Basic Desktop Orientation

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Note: Most of the screenshots on this page are thumbnails. To see the full-size image simply click on the thumbnail.

The Lay of the Land

Before we go too far, we ought to take a quick look around the desktop. You're probably eager to try out all of the great free software that's available for Chakra, and that's what the next chapter is all about. But everything will be easier if we do a basic orientation of the desktop environment first.

Before we get started I want to remind you of something I mentioned in the installation tutorial. KDE is a single-click environment, which takes some getting used to but ultimately will reduce your risk of carpal tunnel, tendinitis, and other nasty repetitive strain injuries. We can change the settings if you absolutely can't get used to it, but give it an honest try first.

Checking Out the Apps

Despite the minimal install, there are a few applications installed on your Chakra box. To access them we can use the Kickoff Application Launcher, which is in the exact same place you would find the Windows start menu, on the panel at the bottom left-hand corner of the screen (the square with the nine circles). Click on it and the menu will pop up:

Kickoff-favorites.png

The menu opens to "Favorites", which is a nice dumping ground for apps that you use a lot. Chakra has stuck a handful of them in there for you, but you can remove an app from the favorites list by right-clicking on it's icon and selecting "Remove From Favorites". Now hover your cursor over the "Applications" tab (you don't have to click the tabs to open them) and the main Applications menu will display:

Kickoff-applications.png

Notice how the apps are sorted into nice, neat categories by type. Click on "Multimedia" to have a look:

Kickoff-applications.png

To return to the main Applications menu go to the upper left-hand corner of the window and click "All Applications". Now hover your cursor over "History"; this provides quick access to any applications and files you've opened recently.

At the bottom of the Applications menu there's the search utility box. You can also start typing at any moment and your search results will appear in the main window.

I should point out here that not everyone digs the Application Launcher menu, but it's very easy to switch to a different application launcher. You just need to right click on desktop and unlock widgets, then right click on the launcher menu and select "Alternatives"

Anyway, go back to the "Applications" section of the launcher, and make sure you're looking at the list of application categories. Here's a list of the application categories in your menu, and the apps that are pre-installed in each category on a fresh Chakra installation:

Chakra: The stuff in here is mostly just links that will open various parts of the Chakra website in a browser. In particular you might want to check out "Documentation", which links to the Chakra Wiki.

Development: This is mostly intended for KDE and Qt developers, and there are tools here to get you started.

Education: There's only one app in here by default, sub-categorized under "Science": the Marble virtual globe program, which is a geographical tool that displays a globe of the world and can find locations on it.

Graphics: There are a few cool apps in here. They are:

  • Krita: A sketching and painting program. It was created with the following types of art in mind: concept art, texture or matte painting, illustrations and comics.
  • Okular: A document viewer that supports a lot of types, like PDF, Postscript, DjVu, CHM, XPS, ePub and others.
  • Gwenview: A simple yet powerful app that not only lets you look at your pictures but also has some very basic photo editing tools. There's a great plugin package you can install that allows you to interface seemlessly with social networking sites and stuff like that.
  • Digikam: A photo management program to view, manage, edit, enhance, organize, tag, and share photographs.
  • ShowFoto: A stand alone photo editor based on digikam.
  • Karbon: A vector drawing application, part of the Calligra suite.

Internet: The "Internet" category is fairly well-stocked, an acknowledgment of the importance of the web in modern computing. Some of the most important apps in here are:

  • Kget: A download manager that can handle a variety of links and torrents.
  • Akregator: A feed reader to stay up to date with new posts around the web.
  • BlueDevil bluetooth stack: The KDE app for synching with bluetooth devices.
  • Konversaion: An IRC client. Most free software projects consist of developers who live all over the world and often have never met face-to-face. They routinely communicate using live IRC chats, and Konversation is the app for the job. This will allow you to get directly in touch with the developers of the software you use if need be. You can join the #chakra and #chakra-devel channels on the Freenode network.
  • Kmail: A fully-featured email client that fits nicely into Plasma.
  • Qupzilla: A modern Qt based web browser with a native look and feel, based on a unified library and integrated adblock and speed dial features.
  • Mirror-Check: A useful Chakra specific utility to check the status of your mirror. For a simpler alternative, you can check out: https://chakraos.org/?mirrors

Multimedia: This includes several handy applications that might interest you.

