Test Driving Linux/Getting Started

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Test Driving Linux

The first time I ever drove a car was on a one-mile stretch of straight country road at 5 A.M. After a ten-second driving lesson from my cousin, I found myself driving in the middle of the road with the headlights off. Another car approached and we started to panic. My cousin yelled at me to get in my own lane and turn on the headlights, and I responded by almost veering off the road as I frantically searched the dashboard for the control to turn on the lights. Driving bumper cars at the carnival had not prepared me for this.

Many people wanting to try Linux for the first time find themselves similarly unprepared. They are often worried that they'll lose data, crash the machine, spend endless hours learning how to perform common tasks, or even make their Windows machine unbootable. But these potential Linux users needn't be afraid. Using Linux is far less accident-prone than learning to drive.

This book, along with its accompanying CD, is an excellent way to explore the exciting world of Linux and open source software. The Move CD is a customized version of the popular Mandrake Linux distribution. It runs "on the fly" directly from the CD. There's nothing to install, and all of your computer's data remains perfectly safe. It's like driving a car that you can crash as hard as you want without ever damaging the car or yourself.

Move includes hundreds of applications for just about every type of daily computer task. The CD contains a complete Microsoft Office-compatible office suite called OpenOffice.org. Other programs allow you to surf the Web, create and modify graphics, listen to music, and watch videos. Whatever it is you want to do, you'll probably find an an open source program for it on this CD.

This is not a demonstration CD, nor is it an interactive video, such as those frequently used in software training. Move is a real operating version of Linux that runs from CD instead of from a hard drive. This is truly the easiest way to test-drive Linux.


What Is Linux?

Linux is a free and open source operating system that you can run on your current PC in place of Microsoft Windows. It was first created by college student Linus Torvalds in 1991. Because Linus made all of his programming code (usually referred to as source code) available to others, Linux has since been further developed by thousands of programmers from around the world. As many people point out, Linux itself is not a complete operating system. In fact, it is only the core of an operating system, known as a kernel . A kernel is combined with many programs, libraries, and utilities to make up an operating system. The GNU project, an organization of programmers and others devoted to creating source code that can be distributed freely, has supplied many of the programs and libraries that combine with the Linux kernel to make a complete operating system. Taking the GNU project into account, many people refer to the operating system based on the Linux kernel as GNU/Linux (pronounced guh-noo'/Lynn'-nucks). Throughout this book, the term Linux refers to the entire open source operating system, unless otherwise stated.

A comparison to a car may help you understand this arrangement better. The kernel can be thought of as the car's engine, transmission, and wheels, while the belts, hoses, frame, pumps, and fuel injectors are supplied by the GNU project. At this point you have a usable car, but it isn't very pretty. KDE (described in a later section) and other graphical environments are the sheetmetal that defines the actual look of the car, as well as the interior and the details that make it comfortable and fun to drive.


KDE stands for Kool Desktop Environment. While using it, you can't help but notice that the developers like to name their KDE programs so they begin with a K: Kontact, KMail, Konqueror, KWrite, and so on.

Linux is everywhere. More web sites run Linux than Windows, and the National Security Agency (NSA) in the U.S. loves Linux so much that it created its own highly secure version called SELinux (and then shared it with everyone). The U.S. Department of Defense uses clusters of Linux servers to run battlefield simulations, and everyone's favorite personal video recorder, TiVo, runs Linux inside (but not on Intel processors). Amazon runs on Linux, and so does Google. And, as this book will teach you, Linux is a free alternative to Microsoft Windows on many desktop computers.

What Do Open Source and Free Software Mean?

Though you can often get Linux at no cost or for just a few dollars, its "free"-ness does not actually refer to its price. Instead, it means that you should feel free to modify the code that makes up Linux in whatever way you see fit. The only restriction is that in most situations you must share your changes with everyone else, so that they too can benefit from your improvements. Despite what Bill Gates says, this isn't communism. Personally, it makes me think of communities coming together to build a barn, or friends who help you move. They ask nothing in return except for your willingness to return the favor when the time comes.

