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.
I am pleased to announce the KWinFT project and with it the first public release of its major open source offerings KWinFT and Wrapland, drop-in replacements for KDE’s window manager KWin and its accompanying KWayland library. The KWinFT project was founded by me at the beginning of this year with the goal to accelerate the development significantly in comparison to KWin. Classic KWin can only be moved with caution, since many people rely on it in their daily computing and there are just as many other stakeholders. In this respect, at least for some time, I anticipated to be able to push KWinFT forward in a much more dynamic way. This is a great concept, and will allow more experimentation and exciting new features in a place where this normally simply doesn’t make much sense.
There’s a storm brewing in the world of Qt and KDE, as the parent company of Qt, The Qt Company, is contemplating restricting new Qt releases to paying customers (i.e., not releasing them as open source) for twelve months. This obviously affects the KDE project considerably, who have been negotiating with The Qt Company for years now. An announcement made by The Qt Company in January derailed said negotiations, however. As KDE’s Olaf Schmidt-Wischhöfer explains: They announced that LTS releases of Qt will only be available for paid license holders. It is still unclear what this implies for contributions to Qt and for the sharing of security fixes between the various parties (including The Qt Company, the many Qt experts contributing, the KDE community, and Linux distributions). It seemed the two parties were working on a path forward acceptable to all parties involved, but then came the announcement earlier today that The Qt Company was contemplating restricting all releases to paid customers for twelve months. It seems bad blood has been brewing for a while, as Schmidt-Wischhöfer states: The Qt Company says that they are willing to reconsider the approach only if we offer them concessions in other areas. I am reminded, however, of the situation half a year ago. We had discussed an approach for contract updates, which they suddenly threw away by restricting LTS releases of Qt instead. All software changes in Qt will still be available at as Open Source as required by our contract – maybe with a delay of 12 months if the company decides to part ways with the communities. We will continue to work on a contract update that helps all sides. But even if these negotiations were to be unilaterally stopped by The Qt Company, Qt will stay Open Source, and KDE will be able to use it. I am also absolutely sure that the Qt + KDE communities will continue cooperation on new features, bug fixes, and security fixes, even should The Qt Company decide to forgo the benefits of cooperation. Luckily for the future of KDE and Qt, there is an agreement in place between KDE and The Qt Company that states that “ should The Qt Company discontinue the development of the Qt Free Edition under the required licenses, then the Foundation has the right to release Qt under a BSD-style license or under other open source licenses.” This is a serious issue that I hope can be resolved, as nobody will benefit from a serious rift between The Qt Company and the KDE project.
Some very nice performance fixes landed this week, which should substantially boost move and copy speeds for local transfers and transfers to and from Samba shares in particular. But that’s not all, and there’s more on the menu… Every week, there’s a blog post highlighting the various changes, bugfixes, small new features, fixed paper cuts, and other small changes within KDE and its associated projects and programs. They’re a joy to read, and I would love it if more major software projects did this.
A brand new version of the Plasma desktop is now available. In Plasma 5.18 you will find neat new features that make notifications clearer, settings more streamlined and the overall look more attractive. Plasma 5.18 is easier and more fun to use, while at the same time allowing you to be more productive when it is time to work. A lot welcome changes and polish, and I’m particularly pleased with the death of the insipid ‘cashew’ menu that resided in the top-right of the KDE desktop. You had to dive into the settings to remove it, but now it’s been replaced by a global edit mode that’s entirely invisible until you enable it, following in the footsteps of similar edit modes in Cinnamon and other user interfaces.
KDE’s Usability & Productivity initiative is now almost two years old, and I’ve been blogging weekly progress for a year and a half. So I thought it would be a good time to take stock of the situation: how far we’ve come, and what’s left to do. Let’s dive right in! This initiative has been a lot of fun to follow. If you always update to the latest KDE release – for instance by using KDE Neon – you’ll see the weekly fixes and polishes highlighted in the blog posts appear on your machine very quickly.
From the 22nd to 26th of March, members of the KDE Privacy team met up in Leipzig, Germany, for our Spring 2019 sprint. During the sprint, we floated a lot of different ideas that sparked plenty of discussions. The notion of privacy encompasses a wide range of topics, technologies and methods, so it is often difficult to decide what to focus on. However, all the aspects we worked on are important. We ended up tackling a variety of issues, and we are confident that our contributions will improve data protection for all users of KDE software. Quite a few ideas became reality for upcoming KDE releases. Good work.