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Windows, How To Work Them

Philip Rodrigues

Basic Window Management

Each application running in KDE has its own window, and some applications may use more than one window. You can manipulate these windows in many ways to make your desktop work for you. Here is a normal window:

A normal window

Switching Between Windows

If you want to use a window, it must be active. A window automatically becomes active when you open it, so that the application you opened is immediately ready to use. Only one window can be active at a time. The active window is the one into which you can type, and can be distinguished from the others because it has a different colored titlebar. (With the KDE default theme, the active window has a light blue titlebar, and the inactive windows have gray titlebars.)

When you want to work in a different window, you need to make it active. There are two ways to do this:

  • left mouse button-click on the window that you want to make active. The window will become active and will be raised above other windows if it overlaps them.

  • Hold down Alt and press Tab (do not release the Alt key). A popup dialog appears with a list of available windows, one of which is highlighted. You can select a different window by pressing Tab again to move through the list, all the time holding down Alt . When you release the Alt key, the window which was highlighted is made active.

Moving Windows

The first way to organize the windows on your desktop is to move them around. You can move windows so that they overlap other windows, or so that you can see the whole window. There are three ways to move a window:

  • Click the left mouse button on the window titlebar and hold it down. Move the mouse cursor and the window moves with it. Release the mouse button, and the window remains where you left it.

  • Open the window menu using the leftmost button on the window titlebar (as displayed below), and select Move . The mouse cursor moves to the center of the current window and by moving the mouse around, you can move the window. Once you have moved the window to the position you want, click the left mouse button to release it.

    The Window Menu
  • Hold down Alt and the left mouse button when the mouse cursor is above the window you want to move. The mouse cursor changes to a compass, and by moving the mouse, you can move the window. Just release the mouse button to release the window. This method is particularly useful if the window titlebar has been moved off the screen, so you cannot use the other methods.

Resizing Windows

You can make windows bigger or smaller, wider, or taller in one of two ways. Just use whichever you are most comfortable with:

  • Move the mouse cursor over the border of the window (it is light blue in the screenshot above). The pointer will turn into a double-headed arrow. Click and drag, and the edge of the window follows the mouse cursor, making the window bigger or smaller. If you click on the borders on the top or bottom of the window, you can adjust the height on its own. If you click on the borders on the left or right of the window, you can adjust the width. To change both at the same time, move the mouse cursor over the corner of the window. When the pointer becomes a diagonal double-headed arrow, click and drag.

  • Use the leftmost button on the window titlebar to display the window menu. Choose the Resize entry, and the mouse pointer will become a double-headed arrow. Move the mouse cursor around to resize, and click the left mouse button when you are done to release the window.

  • If you cannot see the window border or the button for the window menu, you can use Alt and the right mouse button: Hold down Alt and drag with the right mouse button. The window will resize. You just release the right mouse button when you are done.

If you just want to make a window as big as possible, so it takes up the whole screen, use the Maximize button, which is the second button from the right on the window titlebar. Clicking with the left mouse button on this button will make the window as big as possible in both directions; while clicking with the middle mouse button or the right mouse button will increase the window's size in only the vertical or horizontal direction, respectively.

Hiding Windows

When you need to keep a program open, but you do not want it to take up space on your desktop, you can minimize it or shade it. To minimize a window, click the Minimize button, which is third from the right on the window titlebar. The window will not be displayed, but the program is still running, and an entry for it appears in the taskbar on the panel. To display the window again, click on its entry in the taskbar. You can also use Alt + Tab : see the section called “Switching Between Windows”.

Shading windows is very similar to minimizing them, but this time, only the titlebar of the window is shown. To shade a window, double-click on the titlebar. To restore the window, just double-click on the titlebar again.

Cascading Windows

Sometimes you might have a whole lot of windows open and all over the place. By selecting to cascade windows KDE will automatically line them up as a succession from the top-left of your screen. To use this option use your middle mouse button on the desktop, and then select Cascade Windows .

Uncluttering Windows

By selecting to unclutter your opened windows KDE will attempt to use the maximum available space of the desktop in order to display as much of each window as possible. For example, should you have four windows open and you request that they be uncluttered, they will each be placed in a corner of the desktop, regardless of where they were originally. To use this option once again use your middle mouse button on the desktop and then select Unclutter Windows .

Closing Windows

When you finish using an application, you will want to stop the application and close its window. Once again, you have the choice of a few options:

  • Click on the rightmost button on the window titlebar. If you are editing a document with that application, you will be asked whether you want to Save your changes, Discard them, or Cancel your command to close the application.

  • Use the File -> Quit option on the menubar. You will be presented with the same choice of Save , Discard , or Cancel .

  • Right-click on the respective window in Kicker, the KDE panel, and then select Close . You will be prompted with an option to save any documents that were being edited.

  • Press Alt + F4 . Once again, the confirmation dialog will be shown if you were editing any documents.

Advanced Window Management



Richard J. Moore

The simplest way to access the advanced window management facilities in KDE is to use a little known utility called kstart, which is included in KDE since version 2.1 kstart lets you control the way an application interacts with the window manager. The command is usually used to define special behavior for commonly-used applications, but it can also be useful for integrating non-KDE applications into your desktop.

Using kstart is easy: you simply put kstart and some options before a command. To begin, let's look at how we might use kstart to customize the behaviour of a KCalc window. The command we'll use is as follows:




With luck, the effect this command has should be fairly obvious - the kcalc window will stay on top of all the others and be visible on every virtual desktop. A feature that is less obvious is that this command will work with any NET compliant environment, not just KDE.