  • k3b: An application for burning and ripping video and audio discs.
  • Bomi: A powerful and easy to use general purpose media player.
  • Tomahawk: A music player that has a unique feature of allowing you to share and play music from your friends' systems.
  • Kdenlive: A feature-reach video editing software.

Office: Here you will find a series tools to manage your calendar, contacts, documents, email etc. Chakra ships with Calligra as the default office suite. Some of the most significant applications not mentioned above are:

  • Contact Manager: An address book type of application to store and edit your contacts.
  • Kexi: A visual database applications creator. It is an alternative to Microsoft Access and can be used for designing database applications, inserting and editing data, performing queries, and processing data.
  • Flow: An easy to use diagramming and flowcharting application. It is an alternative to Microsoft Visio, and it enables you to create network diagrams, organisation charts, flowcharts and more.
  • Braindump: A notetaking and mindmapping application to dump and organize the content of your brain (ideas, drawings, images, texts…) to your computer
  • Kontact: This is the integrated personal information manager of KDE. It lets you handle email, agenda, contacts and other 'personal' data together in one place
  • Korganizer: The calendar and scheduling component of Kontact.
  • Stage: A presentation program, an alternative to Microsoft Powerpoint.
  • Sheets: A fully-featured calculation and spreadsheet tool, similar to Microsoft Excel.
  • Words: A word processor with the ability to import Microsoft Word documents.

Settings:

  • System-settings: A central way to manage your Plasma settings. A later chapter will be explaining in depth about this application.
  • Fcitx: A flexible input method framework that supports multiple input method engines, for example for Chinese, Japanese, Korean etc.

System: This is where system administration applications can be found.

  • Octopi: A powerful pacman frontend which you can use to add and remove software to your system.
  • miniBackup: A tool for backing up your sytem settings and personal data.
  • Yakuake: A drop down terminal emulator, like Konsole.
  • Dolphin: The file manager to browse through your systems disks and files.
  • KInfoCenter: This displays information about your computer's hardware.
  • Cups Web Interface: A way to manage your printer configuration.
  • KDE Partition manager: A tool to setup and manage disk partitions.
  • Pacman Log Viewer: This is a handy tool to check the history of the packages you installed or removed on your system.
  • System Monitor: A tool for monitoring system processes.
  • Konsole: This is a terminal emulator, which allows you to access a command-line console without having to log out of your graphical session.
  • SUSE Image Writer: A graphical utility for writing disk images & hybrid isos to USB keys, like the one you used to install Chakra.

Utilities: This is sort of a dumping ground for stuff that doesn't quite fit under "System", but doesn't really belong anywhere else, either.

  • Kate: This is a text editor, similar to Microsoft Notepad but about a zillion times more capable.
  • Ark: An archiving tool; this is what you use to compress, decompress, and archive data.
  • KNotes: A simple application to manage and store notes.
  • Klipper: The clipboard tool; this is where stuff goes when you right-click on something and select "Copy". You can configure it to remember a long history.
  • KCalc: A scientific calculator.
  • Spectacle: A screenshot capture utility.

Where the Heck Are My Files?

I hear this from new Linux users all the time. The answer is simple: in your user home directory. Every user has their very own home directory (or folder, if you prefer), and there's a couple of easy ways you can access yours. One way is to use the Application Launcher menu. Open it and hover your cursor over "Computer":

Kickoff-computer.png

This part of the menu gives you quick access to the filesystem, as well as some basic system administration utilities. Up at the top under "Applications" you can access the System Settings dialog or the Krunner program, which allows you to type terminal commands without actually opening up a terminal (and does a whole bunch of other neat stuff; more on Krunner in another section). The stuff we're interested in right now is below that under "Places"; clicking on any of these icons will open the specified location using the Dolphin file manager. The blue folder labeled "Home" takes you to your user home directory, where all of your personal files are stored. The "Network" folder will give you access to any network folders you may have, the red "Root" folder opens the root directory (which contains the whole filesystem), and the "Trash" folder is, well, the trash. Below that is "Removable Storage", which displays removable devices that are attached to the computer such as CDs, DVDs, or flash sticks.

