Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Plasma Testing In Ubuntu

KDE4 certainly is looking incredibly cool. The most exciting part for me is Plasma (the new desktop/panel system) which, although may have problems with theming consistency, is massively extensible and pretty quick too.

One problem for those wanting to try out the still-in-development KDE4 (the release date of which has been set back to December) is that the majority of Plasma's 'plasmoids' (widgets), since they are quite small and easy to change, making (relatively) last-minute changes have more advantages than disadvantages, live in the 'playground' area of the KDE Subversion tree. The playground has such a name since developers are free to play about with the contents without fear of breaking anything for users, the reason being that normal users shouldn't be anywhere near playground programs.

So, if the majority of Plasma's widgets (everything except simple tests like the clock) are in the don't-go-near-there playground, how can they be played about with by non-developers?

This is something I have been pondering for a while. The most obvious way is to get them from the playground, but to do that involves making an entire KDE build environment, checking out the SVN, compiling certain subtrees with certain options, etc. If you don't know what any of that means then trust me, it is even more complicated than it sounds. I tried doing this a couple of times over the past few months but failed.

A second way would be to use a live CD of KDE4, but this obviously isn't ideal as it is a separate system to your regular one, either rebooting or using a segregated and relatively slow virtual machine would be needed.

Since Ubuntu Gutsy, the prerelease version of Ubuntu I am running which should eventually become Ubuntu 7.10 (2007-October), has some prebuilt KDE4 packages, the best solution would be to have these packages include the multitude of Plasma widgets for testing. Well, after a bit of Googling, I found a package plasma-playground in Ubuntu which contains these plasmoids. The plasma-playground package, however, is a source package. This means you can't just install it directly, so after some reading up on the manual pages of some Debian packaging tools I managed to work out how to get them installed.

Installing Extra Plasmoids In Ubuntu Gutsy
First of all, making sure you're on a Gutsy system, install as many packages starting with kde4 that you would like (kde4-base, kde4-games, etc.). You can safely ignore any which end in -dev, but do install kdebase-workspace.

After that run the command "sudo apt-get build-dep plasma-playground", which will install everything needed to build plasma-playground. When that is done make sure your terminal is somewhere that you don't mind saving files to and run "sudo apt-get source plasma-playground" then move to the plasma-playground folder made ("cd plasma-playground-*") then to build this source into a package run the command "sudo dpkg-buildpackage". This will make an Ubuntu package in the parent folder (a file ending in ".deb"), which you should now be able to install. Congratulations, you now have a set of plasmoids to test in KDE4!

To get into KDE4 there are a few ways, but I am currently using one of the disposable test user accounts which I have made for demonstration purposes at the Freshers' Fair, called fss-test. I log in as fss-test using the session Failsafe Terminal. When the terminal comes up, make sure to stay in the default Home folder (for some reason this will not work from anywhere else) and run the command "/usr/lib/kde4/bin/startkde". You should see the KDE splash screen (see below :P )and a load of messages will scroll past in the terminal. A KDE4 session should come up after a bit, and you can try out the plasmoids (move the mouse pointer to the top left of the screen to add them). I have noticed some problems with their rendering, but this is a couple of months from release yet remember :) Oh, and a quick tip: Don't minimise anything. I can't work out how to get minimised windows back yet, since the plasmoid kicker replacement is malfunctioning/not all there yet. Shading windows, by double clicking their titlebar, works well enough though.

I hope that helps people get testing and playing for KDE4, but remember that you will need to rebuild the plasma-playground package
when new versions are published if you want to use them, APT won't do it for you.

PS: I would normally put guides like this onto the community Wiki but this is just a short-term solution until KDE4 is released and fully packaged, so there's not much point. I'll keep the more official support channels as pure as possible, leaving machine-breaking hacks to blogs and the forums (although this isn't too bad since every system change is done through the package manager)

PPS: I think that a certai
n person is haunting me (apologies for the poor-quality images. These were taken of the virtual machine method):

He's even in the default KDE4 splash screen :0 !

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