You will also hear Linux described as an open source program. This recently coined term is meant to make the notion of free software more acceptable to businesses and governments. For some strange reason, businesses think something that costs nothing is worth nothing. What qualifies as open source software is more broadly defined than free software, which means some open source software may not be free software.

Though open source software is the more commonly used term, free software is the traditional one. Many people seeking to encompass both terms use the acronym FOSS, which logically enough stands for Free Open Source Software. For more information about free software, visit http://www.gnu.org; for more information about open source software, visit http://www.opensource.org.

Many Distributions of Linux

It's important to be aware that Move is just one of several hundred "flavors" of Linux. Each flavor is known as a distribution . You might have already heard of the most popular ones: Red Hat, Mandrake, Novell Suse, and Debian. Different distributions are akin to different car models. When buying a car, you get to choose the model with the look, performance, safety features, and price point that suit you best. Linux distributions give you the same freedom of choice. What a boring world it would be if the only car available was a Ford Focus!

Starting Up the Move CD

So let's get started with using Linux by booting the enclosed CD. Before booting into Move, be sure to plug in and turn on any peripheral devices that are attached to your PC, such as zip drives, printers, scanners, etc., so that Move will have the greatest chance of configuring things automatically. If you have a USB memory key, insert it before the system boots up so that Move can use it to store your configuration.


The preface of this book provides all the dirty details about system requirements and the usefulness of having a USB memory key. The short of it is: if your computer can run Windows, it can run Linux. And if you have a USB memory key, you can save data and settings from your Move session.

To use the CD, simply insert it into your CD-ROM drive and boot your computer. If your computer is set to boot from the CD drive (and most of them are), you will shortly see a screen that looks like Figure 1-1. If your computer is not set to boot from CD, you'll probably need to make a change in your computer's BIOS. The Appendix provides instructions for doing this. When you see the screen shown in Figure 1-1, simply press Enter to launch Move.

Figure 1-1. Move startup splash screen

Move startup splash screen


The menu options accessible by pressing F1 are for advanced features of the CD. You don't need to use this menu unless referred to it by the troubleshooting steps in the appendix.

You'll see a few automated screens go by. You'll then be prompted to choose a preferred language, agree to the licensing terms, detect a USB key, choose a login name and password, and so on (Figure 1-2).

Figure 1-2. Initial configuration screens

Initial configuration screens


At no point during this startup is anything being done to your hard drive. Using this CD does not hurt your current computer setup. Also, the length of time it takes to boot Move is not an indicator of the performance of Linux itself. When the entire operating system runs from a CD there are some tradeoffs, one of which is speed.

In the first screen you need to choose a language. Although this CD has support for only a few languages, Linux itself supports more than 70 languages, which is one of the reasons why Linux is so popular outside the United States. Microsoft must have financial reasons to include support for a particular language; Linux needs only the time and interest of someone who can speak the language—one of the many benefits of open source.

In the second screen you need to agree to the licensing terms for Move. If you agree with the terms, check the Accept box and click OK. If not, click Quit to cancel the setup procedure and reboot your computer.


Most people don't read the "click-thru" licenses that appear when they install software. But, just for kicks, you should read Move's license terms and compare them to the terms on a typical Windows program. If you can stomach the legalese, you will come away with a better understanding of the differences between free and proprietary software.

In the third screen you have to set up a user account for Move. Because Linux is designed to be a multiuser operating system, it requires that each user have an account. Each account has its own set of files, preferences, and permissions that is independent of and secured from other users. Move only requires you to set up a single user account. You can press Tab or use your mouse to move between fields on the account creation screen.

First, type your full name into the Real Name field. In the User Name field type in a nickname or a short version of your full name. It is traditional, and best, to make your username all lowercase without any spaces. For example, if your name is Joshua Harris, you would put Joshua Harris in the Real Name field, and maybe just jharris in the User Name field. From here on, the computer will "think" of you as jharris. You are asked to enter your password twice, to make sure you didn't make a mistake the first time you typed it. Click Next after you fill out all the requested information (Figure 1-3 Figure 1-3).

