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KDE netbook desktop: My guide to configuring and using it

The KDE netbook desktop is a little-known and underappreciated alternative that is included in every KDE installation. My step-by-step guide is designed to help raise its profile
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By J.A. Watson on
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Configure Desktop

It is important to note that the KDE netbook desktop is included in every KDE 4 installation — but it is not the default, so you have to activate it if you want it. It works brilliantly on every netbook I have tested, with complete support out of the box for all the hardware including Intel Atom, AMD C-50, C-60, E-350 and E-450 CPUs, Intel and AMD/ATI graphics, Intel, Broadcom, Atheros and Ralink network and Wi-Fi adapters, and as little as 1GB to as much as 4GB of memory.

Although I have chosen openSuSE 12.1 for the screenshots here, I could have done the same thing on Mint 13 KDE, Mageia, or any other current KDE 4 distribution.

To activate the KDE netbook desktop, go to the KDE menus and select Configure Desktop to get to the control screen where you can choose the netbook desktop.

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Workspace Behavior

In the Configure Desktop window, select Workspace Behavior to reach the control where you can toggle between the Standard and Netbook desktops.

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Picking the workspace type

In the Workspace - System Settings window, select the Workspace Type option, and then select Netbook from the drop-down list, and click Apply.

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What the KDE netbook desktop looks like

The KDE netbook desktop is built on a completely different concept to the standard desktop. The screen is divided into four sections. At the top is a panel, with status and control icons and workspace selection. Immediately below that is a quick-launch area, where the most commonly-used programs can be easily added and started with a single click. In the centre of the screen is a search area, where applications, utilities, bookmarks and contacts can be found by entering key terms. The lower half of the screen is the graphical menu area, containing all the applications and utilities.

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Configure Search and Launch

Right-click on the desktop background and select Configure Search and Launch to customise the desktop. The menu categories can be selected by clicking Main Menu from the left column, then select or clear the various menu categories as desired.

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Wallpaper, slideshow, weather and more

While in the Configure Search and Launch control, click on the View option in the left bar, and you can select the desktop background. In addition to the traditional wallpapers, you can have a slideshow of your own pictures, or a picture of the day from a variety of sources, a satellite view of the Earth, or even a weather report updated every 30 minutes.

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Most frequently-used programs

The quick-launch area at the top of the screen contains a few simple items by default. You can add whatever you want from the menus below. To remove an item, click the "-" symbol that appears at the top left of each icon when you place the mouse cursor over it.

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Grouping by categories

The menus in the lower half of the screen are grouped by categories. Click one of the categories to bring up the contents, and click Back beside the Search bar to return to the top-level menu categories. Any item in the menus can be added to the quick-launch area by simply clicking the star that appears at the top left of each icon when you place the mouse cursor over it.

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Finding by name or description

You can find applications, utilities, bookmarks or contacts by typing key terms into the search bar. Icons for any matches will be displayed. These can also be added to the quick-launch area in the same way as other menu items.

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Making the most of netbook screens

Programs start maximised, in other words full screen, and the panel is automatically hidden, so the software makes the most of the generally smaller screens found on netbooks. Application menus, if any, are included in the application window, but window controls are on the panel.

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Controls visible only when necessary

The window controls for minimise and close have been moved to the panel, but still at the top-right corner. I find this design much more natural than the Ubuntu version, with the controls at the top left and application menus appearing and disappearing at different times.

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Changing the active window

Click on the window name on the top panel to change the active window. The display will zoom out to show all available windows and the Search and Launch desktop. Click any window or the desktop to select it. When the cursor is over a window an X icon is displayed at the top-right corner, which you click to close the window.

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Minimising windows

By clicking the unmaximise control, located at the right end of the panel, a window that was started full-screen will be reduced. The window can then be resized in the usual way, by dragging the edges or corners. There is also a set of window controls on the frame, so the window can be maximised or closed by clicking either on the frame or on the panel.

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Dragging and dropping between windows

If you need access to more than one window for easy selection, or to drag and drop between windows, you can unmaximise any number of windows.

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Page One and live feeds

In addition to the Search and Launch desktop, KDE netbook includes the Page One desktop, which contains live feeds of News, Weather Forecast, Community and the KnowledgeBase. These can, of course, be easily customised or changed.

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