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In KDE 3.5 this was called mouseover effects in the panel config box (located in the Appearance section, next to the Show tooltips check box). The line item in kickerrc was in the [buttons] section and called EnableIconZoom. I haven't found the equivalent yet in KDE 4 and the mouseover effects bug me too. Anybody know how to disable the mouseover effects in the panel?
I browsed the KDE forum and there does not seem to have a general setting for showing tooltips.
In this KDE forum thread, it's discussed how to disable tooltips for some applications:
Unfortunately they are under the control of the application that shows them. For Konqueror/Dolphin's tooltips, open Dolphin > Settings > Configure Dolphin > General. Uncheck "Show tooltips"
In taskbar can be disabled by right clicking taskbar > settings > show tooltips
There is a KDE bug report opened regarding tooltips in the panel or the desktop: bug 178578