Smart tips and tricks to get the best from KDE 4

KDE 4.1, launched at the end of July 2008, became the first release we could heartily recommend as a replacement for the ageing 3.5, and a solid nine months of updates to 4.1 has created a stable and innovative environment that can only get stronger as 4.2 beds itself into 2009.

But KDE is still KDE, and that means that many of its best features are undocumented and undisclosed. Which is why now is the best possible time for a feature crammed full of the best tricks we can find for getting the most out of KDE 4. It doesn't matter if you're a new convert, an experienced user, or a potential switcher, you'll find something in the following pages that will make you feel a micron of pride of what open source can achieve.

Whether it's the seamless animations that Dolphin uses to blend one file type into another, or the sheer scale of format compatibility, applications shortcuts and reconfigurability, KDE 4 and projects like it are proof that community driven, open source development can compete with, and often surpass, commercial applications written by some of the world's biggest computer companies.

By uncovering KDE's hidden options you can make a real difference to the way you work.

Create the perfect environment

Booting your a desktop into a familiar environment, complete with all the applications you use already running, is one of the best ways to make your desktop as efficient as possible. KDE 4 makes this far easier than it was in the 3.x series, with a friendly point and click interface to create your default working environment.

You can find the autostart function hidden within KDE's System Settings application, and you'll need to click on the Advanced page to see the Autostart icon. After you've clicked on that, adding your own applications is as simple as clicking on either 'Add Program' or 'Add Script', either of which will open a secondary requester that asks for the location of the program you want to run. You then have the option to run the program either at startup, shutdown, or pre-KDE initialisation.

Alternatively, if you don't want to go to the trouble of adding each program manually, KDE 4 enables you to save the state of your currently running desktop. The tool for this is the called the Session Manager, and this will enable you to save the state of your desktop, including open documents and running applications, as you log out. Unfortunately, you can restore a manually saves session, as this feature has yet to be implemented.

Instant Konqueror

As with previous versions of KDE, you can choose to pre-load several instances of Konqueror. This has the advantage of enabling Konqueror to appear instantaneously when you open the application or a new instance. The only downside is that it uses more of your system's memory.

As Dolphin is designed to replace Konqueror in KDE 4, the pre-load option isn't enabled by default on any modern version of KDE 4. But you can find the setting in the Performance page of Konqueror's configuration window. Increase the Maximum Number Of Instances field on that page to around four and click to enable both the 'Preload An Instance After KDE Startup' and the 'Always Try To Have At Least One Preloaded Instance' tick boxes.

Revolutionise your KDE desktop with Super Shortcuts

One of KDE's best features is the ability to use shortcuts in either KLauncher or Konqueror to quickly access dozens of functions quickly. Here are a few of the most useful:

Lists the shortcuts to the applications and folders shown in the KDE launcher menu. Makes KDE feel a little like Apple's OS X for application launching.

Displays the contents of the desktop directory within your personal home directory

The protocol used for switching back to file browsing. For example, file:/home opens your home directory.

Opens a user's home directory on a remote machine running an SSH server without any further configuration.

Reads the content of a floppy disk and displays it in the current window. If you don't know what a floppy disk is, don't worry about it.

Lists any personal and system fonts you've got installed. Enable 'Preview' from the View menu to see how the fonts look.

Connects directly to any FTP server by prefixing the IP address with ftp://. KDE will then ask for a username and password

This is one of KDE's best features if you happen to use an IMAP mail server. Just type imap:// followed by the name of the server to access your email.

LDAP is a directory access protocol that provides lots of useful information about people on your network. Browse the directory directly with this shortcut.

The KDE equivalent to the man command. It displays the manual to many installed commands and apps.

Lists the contents of the email held in your local inbox folder.

Browses a Linux file server configured to use the NFS protocol.

Uses ancient news servers to read forums and posts on thousands of different subjects.

POP3 is probably still the most popular email protocol. Use this shortcut to list the emails held on your POP server.

Works in much the same way as the 'applications' shortcut, only with the addition of KDE's settings application.

Lists machines on the local network, through network services or Samba shares.

Should list KDE's various config panels, but it doesn't work with Kubuntu.

Accesses servers using SSH and the secure FTP protocol. Faster and more efficient than 'fish', but less flexible.

Browses Samba and Microsoft Windows shared folders on your local network.

Take a look at all the files and folders you've consigned to KDE's trashcan.

Zeroconf is an easy way of browsing local network services such as SSH and FTP without knowing of their direct IP addresses.