what my desktop looks like these days

Though some are arguing that the desktop wars eventually won’t matter, I’ve been having lots of fun with my Linux desktop. I recently upgraded my PCLinuxOS distribution to run KDE 3.2.1. It’s quite nice. I have some thoughts about it, as well as some screenshots.

This is what my desktop looks like (click on the image for a larger version). Note that there are 4 panels (in KDE, a panel is what Windows calls a taskbar), one running along each edge of the screen. They are all highly customizable. They can be transparent, as I have it here. I like the looks of that.

The main panel on the bottom doesn’t extend to the edge of the screen, a la Mac OSX. The big K button with the gears on it on the left is equivalent to the ‘start’ menu in Windows; it lists the many applications installed and lets you start them from there. The next icon clears the desktop, minimizing any open windows on that desktop. The home icon is … my home directory. It opens in Konqueror (see below). The monitor icon opens up a terminal, so I can quickly type in text commands on the command line.

The next icon, 6 boxes stacked in a 2×3 matrix, are the virtual desktops. I have 6 of them, and have named each according to Greek myths. Hermes is the desktop where I keep email programs running. Ariadne is for the web; I usually have some version of the mozilla browser running here. Homer is for writing, I will have OpenOffice running for my writing, or also Quanta Plus open for my website stuff (html editing). Zeus is usually where Konqueror lives, so I can do file management, command line stuff, or system administration. Apollo is sort of a miscellaneous task place, it’s where I do stuff that comes up that doesn’t have a regular spot in the virtual desktops. Finally, Dionysus is usually where I have xmms playing oggs and mp3s, madman for organizing my oggs and mp3s and for making playlists, and xine for playing videos, including DVDs.

To the right of the virtual desktops, you will see three bar graphs. These are indicators of how fast the computer is running; the first is cpu, the 2nd is memory, and the 3rd is swap memory (virtual memory). The control panel next to that launches a utility that shows which “processes” or programs are running and how much power they are using; if a program crashes it can easily be killed here. Gone are they days where a program crashing takes down the entire operating system.

To the right of that is the dock, where programs that are actively running can hang out. THe three icons showing are the Klipper, which manages cut and paste (you can go back and select something you cut 5 cuts ago and it will paste that), the GAIM chat program, as well as Kmoon, an application that shows the current phase of the moon.

Kweather is next. The icon shows me the general weather conditions, if I hover over the icon it will tell me temperature, windspeed, and barometric pressure, if I click on the icon a full weather report pops up. Finally, next to kweather, is the clock.

The left and right panels have buttons for programs that I often use on them. For example, the one on the left is roughly divided into three sections, the top section has Internet apps (Mozilla Thunderbird, Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla, Konqueror, gFTP, GAIM, Xchat), the middle section has writing/document creation apps (OpenOffice Writer, LyX, Quanta Plus, KEdit, Kate), and the bottom section has image/DTP software (Scribus, OpenOffice Draw, the GIMP). On the right are multimedia apps, games, and configuration utilities.

Note the transparent menus in KDE. More specifically, I am using the Plastik theme for KDE, which is one of several themes that allow transparent menus. Pretty cool. This desktop has a highly polished appearance, and it is fast. Much faster than Windows, and much better looking, imho. In my eyes, its appearance rivals that of OSX, but KDE is much, much faster. I make this statement subjectively, of course; recently I saw a friend of mine who has a whiz-bang 17″ powerbook laptop running OSX, and it wasn’t subjectively faster than my 400MHz Celeron running KDE. And KDE 3.2 is faster than the version of KDE I was running back then. Of course, that machine would still smoke mine for heavy duty processing (ie, ogg encoding or compiling programs), but as far as the feel, there wasn’t a huge difference, much to my surprise.

Mozilla Thunderbird is my email client. It’s a nice program; it has filters and multiple folders, so my incoming email is automatically sorted into the correct folder. It also has a pretty nice junk mail filter, which helps dramatically cut down on spam. Note that in this image, Thunderbird is maximized; it extends to the edges of the transparent panels. So the transparent panels are always “on top.” A very nice, consistent appearance. This is showing the default Thunderbird theme, many more are available. This one is simple and attractive, so I like it.

Mozilla Firefox is my browser of choice at the moment, though sometimes I still use the older regular Mozilla. I like that Firefox and Thunderbird are now different apps, so that when one slows down (usually the browser, usually due to badly-coded java pages) it doesn’t affect the email app. This is also the default Firefox theme.

Finally, there is Konqueror, the swiss army knife of KDE. This great application is a web browser, a file manager, a multimedia player, and much more. It, like all of KDE, is heavily customizable. In this shot I have a tweaked version; there are 2 windows open for file management (I can just click and drag icons where I want to move or copy them), and along the bottom I have a terminal open. Though I’m not a Unix guru, I still find the command line useful for some tasks in Linux. It’s here, built right in to Konqueror, when I want it. I can do all of my file management here.

So anyway, this is just a quick tour of what my desktop looks like these days. I hope you like it. Linux on the desktop is big fun. I urge you to try it using the PCLinuxOS live CD (similar to Knoppix), which allows you to run it directly from the CD, no installation necessary. This is a great tool. Check it out.

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