posted by Thom Holwerda on Mon 25th Dec 2006 19:59 UTC
IconFor those of you who have not followed the comment thread on the 'On Favouritism, Apologies, and Black Helicopters' story: I there promised to write an article about all the customisations I do on KDE to make it look and (more importantly) behave in my own preferred way; as a sort of Christmas present, so to speak (it is not like it is a fast news day today). Read on!

The first thing you always have to go through when setting up a new Linux system is choosing which distribution you want to run. There are about 3256356958 different criteria on which this choice is based, but for me there is only one that counts: package management. Since I prefer apt/.deb over rpm (for the sole reason that I know all the cli commands for apt from the top of my head), Kubuntu is my distribution of choice. It comes with the latest KDE (3.5.5) and it comes with all the various desktop applications pre-installed. It requires no introduction, I suppose.

After the installation routine, the first thing I do is run an apt-get update, after which I delve into the process of installing the various non-free codecs and applications; this is a desktop system after all, and I need it to do stuff Stallman would not approve of, like watching DVDs and listening to .mp3s. This process would have been fairly painless were it not for the fact that Automatix relies on 100MB of GNOME dependencies, which I refuse to install on a KDE system. Hence, installing the non-free stuff has to be done manually.

During this process, one very important package is installed: Microsoft's Core Fonts for the web. This package includes my favourite font: Trebuchet MS. Everything on my desktop, except the fixed-width font used in the terminal and text editors, will be written in this font. It's very pleasing on the eyes, very smooth. I use medium sub-pixel hinting (RGB), which can be set in, surprise, KDE's fonts dialog (under Appearance). Font sizes are all set to 10, except for the window title which is set to '9' in order to reduce the size of the titlebars.

In that same Appearance dialog I set the window border to Plastik; conservative, but extremely functional and again, pleasing and smooth. I prefer the window title at the center, using non-shadowed text. At the buttons tab the first thing I do is move the close window button to the left, replacing the window menu icon (which is removed). The maximise button stays on the right (symmetry), while the minimise button is removed altogether (more on that later); so we get:

Next up is choosing an icon set. This is always a difficult thing to do, as I want colour, but not too much; I want them to look professional, but not boring; I want them to be descriptive, but not too descriptive, and so on. This time, I have settled on Vista Inspirat.

As for the style, I normally use Plastik, but this time I went for Polyester, which goes better with the Vista Inspirat icon theme, as it is a bit more shiny. This theme allows a whole slew of options, but most importantly, it allows for centered tabs, which I really like. In the effects tab, I set the menu translucency to 90%. As for the colour scheme, I generally tend to pick something blue.

Next up, the most important bit, the prime reason why I like KDE: the configure window behaviour dialog (right click on a window titlebar). I first set double-click titlebar to 'minimise' (hence I have no need for a minimise button) and make windows lower themselves upon right-clicking the titlebar; these are relics from my BeOS days (this is standard behaviour in BeOS). I also set all the window actions to 'activate & raise', as this prevents any accidental clicks in non-focused windows; other than that, when wanting to shift focus to another window, you do not have to find a widget/button-less section of the window in question (this is default in OS X and BeOS). I love how KDE lets me configure these very specific things.

Now it is time to move on to configuring the panels. Since I have fallen in love with global menubars (like in OS X) I move to such a layout in KDE as well. I put the K menu on the left side of that panel, meaning I can remove the K menu from the bottom panel; the same applies to the clock and the system tray. My most used applications get a launcher in the bottom panel. Both panels are set to be transparant (with only a slight colourisation for identification purposes).

This only rests me with the tedious task of uncluttering all the various toolbars in the applications I use. This is a lot of work, and I will not bore you with the how and why of what items are on my toolbars. I also sometimes prefer text alongside the icons, especially when only a few icons are present on a toolbar (to fill things up a bit).

I have probably done more things to personalise my KDE installation, but these are the major ones. Rests me to say two specific things about KDE and its applications; first, that Kopete truly is a fantastic instant messenger application, for the sole reason that its MSN support is much more up to date than many of its competitors, something of great value when 95% of your contact list uses MSN. Secondly, the process of creating mailing list rules in Kmail is very easy, something which cannot be said of many other email clients.

So, what are your favourite tweaks in KDE? What settings do you fiddle with in order to tweak KDE to your liking? And, more importantly, why?

And speaking on behalf of the entire OSNews crew: have some wonderful holidays, everyone!


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