Smart tips and tricks to get the best from KDE 4

A small change here can make a huge difference to how your machine feels.

Dolphin's location bar

Dolphin does away with the location bar you see in most browsers (including Konqueror), and replaces it with a bread-crumb trail that follows your file navigation. But sometimes, especially when dealing with remote sites and protocols, the location bar is the quickest way to navigate to a location. Press Ctrl+I to add the location bar to the current Dolphin view, and type the location you want to view. The character will display your home directory, for example. You can also access remote servers using the location var. Type ftp://server.address to access an FTP server, or smb://server.address for a Samba server.

Enable embedded previews

When you click on a data file within Konqueror, the default behaviour is to open a new window to display the contents of the file. This is great if you want to make edits or take a look at the contents, but not if you're trying to find one specific file quickly. We prefer the old style of previews, where the file is embedded within the file browser's window. Not only does this save screen space, it also means don't lose context while you're browsing your files.

The option to change this is hidden in the 'File Associations' page of the Advanced view in the System Settings application. This is the same tool used to define which file extensions are loaded into which application when you click on them. To enable embedded previews for images, for example, search for the 'image' metatype.

A metatype contains all the other types of image recognised by KDE, and you just need to enable the 'Show File In Embedded View' checkbox to make it happen. You can do the same for individual file types and other metatypes (such as text documents), and you can use the middle-mouse button to switch between scaled and full-screen image rendering.

Add pervasive searching

Desktop searching, of the kind we now take for granted in Gnome, as been on a roller-coaster of a ride in KDE. Pervasive searching is important, because it lets you search the contents of files rather than just their filenames. (Imagine the difference between Google letting you search just the URL, and Google letting you search through the contents of a web page.)

Over the last four years, KDE's pervasive searching has been through various different iterations of technology, from Kat to Kerry. The successor to both was Strigi, an efficient and speedy search technology that promised to beat them both. But it's taking some time, and it's still mostly broken in 4.1, although things are looking up for 4.2.

The problem is that KDE needs its search technology to be tightly integrated with something called Nepomuk. Nepomuk is an implementation of something called the 'semantic desktop'. Semantic, in this sense, seems to mean that where your data is stored is unimportant; it's how you access the data that counts, which is why this technology is so closely tied to the KDE search process. The framework for applications to take advantage of Nepomuk was in place for KDE 4.1, but few developers were able to take advantage of it. But you can still get a functional pervasive search working on 4.1.

You first need to enable both the search and Nepomuk in the Desktop Search page of KDE's System Settings application. A new icon will appear in your taskbar, and Strigi will start creating its database in the background. Click on the icon to check the status of the index building, and when it's finished you can perform a search from Krunner. This is the tool that pops up when you press Alt and F2. Try searching for something within an ODT office document – it should be listed in the results alongside any filenames that include the same search.

Ultra-rapid internet searching

Konqueror contains many shortcuts for streamlining your file management and web browsing experience, but our favourite feature for the web has to be the use of what Konqueror calls web shortcuts. These consist of abbreviated keyword you can use within the location bar to quickly search the site refered to in the abbreviated.

Typing wp:linux format, for instance, will search Wikipedia for the term 'linux format'. We commonly use 'gg' for Google, 'ggi' for Google Images, and 'odp' to search the Open Directory Project. You can list which shortcuts do what by opening the Configuration window from Konqueror and switching to the 'Web Browsing/Web Shortcuts' page.

Add untar/unzip context menus

One essential feature of KDE 3.5 has been dropped from each KDE 4 release so far – and that's the ability to right-click on an archive and select 'Extract'. The solution is to install a KDE 3-era application and add the corresponding menu options manually. It's not particularly clever, but it does work. The application to install is KDE 3's KArchiver – a program that has been replaced by Ark in KDE 4.

Most KDE users still have a working version of KDE 3 installed, so adding KArchiver shouldn't be a problem. And because we're using it in the background, you shouldn't find its old GUI too distracting.

The next step is to create a text file called karchiver. desktop, and into this add the following text:

[Desktop Entry]
Type=Service X-KDE-ServiceTypes=KonqPopupMenu/Plugin,all/all
[Desktop Action Compress]
Exec=karchiver -c %U
[Desktop Action Extract]
Exec=karchiver --xa %u

You then need to save this file into your /usr/share/ kde4/services/ directory and restart the KDE 4 desktop. Right-clicking on a file or folder from within either Dolphin or Konqueror (or the desktop) will now show an Actions menu, from where you'll be able to select 'Extract' or 'Compress' from the KArchiver sub-menu.

Pimp your file requester

KDE's standard file requester features the same file browser and management features as Dolphin and Konqueror. Files and folders can be dragged into the file requester's currently selected window, and you can create folders and change the view mode using the right-click context menu. Using the drop-down menu from the spanner icon in the toolbar, you can enable file previews.

But the best feature to enable in this menu is 'bookmarks'. After clicking on this option, the bookmark icon will be appended at the end of the file requester's toolbar, and you'll be able to quickly add and jump to locations you've navigated to within the requester.

Finally, you can also drag folders and files into the quick access bar to the left of the requester. Icons can be dragged from any file manager window, and re-ordered by dragging them up or down in the icon list .

Application focus: Kopete

Kopete is one of the best instant messaging clients available for any platform, and its understated GUI hides the most advanced featureset we've come across. Just look at the list of plugins from the configuration page, for example.

You can do everything from translate one language to another, to render usage graphs into statistics and insert mathematical formulas. Chat themes can be downloaded from from the embedded Get Hot New Stuff requester, and unlike similar features in other KDE 4 applications, there are plenty of community-designed themes to download and try out.

The best thing about Kopete is its ability to cope with multiple protocols and a single contact. Most multi-protocol instant messaging clients will force you to have a different contacts for each protocol – one for MSN and one for Jabber, for example. But with Kopete, you can group the various different protocols used by one person into a 'meta-contact', with the online status for each protocol displayed to the right of their name using an icon.

To get this to work, first add a contact for each protocol, just as you would with Gaim or Adium. From the contact list you then need to right-click on the protocol icon for the duplicated contact and choose 'Change Meta-contact' from the context menu. Then just choose the person you want to attach this protocol to from the contact list that appears.