How-To: Make KDE Elementary

This post has been a long time coming. Unfortunately, I got quite busy near the end of this past semester, so I could neither publish this nor put a respin ISO file out there (which is originally what I wanted to do, but once again I quickly got too busy).

Configuring Panels
Basically, the reason for me writing is because most similar tutorials have focused on GNOME and Xfce as the base DEs. I haven't seen any using KDE as the base DE, which is a shame considering how customizable KDE is.

The distribution I used to write this tutorial was Linux Mint 10 "Julia" KDE, but this can probably be done easily with any distribution that packages KDE well, though your mileage may vary. Follow the jump to see what to do. Most of these steps can be done in any order, though if a particular set of steps must be done in a certain order, I will try to make that as clear as possible.

In terms of theming, the themes to be changed are the Plasma, KWin, and icon themes. The Plasma theme should be changed to Oxygen (a dark theme) through the KDE System Settings Panel in the "Workspace" category. This theme is typically included in KDE distributions, but if it isn't, there's a button/link in that category to install it. The KWin theme should be changed to Oxygen as well; typically, this is the default theme, but if it is not, it can be used by configuring the "Workspace Appearance" category. The icon theme should be changed to Elementary. That theme can be downloaded from KDE-Look; it can then by installed in the "Application Appearance" category, though if the compressed file cannot be installed, it may be necessary to first extract the main folder from the compressed file. You may need to log out and log back in for all the changes to be applied.
Changing Icon Theme
One other thing to do after installing the icon theme is to change the 'K' menu icon to an 'e' as in the Elementary OS desktop. To do this, right-click that menu button, browse for the correct icon in "Places" when changing the icon, and apply that change.
Another thing to do is to move the window title and icon to the right side, just to the left of the window control buttons. This can be done in the same place as changing the KWin theme.

The second big change will be replacing the single panel on the bottom with a panel ("WingPanel") on top and a dock on the bottom. The first thing to do is to remove all the widgets from the existing panel except for the menu and to move that panel to the top, and then add a second panel to the bottom.
Changing Menu Button Icon
Next, it is certainly possible to use something like Docky or AWN for the dock in KDE, but I prefer a native KDE solution. Install the Smooth-Tasks Plasmoid; this is typically done through the distribution's package manager, but if it isn't available there, you are probably using a distribution that essentially requires you to be skilled enough to compile your own code. Once that is installed, add it to the left side of the bottom panel. Also note that the bottom panel should be of standard height, though of course this is up to you at the end of the day. If you want, you can also add application shortcuts to Smooth-Tasks by dragging the application shortcuts to that area of the bottom panel.
Next, on the top panel, add a "Show Desktop" icon, a clock, and a weather widget. Align the panel to the left, make it as narrow (horizontal width) as possible, and make it as thin (vertical width) as the window titlebars.
Add a system tray to the right side of either the top or bottom panel, depending on your preference, though it may look better on the thicker bottom panel.

The third thing to do is to modify the application menubars. The most preferable option is to install the Oxygen-Appmenu modification from KDE-Look, following the instructions on that page. Please note that it requires compilation of code. If that doesn't work for your distribution (as was true for me in Linux Mint 10 "Julia") or if you don't feel comfortable compiling code, another option is to simply go through every application and hide the menubar (CTRL+M in most KDE applications) if possible; the third option is to add the "Window Menubar" widget to the top panel, adjusting that panel's width as necessary.
Adding Smooth-Tasks to Panel

One last "bonus" thing is to replace the regular "Desktop" or "Folder View" Activity with a "Search & Launch" Activity, akin to the upcoming Elementary OS "Slingshot" application launcher. This can be done by right-clicking on the desktop and clicking "[Desktop/Folder View] Activity Settings" in that menu. If you really want to go the extra mile, you could replace the menu button on the left side of the top panel with a widget to start/stop a "Search & Launch" Activity when clicked. Please note that I have not tried this for myself, so do this at your own risk.

Ta-dah! You now hopefully have a working Elementary-style KDE session. I hope you like it!


  1. Congratulations, you have certainly earned some sort of prize.

    That is one of the most incomprehensible, confused, poorly written and pointless articles I have ever read!

  2. This article is good. I am a kde fan and i wonder why so many people treating like it as second-rated.Great reading and Thank you

  3. KDE 3.x was better than KDE 4+ will ever be!

  4. @Anonymous 1: I'll admit that my writing quality here wasn't quite up to par because I was somewhat distracted, but if you found it so pointless then why did you feel the need to come here and comment?
    @Sreekumar: I'm glad you liked it!
    @Anonymous 2: For you, there's KDE Trinity 3.5. I've done a review of Kubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx" Trinity, so please do check that out. It's basically a maintenance project for your (and so many other people's) beloved KDE 3.5.
    Thanks for the comments!

  5. I have KDE 3.5.10 but Trinity should be 3.5.12. The official site at trinitydesktop.org is down however. Other than being a faster desktop, I like 3.5.x is because it's virtually if not entirely bug-free, not full of glitzy and shiney see-through menus and widgets that just slows performance and general work productivity. Also, I have no intentions in wasting time learning to use new and not necessarily better user interfaces that in the end produces nothing more than the old more stable ones.

    Perhaps why Windows is so popular is because it really never changes much, even though it's a crap OS and desktop.

  6. @Anonymous: While I respect your admiration for KDE 3.5, I feel like you're being a bit unfair to KDE 4; KDE 4 is essentially bug-free now, and it can easily be customized to fit your workflow best. Plus, it's one of the remaining traditional DEs that hasn't gone the way of GNOME 3 Shell. I would suggest that you try out a distribution that focuses on KDE 4.6, and then tell me what continues to be wrong with it. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Maybe I will give KDE 4.x another chance sooner or later. At the same time, if there's enough people out there who likes the KDE 3.x style, then surely that branch will continue and eventually evolve into a stand-alone desktop apart from KDE 4 and onwards. As it stands now, I don't think it's possible to have both KDE 3 and 4 on one file system. Too many conflicting system files. The good thing with Linux is however that there is always plenty of options.

  8. @Anonymous: I've read ways to make KDE 3 (Trinity) & 4 work together, but I would advise you to try it for yourself, probably in a virtual machine so that breakages won't negatively affect your actual computing environment. And yes, the revived KDE 3.5 is already its own thing now. Thanks for the comment!

  9. @Anonymous, just install openSUSE and you will be able to install both KDE3 and KDE4 without any problem.