KDE Control Centre

Setting your desktop's wallpaper is only the beginning.

Before we get started, "centre" is how KDE spells the word using UK English. Localisation is a wonderful thing, and it's one reason Linux and KDE are so popular in Europe and Asia. Here in Wales, about a million of my fellow citizens prefer Welsh to English, and there's a KDE for them too. We'll discuss regions and languages another time, but for now, if you are reading this in the Americas, please forgive my UK spell-checker! (Look out for colour and favourite too.)

Many distros have their own setup tools; SUSE's YaST is so all-powerful that SUSE users probably have little reason to run the KDE Control Centre at all. Most of the other distros, such as Kubuntu, have realised what a great tool it is and rely on it for most configuration tasks. Kubuntu has incorporated it into its own setup menu, which you can access using the spanner (wrench to American cousins) button on the panel. If you don't have a button on the panel, search the KDE menu, where you will usually find it. If not, select the Run command, and enter

It is rare not to find the KDE Control Centre on the panel or in the menu, but if you have edited the menu you may have lost it, so here's how to put it back.
Right-click the K menu button, and choose Menu Editor. Go to File -> New Item. Enter the title of this item "Control Centre" (choose your own spelling). Click OK. In the next dialog, enter

in the Command box. The default icon is simply an empty document; click it to choose something appropriate (the spanner/wrench is filed under Actions -> Configure). Now, go to File -> Save. Quit the Menu Editor, and click on the menu. Voila! Control Centre is on the menu.

Figure 1. The KDE Control Centre

The KDE team has cleverly used a Konqueror-style window for the Control Centre with a navigation panel on the left-hand side, giving you access to the various modules. Starting at the top, we have Appearance and Themes, and the first item on that menu is Background. Let's investigate that.

Figure 2. The Menu

If you have customised a desktop on any other operating system, much of this will be familiar. You can have a picture in the background, or you can choose a colour for a plain background. If that's too plain, click the drop-down menu and select a gradient fill and two colours.

If you prefer pictures, you can choose a fixed one or a slide show, which changes after a time interval that you also can choose. Distributions all tend to create their own customised desktop wallpaper and set it as the default, but they also ship a selection of KDE wallpapers; simply click on the drop-down menu to see the selection.

If you want to use your own photo or drawings (either statically or as a slide show), click the file icon alongside the menu, and choose any .jpg, .tif, .png, .pdf, .svg or .eps file. Ideally, the image should have a similar aspect ratio to your screen if you want it to be scaled to fit. Choose Scaled in the options section to enable this. If you have a small image, try the tiled option instead. Bear in mind, if you re-organise your photo collection, the photos will disappear from your desktop.

If the standard selections don't do it for you, and your own photos aren't right either, click the Get New Wallpapers button, which connects you to the KDE-Look site where you can browse hundreds of images created and correctly sized for desktop wallpapering. Check out the previews, then click Install when you find one you like. This automatically adds it to the list of wallpapers available in the Control Centre. I have to mention though that these images are hosted on a variety of servers all around the world, and some can be unreliable.

Figure 3. Andes Venezolanos Desktop Wallpaper

It needn't stop there. You can combine graphics and colours and blend them together to create interesting effects. For example, you can tone down over-exuberant images that are a bit hard on the eyes, such as my current favourite "Andes Venezolanos". Used carefully, you can create a subtle, almost plain desktop with a faint watermark image.

Or, why not let KDE or anyone with a Web site, change your desktop for you? In the Background dialog, select No Picture, then click on Advanced Options. Tick Use the following program for drawing backgrounds. The default setting is kwebdesktop; leave it at that, but click Modify. Note the lines Command and Preview cmd both of them ending in the URL http://kde.org. If you leave that as it is, your desktop wallpaper will be the KDE home page. If you would rather it be your own home page, or any other Internet site, simply change the URL, taking care to leave the other parameters alone. Each time the Web site changes, your desktop will be updated. The downside to this is it's only an image of the Web site you are seeing; it doesn't transform your desktop into a browser, so none of the links or buttons will work.

Figure 4. Let KDE provide your desktop -- live.

Finally, whether you have a static single colour, a gradient, an image or a slide show, the colour of the text under your icons may need attention. Black text on a dark background is not ideal, neither is white on a pale background. Return to the Advanced Options, and you will find Text Colour. If you have a slide-show desktop, it may be hard to choose a colour that works on all areas of the screen. If that's the case, choose Use solid colour behind text, and select something that contrasts well with your text colour. If a solid slab of colour behind the text looks too severe, try Enable shadow, which creates a shadow of your chosen colour behind each character.

Figure 5. No Background

Figure 6. Shadowed Background

Figure 7. Solid Background


The KDE Control Centre is an amazing tool. It puts Linux users in control of their systems and allows them to enjoy the most unusual configurations with a few clicks. Next month, I will return to the KDE Control Centre, covering more ground and more tricks. Stay tuned!

About the Author

Phil Thane lives in Wales (UK). He has been a teacher and worked for eight years on tech-support (Windows-based CAD/CAM systems for educational use). Phil started freelance writing 15 years ago and began using Linux about three years ago as a hobby. He is now a freelance writer/teacher/trainer.

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