Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Kool KDE Features and Little KDE Quirks

I have just recently switched from Cinnamon to KDE on Mint 17 and I am still discovering cool little stuff along with the odd quirks of KDE.

Kool KDE Features

The other day I had a cool moment with KDE, specifically with KDE Connect. I got an incoming call on my phone, and Amarok automatically paused for me to answer it, then after I hung up, the music automatically started again! Awesomeness! I assume it should work with other KDE media players, not sure about other non-KDE-native apps. It reportedly does work with Clementine. Some users have reported high battery life when scanning for a connection using Bluetooth, but I am using KDE on my workstation so I obviously cannot test that.

Another thing I love in KDE is it's System Tray not only shows all recent notifications but it also shows current file transfers for Dolphin, including estimated time remaining. Click the plus sign and it also shows the transfer speed too, which is very useful. You probably also notice I have switched back to Mint's default KDE theme.


Another thing I like is the "root actions" menu in Dolphin, which is useful for changing or repairing permissions on files and folders. I did not like Dolphin when it first replaced Konqueror for file management, but it has come a long way since the early days of KDE 4.x.

KDE Quirks

One mildly annoying thing with KDE is, and always has been for me, Kwallet. With my recent KDE use I have noticed it popping up when I open Chrome and Amarok for the first time after login. Luckily I found a little trick to stop Chrome needing to open Kwallet here without needing to completely disable Kwallet. I have not yet found out how to do similar for Amarok. Should I add a similar entry for Amarok? Answers in the comments please! I have tried disabling Kwallet before but it used to course problems, so I don't do that any more!

Another little quirk of KDE is the way it treats workspaces and monitors. It treats each monitor as a separate set of activities. The downside of this is you cannot set one widescreen wallpaper to span over two or more monitors. The only workaround that works at the moment is to edit your wallpaper in your favourite editor, I use GIMP, and split the picture down the middle and set the two parts to the appropriate monitors. I'll admit this is only a very minor annoyance but it means wallpaper switchers don't tend to work well unless you like different wallpapers for each monitor!

So far I am really enjoying KDE on my main workstation and I am still rediscovering the features and quirks of KDE, so I shall likely update this article in the future.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

A Fresh Start With Mint 17 KDE for my Workstation

I've recently had a bit of a Linux desktop crisis as my favourite desktop, Cinnamon, has been playing up somewhat on my main workstation, after I had been satisfied with it for so long. It started getting flickering with one of the dual monitors going black briefly when fullscreening VLC or anything that runs fullscreen. Cairo Dock was also becoming increasingly buggy too, so it was time for a change. I tried LXDE and XFCE installed on Mint but they all felt lacking on my dual monitor setup. I then tried to install KDE but it messed up the install, and so it was time for a reinstall.

I briefly tried fresh installing Xubuntu and then stock Ubuntu but for some reason the mouse and keyboard stopped working on them on the first boot. Quite odd. I then reinstalled Mint Cinnamon 17, then installed MATE again and had that running for a few weeks until today, when I decided to start fresh again. I used MATE for a few weeks, but although it worked OK, Gtk2 feels old and just does not feel as smooth as Cinnamon used to do.

So I decided to try KDE again, but this time with a fresh install of Mint 17 KDE, but keeping my /home partition and that's what I am running now. I already have KDE installed on one laptop, so I knew what to expect. It got off to a slightly shaky start on the LiveCD as Desktop Effects are enabled by default and they do not play well with the open source Nouveau driver! So I disabled them for the install and disabled them on the first boot, then re-enabled them after installing the Nvidia drivers.

Then after installing my favourite apps, such as Chrome, Filezilla and others, I got down to customizing my desktop to how I wanted it. KDE is great for those who need to customize everything, but the only thing lacking is the way it treats desktops separately, so you cannot span a single wallpaper across multiple screens. A workaround is to split your wallpaper down the middle with GIMP, and set the left and right bits appropriately.

I set the main KDE panel to the top of the screen and then made an auto-hidden panel at the base of the screen for most used apps and resource monitors etc. I did briefly try Docky, but it does not work how I want. I did try a completely dark theme all over the desktop, but they are very tricky to get right, especially with gtk apps and WINE etc so I decided to stick to stock theme other than a dark desktop theme for the panel. I also installed Conky with Gotham theme. Here's how my KDE desktop looks with the lower panel visible, with Dolphin and Amarok open:

I did actually install Gmusicbrowser too, but the keyboard media buttons don't seem to work with it. Thankfully Amarok works very well in it's native KDE, unlike whenever I have tried it in other desktops. I do also like the KDE main menu's Favourites list, a good contender feature-wise for Cinnamon's menu.

KDE has some nifty features and the desktop effects can actually be quite useful, like the 3D app switcher and taskbar window previews, which I have not had for years.

Another cool feature is KDE Connect which makes Android Notifications appear as notifications in KDE, as well as enabling you to control audio/video playback in KDE from your phone, amongst other things.

