January 25, 2008

Kommando: A floating panel for KDE

Author: Bruce Byfield

Inspired by the command wheel in the Neverwinter Nights online game, Kommando is a floating command panel for KDE. Although Kommando's development is almost as slow as an official Debian release, and is only at version 0.5.2, it is already a configurable and convenient addition to the array of panels available in KDE.

KDE offers a variety of panels. Besides the default panel at the bottom of the desktop, KDE includes options for a sidebar, a dedicated taskbar for open windows, an application dock, and Kasbar, which shows the date and time and open applications. Of all these choices, Kommando is most similar to Kasbar, since both can float and be positioned wherever they are most convenient while being out of the way while you work. The difference is that Kommando is a highly configurable launcher, and pops up in the last position where you clicked the mouse on the desktop, instead of requiring you to drag it into position. These differences are more than enough to make Kommando a welcome addition to KDE's array of panels.

Unlike most programs, Kommando does not add an item to the main menu when it is installed. Nor, despite all the recent efforts at cross-desktop compatibility by freedesktop.org, is Kommando usable in GNOME or Xfce -- an unfortunate omission if you are one of those who prefers to choose your applications by functionality rather than by the graphical environment you happen to be using.

Instead, you configure the application by typing kommando at the command line. The command opens a variation of KDE's menu editor. From there, you can add buttons and submenus to Kommando, either by selecting a button and manually adding the command it activates, or by selecting Kmenu and selecting an item already on the main menu. You also have the option of rearranging buttons using the Up and Down buttons, although what these buttons mean in the context of a round panel is difficult to figure out (it turns out that "Up" means moving counter-clockwise to the top of the floating panel, and "Down" means moving clockwise).

If you add more than a few buttons or menus, you should also probably consider going to the Appearance tab of the configuration tool to adjust the size of the floating panel. You can either select an existing Scheme, or -- better yet, if you add a large number of programs -- set the radius and button size manually.

In theory, you can also change the color of the panel, but, in practice, Kommando always defaults to the same color as your desktop background. For this reason, you should take advantage of the transparency option, so that the panel is more visible on your desktop.

Another configuration option is the keyboard shortcut for popping up the floating panel. To open Kommando, the default shortcut is Ctrl-Alt-H. If the last place you clicked with the mouse is too close to the edge of the desktop to display the complete panel, Kommando repositions itself as close to the edge as possible.

The panel is circular, with application button icons arranged along its perimeter. It displays no text, which takes some getting used to, especially if you have several submenus, since they are all displayed as folders.

Once the panel is open, you can click with the mouse to start an application, or navigate to one using either the arrow or number keys and then pressing the Enter key. The starting button is usually the one at the top of the panel, the second the next button clockwise from the top, and so on.

Keep an eye, too, on the button in the middle of the panel. Usually it is a red X for closing the panel, but it changes to a folder when a selected item is a submenu. Once the view toggles to a submenu, you select items from it exactly as you do from the top-level menu.

When you make your selection, Kommando closes automatically. It also changes if you move the focus of the desktop to another window.

If you can ignore its unfinished state, especially the inability to set its color independently or to add text to the panel's button, then Kommando is a welcome addition to KDE. Perhaps the rapidly approaching release of KDE 4 will give its developers the incentive to speed their pace, and to make Kommando more useful and less awkward.


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