With the help of Wine you can install Windows applications on Linux. But what if there are Linux applications you want to run on Microsoft Windows? Say, for example, you want to use Dolphin for your file manager instead of Windows Explorer. Thanks to a group of KDE developers, it’s possible.

Now don’t get overworked thinking you’re going to have the entire KDE workspace. You’re not. What you can get, however, is a lot of the KDE-specific applications up and running on Windows (2000, XP, and Vista). And many of these applications are integrated within themselves (so when you click an image in Dolphin, Gwenview automatically opens to display the image).

What is nice about KDE on Windows is that the aim of the project, since inception, is to create these applications as native ports. So there is nothing like Cygwin acting as a middle-layer to help run the KDE applications. This helps tremendously in keeping memory and CPU usage down to a minimum.

At this point I should warn you, some of the applications do not work perfectly. Take for instance Konqueror. Konqueror works perfectly as a file manger, but as a Web browser it is somewhat slow and prone to bugs. But it does work in both functions. Another application, Amarok, is unstable to the point of not being usable yet. That is not a problem; you can simply deselect the unstable applications during installation.

With that said, let’s get on with the installation.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download and as a TechRepublic Photo Gallery.

Getting and installing

The installation of KDE on Windows isn’t difficult, but it is time consuming. Fortunately much of this time is not interactive (so you can step away from the machine and get some work done). The first thing you need to do is download the KDE installer. Once the installer has finished downloading, double-click the .exe file and the installation will begin.

The first step in the installation is to select the Installation directory (Figure A).

Figure A

The default installation path is probably the best choice.

The next step is to choose the Install Mode (Figure B). The purpose of this is to dictate to the installer application if the installation is for an end user or a developer. If you are not planning to do any developing for KDE on Windows, your best bet is to select the End User option.

Figure B

If you select Development Mode you will also have to select a Compiler mode.

It’s very important that you select the proper Compiler Mode (if you plan on doing a Developer installation). Once you make your selection and install, you cannot change the compiler type without uninstalling and reinstalling. You can, of course, do another install and just install KDE into a different path on your hard drive. This will allow you to run different types of compilers on different installs.

Since most of you will not be doing a developer installation, we are going to continue on with an End User installation.

The next step is to configure a local storage location (Figure C). This local storage directory will be where all downloaded files are retained for the installation process.

Figure C

There shouldn’t be any reason you would need to change this directory.

Now it’s time to configure Internet settings (Figure D). This is necessary because the installer has to download everything it needs, so it must know how to get to it.

Figure D

If you are behind a proxy server, the installer will fail if the proxy is not configured here.

Along with the Internet connections configuration, you have to select a download server (Figure E). Naturally you will want to select the closest in proximity to your machine.

Figure E

Of course, even if the server is near you, that doesn’t always mean you will have the best speeds.

The next step is to choose the release you want to install (Figure F). As of this writing there are only four choices: 4.1.0, 4.1.1, 4.1.2, and 4.1.3. Installing 4.1.3 will bring you closest to the latest features of KDE 4.

Figure F

You can always go back and install other releases by installing them in different folders.

The next step is the final configuration in the installation. You now have to select the packages you want to install. As you can see in Figure G, I have opted to not install the unstable packages as well as the various language packages.

Figure G

Unless you have a need for the various language packages, not installing them will save a good deal of time during the installation.

The next window (Figure H) serves only to inform you what additional packages will be installed, based on your package selection. These are all dependencies (libraries, etc).

Figure H

You cannot deselect any of these packages.

Finally the installer will begin to download all packages necessary for the installation. In my case there are 50 packages to install (Figure I).

Figure I

Go work on that Apache server because you’re going to have the time.

Once everything has been downloaded, the installer will automatically compile and build the applications. When all is complete you will be greeted with a window (Figure J) informing you the installation is complete.

Figure J

Click Finish and you’re ready to rock the KDE way.

With the installation complete, there is no need to reboot. You are ready to take a peek at the KDE applications you now have installed on your Windows machine.

A quick glance

One of the most welcome applications is the Dolphin file manager. I have never been a huge fan of Explorer, so having a Linux file manager is a welcome addition. To get to Dolphin you only need navigate to the KDE submenu in the Start menu. If you installed KDE 4.1.3 the menu entry will be titled “KDE 4.1.3 Release.” Within that submenu you will find a number of child menus (Figure K).

Figure K

You will notice as you navigate through the KDE menus that anything regarding the desktop is missing.

In the System submenu you will find the entry for Dolphin. Load Dolphin to see just how well the KDE applications have been ported to Windows. Figure L shows Dolphin in action.

Figure L

As you can see Dolphin contains many of the standard KDE features.

Like much of the KDE-ported applications, Dolphin works exactly as expected. The only feature I have yet to be able to take advantage of is connecting to a network connection. I have attempted to connect Dolphin through SSH (with the help of Putty) but have yet to have any luck. Outside of that small issue, Dolphin makes for an outstanding replacement for Explorer.

Final thoughts

There are many reasons why you would want to install KDE on Windows. And I am confident that eventually the developers will manage to port the entire desktop experience onto Windows. At this point, I can’t see any reason to run the standard Windows desktop.

Give KDE on Windows a try. Even if you find only one application that you use regularly, it will be worth the effort.

TechRepublic’s Windows Vista Report newsletter, delivered every Friday, offers tips, news, and scuttlebutt on Vista development, as well as a look at new features in the latest version of the Windows OS. Automatically sign up today!