So I am quite happy now with Mint 17 KDE on my HP xw6600, it's very nice and usable once it's been setup right, and now that I have got used to it. I would say though it does need plenty of resources to run smoothly, so it's not ideal for low end laptops with integrated graphics. My desktop is a HP xw6600 with 8GB RAM and 4 core 2.5ghz Xeon CPU and Nvidia 7600GT. It has been stable so far though, more so than Cinnamon, I have only had one settings dialogue crash once, that's about it, so hopefully I shall keep Mint KDE on my main workstation for a long while.

Monday, 8 September 2014

How to add Gmusicbrowser to the Media Menu in Cinnamon/Gnome desktops

My favourite music player for a long time has been Gmusicbrowser as it's lightweight and can handle extremely large music collections with ease, taking only a short time to scan my 50,000+ track collection. However for awhile now, it's tray icon never shows in Cinnamon or Gnome desktops, which has it's own Media Menu with playback buttons and volume controls. Without a fix it usually just shows only 'Gmusicbrowser' clickable that just opens the player, and no controls. I found a work around sometime back that I just rediscovered after a reinstall of Mint 17 Cinnamon on my main desktop.

Essentially you need to use your favourite text editor to add 'cinnamon' to the list of players in  /usr/share/cinnamon/applets/ in the "compatible_players variable" section, save the file, then restart Cinnamon (Ctrl+F2 then enter a single letter 'r' and press enter) or just logout and log in. Now start Gmusicbrowser and it should now have a proper entry in the Media Menu with playback controls and we're done. I've also rediscovered Gmusicbrowser's built in desktop widgets.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Revitalizing a Sony VAIO with Xubuntu 14.04 (Part 2)

Back in June of this year, I rescued a 2008 Sony VAIO VGN-N31S/W from a fate worse than being recycled, a life with Windows Vista. It had a dodgy power cable,  dead battery and a missing letter 'O' on the keyboard. I have bought a new PSU, upgraded the RAM from 1GB to 3GB and have just replaced the missing key.

When I first got the VAIO, I replaced the broken Windows Vista installation with Xubuntu 14.04 32bit, but I now wish I had installed the 64bit version. I wanted to reinstall but could not get it to boot from USB or DVD, which is odd because I managed it before. And I check every time that the boot settings are correct in the BIOS. I would also like to replace the dead battery but I am wary about spending more money it. I have recently switched from the Xubuntu desktop to Cinnamon desktop using the PPA and the how-to detailed in this article and it runs very well on the VAIO with it's 3GB RAM.

Having used the VAIO for about 2 months now I now know it's strengths and weaknesses and faults. Although it weighs 6.6lbs, it does not feel heavy when sat on my lap, but it does feel back-breaking when carrying it in my rucksack! I am not usually a fan of glossy screens but I love the VAIO's beautiful 15.4" screen that gives a 1280 x 800 (16:10) resolution. My family always remark how good it looks when I am showing them photos on it. I can also store plenty of photos on the 320GB hard drive, which is handy when away from the Internet. It also suspends and resumes perfectly and is very quiet in use, it's cooling fans can barely be heard. It's also the only laptop I have with an Express card slot.

On the downside, the keyboard is not as comfortable as most of my other laptops. I don't know whether this is because of age or dirt or it was built that way. I often find i get more typos than I do with my other laptops. The trackpad buttons aren't very responsive either, you have to hit them in just the right place for response. the trackpad itself is just fine though. It also would be nice if Sony had put Gigabit onboard rather than just 10/100 Ethernet.

Overall it does feel more of a consumer grade laptop than a corporate one, but I am fairly happy with the Sony VAIO, especially considering it has not cost me much to obtain and repair so for now I shall keep it running until it dies. I find it very useful for showing photos and videos to my folks, mainly because of that fantastic screen. I used to use my Samsung N145 netbook for this but the screen is tiny and not very bright, so despite it's weight, the power and screen of the VAIO makes it better suited to the job.


Saturday, 28 June 2014

Linux Music Players for Large Music Libraries

Back in 2009 I wrote a blogpost on Linux music players, about finding a Linux equivalent to Foobar or Winamp, and I've just recently been trying other music players again after a very long time of using Gmusicbrowser

Friday, 20 June 2014

Living With KDE on Kubuntu 14.04 - part 2.

Some observations I have made while using Kubuntu 14.04. Part 1 is here.


For some reason, my networked HP Laserjet 2600n printer installs without me having to choose the driver in Xubuntu and Mint Cinnamon, but not in Kubuntu, where the driver appears to be missing. I solved this problem by installing hplip-gui (the graphical tool for HP Lip) which downloads and installs the correct driver.

The correct driver missing by default

HP Lip Gui

Copy and Dropbox cloud storage

The Copy app started OK but the interface is quite sluggish and at one point got confused when I set it to only download certain files on this machine, it then went on to download the whole lot, greater than the size of the HDD on this laptop, not a good idea! Deleting the Copy folder and Copy itself and running it again seemed to fix it.

Dropbox works OK apart from it does not integrate into Dolphin, the KDE file manager, so there's nothing to show what's happening in the file manger.

KDE IM Contacts

This is KDE's default IM client, also known as Telepathy, it works OK but I find it annoying that KDE Wallet always asks me for my password, and it's the only app so far that does this. I remember having this problem on KDE3 but only when I had autologin enabled, if I recall correctly. Also I am really not keen on that Indicator/tray icon!


