Becoming One with the Desktop

The bar at the bottom of your screen is the panel, also called Kicker. Among other things, notice the large K icon in the bottom left-hand corner. This is the Application Starter, similar to the Start button on that other OS. Clicking the big K will bring up a menu of menus?a list of installed applications that you can run with a single click.

Speaking of running things, Kicker also has a taskbar embedded in it. When you start an application, you'll see it listed in the taskbar. This not only shows you what you have running on your desktop, it also provides a quick way to switch from process to process. Just click on the program in the taskbar. Alternatively, you can press <Alt+Tab> to switch from one running program to another. The taskbar can be configured to list all processes from all desktops, group similar processes together, or simply show you what is on your current virtual desktop.

Did he just say virtual desktop?

Yes . . . virtual desktop. This is one feature you are going to absolutely love! On the default installation, you'll also notice four little squares labeled (strangely enough) 1, 2, 3, and 4. This is your desktop switcher, allowing you to switch between any of the four virtual desktops with a mouse click. Think of it as having a computer monitor that is four times as large as you already have, with each desktop running different things. You can leave each one the way you want it without having to minimize things anytime you want to use them. It gets better; you can have four, five, six, or even more virtual desktops if you find that four aren't enough for you (Figure 4-6).

Figure 4-6. The desktop pager with six virutal desktops.


Another way to switch virtual desktops is by pressing <Ctrl+Tab>.

Kicker also has a number of icons to the right of the big K. To find out what each of these are, move your mouse over each one and pause. Context-sensitive bubble help, or "tooltips" will appear, showing you what each icon is for. Clicking on any of these icons will launch the program it represents. One you might want to take note of right now is the life-preserver icon (which you can also find by clicking the big K and looking for Help). This opens up your desktop documentation and help files.

Let's move to Kicker's far right. You might notice an embedded clock and some smaller icons: a clipboard, a calendar, or a speaker icon. These also represent programs?but running programs. These applications have been swallowed by the panel and can be called up with a click. That mini-icon area is called the system tray (Figure 4-7).

Figure 4-7. System tray icons.


Finally, notice the two little icons sitting together vertically. One looks like a lock and the other like a power button. On my desktop, the lock is blue and the power button is red. The lock button will lock your desktop and activate the screensaver. To unlock it, you move the mouse (or hit a key), after which you will be prompted for your password. The power button logs you out and returns the system to the login manager so that you or someone else can log in. I'll cover screensavers in the next chapter.