Tips and tricks to tune up KDE 4.1

Along with this much needed stability, the new release benefits from a few additional widgets – although with only 34 bundled in total, Plasma isn't yet the cornucopia of utility promised by its lead developer over 12 months ago. There's the predicable array of clocks, a news ticker and a moon phase calculator.

This is also where some essential panel functionality hides, and if you try to add either the task manager or the system tray to your desktop (as opposed to the panel), you'll be greeted with a useless circular widget. For the next release, the developers should split desktop and panel Plasmoids into separate categories.

Fortunately, there's a handful of better widgets. The dictionary tool works well either on the desktop or the panel, and the picture frame Plasmoid can neatly display a collection of images, but the promised 'image of the day' retrieval from online repositories doesn't work for us.

There's also the Dashboard. If you're familiar with OS X, you'll have seen this paradigm being used before: a certain keyboard combination overlays widgets on the current view. This is a useful place to hide small tools and applications, and KDE's Dashboard widget performs a similar function.

Clicking on the icon clears everything from your desktop except your widgets. This is useful if you add the widget to your panel and often use apps in full-screen mode, but it would be better if it fully emulated the OS X version by overlaying an area where you can add new widgets that don't otherwise take up valuable desktop space.

File management: The battle between Dolphin and Konqueror continues…

The usurping of the all-powerful Konqueror file manager and web browser by the humble Dolphin has been one of the more contentious design decisions for KDE 4. But KDE 4.1 has gone a little way to improve things, with the addition of tree view in Dolphin – taken from Konqueror. This makes the transition a little easier, and even we'd agree that Dolphin does almost everything a file manager should do.

It's going to be an essential part of the Nepomuk social semantic desktop, which is why the option to add comments, as well as a five-star rating system, is so conspicuous in the right-hand panel. The idea is that your desktop becomes a portal to local and online content.

As a result, Dolphin attempts to remove some of the worry about where a file or folder is by presenting the filesystem as a friendly array of data. But it mostly feels like a cut-down version of Konqueror – an application that can, thankfully, still be found on KDE 4.1.

Regardless of the differences in the way these applications handle file management, there are several problems that affect both. The most annoying for a default KDE 4 installation is the lack of an image preview or thumbnail on images of a certain size.

Dolphin users get a more logical place to alter this. Just open the Preferences window, click on the View Modes page and increase the maximum file size from which previews will be generated. This defaults to 5MB, which is too small for many digital images, and increasing it to 10MB or even 20MB should cover 99% of your image collection.

This setting also applies to the folder view Plasma widget on the desktop, as this takes its settings from Dolphin, which is handy if you happen to download images to your old desktop directory.

Konqueror users can find a similar slider in the Previews And Metadata page of its Configuration panel. This defaults to 1MB and has the same effect on previews within Konqueror, but the sliders aren't connected to the same hidden parameter, so you'll have to change both if you use the two applications.