Figure 1-3. Setting up a user account in Move

Setting up a user account in Move


The Advanced button lets you select a particular command-line shell to use. Don't worry about this until after you have read Chapter 11. Nearly all Linux users use the recommended default shell bash, which stands for Bourne Again SHell.

If you didn't put in a USB memory key before you booted, the next screen displays a dialog box prompting you to insert a key. If you have one but have not inserted it yet, plug it into any free USB port, wait a few seconds, and click the "Detect USB key again" button. If you don't have a USB key, simply click "Continue without USB key."


Unfortunately, not all USB memory keys are created equal. Some keys are not recognized by Move. This is a failing of the live CD. An actual installation of Linux on your machine should not have a problem with any USB memory key you can use under Windows.

Depending upon the hardware attached to your computer, some additional screens may appear, perhaps to set up a printer or to configure certain types of mice or keyboards. Responding to these screens should be fairly straightforward. If you're in doubt, the default is probably just fine.

After the initial question-and-answer session is complete, Move attempts to boot into the desktop environment. One minor problem I have noticed on a few computers is that the screen will go blank and won't come back up. If this happens, just press any key on the keyboard and the screen should come back up. After the hardware setup is complete, you are transported to the KDE desktop.

If you encounter any problems getting the CD to boot, the Appendix provides suggestions to solve the most common problems Move users encounter.

The KDE Desktop

KDE is a powerful and full-featured graphical desktop environment for Linux computers. Unlike Microsoft Windows or the Macintosh, Linux is not limited to just one graphical user interface (GUI). Instead, Linux provides a platform , called the X window system, on which many different GUIs can run. KDE is one of the most popular Linux GUIs and is very easy for Windows users to learn. Chapter 12 introduces another GUI, but since it isn't included on the Move CD it's not described in great detail.

Much of this book focuses on using the KDE environment. Don't let this confuse you—you are still using Linux when you use KDE. You are just interacting with Linux through a particular set of graphical programs that belong to the KDE environment. This is no different from using Windows, where your interaction with the core of the operating system, the kernel, is controlled by the graphical environment known as the Explorer shell. Didn't know that, did you?

In Figure 1-4 you can see the default KDE desktop provided by Move, which consists of:

  • The desktop, on which frequently used files, folders, and wallpaper may be placed.
  • A panel, called the kicker , across the bottom of the screen, which is used to launch applications and switch between desktops. This is similar to the Windows start button and taskbar, but much more versatile.
  • A welcome screen with some helpful tips to get you started with Move. Click Close to remove this window from your desktop.

Figure 1-4. The default KDE desktop

The default KDE desktop

You may be surprised to see that the KDE desktop looks pretty much like the Windows desktop you have been using for years. As you will find out, KDE behaves a lot like Windows too. In fact, KDE is designed so that users of other operating systems will feel right at home.

The desktop shown in Figure 1-4 contains shortcuts to important directories and devices that Move detected during startup. There is an icon leading to your Home directory (similar to My Documents in Windows), an icon for the Move CD-ROM, and a Trash can for storing items before deletion. Feel free to rearrange the icons to your liking by dragging them to different areas of the desktop. For a tidier arrangement, right-click an empty area of the desktop to expose a context menu, then select Icons → Line Up Vertically to align the icons up and down across the left edge of the screen. The desktop icons can also be lined up horizontally, across the top of the desktop. Pretty standard stuff for Windows users. The important thing is to not be afraid to experiment with your new Linux desktop. After all, it all runs from CD, which means that if you mess things up, you can just reboot and start over.

The kicker (Figure 1-5) is the long panel across the bottom of the KDE desktop. It already contains icons to run several popular applications. The kicker also includes a desktop pager for switching between virtual desktops (numbered 1 and 2), a taskbar that shows any applications that are currently running, a system tray that holds icons for programs that run in the background, and a clock.