You probably don't have any network folders to worry about, and most of the stuff in the red folder is system information. We're mostly interested in the blue folder labeled "Home". Click on it, and it'll open your user home directory with the Dolphin file manager:

Dolphin-main.png

Take a quick look around Dolphin. Notice in particular the "Places" panel to the left, which allows you to access the contents of your home directory, the root directory, network folders, and any external devices that happen to be connected to your computer. Dolphin also allows you by default to present files according to the time they were saved and also search for files depending on their type. These files are archived using the "Search" option under SystemSettings, and you can configure it from there. Right above the whitespace that displays your directory contents is the location bar, which displays the path to wherever you happen to be in your home folder. This particular type of location bar is called a breadcrumbs style location bar.

Your user home directory (or folder; I'll be using the terms "folder" and "directory" interchangeably here) is the equivalent of the Windows "My Documents" folder. But in a Windows environment the system creates some sub-directories for you, so you'll have folders inside of My Documents with names like Music, Pictures, Video, and so on. A lot of modern Linux distros do this as well, but Chakra wisely doesn't presume to know what you want. The only object that's in your home directory by default is the standard KDE "Desktop" folder (which is the most useless folder on earth, but if you try to delete it right now it'll just come back). It's up to you how you want to organize your files. You can add new folders just like you do in Windows; by right-clicking in the whitespace, selecting "New" and "Folder":

Dolphin-createnew.png

Good file management practices are beyond the scope of this section, but in general it's best to keep your files organized neatly into folders, to keep folder names (and, if possible, file names) down to a single word with no spaces, and to avoid using capital letters. Try it that way; you'll thank me later. When you save something, whether it's something you downloaded or a document you've created, make sure you save it to the right location so you can find it later. The standard Plasma "Save" dialog looks like this:

Plasma-Savedialog.png

Take a look over to the left of the window; there you'll see the same "Places" panel that's on the far left side of the Dolphin file manager... handy if you need to save something to an external device, a network folder, or a different part of the filesystem. Notice in the screenshot that the blue Home folder is highlighted. Then if you look above the whitespace you'll see "> Home"; this tells you that you're looking at the contents of your user home directory, which at the moment only contains the "Desktop" folder. If you click on the "Desktop" folder it'll read "> Home > Desktop"; this tells you that you're in the "Desktop" directory, which resides within your user home directory.

The Activities Manager Icon

Immediately to the right of the Application launcher icon is this funny-looking icon:

Orientation 9 5.png

This launches the Activity Manager. Activities, along with virtual desktops, are an organizational tool that allows you to run multiple desktops simultaneously for different tasks. I'll discuss these in detail when I discuss desktop configuration.

The System Tray

On the task panel and to the right is the system tray, which displays stuff that's running in the background and that is always available:

Systemtray.png

Starting from the bottom tray:

  • The scissors icon on the extreme left is Klipper, a powerful cliboard utility.
  • The speaker is for adjusting volume levels (you can use the mouse scroll on it too!) and configure audio settings.
  • Next to it on the right is the network indicator which allows you to configure your devices and networks. In most cases it'll auto-detect your stuff and you won't have to do anything, but you might have to do some configuring for wifi devices, especially if you're connecting to an encrypted network.

By clicking the little upward-pointing arrow to the far right you will see even more processes that aren't displayed in the tray by default. If you left-click on it you'll get the system tray settings dialog. From there you can configure which apps you want to show an indicator and when.

If you click the triangle icon and expand the system tray, you will notice these utilities:

  • Notifications: This is where Plasma displays all sorts of notifications from programs, for example the status of file transfers or downloads, and you'll get popups from it when processes complete or things happen on your system.
  • Battery and Brightness: You can check for your battery levels and adjust screen brightness settings. An indicator will also show when charging your system. From here you can also enter the power management settings.
  • Bluetooth: From here you can manage the connection with any other bluetooth devices you use. Chakra ships this by default, but you can remove or disable it if you don't use it.
  • Device Notifier: More on that right below!
  • Printers: This indicator shows the status of your printer and will show any documents pending or printing.
  • KDE connect: This is a powerful application that you can use to connect your Plasma system to your Android device (you need to have it installed on both desktop and phone). It has many options and can let you exchange files, clipboard content, and manage multimedia controls, among other features.

