt a little funny.
But over time, KDE did two things that Mate did not do. First, KDE continued to maintain, develop, improve, debug, make more efficient and powerful, all of its software. Instead of key software components going brain dead or not being maintained, or losing functionality like in Mate, KDE software got more powerful and more useful. At the same time, the software, and the overall desktop environment, got slicker, cleaner, more like the old Gnome 2.0 in many ways, and leaner, and less strange (single clicking is no longer a default!).
In the old days, it was probably true that Gnome used fewer of your computer’s resources than KDE. But the most current versions of Gnome and gnome like alternatives such as Mate probably use about 25% more resources than KDE out of the box. And, KDE out of the box is more configurable and overall more cool than Mate and many other desktops.
Here’s the key thing. When I first started using Linux, the feature I fell in love with was the workspace switcher, allowing one to maintain a number of virtual desktops, each with various things open on them. This is how I organize my work. It isn’t all that systematic, but in a given day, I’ll organically end up with all my stuff related to one project on one virtual desktop, and another project on a different virtual desktop. Gnome and gnome variants actually moved away from this standard. You can still have virtual desktops in current Gnome, but they are not there by default. Mate still has them by default, but I don’t trust Mate maintaners to maintain that.
But it is easily done in KDE, and with extra (mostly unnecessary) perks. In the KDE desktop environment, I can have the desktop background be different on my different virtual desktops on my desktop computer. Which sits on my desk. I can have other things be different on the different desktops. For me, this doesn’t do much because, as noted, my virtual workspaces evolve organically over time frames of hours or days. But someday, I may want a special desktop configured all special for some special purpose.
A couple of months ago, I had some problems with Mate. I uncovered an important and easily fixed bug. I told the maintainers about it. They told me to screw off. So I told them to screw off, and I started to explore other desktop environments. After realizing that they had been too rude to me, the Mate maintainers, to their credit, did fix the bug and tried to make nice. But I had already moved on. It did not take me long to get KDE up and running and configured as I like. And, I’ve hardly explored all the cool stuff it can do.
But I am exploring it now, and I’ll keep you posted.