How to customize the KDE Plasma desktop

Everything you need to know to become a KDE Jedi master

kde plasma tips
Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

KDE is a huge community that creates software such as the Plasma desktop, Krita, Calligra and many more. I've written before about my great appreciation for the Plasma desktop because it allows me to customize it to my liking and exploit the full extent of my software.

KDE Plasma is an extremely customizable desktop and this is how to bend it to your will.

Take control of the home screen

Home screen is a term used on mobile devices. In Android, it's heavily customizable thanks to 'widgets' and other such features. The KDE Desktop also has a 'home' screen and it has been around for years now. It's extremely customizable and allow you to perform many tasks right from the desktop screen.

If you are still running KDE 4 desktop then you can also change the ‘home’ screen layout. Just right click on the desktop and choose ‘Default desktop settings’. I like the Search and Launch layout as it allows me to search from within the desktop while also giving me immediate access to storage and applications.

Bring some widgets home

If you are running Plasma 5 then you won’t have the option to choose ‘Search and Launch’. But that doesn’t mean you can’t customize it. You can add widgets to the Plasma home screen to get access to the desired info without having to open any application. Right click anywhere on the desktop and select 'Add Widgets' option. Alternately, you can also click on the three bars at the top left or at the bottom right of the screen and choose the 'Add Widgets' option.

kde plasma tips Swapnil Bhartiya

Plasma 5 opens a left panel where you will find all the available widgets. You can double click on the desired widget or drag and drop it to the desktop.

Some of the widgets that I use include a clock, calendar, system monitor, search and notes. I work with people spread across the globe and at times it becomes hard to keep track of who is in which timezone. But Plasma makes my life easy. The clock widget on plasma has the option to choose the desired time zone; so you can have different clocks showing times from different parts of the world.

The 'search' box allows you to run a quick search on your PC right from the desktop. You can open applications and documents stored on your system using the search widget.

Change the application launcher

While many DEs are stuck with the same launcher, in Plasma you can fully change the way you open applications, documents or websites from the launcher. Depending on your distro, you may have additional launchers installed on your system. On a Plasma 5 system, just right click on the launcher icon and select 'Alternatives' from the context menu. If you are going to try this I heavily recommend the ‘Lancelot’ launcher.

Homerun

If you are a fan of Dash, which is seen in Gnome 3 Shell and Unity, then you can get a similar experience on your Plasma desktop. There is a tool called ‘Homerun’ that brings Dash to the KDE desktop. It’s not yet available for Plasma 5, so if you want to use it you will have to stick to KDE 4.

You can easily replace the default launcher with Homerun. Install it on your distro and add it to the panel. Then delete the default launcher icon from the panel and move Homerun icon to that position. You now have Homerun as the default launcher and Dash of your Plasma system.

homerun launcher

Panel and multiple monitors

Under Plasma you can take advantage of every element of the desktop, including the panel; it’s a useful real estate. You can pin apps or locations to the panel for quicker access. If one panel is not enough you can add as many panels as you want.

If you are using multiple monitors, you can add panels to each monitor and have different settings for each panel. Under Plasma each monitor can have its own ‘personality’. You can choose different wallpaper, desktop layout, widget and panel for each monitor.

Krunner

There is another nifty tool Plasma has up its sleeve that makes it easy to perform many tasks without opening an app. It's called Krunner. You can access it with the F2 key or by right clicking on the desktop and choosing the 'Run Command' option.

Krunner is extremely powerful. Not only can you open apps, locations, files or bookmarked websites, you can also perform tasks like making a calculation, finding the current date and time or converting currencies and temperature right from Krunner.

Let me give you an example. If you want to run a calculation, just type 1233x33 and Krunner will show the result.

Tame the dolphin

Dolphin, the default file manager of Plasma desktop, is one of the most powerful file managers around. It’s extremely feature rich. By default, Dolphin is configured to open any file with 'one' click, which can be annoying for those of us who are used to double clicking to open an app and single clicking for selecting them. You can change this by going to Configure Dolphin > Navigation and changing from 'Single Click' to 'Double Click.'

You can also change the 'default' folder of Dolphin, which means when you open Dolphin it will open the chosen folder. Open the Startup option inside the Configure Dolphin settings and choose the location.

You can expand the features of Dolphin by adding more services to it. Just click on Control > Configure Dolphin and then go to the Services option. There you will find many useful services.

Waste management department

At times we get an annoying notification when getting rid of some file: “can't delete file, the trash is full”. In Plasma you can choose how much space you want to allocate to the trash can. You can also choose what Dolphin should do when your trash can is full. There are three options, which you can access from the Trash option in the Configure Dolphin settings: 1) Warn you that the trash is full, 2) Delete the oldest file or 3) Delete the largest file. To further make your life easier you can also choose to automatically delete older files after a certain period of time.

These are some of the features that make Plasma one of the best desktop environments. However, I must admit that Plasma 5 is still a work in progress, quite a few features are still missing and they are being ported gradually. If you want to enjoy the full potential of a Plasma desktop I would suggest you stick to KDE 4 until Plasma 5 is ready for prime time.

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