KDE Plasma 5 desktop: Fast but not furious

Jack Wallen previews the latest from the KDE camp and finds himself simultaneously impressed and not impressed with KDE Plasma 5.

KDE Plasma 5

Recently, I bashed KDE and proclaimed them irrelevant on the Linux desktop. It was my opinion that they had planted themselves firmly in the early 2000's and refused to step into modern times. KDE was nothing more than the Linux version of Windows XP and 7. While other Linux desktop environments had taken on a more modern look and feel, KDE was simply trapped in an old-school world.

But then, KDE Plasma 5 rolled out as a preview and made me wonder what the developers had up their sleeves. I'd heard a lot of chatter about how impressive KDE 5 was going to be, so I thought I should give it a go and see what the buzz was all about.

What is KDE Plasma 5? The major change in KDE is that it's now built on QT5. Why is this a big deal? By using QT5, KDE gets a serious bump in speed (and I do mean serious). Even though KDE Plasma 5 is in pre-release form, it's still amazingly fast. That's all QT5. When using KDE Plasma 5, you'd swear you were working with a lightweight desktop, such as XFCE... it's that fast.

No really, it's impressive.

Outside of the speed, you won't find a master stroke of genius on the desktop. It still retains a bit of that old "toyish" look and feel (Figure A -- why the designers stick with the glow, I'll never understand), with the Kickoff menu, notification tray, and panel. You can still add panels, activities, and widgets. So effectively, one might think they're just using a much, much, much faster version of KDE 4. Is that such a bad thing? It is if you're not a fan of KDE 4.

Figure A

Figure A
The KDE Plasma 5 desktop in action.

But wait... there's innovation hidden under the hood! That innovation is called convergence.

However, everyone's got that.

Not really. Okay, sort of. Let's just say, "Everyone claims they will have it."

If KDE can pull off what they have up their convergent sleeve, this could be really impressive. Here's how the KDE take on convergence works. The convergent shell actually adapts to the computing environment. If it detects a mouse and keyboard plugged in, it will work as a standard desktop interface. If KDE detects a touchscreen (and no mouse/keyboard), you'll wind up with a tablet-oriented interface. All of this happens on the fly. Of course, this depends on the availability of a Linux-powered tablet environment -- and there currently are none. So, the whole idea behind convergent interfaces seems pointless at the moment.

Ubuntu has also been working on the great convergency, but they too are struggling to gain any ground in the environment that makes convergence an actual "thing." You see, in order to promote a feature, that feature needs the foundation with which it will work. You cannot claim convergence if your interface is limited to desktop and laptop hardware. There is no tablet or phone to converge with. There's just a desktop.

You might have guessed, this is a bit of a hot button for me. Convergence is the "new black" for technology. It's a buzzword akin to the "cloud," but cloud computing actually became a thing. Convergence has yet to materialize into anything but a great idea.

So, if you strip away the idea of convergence from KDE Plasma 5, what are you left with? And what is it that makes this iteration of the KDE desktop different and worthy of your time?

  • It's fast (really fast)
  • It's a clean, familiar interface
  • It's already amazingly stable
  • It has a nice new lock screen

Outside of that, it's the same ol' KDE you've known and (probably) not loved for a long time. As I've said lately, if you're a fan of the Windows XP and/or 7 environment, but you've had enough of the headaches that go along with the Windows platform, KDE is just what you're looking for. Anyone familiar with either of the older Windows desktops will have no problem at all with KDE Plasma 5.

Just be prepared for speed -- and lots of it.

But how do you try it? The easiest method of testing this new release is using the ISO from the Neon Project. Download the ISO image, burn it to a disk, and boot into that image. You can kick the tires of KDE Plasma 5 and see for yourself if this newer, faster take on KDE is right for you.

Can KDE pull itself back into relevancy -- and will anyone ever actually pull off convergence? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....