One thing that I am quite impressed with is the progress of Gwenview image viewer. I have not used it for years, probably since KDE3, and I have to say it has become a very decent photo viewer, good for quick crops and other edits, better than Gnome's default viewer.

KDE Connect

Usually I use either LinConnect or PushBullet to show notifications from my Galaxy S3 (which runs CM11) on my desktop, but KDE has KDE Connect which is easy to install from the default repositories, just install the kdeconnect package. It has a nice configuration tool too, found in KDE's System Settings and was very easy to setup. It does seem to be more reliable (and easier to setup) than LinConnect and it does not need a browser like PushBullet.


I used to love Amarok back in the KDE 3 days, then it went through an overhaul and took ages for it's third party add-ons to catch-up, and I really wasn't keen on the versions I tried a year or so ago. However in Kubuntu 14.04 it does seem to have improved a lot, it runs quite smoothly on my low end laptop. Having said that, I have not tested it elsewhere with my large collection of mp3s. Unlike a lot of other players that work fine in many different desktops, Amarok works best in it's native KDE.

I am surprised how much I have got used to Kubuntu, and it is a reasonably usable desktop, apart from the time it takes to get it setup how I want it, and a few little niggles. I shall keep it on this laptop for now, but I don't think I'll use it on my main desktop yet, unless Cinnamon becomes completely unusable.  

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Living With KDE on Kubuntu 14.04

First a little background. Most of the first Linux distros I ever used had a KDE 3 desktop or had it as an option, and I preferred it to Gnome 2 at the time,  regularly used Mepis, Vector, Fedora, Slax amongst others. I was a regular distro hopper back then, but I stuck with KDE 3 until just before KDE 4.x then I switched to Gnome 2 on Ubuntu 7.10 (on my desktop) and XFCE on Xubuntu (on my laptop). Late KDE 3 got a bit buggy for me and once i started using Gnome 2 regularly, I started to prefer it, and I used it right up until Ubuntu switched to using Unity by default. I did briefly try Gnome Classic but it was never the same, so I switched to Xubuntu on desktops and laptops, and then recently Mint Cinnamon (desktop and 2 laptops) and Xubuntu (lower end laptops).
So I have not really thoroughly tried Kubuntu or any KDE desktop for a while and every time I did I found it a little annoying to use, and the default themes distros generally use do not help either, especially Kubuntu. Even the default KDE theme on Fedora isn't very nice and besides I always end up going back to *buntu or Debian based distros as that is what I am used to and know how to use and tweak. Just recently though, since 14.04 came out, I decided to try using Kubuntu on one of my laptops and really try to use it every day, to see if I could get it the way I want it. Here's how Kubuntu looks by default:

First thing I had to do, was change that hideous default look somehow and remove that shiny folder thing! KDE has lots of settings to customize the entire desktop environment. At first KDE was also quite sluggish on this Dell Latitude D520 which has a 1.6ghz Core Duo CPU integrated Intel graphics and 4GB of RAM. It ran much better once I had disabled all the snazzy desktop effects. This actually makes KDE more bearable for me as I cannot stand the horrible shiny bling and great big drop shadows under windows, always reminds me of Ja Ja Binks in the Robot Chicken Star Wars special, by default KDE is all "Me-sa all sparkly glowy!" - and equally annoying!

Me-sa  all sparkly glowy!

I tried various themes and icons and finally settled on Moka icon theme, Chrome Dark window decorations, and Opaquity Desktop theme. I also set the Splash Screen to Minimalistic and also set the desktop wallpaper and Login screen to the same image.  I've also tweaked the colours too.

Layout-wise, I have moved the main panel to the top, made it smaller to give me more desktop space, and I think it also looks much nicer. Instead of a lower panel I always like to have a dock. My favourite is Cairo Dock but it merely crashed out in KDE on this laptop, so I installed Plank (aka Docky) instead and gave it permanent shortcuts for all my most used apps. I found this little list of stuff to do after installing Kubuntu quite handy. I stuck with Firefox as my default browser, though I might install Chrome too at some point. I also installed Yakuake drop-down Quake-style terminal, similar to Guake that I usually use.

One thing that I found a little annoying is KDE uses an "Activities" thing that I don't really like, and I found it took a bit of digging to work out how to add another workspace and set the default shortcuts for switching between them using Ctrl + Alt + left/right cursor, which is default in pretty much every major DE I have used.

KDE is pretty much a tinkerers paradise and although I used to enjoy that part, these days I prefer to actually use my desktop after no more than 30 minutes or so of configuration. I have spent a lot more time than that just trying to get KDE to look and work how I like it. With my main desktop I use Mint Cinnamon and all I usually do, appearance-wise, on that is move the panel, install Cairo Dock and change the icons, that's all I need to do. KDE needs a lot more tinkering to get it how I want it. Here's how my KDE desktop now looks after I login, as you can see I like a nice clean desktop with no icons or clutter, just a panel and dock. I shall keep using Kubuntu on this laptop for awhile and see how things go.