The best Plasma ever

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© Lead Image © Gino Santa Maria, Fotolia.com

© Lead Image © Gino Santa Maria, Fotolia.com

Article from Issue 222/2019
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KDE Plasma 5.14 brings some highly visible improvements for KDE users.

The two big Linux desktop environments are moving further apart. Gnome stands for simplicity, hiding many of its functions and making other functions accessible only through extensions. Increasingly, functionality is being removed from Gnome, such as lately the ability to place icons for directories or apps on the desktop itself. The Gnome desktop's operating concept requires that the user adapt to the software instead of the other way around.

Moving in the opposite direction, KDE developers are deliberately seeking to expand the desktop's capabilities. Recent releases have seen many continuous, consistent, and meaningful improvements to the Plasma desktop.

In Version 5, the KDE project modularized the KDE Software Compilation (KDE SC) [1] and divided it into three parts. This approach allows more independent development and publication of the individual parts, which allows for fast delivery of new functions.

KDE Frameworks 5.52 contains over 70 libraries, which are based on the Qt GUI toolkit [2] currently in version 5.11, and form the basis for the other two components. KDE Applications groups the applications that belong to the KDE core software [3]. The current version 18.08.2 includes applications such as Kate, Konsole, Gwenview, Dolphin, and Okular. This review puts the focus on the third component: the KDE Plasma 5.14 desktop, which was released in early October 2018.

All Good Things

Plasma's development model provides for three releases per year, with each release seeing five minor versions for bug fixes. As of this issue's editorial deadline, Plasma 5.14.5 was the latest; when you read this article, version 5.15.2 will be the current version. In addition, versions with long-term support (LTS) have been introduced with Plasma 5.8; they offer up to 18 months of support and a correspondingly higher number of minor versions. Currently, Plasma 5.12 has LTS status, the next LTS version is not yet fixed.

In order to use a Plasma desktop with the latest KDE developments, we installed KDE neon User Edition (Figure  1), with a download size of 1.7GB [4]. Right after the installation, we checked how much main memory a KDE desktop currently needs. By splitting the libraries, the KDE desktop's fifth generation uses resources more sparingly than its predecessors (Figure 2).

Figure 1: KDE neon constantly offers the latest developments. The version counter is currently at Plasma 5.14.5.
Figure 2: The fifth generation Plasma desktop uses a computer's resources far more sparingly than before due to increasing modularization.

Economical

While Gnome 3.30 on the current Fedora 29 grabs about 620MB RAM immediately after start-up, Plasma 5.14 is content with 446MB. For comparison: Xfce occupies about 350MB main memory under Siduction. Gnome and Cinnamon are therefore resource-hungry desktops, while Plasma and Xfce are in the midrange. Only LXQt and LXDE get by with even less RAM.

Shortly after installing Plasma 5.14, we noticed a first, very useful change for multiuser systems: The lock screen now lets you directly change the user where you had to log out in past versions (Figure 3). If you try to shut the system down and other users are logged on, a warning is output. These changes improve comfort and increase safety at the same time.

Figure 3: Changing user accounts is faster thanks to the Switch user button in Plasma 5.14; logging out the previous user is no longer required.

Discovering Discover

In 2018, one important application received a huge amount of attention across the different Plasma versions: Discover. The graphical software manager had a life of its own as Muon Discover before it assumed a leading role on the Plasma desktop.

In early 2018, Discover was still slow and buggy: it froze at run time, showed inconsistent results, and provided illogical user guidance. In addition, it offered no advantage over the command line. Since then, Discover has matured with every issue and is now at least on a par with its counterpart Gnome Software.

The developers not only perfected Discover visually, but they also extended it with essential functions. Today, Discover not only installs and updates applications, but also handles Plasma extensions known as plasmoids or widgets.

In Plasma 5.14, Discover has learned how to update the computer's firmware. In the background, the application uses Linux Vendor Firmware Service (LVFS) [5] developed by Fedora. Participating manufacturers enter their firmware updates into this database, which the system then detects and runs updates if required.

Whether it's updating Logitech's Unifying Receiver for wireless devices or UEFI on a Dell laptop, Discover informs Plasma 5.14 users about upcoming updates and can perform updates on demand (Figure 4). Until now, Plasma users had to use the fwupdmgr command in Konsole for updates.

Figure 4: Discover now supports LVFS, which can be used to update the computer's or accessories' firmware.

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