The KDE project just finished up its 2023 developer sprint, and with Plasma 6 development being in full swing – which encompasses moving to Qt 6 – there’s some major announcements here. As a result, we advanced a number of topics that had been stuck for a while. A major area of my focus in this respect became “Better default settings”. The 5 -> 6 transition is the perfect time to make significant changes to the default settings in a way that improve the UX out of the box. The two biggest changes to KDE’s default settings will be moving from single-click to open a file, to double-clicking. Single-clicking to open has been a KDE staple for a long time, but it’s the exact opposite of literally every other major environment, so it makes sense to align this basic interaction with people’s expectations. Of course, this is KDE, so it’ll be a toggle in the same way it is now. The second major change is Wayland by default. While X.org will, of course, still work and be available to distributions and users, Wayland will be KDE’s official recommendation from here on out. With X.org development having pretty much halted completely, and quite a few major distributions now defaulting to Wayland, this is the right move to make. For all the Wayland haters – feel free to donate your time and expertise to X.org development, because no one else is. There’s a few other cool changes coming up, such as the floating panel by default, the accent colour being used in the top parts of windows, and more.
KDE Plasma 5.27, a Long Term Support release and the final release in the Plasma 5 series which is based on Qt 5, has been released. Plasma 5.27 brings exciting new improvements to your desktop, and the first thing you’ll notice when firing up Plasma is our new Konqi-powered wizard which will guide you through setting up the desktop. Other big new features include a window tiling system, a more stylish app theme, cleaner and more usable tools, and widgets that give you more control over your machine.
Window outlines! Yet another KDE contribution by yours truly! This was fun. Not easy at all, but fun. I’m pretty happy how they turned out. A small feature, but a fun read to learn how, exactly, it was implemented.
Even with a bare-bones installation, Plasma lets you customize your desktop a lot. If you want more, there is always Plasma’s vast ecosystem of widgets. Widgets add features and utilities to the Plasma desktop and today you can find out all the stuff you can do and what’s new for widgets in Plasma 5.26. Widgets are not the only thing to look forward to in Plasma 5.26: check out all the new stuff landing on the desktop designed to make using Plasma easier, more accessible and enjoyable, as well as the two new utilities for Plasma Big Screen, KDE’s interface for smart TVs. KDE is amazing these days, and a joy to use, but they really have an application problem. They still don’t have an e-mail client that doesn’t feel straight out of 2006 (Kmail is a disaster), there’s no modern amenities like Twitter clients, and browsers like Firefox and Chromium clearly feel more at home in a GTK environments than in a Qt environment. Using KDE inevitably means ending up using GTK applications too, at which point I feel like I might as well switch over completely. I wish there was more activity on this front, but I also realise that for the vast majority of KDE users, this isn’t a problem at all.
This new version brings many improvements: the accent colour can now be set based on the prominent colour from the current desktop background image (it updates if you use slide-show wallpapers) and it applies to more graphical elements. The global theme settings page lets you pick and choose which parts to apply, and floating panels add a margin all around the panel to make it float while no window is maximised. Touchscreen mode can now be activated by detaching the screen, rotating it 360, or enabling it manually. The overview effect can be activated by gestures on a touchpad or touchscreen, using the same smooth Wayland gestures GNOME has implemented as well. The application page for Discover has been redesigned and gives you links to the application’s documentation and website, and shows what system resources it has access to. Panels can now be navigated with the keyboard, and you can assign custom shortcuts to focus individual panels. And much, much more.
Today the KDE Community releases Plasma 5.24, a Long Term Support (LTS) release that will receive updates and bugfixes until the final Plasma 5 version, before we transition to Plasma 6. This new Plasma release focuses on smoothing out wrinkles, evolving the design, and improving the overall feel and usability of the environment. Highlights for this release include: a new overview effect for managing all your desktops and application windows (similar to the overview in GNOME), easy discovery of KRunner features with the help assistant, and unlocking screen and authentication using fingerprint reader. You will also notice a new Honeywave wallpaper, the ability to pick any color for UI accents, and critically important Plasma notifications now come with an orange strip on the side to visually distinguish them from less urgent messages.
This is what I think we should shoot for in KDE: software that is simple by default so it can work for 1-dot users, but powerful when needed via expansive customization, so that it can appeal all the way to the 4-dot users–which includes many KDE developers. This is currently a strength of KDE software, and it won’t be going away! Essentially we need to fully embrace Plasma’s motto of “Simple by default, powerful when needed” all KDE software, not just Plasma. Nate Graham, KDE developer, is arguing that KDE needs simpler defaults – without losing the customisability that makes KDE, well, KDE. I think this is a good goal – especially since many distributions can opt for different defaults anyway. KDE is an amazing collection of software, but there’s no denying its plethora of options and customisation can also be intimidating and a little bit overwhelming, even for experienced users such as myself. Of course, this can only really work if the option to tweak every individual pixel remains available for those of us that want it – we don’t need Knome.
