Why I use KDE's Plasma, and why I am excited about Plasma 5.3

It’s getting better and better with each release.

kde plasma
Credit: Ruben Schade/Flickr

KDE's Plasma is undeniably one of the most advanced desktop environments across platforms. The reason I call it the most advanced desktop is simple: it keeps my desktop relevant. When I look at my PC, I look at a 'personal computer', a powerful computing device that assists me in doing my job, enjoying my hobbies, providing entertainment.

A desktop environment could become a wall or bridge between myself and that powerful hardware on my PC. I want this desktop environment to be capable of doing more for me, not less. I don't want a DE that cripples the capabilities of my computer, just because its developers think it's unimportant.

That's where KDE's Plasma shines.

One simple example is the ability to batch rename files, something that is important for me as an avid photographer. And it's fairly easy to do in Dolphin, the default file manager of Plasma.

I will give you a simple example you can easily relate to. I went on a beach vacation for a week. We visited the beach, went for sushi dinner, an Arts & Craft museum, a zoo, and a butterfly garden. As usual, I took a lot of photos.

I have a local server where I store all data so it can be accessed from any device in the home network. There is over 10TB of data on this server. If I want to see some pics of FOSDEM 2012 where Richard M Stallman stayed with me, and we cooked some Indian food together, I search for 'Richard Stallman Indian 2012', and all the images are there.

What I did was instead of using the default DCS-20021 naming for images, I named them aptly.

When I came back from the beach trip, I wanted to select images from beach, dinner, museum, etc. and rename them.

It's not possible in Gnome. Gnome's Nautilus, aka Files, doesn't allow that. So while I like the looks of Gnome Desktop or the neat appearance of Unity, this is what I mean when I say those and similar desktops tend to 'cripple' my computer.

Batch renaming is just one of the many examples of why KDE software is more advanced and modern. Every component of KDE software is equally powerful, and enables user to fully exploit the potential of their PC.

That being said, not every user may have the same requirements. There are many users who don't shoot photos much and don't need or care about such features.

The KDE community is working on the next generation of KDE desktop, called Plasma. The just-released version 5.3 of Plasma brings many improvements and features, and these improvements give us a glimpse of the meticulousness of KDE developers.

KDE 5.3 is a great upgrade for laptop users as it brings smarter power management. If your laptop is connected to an external monitor, then when you close the lid, it won't suspend the laptop. And if you just initiated a shutdown of the system and slammed the lid, it won't get confused and put the laptop in suspend mode. Other improvements include:

Power management settings can be configured differently for certain activities

  • Power management inhibitions block lock screen
  • Screen brightness changes are now animated on most hardware
  • Support for keyboard button brightness controls on lock screen
  • KInfoCenter provides statistics about energy consumption
  • Battery monitor now shows which applications are currently holding a power management inhibition

Bluetooth peripherals are everywhere today, and I use Apple Magic Trackpad and Keyboard, so further improvements in this area are important to me. There is a brand new Bluetooth applet in 5.3 and the underlying KDE technology, Bluedevil, which handles such connections, has been ported to new libraries BlueQt. It now comes with support for blocking and unblocking Bluetooth devices. If your BT devices support OvexFTP then these devices will now be displayed in the Places panel of Dolphin.

One improvement that I do want to see in KDE's Bluetooth wizard is a more sensible approach toward devices like Trackpad that doesn't have keys to enter the PIN. It should not ask for a user to enter a PIN when connecting to such devices.

The functionality of a Plasma desktop can be expanded exponentially thanks to widgets. And with the 5.3 release, there are major improvements for Widgets, including:

  • Clipboard applet gains support for showing barcodes
  • The Desktop and Folder View containment code bases were unified, and have seen performance improvements
  • The Recent Documents and Recent Applications sections in Application Menu (Kicker) are now powered by KDE activities
  • Comics widget returns
  • System monitor plasmoids return, such as CPU Load Monitor and Hard Disk usage

This release also introduces Plasma Media Center (PMC) as a tech preview. It's KDE's own media center solution. I use Plex for all of my multimedia needs and it will be interesting to see what they are planning with PMC or how competitive it may be against Plex or KODI.

Developers have also improved the management of desktop widgets. They have included a new 'press and hold' mode to move widgets around. In addition, there is now improved support for Waylan, the successor of the XOrge server.

Plasma 5.3 is taking the project in the right direction and that’s why I am excited about it and the next iterations of this desktop.

Is Plasma 5 ready for prime time?

It depends on your needs. I have moved all of my distros - Arch Linux, Kubuntu and openSUSE to Plasma 5, and I am pretty satisfied. Check it out and you may never go back to Plasma 4.

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