Tips and tricks to tune up KDE 4.1

The Box Switcher is an animated version of the classic icon selector, where you can cursor left and right through a thumbnail of each open window. The Cover Switch is a crude emulation of Apple's Cover Flow.

Open windows seem to join a three-dimensional queue and the cursor keys page through each one as you would a record collection. The Desktop Switch simply lists each open window in a small, vertical, text-based menu. The final option is the Flip Switch, which is a little like Cover Switch, but instead of using a queue of windows on each side of the display, the window list stretches into the infinity of your desktop background. In a nod to the good old days of KDE excess, you can also enable more than one switch effect at the same time, creating a cacophony of window selection applets.

Desktop panel

As yet, no one has come up with a better system for launching applications than the desktop panel. Your desktop may feel naked without it, but the layout and design of the panel has changed considerably over the last couple of years – thanks in part to Apple.

Many of us now like to restrict the panel to a certain border of the screen and reduce its size from its edge-straddling default of 100%. Neither of these modifications could be made in the previous version of KDE, making the panel feel rather unloved.

Fortunately, this essential portal has received some much-needed attention for the 4.1 release, and you can now perform most of the modifications you might expect. The only real option missing is the ability to change the panel background, but you can accomplish this with a little hacking of the config file.

Resize the panel

The key to editing the desktop panel is the small cashew symbol used to denote KDE's Plasmoids – the desktop widgets now at the heart of the KDE desktop. When widgets are unlocked from the main cashew icon in the top-right, another small icon will appear on the right of the panel border. This is because the panel is really just another Plasmoid, albeit one with a special function.

Clicking on this new icon opens the configuration panel, which looks like the tab ruler in a word processor and performs a similar function. There should be one grey arrow on the upper left, a blue arrow on the upper right and a green arrow beneath this.

Clicking and dragging the grey arrow changes the length of the panel; the blue arrow changes the maximum size of the panel; and the green arrow the minimum size for the panel.

As with a word processor, you can choose between three alignment modes by clicking on their respective icons in the panel configuration strip. Each mode will display different alignment arrows, but their function remains the same. If the blue and green arrows are in different positions, the panel will grow to the size specified by the blue arrow, as icons and applications are added to the panel.

If the blue and green arrows are in the same location, the icons and applications within the panel will be forced to rescale themselves, and the panel will remain the same size.

We found our optimum settings were achieved by using the central alignment option, and dragging the blue arrows that appear on either edge of the window in by around 10–15%. The grey arrow appears in the centre of the panel and ensures the panel's length on either side is the same.

But there's more than this to the configuration panel. If you look carefully, there's a small grab bar in the middle. Click and drag this to resize the thickness of the panel by either dragging the edge into the centre of the display or out towards the side.