25 years ago today, Matthias Ettrich sent an email to the de.comp.os.linux.misc newsgroup explaining a project he was working on. The latest and direct result of that email (plus a quarter of a century of relentless experimentation, development and innovation) has just landed in KDE’s repositories. This time around, Plasma renews its looks and, not only do you get a new wallpaper, but also a gust of fresh air from an updated theme: Breeze – Blue Ocean. The new Breeze theme makes KDE apps and tools not only more attractive, but also easier to use both on the desktop and your phone and tablet. Of course, looks are not the only you can expect from Plasma 25AE: extra speed, increased reliability and new features have also found their way into the app launcher, the software manager, the Wayland implementation, and most other Plasma tools and utilities. Except for 1.0, I’ve used every release of KDE extensively, and its developers have every right to be damn proud of the amazing collection of frameworks and applications they’ve built. As with everything, KDE is not for everyone, but there’s no denying it’s a versatile, attractive, extensible, and fun to use environment.
Plasma Mobile 21.07 has been released, with a ton of improvements and fixes. The shell is now more responsive, by improving performance of the panel. On top of that, there’s countless fixes and improvements in the various applications, such as the podcasts application, the dialer, the SMS app, and more.
Plasma 5.22 has become more pleasurable to use through improvements to the design and greater smoothness and consistency in transparencies, blurs, icons, and animations. Moving things to accessible locations, offering hints and visual cues, and creating new settings allows you to customize your work environment to make it fit perfectly to your needs. Following the true KDE spirit, the push for a more stable and attractive desktop does not mean you have to renounce control over how you want it to look or behave. Plasma 5.22, as always, packs all the flexibility and tools for customization you have come to expect and love, and some more to boot. Meanwhile, the push to move Plasma in its entirety to Wayland (the display protocol of the future) continues in full swing. So much so that popular distros are starting to ship Plasma with Wayland by default. By using Wayland behind the scenes, Plasma is able to include features and bug fixes not possible to implement on X11, offering you a better experience and more stability. This is a massive release, and I can’t wait for this to trickle down to Manjaro over the coming week. I use Wayland, so I’ve been excited for this release since the beginning.
Now, KDE apps typically do not use client-side-decorated headerbars for their header areas like GNOME apps do. Instead, we generally hew to the traditional arrangement of a titlebar, menubar, and toolbar. The titlebar is “server-side” because it’s drawn by KWin, our window manager. Everything below the titlebar–such as the window’s menubar, toolbar, and content view–are drawn by the window itself; the window being a “client” of the window manager. Hence, “client-side”. KDE’s approach is so much better and more sane than the CSDs in GNOME. CSDs have wreaked havoc in the world of GTK desktops, with Xfce in particular suffering hard due to its use of Xfwm, causing a giant rift between the looks of Xfwm and the CSDs of many GTK applications. The main issue here is that a title bar is a title bar for a reason – I don’t want it littered with buttons and other widgets that belong to the application, not the window. I guess I’m just getting old.
KDE Plasma’s theming system is actually quite complex. It has many ways to be customized. It’s normal ever for expert users to not fully get how it works. I’ll try to explain how it works to the best of my knowledge. I’m pretty sure most KDE users here are more than aware of all of this stuff, but it’s still a good and concise overview for newcomers to KDE.
The KDE team has released Plasma 5.21, and this is one hell of a release. They’ve paid a lot of attention to presentation for this release, with visual improvements in both first and third party applications, including a new main menu (the old menu, as well as the basic cascading menu, are of course still available if you want them). On the application front, Plasma 5.21 introduces the System Monitor, a brand new resource and task manager that gives you all the information you’d ever need on your running system – and in true KDE fashion, it includes the ability to create your own personalised pages with just the information you need. Another big focus was Wayland: We have extensively refactored the compositing code in KWin and the changes should reduce latency throughout all compositing operations. We have also added a control in the compositing settings so you can choose whether you prefer lower latency or smoother animations. In addition, we have also added support for mixed-refresh-rate display setups on Wayland, e.g. you can have one screen refreshing at 144Hz and another at 60Hz, which is ideal for improving work-stations with multiple monitors. Preliminary support for multiple GPUs was also added on Wayland. There’s much more in this release, and I’m excited to try it out.