Figure 1-5. The kicker panel at the bottom of the KDE desktop

The kicker panel at the bottom of the KDE desktop

The button with the star in the leftmost corner of the kicker is the K Menu or Application Starter (it works just like the Start button in Windows). The K Menu offers easy access to the installed applications, as well as a few special options such as logging off the computer or launching a Run window, which lets you launch a program by typing its name.

A Quick Tour of the Kicker

The kicker is similar to what is commonly called the Start Bar or taskbar in Windows and consists of several small programs known as applets . The kicker is basically just a holding place where applets can be placed.

The K Menu is located on the leftmost side of the kicker. When you click the K Menu icon, a pop-up menu displays the applications available on the Move CD. Pressing the Windows key, present on most keyboards, is a quick way to bring up the K Menu.

The kicker also contains shortcuts to several popular KDE applications, represented by icons. These shortcuts include the Show/Hide desktop (which toggles between minimizing and maximizing all application windows), your Home directory (like the My Documents folder in Windows), a web browser, an email application, and others. As you can see in Figure 1-5, holding the cursor over an icon displays a descriptive tooltip (here, "Browse the Web").

The taskbaris the blank area to the right of the shortcut icons. Whenever an application is running, or when a window is open in KDE, an icon representing that window appears in the taskbar. When a window or application is minimized, click its icon to restore the window; click once more to minimize it.

The desktop pager, shown as a grouping of two small numbered boxes, allows you to switch between virtual desktops. Virtual desktops are fully covered later in this chapter. Believe me, you're going to like them.

The system tray (on the right side of the kicker) contains small applications that run in the background, such as a clock, a screen resizing program, a laptop battery monitor, and others. Click the clock with the left mouse button to display a small calendar. Click it again to close the calendar.

Finally, on the extreme right side of the kicker is an arrow. Click it once to hide the kicker, and again to restore it.

Chapter 8 covers the various settings adjustments that can be made to control the behavior of the kicker, but here are a couple of easy changes you can make.

Changing the kicker size

For some reason the Mandrakesoft programmers who created Move set the default kicker size too small, which can be difficult to read. To change the kicker size, right-click the K Menu button, choose Panel Menu → Size, and select a size. Try them all and pick a size that's right for you. I like the normal size.

Adding items to the kicker

If you often use a particular application or tool, you'll probably want faster access to it than the K Menu can provide. In KDE, you can add a single program or an entire menu as a quick-launch button on the kicker.

To add an application to your kicker open the K Menu and drag a menu item (such as the Play games → Frozen-Bubble item) to an empty area of the kicker. The taskbar section is fine, if the icon area is already full. This should give you a brand-new icon on your panel, similar to the one in Figure 1-6.

Figure 1-6. Drag and drop a menu item to the kicker

Drag and drop a menu item to the kicker

If you don't like where the icon is placed, right-click it and select Move. The icon will now follow your mouse movements and move to another place on the kicker. When you're done, click the left mouse button to "set" the icon.

And if you're tired of a certain icon on the kicker, right-click the icon and select Remove from the context menu.

Making Selections

Much of your interaction with a computer involves selecting items so you can perform an action upon them. You click and double-click icons, highlight text to edit, select items to delete, and so on. Most of the selection techniques you use in Windows also work in KDE and in other KDE programs, such as the file manager Konqueror and the email application Kontact. Try the following with the desktop icons:

  • Right-click on the desktop, choose Icons, and select a method to organize your icons.
  • Select more than one item by holding down the Ctrl key and clicking different icons.
  • Select several icons with the lasso method (or rubber band). Just click an empty area near the desired items and hold down the mouse button while moving the cursor across any icons you want to select.
  • To add icons to a group you've already selected with the rubber band method, press the Ctrl key while lassoing or clicking more icons.
  • To remove items from a selection, hold down the Ctrl key and click an item to deselect it.
  • To select all files or folders, drag a large bounding box around all the icons or press Ctrl-A to select all.
  • To deselect all items, simply click an empty area of the desktop or window.


