Sabtu, 07 November 2009

Run Linux Applications on Windows

Run Linux Applications on Windows

Install the Windows port of KDE and get instant native compatibility with all kinds of great open source Linux software.

One of the best things about open-source software development is that anyone with the inclination and a modicum of talent can have a go. You don’t need expensive software, you don’t need developer accreditation and you don’t need planning meetings. With Linux, coding is as easy as installing a development environment and firing up a text editor – as long as you can program, of course. Linux itself is the result of this anarchy, but there are thousands of other apps that have grown from similar origins. While some can’t compete with the quality and stability of proprietary commercial offerings, there are many that can – and as a result, there’s considerable demand for the best open-source software on non-open platforms. Audacity, GIMP, Inkscape, Pidgin, Scribus, Ardour and numerous other applications have all been through the porting process to bring some of their goodness to Windows. But earlier this year, something far more ambitious happened: a large chunk of the KDE desktop was ported across.

KDE is one of the two most frequently used Linux desktop environments, and it includes desktop widgets, an instant messenger client, multipaned file and web browsing, the Amarok music player and the Digikam photo manager – some of the best that open source has to offer. KDE has accumulated a huge userbase, and the last 18 months have seen it move from version 3.5 to version 4.2. The toolkit that has always provided most of the functionality behind KDE is called Qt, a commercial suite of libraries and APIs released using both open-source and proprietary licences. Fourth-generation KDE applications use fourth-generation Qt, and part of that upgrade involves a commitment to cross-platform compatibility. Despite the fact that Qt has been mostly cross-platform for some time, it still takes a considerable amount of effort to create portable KDE applications out of the older code base. That’s why the move to true portability has taken so long, and why the February release of KDE is so significant.

Getting started

After obtaining the KDE installer and launching it, you have the option of either installing from online package repositories or using packages within a local directory. You can also download the packages without installing them, which is handy if you’re going to install KDE on several machines. The download location for these files is one of the options in the configuration panel. After clicking on ‘Next’, you’ll be asked for KDE’s installation directory. This can safely be left at the ‘Program Files\KDE’ default. The next page asks whether you want an End User installation or a Package Manager installation. The first option is the most straightforward, as it’s for people who just want to use the KDE desktop; you should only select Package Manager if you’re intending to build your own packages for the Windows project. The installer can also create a GCC-based tool chain for compiling your own software; you can select between the two supported compiler modes in the section in the lower half of the window. You should only attempt this if you’re a competent C++ programmer and understand something of the KDE/Qt APIs.

For the End User installation, select a download path (where the packages will be temporarily stored on your local disk). Skip over the Internet Settings page unless there’s something unusual about your connection. You now need to select a download server as close to your geographical location as possible. Clicking on ‘Next’ will grab the package list from that server. If successful, you’ll see a list of KDE packages you can install. We recommend selecting either ‘Stable latest’ or ‘Stable 4.2.1’, the current package at the time of writing.

Installing KDE

Clicking ‘Next’ should now fill the window with dozens of package names. These are the various components of the KDE desktop. The easiest installation is accomplished by simply clicking on the ‘Select all’ box. Despite its name, this option won’t install everything. For example, it doesn’t include non-English spelling and localisation packages, so if you need support for another language, you’ll need to add both the spelling and languages packages manually. Click ‘Next’ a couple more times and the download process will commence. The time this takes is obviously dependent on your internet connection. If you’ve selected a complete install, there will be around 130 files, which weigh in at about 270MB in total. After the download has completed, each package will be installed automatically onto your system before a post-processing script configures the KDE environmental variables and adds all the packages to your Window Start menu. That’s where you should find the fresh applications of your new KDE desktop after the installation has completed.

If you’ve not used KDE before, it’s worth spending a bit of time learning about a few things that it does differently. An excellent Help file is included in the installation, although it’s a little dated for the current release. But before diving into the menagerie of KDE application proper, it makes sense to configure the KDE GUI to improve its look on Windows. There’s a slight problem in the translation between KDE’s native widgets and those used by Windows, for example, and the default font also looks a little clunky when compared with other Windows apps. Fortunately, both can be changed quite easily.