The beta for the upcoming 5.21 release of the KWinFT projects is now available. It contains a monumental rewrite of KWinFT’s windowing logic. Read on for an overview of the changes and why this rewrite was necessary. KWinFT is such a poster child for open source development. Someone wasn’t happy with KWin, a core aspect of their desktop, and put their money where their mouth is and forked it into something that they think is better. I wouldn’t be surprised to see parts of KWinFT, or even the project as a whole, make its way to become KDE’s default window manager.
KDE developer Nate Graham has penned a post detailing some of the things the KDE project is working on that should come to full fruition next year. There’s quite a few things here, but the biggest one is probably KDE’s maturing support for Wayland. I’ll be honest: before 2020 the Plasma Wayland session felt like a mess to me. Nothing worked properly. But all of this changed in 2020: suddenly things started working properly. I expect the trend of serious, concentrated Wayland work to continue in 2021, and finally make Plasma Wayland session usable for an increasing number of people’s production workflows. That’s good news, and I hope the move to Wayland fixes my biggest issue with Linux on laptops: playing video is a massive assault on your battery and fans.
The PinePhone – KDE Community edition includes most of the essential features a smartphone user would expect and its functionalities increase day by day. You can follow the progress of the development of apps and features in the Plasma Mobile blog. Plasma Mobile is a direct descendant from KDE’s successful Plasma desktop. The same underlying technologies drive both environments and apps like KDE Connect that lets you connect phones and desktops, the Okular document reader, the VVave music player, and others, are available on both desktop and mobile. Thanks to projects like Kirigami and Maui, developers can write apps that, not only run in multiple environments but that also gracefully adapt by growing into landscape format when displayed on workstation screen and shrinking to portrait mode on phones. Developers are rapidly populating Plasma Mobile with essential programs, such as web browsers, clocks, calendars, weather apps and games, all of which are being deployed on all platforms, regardless of the layout. This seems like a really interesting combination, and I really want to see if I can get my hands on a review unit.
A big update for the venerable KDE desktop. Everyday utilities and tools, such as the Panels, Task Manager, Notifications and System Settings, have all been overhauled to make them more usable, efficient, and friendlier. Meanwhile, developers are hard at work adapting Plasma and all its bits and pieces to Wayland. Once done, Plasma will not only be readier for the future, but will also work better with touchscreens and multiple screens with different refresh rates and DPIs. Plasma will also offer better support for hardware-accelerated graphics, be more secure, and enjoy many more advantages. Although still work in progress, 5.20 already offers users many of the benefits of Plasma on Wayland. This is a substantial release that’s pretty much a must for every KDE user. I can’t wait until Wayland can truly be used as the default, and I feel that moment is actually quite, quite close now.
The Plasma Mobile team is happy to present the Plasma Mobile updates from the month of September. This month’s update includes various improvements and bugfixes in file dialogs, the virtual keyboard, lockscreen, various applications, and updates from KDE’s annual conference, Akademy. It sucks that it’s so difficult to test open source mobile operating systems like this. The ARM world is such a messy patch work of slightly incompatible hardware and closed and open bits and pieces, making it very hard to just install this on a phone you have lying around.
KDE and Slimbook, a Spanish Linux laptop manufacturer, have announced the third iteration of the KDE Slimbook. The KDE Slimbook runs KDE Neon, and sports the latest and greatest AMD technology. Inside the svelte body, you will find the AMD Ryzen 7 4800 H processor — another first, as currently no other manufacturer offers Linux laptops with Ryzen 4000 series CPUs, with 8 cores and 16 threads, up to 64 GBs of DDR4 RAM that runs at 3200 MHz, and three USB ports, a USB-C port, an HDMI socket, a RJ45 for wired network connections, as well as support for the new Wifi 6 standard. The KDE Slimbook comes in two sizes: the 14-inch screen version weighs only 1.1 kg, and the 15.6-inch version weighs 1.5 kg. The screens themselves are Full HD IPS LED panels and cover 100% the sRGB range, making colors more accurate and life-like, something that designers and photographers will appreciate. This is looking like a great offering, and the KDE team has put me in contact with Slimbook to see if I can receive a review unit. This would be a great alternative to the System76 Lemur Pro, which we reviewed a few weeks ago.
Plasma 5.19 is out! If we gave alliterative names to Plasma releases, this one could be “Polished Plasma”. The effort developers have put into squashing bugs and removing annoying papercuts has been immense. In this release, we have prioritized making Plasma more consistent, correcting and unifying designs of widgets and desktop elements; worked on giving you more control over your desktop by adding configuration options to the System Settings; and improved usability, making Plasma and its components easier to use and an overall more pleasurable experience. It’s been a joy to follow the focus on fixing papercuts in KDE and its applications, and now’s the time to give it a go through something like KDE Neon.