Rumor has it that the game Solitaire was first included with Windows to teach users mouse techniques like click, drag, and double click. Regretfully, Move doesn't include a solitaire game, but practicing with the icons gives the same benefits (and is much less addictive).

The Home Directory

The Home icon in the kicker and on the desktop is a shortcut to your own personal directory. This is where you can store all your stuff—work files, downloads from the Internet, digital camera images, music files, etc. If you're using a USB memory key, your Home directory is on the key. Just double-click the Home icon to see the contents of your Home directory. File management is covered in Chapter 3.


In Linux, each user has a Home directory that contains all of that user's files and data. Inside this directory are many hidden files and directories that control preferences for KDE and other programs. These files are normally hidden by the file manager, so you don't have to worry about deleting them accidentally.

Using a Typical KDE Application

Most Linux applications look and behave very much like the applications you use every day in Windows. Even how you launch programs is similar. For example, to launch the text editor KWrite, you would click K Menu → All Applications → More applications → Editors → KWrite. This is similar to launching Notepad in Windows: Start Menu → Programs → Accessories → Notepad. Launch KWrite now so you can perform the tasks in this section. Most KDE applications behave similarly to KWrite, so it is a good "starter" program.

KDE application windows contain a title bar, drop-down menus, a toolbar with buttons for commonly used commands, and a work area. In the case of KWrite, the work area is a place to do some typing. In other applications, the work area might be your email or a web page.

Go ahead and explore the menus and toolbar buttons offered by KWrite. Pause the cursor over any of the buttons to display tooltips that describe the functions of the various buttons (Figure 1-7). Also worth noting is the Help menu that appears in most KDE applications. Choose Help → KWrite Handbook from the menu to see the help files for KWrite.

Figure 1-7. The tooltip for the Print icon on the KWrite toolbar

The tooltip for the Print icon on the KWrite toolbar

When you're done exploring the menus and toolbar, go ahead and type a few lines of text in the work area. For some strange reason, I've always had the compulsion to type the opening lines of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit.

Most KDE programs can be customized by using various options under the Settings menu. In KWrite, go to Settings → Configure Editor to load its configuration window. You'll notice that for a text editor, KWrite has an awful lot of options to configure. This is because KWrite is a very capable text editor, much more powerful than Notepad, and includes many features to meet the needs of advanced users who want to write programs, web pages, and complex documentation.

Just for practice, change the font for KWrite. From the main configuration window, click the Font tab (Figure 1-8); select a new font and font size and click OK to accept the changes. As you can see, the changes are accepted immediately and affect the current text, even though you didn't have it highlighted.

Figure 1-8. Configuring KWrite

Configuring KWrite

When you use other programs on this CD, you should always check out the Settings menu. Try out a bunch of options and see how the choices affect the application's behavior. And as always, if you end up scrambling the application so much that it doesn't work as expected, you can simply reboot—just one great feature of learning Linux from a live CD.

The Open and Save File Windows

In many programs, the most common tasks you perform are opening and saving files. KDE provides a standardized way to perform these tasks that incorporates a lot of the features found in recent versions of Windows. Figure 1-9 shows a typical KDE Save dialog. To see it for yourself, type some text in KWrite and choose File → Save from the drop-down menu, or click the Save button in the toolbar.

Figure 1-9. A typical KDE dialog window

A typical KDE dialog window

The Save dialog window is divided into several parts. The space in the center displays the folders and files in your current directory. You can descend into folders by double-clicking them. The Location field is where you type your new file's name before clicking Save to save it. The Filter drop-down list doesn't say much in KWrite, but in some programs it presents numerous entries that can help you quickly filter out all of the files that don't meet your filter criteria.