The Device Notifier

When you insert a removable device, say, a flash stick or CD, the Device Notifier icon will appear in the system tray:

Orientation 10 5.png

Once your device has loaded you'll get a popup from the notifier, which will go away after a few seconds. You can bring it back and view your devices by clicking on the icon; here's what the display looks like:

Orientation 11.png

When you first insert a device it isn't mounted; that means that the system is aware of it but no programs can access it. If you click on the device it'll give you a list of options, mostly apps you can open it with; for instance here's mine with a video DVD inserted:

Orientation 12.png

Select one of those options, and the system will mount the device and open it in the app you chose. If you want to mount the device without actually opening it you click the little plug symbol. Then you can access it at your leisure. After it's mounted the plug will turn into a little eject button, which you'll click to unmount something (you frequently have to do this to pull a video DVD). Now, you're probably wondering why you can't just insert a device and have it pop right open in an appropriate app like you can in Windows, and the answer is simple: auto-mount and open is a huge security risk. You can configure the notifier to auto-mount media when it's inserted (although I advise against it), but not to auto-open.

Running Upgrades

There's a good chance when you boot into Chakra for the first time that there are upgrades for your installed software. They might be security patches for the core system, or newer versions of the apps and/or the desktop environment. The way to keep your system up to date is by running in the Konsole or Yakuake application: sudo pacman -Syu

Installing software requires root user privileges. I'll talk more about the root account in a few minutes; for now just enter the password you chose during the installation (please tell me you remember it!) when prompted. If the password is correct you'll get a progress screen that will tell you how your updates are going. It'll probably take awhile; don't forget it's downloading this stuff from online repositories.

One thing Chakra definitely does NOT feature is automatic upgrades. This is a good thing; I wouldn't dream of running upgrades without first looking over the list. Not that I think the upgrades are going to break anything, but it's good to know what's going on. Always read the output that shows up in the terminal window after your upgrades are done; there might be something you have to do after the upgrades are complete. If I'm upgrading to a new version of an app that I have running at the moment, I'll usually close that app. Also, don't forget that the Chakra repositories get new versions of your apps shortly after they're released, so (for example) it may be kinda stupid to run upgrades if you have a big presentation tomorrow and there's a new version of Kpresenter in your upgrade list; the app might have had some stuff moved around or some completely new features, and who wants to contend with an unfamiliar new version when people are watching?

The Root Account

The root user account is kinda like the administrator account on a Windows system, except that it's mandatory in Linux... which is one of several reasons why Linux is more secure than Windows. Chakra is a Linux distro mostly intended for home desktop use, and on most home computers the user is also the administrator, so the default setup on a Chakra installation is for the first regular user account (the one created at installation time) to have the same password as the root account. I think this is fine for a home desktop machine, but just be aware that the root account and your regular user account are separate, even though the passwords are the same.

It may seem like an inconvenience at first to have to provide a password every time you want to perform any kind of system administration task, but in fact it can really save your bacon. Let's say you open an e-mail that contains malware or some other funky stuff (and don't let anyone tell you that there isn't malware out there that targets Linux; there is). That malware probably won't be able to screw up your system, because you opened the e-mail as a regular user, the e-mail and all it contains has your regular user's permissions attached to it, and your regular user doesn't have the permissions to mess with anything that might bring the system down. That's just one example of how the Unix privilege separation makes your computer more secure. This is why even systems administrators on big enterprise systems will have a regular user account that they do most of their work from, only logging in as root when it's necessary to do so.

Getting Out

No matter how much you love your new Chakra system, you've gotta get out sometime. You'll almost never have to reboot a Linux system unless you upgrade the kernel or drivers (I've had servers that have logged over a year of uninterrupted up-time), but lots of people shut down when they're not using their desktop computers in order to save on the electricity bill, and of course if you're using a laptop you'll probably be shutting it down to go from place to place. If there's more than one user you might be logging out so the other person can use it, which may sound weird coming from Windows but Linux is so amazingly configurable that everyone is probably going to want their own desktop setup! Of course if you're using Linux in an enterprise environment you'll probably want to log out when you're away from your machine for security reasons. You can exit your session from the Application menu. If you hover over "Leave" you'll get a bunch of options for shutting down, restarting, and logging out:

Kickoff-Leave.png

Another way you can do it is to minimize your windows and right-click on the desktop. Select "Leave", and you'll get a dialog box with options to log out, restart, shut down, or cancel. If you do nothing it'll log you out in thirty seconds.

The Bare Necessities

This has been just a quick brush-over of some of the basic features and functionality of the Plasma 5 desktop environment on Chakra. We've barely scratched the surface, but hopefully you'll be able to find your way around your desktop now. Now you're probably going to want to get some software installed so you can really use your new Chakra system; click here to learn about Chakra's software management tools.

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