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A Tour of the Kubuntu KDE Desktop

 The Kubuntu 12.04 KDE Desktop in Action

The Kubuntu Graphical User Interface (GUI)

The default desktop for the Ubuntu distro is Gnome but there is a version (-known as a Kubuntu) which comes bundled instead with the powerful KDE desktop. This is a community-based project which takes the standard Ubuntu distro and adapts it to KDE - both the desktop and the applications installed as standard. It is available for free download at

Interestingly, the Kubuntu implementation of KDE Plasma is almost indistinguishable from that of Fedora 16 KDE Spin - with just a slight difference in branding.

The default desktop for Ubuntu [..] is Gnome but there is a version [..] which comes bundled instead with the powerful KDE desktop

Default Applications

Like it's Gnome sibling, the Kubuntu ships with a minimum of applications - leaving it to the user to install their own, favourite, applications as they wish. This keeps the install image small, but it does mean that the user needs to seek out the best linux software and then take the time to install them.

The table below shows the applications that currently ship with Kubuntu 12.04, which are radically different from those supplied in the standard Ubuntu distro:

ApplicationPackage Used
Word Processor LibreOffice Writer
Image EditorN/A
SpreadsheetsLibreOffice Calc
Email ClientKmail
Media PlayersDragon Player,Amarok
Video EditorN/A
Internet BrowserFirefox,Rekonq
ChatKopete,Quassel IRC,Konversation
CD/DVD WriterK3b
Web SupportN/A
Package ManagerMuon

In addition, it comes with all the system tools you would expect - as well as the ability to fully customize the look and feel should you so desire.

Note that even if an application is not in the default installation, it can be easily downloaded using the Apper Package Manager within minutes.

In summary, Kubuntu is a great option for users - new and old alike - who dislike the Gnome 3.x interface or require greater desktop configurability.

The Kubuntu Desktop

Note: the screenshots in this section were taken from Kubuntu 12.04 (-running from a live CD) which was the latest version at the time of writing. This version uses the KDE Plasma desktop.

When you boot Kubuntu, the desktop will display:

The Kubuntu KDE Desktop

The default desktop is a fairly spartan one - with a single icon (to install to a hard drive), the KDE panel and the Desktop Cashew in the top right corner.

Open windows and applications display in the main desktop area. The desktop background can be customized as desired, using the Desktop Cashew menu.

The Kubuntu desktop allows files and shortcuts to be saved to the desktop by simply dragging the desired file/folder to the Desktop area and releasing the mouse button. An icon will then appear on the desktop, which can be dragged around or renamed / deleted as desired.

The KDE Panel

The bulk of your desktop interaction with Kubuntu will be through the KDE panel at the bottom of the desktop:

The Ubuntu KDE Panel

This can be divided into four main parts:

  • Show Desktop IconClicking on this icon minimizes all open windows and displays the desktop

  • The Ubuntu Main MenuClicking on the KDE logo icon in the bottom left hand corner of the screen displays the Main Menu, which allows the user access to all the Kubuntu functions

  • The Ubuntu Main MenuImmediately to the right, is a shortcut to the Activity Manager

  • The Ubuntu Main MenuImmediately to the right, is an icon shortcut to the Virtual Workspace

  • In the middle part of the toolbar, the thumbnails of all open applications are listed: click on these to jump directly to that window -or to restore it to it's former size if it was previously minimized (iconified)

    A minimzed application

  • On the right hand side of the toolbar is the system tray: this allows you to interact with any system program and processes (daemons) running in the background. What appears here depends on what you are doing and what it running on your system, but, by default, the icons shown are as follows:

    Show Desktop IconClicking on this icon minimizes any open windows to the KDE Panel
    KDE Alert IconThe icon immediately to the right is the Alert icon. Click this to view errors or messages logged by the system
    KDE Cut and Paste IconThe next icon is the Cut and Paste icon. Click this to view the cut/paste history, etc
    KDE Volume Control IconThe next icon is the Volume icon. Click this to adjust the sound / volume of the system
    KDE Network IconThe next icon is the USB icon: this allows you to check / access devices connected via a USB connector
    KDE Interfaces IconThe next icon is the Network icon: this allows you to check / configure your network devices
    KDE Carat IconIf the carat icon displays, it means there are other icons but no room to display them: click this icon to view them
    KDE Calendar  IconClick on the system time to access the calendar for the current month
    KDE Calendar  IconClick on the Cashew icon to customize the display of the KDE panel itself

The Main Menu

The Main Menu allows users to access to all the Kubuntu functions. This can be likened to the "Start" menu in Windows:

The Ubuntu Main Menu

Along the bottom of the pop-up, you will see a row of icons for the following options:

Menu OptionUsage
The Favourites MenuAdd your favourite applications into this area, so you can find them quickly
The Favourites MenuAccess to all the installed applications and utilities
The Favourites MenuAccess to devices and System Administration Utilities
The Favourites MenuQuick access to Applications and Utilities that have been recently used: useful if you need to restart an application you recently closed
The Favourites MenuAllows you to exit Kubuntu

The Application option itself will display a series of nested menus containing all the installed applications:

Menu OptionUsage
AdministrationUtilities to help you develop and debug code
GamesAny installed gameware
GraphicsUtilities to view and alter images
InternetApplications to access and get the most from the Internet and communications
MultimediaUtilities to manipulate audio and video
OfficeApplications for the home office, such as Word Processing, Spreadsheet, etc
SettingsAccess to various settings (-empty by default)
SystemLinux System Utilities
UtilitiesA fairly broad category, listing useful utilities
Find Files & FoldersStarts a tools where you can search for strings or properties of files stored on disc
HelpStarts the KDE Help Center tool (-manuals and searchable documentation)
Personal FilesStarts a File Manager window for the current user's Home directory

The Dolphin File Manager

Like SimplyMEPIS and Fedora KDE Spin, Kubuntu uses the Dolphin File Manager - and this works very much like that of it's Gnome counterpart with only superficial differences (-mainly the general KDE look and feel).

The File Manager can be accessed from the Main Menu - or via the Search and Launch section of the Activity Manager. Both with open up a window to your user home directory, similar to that below:

KDE File Manager

Left-click any item to select it or right-click it to display a list of actions you can perform on the file.

Double-click a directory to navigate down into it. Double-click a file to either open it or run it (-depending on whether it is executable or not). Generally, executables are shown as a cog icon.

The Context Menu

If you right-click on any blank area of the Kubuntu Desktop, the Context Menu will display:

KDE Context Menu

From here, you can configure the desktop, run a script or command, access the Activity Manager, configure the desktop, exit Kubuntu, etc.

The Desktop Cashew Menu

If you click on the icon in the top right corner (KDE Cashew Icon) (-aka the desktop cashew) a menu will pop up:

KDE Cashew Menu

This allows you to configure the desktop. Note that, to avoid accidental changes, you need to first unlock the widgets. Once your changes are completed, lock the widgets again.

The Ubuntu Activity Manager

If you click on the icon in the KDE Panel or the "Activities.." option in the Context Menu, then the Activity Manager window will open up on top of the KDE Panel:

Ubuntu Activity Manager

This allows you to to change your desktop view to suit how you want to interact with the system. By default, it consists of four icons:

  • The Desktop View icon switches to the default desktop view

  • The Search and Launch icon allows you to swap to something similar to the Gnome 3.x Activities Area, allowing you to quickly locate desired applications:

    Ubuntu Activity Manager Search & Launch

  • The Photos Activity icon allows photographers to swap to a view which allows them to quickly locate and view shots:

    Ubuntu Activity Manager Photos Activity

  • The Desktop icons icon displays a view which allows you to configure your desktop icons:

    Ubuntu Activity Manager Desktop Icons

Whichever view you enable will stay active until you change to another.

Note: you can define your own activities to list using the "Create Activity" and "Add Widgets" buttons!

The Escape Menu

In the default Desktop View, if you click on the ESC (Escape) key, yet another menu will be overlaid on the desktop:

Ubuntu Escape Menu

This gives you quick access to a number of options by clicking on the following icons:

  • Type any string in the search box and hit the ENTER key to locate matching applications
  • Kbuntu Configure Plugins Option : configure plugins and the GUI settings for the menu
  • Kubuntu System Monitor Icon : start the System Monitor (-akin to the Windows Task Manager)
  • Kbuntu Help Icon : access the Help Library
  • Kubuntu Exit Option : exit this menu

Exiting Kubuntu

When you have finished with Kubuntu, select the "Leave" option in the Main Menu or Context Menu:

Kubuntu Leave Option

From here, you can select from a number of options:

  • Log Out : log out of the current user session
  • Lock : lock the terminal (e.g. while you are away from the PC)
  • Switch User : log in as a different user whilst retaining the current user session
  • Sleep : save the current state in RAM and go into power-save mode
  • Hibernate : save the current state to disc and power down
  • Restart : reboot the PC
  • Shut Down : power down the PC, losing everything in memory

Simply choose the desired option in order to carry it out. If you decide you wish to continue with the current session, simply click away from the menu on the desktop.

If you choose to shutdown the PC, you will be asked to confirm your choice, prior to carrying out the action:

Kubuntu Confirm Shutdown

The computer will restart in 30 seconds by default: if you click "Cancel", you will be returned to the current session; if you click "Turn Off Computer" it will shut down immediately.

References and Further Reading:

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