Along the top of the Save window are several icons to help you navigate the filesystem. The first four look like those in a web browser, and perform the same functions. The folder icon lets you create a new folder; the star icon lets you set a bookmark (a quick way to go to preferred folders); and the wrench icon presents a menu to help you control the display of items in the center. The drop-down list on the top shows you the location of the current file and of those you most recently visited. The final option on the top of the bar is particular to the KWrite application and controls the type of file encoding for your text document. This option is not something you will use all that often.

Along the left-hand side of the Save window are some quick links to specific locations on the computer. If you right-click in this space you get a context menu that lets you delete or add new entries. If you have several different places you like to put files, it makes sense to create a quick link to those folders.

Windows like this one are used in all of the KDE applications to open and save files, as well as to attach files to email messages. It is worth your time to familiarize yourself with the available options and make use of the advanced features such as bookmarks and quick link icons.

Controlling Windows

Now that you know how to launch a program, you can experiment with KDE's features for controlling program windows. Launch the KWrite program again and practice the following steps. Most of this is old hat for Windows users, but there are a few features that are unique to KDE.

Window Features

KDE windows have some important features. The right side of the title bar contains three buttons, just like those in Windows. From left to right these are:

This hides the window, leaving only an icon in the taskbar.
This expands the window to the largest possible size. If the window is already maximized, it will be restored to its previous size.
This closes the window. The keyboard shortcut for this is Alt-F4.

KDE windows also contain a window menu to provide quick access to the most common operations. Right-click the title bar (or press Alt-F3) to see the window operations menu. Under the Advanced option, you can specify whether this window should always be on top of other windows or always below them. I find this option handy for multimedia programs such as an MP3 player, or instant messenger windows, where I always want the program to float on top of my other windows so I can control my music or keep track of an instant message conversation.

Another interesting feature is the "windowshade." Double-click the title bar to roll up a window, then double-click it again to roll it back down. This is a handy way to hide a game of Frozen-Bubble when your boss walks by.

Resizing and Moving Windows

You probably resize windows all the time. Programs often open windows that are too small, or you have to drag and shrink windows to get them out of the way so you can get to a program or icon beneath them. KDE provides numerous ways to resize windows:

  • Resize a window horizontally by dragging the left or right edge to make the window wider or narrower.
  • Resize a window vertically by dragging the top or bottom edge to make the window taller or shorter.
  • Resize a window in both directions at the same time by dragging any corner of a window.
  • Or, while pressing the Alt key, hold down the right mouse button inside the window, and drag the cursor to resize the window. If you click near a corner, you will be able to resize in both directions.


This option is a particularly handy one, but one that I had to train myself to use. Once I got used to it, I found it to be the most convenient way to resize a window, because it doesn't require precise mouse pointing to grab the window's edge to get the resizing cursor.

  • Move a window by simply clicking and holding the title bar while dragging it to a new location.
  • Or, press and hold the Alt key while dragging anywhere in the open window to move a window.


Like the previous use of the Alt key, this last option is not intuitive, but once you get used to it, you may find it to be your preferred method of moving a window around. It is particularly useful when a window is sized so large that the title bar is off the screen and you can't click on it.

Virtual Desktops

Two things have long pained me when watching other people use their computers. One is that the user often has dozens of icons on his desktop. So many, in fact, that he sometimes spends a minute just looking for the proper icon to click. The other is the poor window management options that Windows provides. A user may have several programs open at a time, and when he wants to launch a new program, usually from an icon on his desktop, he often has to drag windows out of the way, minimize them, or both. Not only is this a time-consuming process just to find an icon to launch a program, but it also means the user has to locate and move the previous program windows back into place when it comes time to use them again.

Fortunately, KDE has some nifty features that can help you organize your icons and open windows. Chapter 8 contains information on customizations you can make to the kicker to create quick-launch icons for programs and assign keyboard shortcuts to launch your favorite applications. But you can start using a feature right now that can help you manage open windows. It's called a virtual desktop, and once you start using it, you won't be able to get by without it.

In KDE, you can have several different desktops—each with its own windows and settings. Move's default configuration provides only two desktops, though you can configure KDE to use up to sixteen. The concept of virtual desktops is a little difficult to understand for people who haven't used them before, so it may be best to explain them with an analogy everyone should be familiar with: changing television channels.

