KDE Plasma is easily one of the best desktop environments for Linux based systems. Of course, you probably know that if you’re here. It is the default desktop environment that comes with Kubuntu, which is one of the official flavors of Ubuntu. If you already have Ubuntu, however, with GNOME, Unity, MATE or whatever, you don’t need to install the entire OS again. Just install the KDE Plasma desktop on your machine and you can enjoy the full Kubuntu experience. But if you’re using Ubuntu with Unity or GNOME and don’t have much experience using anything else, the Kubuntu experience can seem like an uphill battle. We show you how to install KDE Plasma 5.11 on your system. So it makes sense that we also show you how to work with this.
If you remember, I’ve stated over and over again that getting started with KDE Plasma is very easy. It feels familiar and traditional and things go just the way you would like them to at first. When you start using it, you’ll find that it’s not that traditional. For all its features and flexibility, KDE Plasma is still a little poor at some basic things like changing the wallpaper. As a user, these little annoyances might make you want to give up and go back to something “better”, but don’t do that just yet. KDE Plasma has a lot to offer, even things you’ve never seen before.
As I’ve said so many times in a previous article and possibly this one, launching apps and doing your job isn’t that difficult. So we’re not going to focus here on how to do these things, but on how you can adapt KDE Plasma to work with you and also include some of KDE’s amazing tools in your work style.
Change default app launcher and other widgets
By default you get a bottom panel similar to the Windows taskbar with KDE Plasma. To the left of the panel is the app launcher button, where you would normally find the Start button on a Windows machine. It actually looks quite modern and the apps are categorized into predefined categories. Easy, but do you really love the way it is? Since you’re not the one who assigns categories to apps, it usually takes some getting used to what’s where. Good thing it has a search feature.
If you right-click on the app launcher and select App Launcher Settings… you can change some things about it. Select Alternatives… in the right click menu and you can change a lot about that. You can exchange it for a more traditional one application menu or an amateur app dashboard which is more suitable for touchscreen devices. The KDE Application Launcher is one of many widgets that KDE has built in (yes, you can download even more). Right clicking on any widget allows you to select Alternatives and KDE has no shortage of them.
Get familiar with Krunner
If you’re going to use KDE, Krunner will be your best friend. You can activate it by pressing Alt+F2 on your keyboard, but a more convenient shortcut is Alt+Space. If you’re on the desktop, you can just start typing on the keyboard and Krunner will automatically pick you up. Think of it like the highlight on Mac systems, only more powerful. Of course, you can just type the name of an application, file or folder to search for it. You can also type kill and then the application name to close it.
What is 65 times 5? Type 65×5= and you will have your answer without opening a calculator. How much is $48.6 in euros? Just type it in and Krunner will convert it to different popular currencies for you. This also works for converting distances, temperatures, time, etc. from one unit to another. Just remember to enter the metric value followed by the unit.
It even allows you to open websites, bookmarks, search your Kmail, play music, videos, etc. The only complaint you might have is that it doesn’t auto-complete, which means you’ll have to type the entire command. For example, to play a music file you will have to type the full path before the mp3 file name along with the extension. So playing media files might not be a realistic use case, but everything else is. There’s actually a lot more to talk about, but that will take a while, perhaps at another time in a dedicated article for Krunner.
Activate virtual desktops
Virtual desktops are something that many Windows users have been exposed to recently, but Linux has had it for several years now. And if you’re used to working with multiple virtual desktops, you might want to try to figure out how to use them in KDE Plasma. Perhaps for better performance, the Plasma desktop by default only has one virtual desktop and you can’t just add more.
You will have to enable virtual desktops first. You can use Krunner, now that you know it, to search Virtual workspaces or go to system settings > Workspace behavior > Virtual workspaces. Here you can increase the Number of workspaces and under the exchanging tab, you can view or change the shortcuts for switching between desktops. You can even add the pager or activity pager widget for your desktop or any of its panels to easily switch between different virtual desktops.
I, as you can imagine, take a lot of screenshots. A lot of people take screenshots, actually, probably not that often. Spectacle is the default screenshot tool you get with the KDE Plasma desktop. You can directly save your screenshot in any image format you want by clicking the down arrow on the safe exit button. It also allows you to open the image directly in any application or copy it to the clipboard without having to save it.
If you want to take a screenshot of a menu or something that just disappears whenever you press a button or click somewhere, you can set a time in seconds and click Take a new screenshot. Open the menu and wait. Smart right?
You can trigger Spectacle the old-fashioned way by pressing the PrtSc button on your keyboard. Alternatively, you can simply right-click on it in the Application menu/launcher and select Pin in task manager or add to dashboard. While we’re at it, you might want to pin apps to the task manager instead of adding them to the dashboard as widgets, because it’s easier to unpin them.
Without going into too much detail, because the article is already getting a little long, it’s one of the most wonderful features of the KDE Plasma desktop. When I said Plasma has “things you’ve never seen before” I was talking about that. Let’s say you have a lot of tabs open in Chrome while searching for something, while also writing a document, doing something else, using 3-4 virtual desktops. But for some reason you have to leave and leave, you would be devastated.
You may have already noticed this, actually. KDE Plasma saves your entire login session when you turn off your PC. When you boot into your system again, it restores your previous session. You can change this behavior in system settings > startup and shutdown > desktop session.
There is clearly a lot more to explore in Plasma, but these little things will hopefully help you get to grips with it and enhance your working experience.