We can pass arguments to programs we invoke with kstart as normal, for example:




1 xmessage'Hello World'

This command displays Hello World with xmessage and ensures that the window will be shown on the first virtual desktop and will be omitted from the taskbar. The fact that this program is written using the Xt toolkit rather than being a native KDE application does not cause any problem for kstart, hopefully this illustrates how kstart can be used to integrate foreign applications into your KDE desktop.

Other Special Window Settings

While you can use kstart to assign particular window settings, KDE also allows you to alter these -- as well as other similar settings -- from the program window itself. Simply select the leftmost button in the window titlebar (or just hit Alt + F3 once the window is focued), and then go to Advanced -> Special Window Settings... . As you can see, from here you change various things from its geometry upon startup, to whether it should have a border or not.

The System Tray

Richard J. Moore

Now that we know how to customize the decoration of a window let's take a look at another aspect of the desktop: the system tray. The system tray is an area in which an application can display a small window. It is used to display status information or provide quick access to commands. A window that has an item in the system tray usually disappears from the task manager when minimised with the tray icon providing a replacement. Normally tray icons are specifically developed as part of an application, but as with window decorations, KDE provides a tool for changing this: ksystraycmd.

To begin with, we'll take the standard application KCalc and turn it into a system tray application. This is acheived with one simple command:



 'kcalc' kcalc

The icon shown in the tray is the one specified in the window hints and will be updated if the icon changes. The window title is shown as a tooltip if you hold the mouse over the icon. ksystraycmd follows standard KDE behaviour so the target window can be shown and hidden by clicking the tray icon, and a standard context menu is available.

More Complex Uses of ksystraycmd

Richard J. Moore

To illustrate the other features of ksystraycmd, we'll use a more complicated example: a Konsole window tracking the .xsession-errors file (this is the log file that records what's happening on your desktop). To begin with, we'll simply look at how we can view this:




 'X Log' \ 



 tail -f ~/.xsession-errors

The --caption and --icon arguments are provided as standard by KDE applications. You can get a full list of these global options by running an application with the --help-kde and --help-qt parameters. Here we give our Konsole window the title 'X Log' and the icon “log”. You can use these options with any KDE application and as mentioned above, ksystraycmd takes account of these when creating the tray icon. The -e argument is specific to Konsole and tells it to run the less command. Despite its complexity, we can easily move this window into the tray with ksystraycmd:



 'X Log' \
konsole --icon log --caption 'XLog' \ 
--nomenubar --notabbar --noframe \ 
-e tail -f .xsession-errors

In addition to being the most complex command we've used, this example demonstrates the --hidden option which starts the command with only the system tray icon visible. This example achieves our aim of providing quick access to the log file, but we can do things a little more efficiently if we only run the konsole process when it is visible. The command we use is



 'X Log' \ 
konsole --icon log --caption 'X Log' \
--nomenubar --notabbar --noframe \
-e tail -f ~/.xsession-errors

The addition of the --startonshow parameter tells ksystraycmd to start with only the tray icon visible (like the --hidden parameter), and to wait until the user activates the tray icon before running the target command. We've also used the --quitonhide parameter which tells ksystraycmd to terminate the target app whenever its window is hidden. Using both these parameters ensures that our Konsole tray icon doesn't waste resources when we aren't using it. Creating and destroying the target window as we do here prevents the standard icon and title handling of ksystraycmd from working, so we now need to specify the initial icon and tooltip explicitly too.

Improving Reliability

Richard J. Moore

In all of our previous examples we've relied on kstart and ksystraycmd to figure out which window we want to affect, and unless we say otherwise, they assume that the first window to appear is the one we want. This policy is usually OK because we are starting the application at the same time, but it can fail badly when lots of windows are appearing (such as when you log on). To make our commands more robust we can use the --window parameter. This specifies the title of the target window. The following example uses the --window parameter to ensure that a particular konsole window is affected:



 'kstart_me' konsole
--caption 'kstart_me' -e tail -f

Here we've used the tried and tested technique of specifying a title for both kstart and the target application. This is generally the best way to use kstart and ksystraycmd. The --window argument is supported by both kstart and ksystraycmd and can be regular expression (e.g.window[0-9]”) as well as a particular title. (Regular expressions are a powerful pattern matching tool you'll find used throughout KDE.)

Using Multiple Desktops

Sometimes, one screen's worth is just not enough space. If you use many applications at the same time, and find yourself drowning in different windows, virtual desktops offer the solution. By default, KDE has four virtual desktops, each one of which is like a separate screen: you can open windows, move windows around, and set backgrounds and icons on each of the desktops. If you are familiar with the concept of virtual terminals, you will have no trouble with KDE's virtual desktops.

Switching Virtual Desktops

To move to a different virtual desktop, you can use Ctrl + Tab in the same way as you would use Alt + Tab to switch between windows (see the section called “Switching Between Windows”): Hold down Ctrl and then press Tab . A small popup window appears, showing the virtual desktops, with one highlighted. If you release Ctrl , KDE will switch to the highlighted virtual desktop. To select a different desktop, press Tab repeatedly, while holding down Ctrl . The selection moves through the available desktops. When the desktop you want to switch to is highlighted, release Ctrl .

Windows and Virtual Desktops

You can move windows around your virtual desktops with the To Desktop item in the window menu: just select the desktop to which you want to move the window. You can make the window appear on all desktops with the All Desktops item.

  Published under the terms of the GNU General Public License Design by Interspire