Wednesday, May 13, 2015

KDE Multiple Monitors

Where Did my Monitor Go?

I was having an issue with blurry fonts on my workstation. To test if it was user specific, I created a new user and logged in. After determining that it wasn’t, I logged out and deleted the user. That is when things went pear-shaped. Suddenly my multiple monitors were not working correctly. Somehow xorg or KDE had swapped the two monitors around and now my left monitor acted as though it was on the right.

I started playing around with the NVidia settings and that just made things worse. Suddenly, my two desktops had different backgrounds (where they used to be the same image). The right monitor had an image I had set months and months ago. The weird thing is that although the monitor was on and I could move my mouse to it, I could not drag any windows onto it. Xorg saw the monitor, but KDE did not. Or that is as far as I figured.

When I ran xrandr it was said the second monitor was disconnected. At this point I deleted the .kde/share/config/krandrrc file, because in the past these files have interfered with my config. Of course, that did nothing because xrandr could not even see the second monitor.

I have seen this issue before and I know it is a problem with X, so I did the only thing I could think of and deleted the xorg.conf file (if you see a pattern here… yeah, I pretty much just start deleting config files at random when stuff goes haywire). I re-ran the NVidia settings and created a new config file. That seemed to fix the issue. Running xrandr showed that both monitors were connected.

A Love Letter to KScreen

Now when I booted into KDE my desktop was cloned/mirrored. Of course I do not want two views of the same thing, so I loaded the System Settings and went to Display and Monitors.

Actually, on a side note… there used to be a different config tool that came up when you selected this. When I upgraded from 12.04 to 14.04 it disappeared. What was really awesome about that was that, apparently, it was replaced with a tool called KScreen. Unfortunately, it seems as though someone forgot to tell the Kubuntu team, because the upgrade uninstalled the old tool, but did not install KScreen. That meant that after the install there was nothing in Display and Monitors but Screensavers. I really like how they litter the upgrades with these little Easter eggs, so that every once and a while, you can take a break from getting work done and solve a neat little puzzle.

Still with me? Okay, so I loaded up Display and Monitors, which is really KScreen. Aaaaaand, only one monitor is there. You gotta love it when you solve a problem and the problem is still there. So, at first only one monitor is detected and that is why KScreen shows one. Now both are detected and it is still showing only one. What do I do now?

KScreen only showing one monitor

So I searched Google again, but this time I had to ignore all the results talking about Xorg, because I had that working. After sifting through a few results, I find someone who says that if you’re in the situation I was in, it is probably because both screens ARE ON TOP OF EACH OTHER IN KSCREEN!!! That is right, this crazy program will actually dump both monitors on top each other! I cannot imagine under what would that be helpful, Apparently that is how it represents cloned displays. I think the author(s) of this software really need to rethink the usability of this particular “feature”.

Oh there's my other monitor, duh!

Alright, I moved the screens next to each other to solve this little problem. Finally, I put my computer to sleep and went to bed myself. The next day I loaded up the computer. Since I was actually working on a Font problem… yes, maybe one day I would be able to get some real work done… I wanted to see if it was maybe my monitors that were the issue. So I brought my laptop over and connected it to one of my monitors. If anyone cares at this point, the font problem does seem related to the monitors.

So I disconnected my laptop and plugged the monitor back into my computer and guess what happened? That’s right, they are mirrored again. So I fixed them in my new favourite program. This time I logged out and back in to see if the change stuck. Nope, of course it did not. They are mirrored again. I tried changing it, logging out, back in and again they are mirrored. So, I checked for a .kde/share/config/krandrc and sure enough there is not one.

So here is the deal:

  1. The old configuration tool, that was intuitive and worked, is gone.
  2. It has been replaced with KScreen, which is not installed by default.
  3. KScreen devs think that hiding one of your monitors is a good way to demonstrate that it is cloned.
  4. Settings applied in KScreen only apply to the current session and are not persisted.

So how do I get my settings persisted? I do not know how to author a krandrrc file from scratch. I do not know where they come from. I thought it was KScreen, but apparently not. I did more searching and found about 17 different ways to hack your system to run xrandr commands at bootup, login, etc… Nobody suggested writing a krandrrc file and letting KDE handle it.

One of the guides noted that if you want to get your settings to take and not be overridden by KScreen, you have to disable it as a service:

Shutting KScreen service off

I got thinking that when I boot up, everything seems fine until I log in. As in, xorg is configured correctly and KDM is working correctly (not mirrored), it’s only when I log in that things go off the rails. On a hunch, I decided to do nothing with xrandr and simply turn off the “KScreen 2” service. I figured that it is probably loading at login, not finding a config file and resetting to the defaulted cloned configuration. Not loading it should keep everything configured by X. I gave it a try and rebooted. Voila, everything is working as it should.


I think that maybe now I know why KScreen was not added during the upgrade. It appears that KDE is completely incapable of handling multiple monitor support for you. What was wrong with the old tool? I do not know. But KScreen is a useless in my case. The way it defaults to cloned and hides one of your monitors is asinine. So is the fact that it does not actually store your settings anywhere so that they persist between sessions. Finally, the fact that, because it doesn’t store you settings, it always stomps over your system settings is simply infuriating. To say that it is broken is an understatement.

Linux advocates are always talking about Linux on the desktop. Well, when KDE’s multiple monitor support, in 2014, is behind what you got out of the box with Windows XP in 2001, it’s obvious Linux is not “ready for the desktop”. I have been running Linux for 16 years and I can barely tolerate this nonsense. Put the average computer user through this and watch their heads explode.

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