Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

PC-BSD Day 10: Look N Feel

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, as the saying goes. It’s one thing Microsoft wanted to do right when launching Vista with “the wow is now” campaign. And, credit to whom credit is due, the Aero theme is way, way better than Bliss was. When I saw the new Windows XP desktop for the first time I thought I was looking at an episode of the Teletubbies. No way I was ever going to use that theme. I can still feel my IQ dropping 100 points just thinking about it. Nope, Bliss lasted no longer than the mouseclicks needed to change it into the classic desktop.

PC-BSD offers a slightly tuned KDE desktop, which has a nice business-like atmosphere. I find it more attractive than for instance the KDE desktops of PCLinuxOS or SabayonLinux. But I never stay with the default desktop for long. I don’t wear the same clothes every day and there was a time when I had a small collection of glasses as well. My desktop should reflect my mood and since there is no real program to recognize that mood and alter the desktop accordingly I have to change it myself. GNOME spoiled me in this. The Gnome-look website has an wide collection of themes and it is simply a matter of downloading them and dropping them in the thememanager’s window. With the ArtManager I can preview splashscreens, GDM themes, wallpapers and icon sets. How would KDE compare to this?

The Control Center

KControl, a.k.a. the Control Center, is the central hub to fine-tune and manage the KDE desktop. The heading Appearance & Themes has various entries where you can modify the theme, the colors, the background, the fonts, the icon sets, the style and some more. From within KControl there is a link to the KDE-look website. KDE-look has a plethora of materials to pimp your desktop. Just take some time to browse around.


For now I was mainly interested in installing new themes. I went for a few that had relatively good ratings.

The easy way

What I found out is that you have various sets of theme packages. The easiest packages have a *.kth file, which I presume stands for KDE Theme. It is simply a matter of downloading them, unpacking them and then press Install new theme… in the control center. After that you select the theme you want and press Apply to change your outlook on the world, at least that part in front of you and when it works.

Sadly not all installed themes worked on the desktop. KControl doesn’t say why it won’t allow a certain theme to be applied. It just does nothing.

The hard way

Some packages -and there were quite a few of them- wanted me to follow the hard way. No bloody sissy Windowblinds-like easy install, but solid commandline configuration and install routines to change the look and feel of the desktop. The README instructions were simple enough, but I have to yet to find one package that finishes without warnings and lightens my mood. I mean, what good does it do to compile an icon set and then see the message that it took 10 minutes on an Athlon 64 bits machine?


The somewhat less hard way

There is a better option to get (some) of those themes: the ports collection. Under X11-themes there is an interesting collection for various windowmanagers and they are only a #make install away.


Fine tuning the desktop

Compared to the GNOME packages I found the KDE packages somewhat rough around the edges. The themes and icon sets that worked all had their quirks. One icon set was simply incomplete and it left GNUmeric with only half of the needed icons.


The Blue Planet theme had huge desktop icons, taking up plenty of desktop real estate for no apparent reason.


For most themes I had to adjust the used fonts in order to keep a clean and readable interface. In finally settled for them called Kerantu with a few tweaks here and there.


KControl is a nice one-stop interface, but it could use some tweaking itself. For instance, I can opt to get more backgrounds and a new window will pop up that loads the available wallpapers from KDE-look. The option is not there for the icon sets and in the theme section the option will launch Konquerer and load the KDE-look website. The Arts Manager under GNOME does it all in the same window. However, Arts Manager isn’t suited for the finer tweaks that are needed in fonts, styles and icon sets. For that I will choose KControl any time. As often I find myself longing for one new tool that takes the strengths of both the GNOME and KDE tools.


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