Configuring KDE

To configure KDE, we need to manually edit a text file. We recommend launching the KDE text editor, Kate, which can be found in your KDE installation’s Utilities menu. Kate is an excellent text editor, and one of KDE’s best-kept secrets. It can highlight and fold code in 24 formats, save sessions and load bookmarks, split the main view into several panels and even complete certain commands automatically. It almost seems a shame that all we’re going to use it for is to edit a configuration file.

Finding that file is a bit of a challenge. Click on Kate’s ‘Open’ button to display KDE’s file requester. You now need to find the Documents and Settings folder on your Windows system, followed by your username and the Application Data directory it contains. From there, click on ‘.kde’ (the dot indicates that it’s hidden on a Linux system) and click on ‘share’, ‘config’ and finally ‘kdeglobals’ to open the file we need. It should be almost empty. We need to add a ‘[General]’ section and populate that with our new options for the widgets and font replacement. You can do this by adding the following lines:


Unfortunately, the graphical application that performs this task on the Linux desktop hasn’t made it to Windows yet, but once it does, this step will be even easier. Any subsequent KDE applications you now launch will adopt these amended settings, and they will look and feel much better as a result.

Using Konqueror

The most powerful and unassuming application in the KDE canon is Konqueror. Konqueror is primarily a file manager, although it can be used for many other things – which is why it’s tucked away within KDE’s Internet Applications folder. As a file manager, it’s more powerful than Windows’ Explorer. You can split the main view as many times as you like, for instance. Right-click on the lower window border and select ‘Split View Left/Right’ to create a left and right panel. Both panels are independent, so you can drag files from one location on the left to another on the right, just as you could with file managers of old. You can also create a vertical split and display as many panels as you need. Files can be shown as either an icons-only or detailed list view, not to mention a columns mode reminiscent of Apple’s Finder.

Konqueror isn’t restricted to just files, either. Type ‘gg:news’ into the location bar and Konqueror will search Google for the term ‘news’, displaying the resulting web page in the current view. Web pages are rendered using KHTML, which is the forerunner of Apple’s WebKit. Other terms include ‘ggi:’ for Google Images, ‘wp:’ for Wikipedia and ‘dict:’ for the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, You can enable many more and add your own through Konqueror’s Configuration window, which you can open from the Settings menu.

If Konqueror feels a little too expansive for your liking, try KDE’s new file manager, Dolphin. It’s like a streamlined version of Konqueror, and it can be found in the System menu. You can split the main window only once, but you have the same three modes for file navigation as well as an added ‘breadcrumb’ navigation panel.

Highlight applications

There are plenty of other fantastic applications that are part of the KDE Windows suite. Top of the list has to be Amarok, a music player that’s completely intertwined with the internet. It grabs music and trend data as you listen as well as providing access to several online music stores. The GUI is easily extendible simply by adding and removing widgets from the central information panel.

Another KDE application that we rate very highly is the Kopete instant messenger client. Unlike other multi-protocol IM clients such as Pidgin or Trillian, Kopete can group protocols alongside a single contact. If your contact uses ICQ, Live and Google Talk, for example, this contact only needs a single entry in Kopete rather than the three required by most IM clients, making adding friends and family far less hassle.

Digikam is a wonderful photo and album manager, and it can make short work out of collections of thousands of images. You can add comments, crop, organise and export your photos. A suite of plug-ins let you process your images, and the whole application is quick and easy to use. And if you’re looking for a free image editor, Krita is an excellent example. In many ways it’s more capable than GIMP, especially for drawing. Krita is full of effects, and uses layers in the same way that Adobe Photoshop does.

Finally, there are dozens of education applications and games available, many of which can keep children entertained for hours. In particular, look out for KStars, Kalzium, Marble and Kolf.

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