What's the " K " Stand For?

What’s the “K” Stand For?

You could ask about the interface. You could ask about the history of the project. But the chances are, the first thing you want to know about the K Desktop Environment is what the K stands for. We can’t tell you. Some Internet wags claim that, early in 1996, the project was going to be called the “Kool Desktop Environment,” but being sure is impossible. Now, it doesn’t stand for anything; it’s just the letter K.

KDE is a full desktop environment, much like CDE — the similarity in names is probably not a coincidence — and provides a bewildering variety of choices and options. You can move the window widgets around. You can change what they look like. In the UNIX world, finding that your computer looks like — and can be used like — someone else’s is very embarrassing. It’s like showing up to a party in the same dress as someone else. KDE provides a good layer of insulation; even if you and your friend both use KDE, your computers won’t look a bit alike.

If your system doesn’t use a graphical login program, or start KDE automatically, the command you’re looking for to start it is startkde. Not sure that’s the right command? Look at Figure, which is one sample of what KDE might look like.

Click To expand
Figure: KDE, using the “Keramic” theme.

You can, of course, change what it looks like, using themes.


KDE has a broad variety of themes. Many of them are intended to look a great deal like other systems you might be familiar with — but be careful! The buttons won’t always do what you expect them to do, and the mouse buttons and shortcut keys may be different. We recommend you pick a style that’s different enough that you won’t get tricked. Pick something bold, one that makes a statement about you. The statement might be “I set this up one afternoon, and forgot how to change it again, please won’t somebody help me.” That’s okay. It’s still a statement.

If you find yourself wanting to change those settings, one reliable way to get to the settings program is to run the kcontrol program. You can run a command line in KDE by holding down the Alt key and pressing the F2 key. (Then let go of the Alt key. It’s probably getting tired.) Type the command and press Enter. You’ll spend the most time playing with the Appearance & Themes section at first. Try not to overdo it.

K applications

KDE provides a lot of desktop applications designed to share the look and feel of the KDE window manager. Their names generally start with a K, to help you recognize them. We list a few of the most common ones in Figure. These programs are probably going to be on the toolbar at the bottom of the screen, if you haven’t gotten around to customizing it yet.

Figure: K Applications


What It Does


File management and Web browsing — it’s both a floor wax and a dessert topping!


Standard e-mail program


An office suite — what did you expect?


Word processor — part of KOffice


Spreadsheet — part of KOffice


Graphical FTP client


E-mail notifier

The best part about these applications — and you hear this a lot about software for X — is that they’re free. They aren’t 100 percent compatible with some of the big-name office software you might see, but they’re pretty good, and you can’t beat the price. Konqueror is a combination file manager and Web browser, which works a little like a program called Explorer you might see elsewhere.

Of course, you don’t have to use these programs. You can use whatever you want under KDE. These programs are just the ones that fit in the best with the rest of KDE, using the same kinds of buttons and other window controls. Give them a try, though. A lot of people find that these programs do their jobs just fine. Konqueror is particularly impressive; a remarkably good Web browser, which is why Apple used it as the basis for its new Safari browser for the Macintosh. See Chapter 17 for details about Kmail, the KDE e-mail program.

Don’t want to be productive? KDE comes with a lot of games. Every distribution has a different set of games, but there are enough of them to keep you entertained for a long time. If you try KPatience, don’t forget to look in the Game Type submenu of the Settings menu — it plays more than one game, and you may like the others better.

Getting around

Getting around in KDE is pretty straightforward, except that the potential to change themes all the time makes giving much advice hard. If a button has an X, it probably closes a window. You can generally move windows by dragging the title bar, and resize them by dragging their corners. A right-click generally gives you a menu. Right-clicking the desktop itself gives you a top-level menu. Right-clicking a title bar gives you a selection of window options.

The file manager (which is actually our old friend Konqueror) is almost entirely predictable. It does have one little surprise for you, though. By default, it activates everything with a single click! So, if you’re used to double-clicking, you may well launch things twice. This makes more sense on Web pages than for file management. If you want to select a file (without opening it), you must use Control-click or Shift-click. Shift-clicking two files also selects all the files between them; Control-clicking multiple files just selects the files you clicked.

KDE, like CDE, offers multiple workspaces. This is a good feature, and surprisingly hard to live without once you get used to it. However, in KDE, they’re called desktops. It’s still a great feature, and we really recommend you play around with it a bit. Having one desktop with nothing on it but a maximized browser window can be awfully convenient.

If you want to know more, try the online help. Right-click the desktop, and look at the Help submenu. Lots and lots of goodies are in here! KDE is way too large for us to cover it completely here, so we entrust you to the capable writers who have done the KDE documentation.

Say goodnight, Gracie!

You ran KDE, but now you’re done? Look for the Logout option on the main KDE menu. You can also lock the screen, which means that no one else can do anything but watch the screen saver unless someone guesses your password. If you’re going to be gone for a while, logging out is more polite. KDE may also offer you the chance to turn your computer off entirely when you ask to log out. If you’re on some kind of shared system, don’t do that, just log out.

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