Two of my favorite shows, Smallville and Lost, air at the same time on Wednesday nights. By using my remote I can switch channels between the two shows. My TV picture adjusts to display what is being broadcast on the other channel, and I can switch back to the first channel at any time. Back and forth, back and forth. The same TV, but different channels, each one showing a different show. It's so simple that it almost seems absurd to explain it.

Well, virtual desktops work the same way. Each desktop is displayed on the same monitor, but shows you a different "channel." What this means is you can have a program like Frozen-Bubble running on your first virtual desktop, and another program like KWrite running on the second one. And with a simple keyboard command or click of a mouse, you can switch between these different desktops and see the other program.

Virtual desktops allow you to better organize your open applications. Linux users often put different applications on different desktops and change between applications by switching desktops instead of minimizing and maximizing applications. Some Windows users who try out Linux never grasp the flexibility that virtual desktops allow them and continue to work in their normal manner on only one desktop. But the virtual-desktop converted enjoy the uncluttered feeling of virtual desktops and sincerely feel their loss when they are forced to use an OS that doesn't support them.


I like to use four desktops. I run email applications on Desktop 2, word processing applications on Desktop 3, and web browsers on Desktop 4. Desktop 1 I reserve for those occasional odd programs that I run, like a remote connection to another system, so most of the time it is empty. If I kept icons on my desktop, an empty Desktop 1 would allow me easy access to them.

Switching between virtual desktops is easy—all you have to do is click on a mini version of the virtual desktop, which is shown in the desktop pager in the kicker panel. As you recall, the desktop pager is the small group of two numbered boxes on the righthand side of the kicker. If you're not running any programs, Desktop 1 looks exactly like Desktop 2, so you won't feel like you've changed "channels" at all when you switch between them. (Which makes it a lot like watching a Presidential address on different networks, but without the odd changes in color or volume.)

So let's perform the following little test just to confirm that virtual desktops do work. From Desktop 1, launch the KWrite application, type "This application is on Desktop 2" in the window, and then right-click the title bar and select To Desktop → 2 Desktop 2, as shown in Figure 1-10. The KWrite window disappears from your current screen. Now launch the Frozen-Bubble game in Desktop 1 by clicking K Menu → Play games → Frozen-Bubble. (This is a fun game—you should play it sometime. But not now!) Now go to Desktop 2 by clicking on the number 2 in the desktop pager or by pressing Ctrl-Tab. You can now type away in the KWrite application. Feel like playing some Frozen-Bubble? Switch back to Desktop 1 by clicking on the number 1 in the pager or by pressing Ctrl-Tab again. See? Using virtual desktops is just like changing TV channels!

Sometimes you want the same window to appear on every desktop. For example, maybe you need a small chat window or an alarm clock to always be visible. You can make this happen by right-clicking on the title bar and choosing To Desktop → All Desktops.


Pressing Ctrl-F1 or Ctrl-F2 sends you immediately to the corresponding desktop. Pressing Ctrl-Tab cycles through the desktops in ascending order; Ctrl-Shift-Tab cycles through in descending order. Moving past the last desktop brings you back to the first one.

Figure 1-10. Send a window to the second virtual desktop

Send a window to the second virtual desktop

You can change the number of virtual desktops by right-clicking the desktop and choosing Configure Desktop. In the window that appears, click the Multiple Desktops icon, then in the configuration pane to the right of the icon, move the slider to the desired number. More desktops can make it easier to manage your active applications, but too many can make it difficult to remember which application is on which desktop. The taskbar, by default, is configured to show all running applications, so clicking on a program in the taskbar switches to the appropriate desktop and brings the application to the front.

Setting Your Desktop Background

From pictures of their family and pets to pictures of Russell Crowe and fast cars, people love to personalize their computer desktops with background images. KDE, of course, provides the ability to do this. In fact, the program that displays wallpaper allows for even more types of images and more image effects than you can get in Windows.

