Productivity with the KDE environment

If you're following this blog, you'll already know about my Surviving without a Mac blog post and it won't come to you as a surprise that I've switched to Linux last summer. I've tested numerous distros, work environments, file managers, etc., but no matter what I do, I always come back to Kubuntu, or if you will, Ubuntu + the KDE environment. There's a good reason for that and it fits in one word: productivity. If you like to automate things as much as possible, if you like that your desktop environment can do everything you want and much more than you can even ask for, then it might be time for you to consider using KDE.

But let's not talk about concepts too much and get to into what kind of productivity I'm talking about. On the Mac, I was able to have a really excellent productivity, but I had to mix a bunch of paid apps (Alfred, TextExpander, Total Finder...) with the awesomeness that Mac OSX brings by default (Mission Control, Expose...). Didn't think I would say that one day, but after months working with Kubuntu I think I'm now even more productive on Linux that I ever was on the Mac, and it's because of the power of a vibrant Open Source community. Again.

Web Shortcuts

I don't see why anybody interested in productivity wouldn't want to leverage Web Shortcuts. Kubuntu ships with a very convenient and reliable way to use them at System Settings > Account Details > Web Shortcuts

So what do we have below? This is simply a list of sites that I'm accessing often and that happen to allow me to pass any given string to get contextualized results.

A list of useful KDE Web Shortcuts

Let's take an example. When I'm on GitHub, if I search for any given repo I'm being taken to https://github.com/search?q=repo_name - This means I can very easily create a Web Shortcut! The {@} characters will allow you to define your token and replace this gibberish by any string of your choice. Before saving, you simply need to give the shortcut a name and to enter the corresponding shortcut you want to use and you're done. I'm using gh here.

Use the @ sign as a token for your string

Easy enough, right? Now, you might be wondering...how will I invoke that? Krunner to the rescue.

Krunner

To keeps things simple, let's say that Krunner is a smart launcher. By default, you can invoke it with ALT + F2 and it'll pop up at the top of the screen (of course you can change that). If you click on the monkey wrench, you'll be prompted with the plugins selection. From finding applications to doing inline calculations or...using Web Shortcuts, possibilities are impressive.

Krunner ships with a lot of plugins to give maximum flexibility

To keep going with our GitHub example, let's search for the drush repo. It simply requires me to type gh drush and hit enter. Now, I can find the package I want directly from the https://github.com/search?q=drush page. Neat. Did you notice that I had to use a whitespace between the shortcut and the search string? It's because I've selected space as a keyword delimiter above, in my Web Shortcuts settings.

Klipper

To close the loop on Alfred-like features, I wanted to quickly talk about Klipper. Being able to go back in time with your clipboard history is key in many, many situations. With Klipper you can virtually record unlimited clipboard history and quickly get access to potentially crucial data. Not only that but you can also edit any recorded clipboard history and get some sort of temporary data storage. This is a huge win for productivity.

Klipper allows you to record a huge lot of clipboard actions

Mac users won't be impressed. Nothing that Alfred can't do already. Sure, but this time it comes for free as in Open Source.

System Activity

Try and hit CTRL + ESC. It'll prompt you with a real-time activity monitor panel. You can filter it out by all running processes, your own processes, etc. Nothing fancy here but a really quick and easy way to determine what's eating up your CPU or RAM.

System Activity in KDE allows to you to get real-time info about your CPU and RAM usage

Dolphin

Let's talk about the Dolphin file manager. So very powerful I'm still surprised by the number of options it provides users with. Here are a few.

The KDE Dolphin file manager is very flexible and powerful

In the above example, I have split panes, tabs, a contextual terminal prompt, file/folder preview, shortcuts, etc. This is a slightly tweaked default Dolphin file manager. You could go way beyond that and get something really more suitable to your needs.

Want more than that? Time to dig into the hidden gems that come with KDE and Dolphin, then.

Take any window and click on the top left Dolphin icon. What do you see there?

  • Move To Desktop: this simply moves the window to another virtual desktop. Classic
  • Attach as tab to: this option is excellent. Basically, it allows to attach any window or app to another one and allows you to switch between them via simple tabs. Compare that to browser tabs between which you would switch. A common use case is when you have a personal Gmail account and a Google Apps account. If you create two different Chrome sessions, you can switch between your personal and pro account via a global tab.

Window Rules in KDE are probably what makes it way above the competition

  • More actions: that menu would deserve a dedicated blog post because it's so fully-featured. Let's only talk about a few epic settings here:
    • Window Shortcut: this well hidden option provides you with the opportunity to bring any app to the foreground. One would call that a "visor" or a "popup". Really great to improve your ability to quickly switch between windows and, for instance, bring your file manager to the foreground to quickly perform admin tasks.
    • Special window/app settings (aka Window Rules): I don't know of any equivalent on PC, Mac or other Linux environments. This is just overwhelming. You can: force an app to always launch in any given virtual desktop, force a specific placement, define a fixed width / height, tweak the default appearance (opacity, borders...), autogroup with other windows, script some custom rules, etc. Anything you've ever dream of, Dolphin can do it.

I could go on and on and on. KDE is a blast for power users. Hope you like it!

Aurelien Navarre

Senior Technical Solutions Analyst @Acquia - Drupalist by day, DevOps by night.

Lyon, France