Product Review: The K Desktop Environment, Version 1.0

At the risk of sounding like a surfer, KDE was the sharpest, coolest window display I had ever seen on any operating system.
Getting the Sources and Installation

The KDE packages can be downloaded from the KDE web page. The web page contains directions for installation. When you unpack the source files, be sure to read the README and INSTALL files as well.

Several mirror sites around the world provide optimum download times. The packages are available in source and binary RPM, source and binary .tgz and source and binary Debian.

The KDE team recommends RPM for the inexperienced UNIX user whose system supports that format. My Slackware system did not, so I had to compile the sources. Although this took about an hour, the process was well-documented and I had no problems with the installation. If you're compiling the sources yourself, here is a tip that may help: decide on and create a “kde root” directory, for example /usr/local/kde. Put your distribution files in /usr/local and use tar to unpack them in that directory. All your compiled files and libraries will end up under /usr/local/kde/, and any additional packages you install later will be able to find the necessary libraries and binaries.

Starting KDE the First Time

Once KDE is properly installed, you must create a mechanism to start it. On most Linux systems, startx starts the X Window System and then runs another script, /usr/lib/X11/xinit/xinitrc. This script is a link to one of several scripts that start the different window managers such as FVWM, FVWM95, TWM, etc.

Edit the file that /usr/lib/X11/xinit/xinitrc points to and find the line that launches your old window manager. Comment out that line and add a line under it to launch startkde. The last few lines of your file should look something like this:

# extract from /usr/lib/X11/xinit/xinitrc.FVWM
if [ -f $usermodmap ]; then
 xmodmap $usermodmap
# start some nice programs
xsetroot -solid SteelBlue
#FVWM <-comment this out
startkde # <-and add this!

Now, save this file and at the prompt, type startx. KDE should fire right up, greeting you with a very impressive deep-blue desktop. Try the virtual desktop selector on the bottom bar. It has four buttons, named one, two, three and four. These switch between virtual desktops, each of which has a different background. The background files are in .jpg format and can be easily changed. I have some .jpg files containing photos taken by the Hubble telescope, which make great backgrounds.

Now Run Something

Now that KDE is up and running, let's try doing something with it. Put your cursor on the bottom bar icons, but don't click anything. After a second or so, a label will pop up with the icon's function. All the way to the right is the “Terminal Emulation (kvt)” icon. kvt, or K virtual terminal, is KDE's version of the xterm. Clicking once on this icon will open up a kvt. Don't double-click—that would open two kvts.

An interesting property of the kvt is that it is not by default a login shell. In other words, none of the commands in any of your login scripts will run when you open a kvt: no DIRCOLORs, no aliases, no special environment variables. This is quite easy to change if you desire. Simply click the right mouse button on the kvt icon and open “Properties”. On the “Permissions” tab, make sure you have the Read and Write buttons pushed in for User. Then on the “Execute” tab, Execute input area, the default command to run is

kvt -caption "%c" %i %m

To open kvt as a login shell, just add -ls so it now reads:

kvt -ls -caption "%c" %i %m
Then click on “OK”. Your next kvt will open as a login shell. If this doesn't work, shut down KDE and restart it as root. This time, the modification will definitely work.

After having set kvt up as a login shell, you may notice a curious message on the first line of the kvt display that reads:

/dev/ttyp2: Operation not permitted

Below this line will be your normal shell prompt. This message can safely be ignored.

Create an Icon on the Desktop (Netscape)

In all my years of running X, I never figured out how to open FVWM with icons on the screen. A Netscape icon can be created with KDE in about a minute and doesn't require reading man pages.

On the left border, open the “Templates” folder. Select File->New->Program. In the KFV dialog's “General” tab, change Program.kdelnk to Netscape.kdelnk. In the “Execute” tab, type in the path to the Netscape executable and specify an appropriate working directory. Click on the icon that seems logical. Click OK, and you are done. (See Figure 2.) Remember, don't double-click on the Netscape icon unless you want two browsers to open.

Figure 2. Netscape Icon in KDE