To get started, right-click an empty area of the desktop and choose Configure Desktop. Figure 1-11 shows the configuration screen for changing the background. There are a lot of options.

Figure 1-11. Changing the desktop wallpaper with Configure Desktop

Changing the desktop wallpaper with Configure Desktop

First off, you can choose whether this wallpaper change affects all virtual desktops or just a specific one. Then you can choose either a color background, a picture you select from a drop-down list or with the file selector, or a slide show that lets you choose which pictures to display and for how long. The Options section further affects the color or picture choices. The most useful option is the Position drop-down list, which lets you choose how a picture should be scaled to fit the screen. Small images look best when they are tiled, and large images look better scaled. Tiling is when an image is repeated until it fills the screen; scaling is when an image is stretched equally in all directions until it fills the screen. A small preview screen shows you how your selection will look.

You can use practically any image file as wallpaper, including any Windows wallpapers you may already have on your hard drive. Chapter 3 tells you how to do this. In the meantime, you can download a lot of great Linux-related wallpapers from http://www.kde-look.org. When you're happy with the desktop wallpaper in the preview screen, press OK to accept your change and close the window.


Setting different wallpapers for different virtual desktops makes it easier to remember which desktop you are on and lets you enjoy multiple wallpapers. Use the "Setting for desktop" drop-down list to choose which desktop wallpaper to change. After applying the change, press Ctrl-Tab to switch to the desktop and check the results.

Linux Equivalents to Your Windows Programs

There are so many open source applications available that it can be difficult to know which one you need. Table 1-1 lists a few Linux programs that can be used to perform common tasks. (The program listed first is the one that is available on the Move CD or that is fully described in this book.)

Table 1-1. Linux programs for common tasks

Task Linux application name How to launch
Web browsing KonquerorFirefoxOpera K Menu → Surf the Internet → Browse the Web
Email KontactEvolutionThunderbird K Menu → Surf the Internet → Read and send e-mail
File management Konqueror K Menu → All Applications → Home
Office productivity (Word processors, spreadsheets, and presentations) OpenOffice.org (Writer, Calc, and Impress) K Menu → Use office tools → Create a (text document, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing)
Calendar KontactEvolution K Menu → Organize → Organize your time
Instant messaging KopeteGaim K Menu → Surf the Internet → Chat
Personal finances GnuCash K Menu → Organize → Manage your finances
Image editing The GIMP K Menu → View, modify and create graphics → Edit images and photos
Watching videos TotemxineMplayer K Menu → Enjoy music and video → Watch videos
Creating web pages Mozilla ComposerQuanta K Menu → All Applications → Internet → Web editors → Mozilla Composer
Viewing PDF files Acrobat ReaderKPDF K Menu → All Applications → Office → Publishing → Acrobat Reader
Listening to music TotemXMMSamaroK K Menu → Enjoy music and video → Listen to music files

If you can't find what you need in the list above, visit http://www.freshmeat.net. This web site is a searchable database of thousands of open source programs, so there's a good chance you can find what you're looking for. Though you can't install these programs while using Move, you will be able to use them once you install Linux. Keep in mind that just because an open source program has an unfamiliar name or looks a little different from what you're used to, it doesn't mean that it won't do what you need. An example of this is the chat program Kopete. This oddly named program lets you chat on the AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Jabber, and IRC networks, which makes it much more flexible than the instant message clients that AOL or Microsoft provides.

Logging Out of KDE

When you're done for the day, log out of Linux by clicking K Menu → Logout or by right-clicking an empty area of the desktop and selecting Logout. Figure 1-12 shows you the logout screen.

Figure 1-12. The options for logging out of KDE

The options for logging out of KDE

The restart and turn off options are self-explanatory; selecting End Session logs you out of KDE and then logs you back in. This odd behavior occurs because Move has only the single user you created when you started it up. On a regular Linux system with more than one user account, this option presents you with a login box after KDE closes so you can select which user to log in as.

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