Every time I ponder KDE Plasma, I can’t help but think about the tortoise and the hare. In my reality, GNOME is the hare and KDE is the tortoise. When GNOME Shell 3 was first released, it was as if it shot out of the gate, ready to go and make some noise. And noise it did make. And even though not all of the noise was positive, it was next to impossible to avoid. And so GNOME went. It evolved very quickly and became the default desktop for a lot of Linux distributions.
All the while, tucked away in the shadows of GNOME, KDE Plasma continued evolving and improving. It was a very slow and quiet progression, but that “alternative” Linux desktop has reached the point that it no longer needs to live in the shadows of GNOME.
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The latest iteration of KDE Plasma makes a very strong case for it no longer being the “alternative” but the front-runner for your attention.
To test the latest release, I downloaded and installed an ISO image of KDE Neon and spun it up as a VirtualBox VM. After an immediate upgrade, I rebooted and logged in to see what’s what. I’ll cut to the chase to say I was seriously impressed. In this latest release, there are the usual bug fixes and code clean that have helped to further improve KDEs performance but there’s one new feature that will be a serious game-changer for a lot of users’ workflow.
That feature is the Overview.
KDE gets GNOME-ified
If there’s a feature found in GNOME that I believe makes the desktop more productive than several other environments, it would be the Overview. What this feature does is allow you to quickly view all of your opened applications and virtual desktops. You can drag and drop any open application from one virtual desktop to another, making it considerably easier to keep everything well organized.
With the release of KDE Plasma 5.24, it now includes a similar Overview. The KDE Plasma take on the Overview is almost identical to that of the new horizontal workflow overview found in GNOME. Once enabled, click the [Super]+[W] keyboard shortcut to open the Overview, where you can select an application, switch to a different desktop, or drag an application to a different desktop (Figure A).
Out of the box, the Overview isn’t enabled. No fret, as the feature is very easy to set. Here’s how:
- Open the KDE Settings application.
- Go to Workspace Behavior | Desktop Effects.
- In the resulting window (Figure B), click the check box for Overview.
- Click Apply.
- Close Settings.
Once enabled, click the keyboard shortcut to open the Overview.
That feature alone is worth upgrading to the latest iteration of KDE Plasma (5.24.1) and maybe even sway you over from your current desktop of choice. If that’s not enough, here are some of the other improvements added to the 5.24 (and 5.24.1) release:
- Support for fingerprint readers for screen unlock, app authentication and sudo.
- More desktop effects (Cover Switch and Flip Switch have been added back), such as the Scale effect (replacing the Fade effect for window opening/closing).
- QtQuick-based applications enjoy a serious performance boost for NVIDIA GPU.
- Improvements to the System Tray.
- More customization options for the panel and task manager.
- Applications now default to opening in the center of the screen (and will remember the last display they were on for multi-display setups).
- Custom accent colors for themes.
- Flatpak repositories are now easier to add to the Plasma Discover software center.
For those who want to view the entire list of changes for KDE Plasma 5.24.1, check out the changelog.
Beyond the Overview, the new features, and the fixes, the thing that really struck me the most was the performance and stability. I remember, back in the earlier days, KDE always felt as though it were a blink away from crashing. That hasn’t been the case for some time, as KDE Plasma has become as rock-solid as any desktop on the market. But with release 24.5.1, KDE Plasma performs as well as any other. I’d go so far as to say the KDE Plasma desktop environment performs as well as many of the lightweight desktops (such as Xfce).
I enjoyed my experience with KDE Plasma 5.24.1 so much, I had to dig to find anything negative. The only “flaw” I was able to find in this otherwise flawless desktop was that some of the upgrades required a reboot and were performed during the reboot process. That is about as un-Linux as you can get. That’s quite surprising, given KDE Neon is a Ubuntu-based distribution. Even still, with that one caveat, KDE Plasma 5.24.1 is an absolutely brilliant desktop environment that I would gladly recommend to any user of any skill level. It’s good for new-to-Linux users as well as those who’ve been around the Linux block a few times. I’d go so far to say this is the best release of KDE Plasma I’ve ever experienced. It’s clean, performs as well as any other environment, and is as elegant a desktop as you’ll find.
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