KDE's Plasma 5.4: The most advanced and beautiful Linux desktop

Plasma 5.4 brings some much-awaited improvements to the KDE desktop environment.

plasma 54 1
Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

There is something interesting going on desktop computers -- the UI is becoming heavily influenced by mobile operating systems. From Windows to Gnome you can see heavy influence of mobile OSes. KDE's Plasma desktop, which I consider to be the most advanced desktop environment is, however, an exception. The KDE community just released Plasma 5.4, a major update to their desktop environment and it continues to shows the prowess of this ‘leaderless’ community.

What I love about Plasma

I am a Plasma user running it on Arch Linux, and there is a reason why I love Plasma over other desktop environments: It has the best file manager, even better than those found Mac OS X and Windows.

I also like the enhanced search capabilities of Plasma desktop, which is now powered by Baloo instead of Nepomuk, which was slow, buggy, and generally hated. On Plasma (I am not sure if Gnome or other DEs could do that) I can search for any word in a document and Plasma will pull out that file for me. It scans every word of my documents. The only condition is that the file must have appropriate extension.

I use multiple monitors and with Plasma I can treat each monitor as an independent screen. I can add panels, widgets, background and even set different time zones for clocks on each monitor.

You can read more about why I prefer KDE’s Plasma desktop in this article.

What I don't like about Plasma

Nothing is perfect and Plasma is no exception. I would like to see Kmail get some developer love and become much easier to use. It's far too complicated to get started with Kmail. Another thing that I dislike in Plasma is lack of integration within different components, unlike Gnome where setting up mail, calendar, contact, instant messaging is a breeze.

Now what's new in 5.4?

The greatest addition to Plasma desktop is the arrival of Application Dashboard launcher. I was a huge fan of Homerun launcher and used it as the default launcher, so the Application Dashboard is all I needed.

After using it I actually like it much more than Ubuntu Dash and Gnome. I find it much more organized, clearer, clutter free and focused on increasing productivity instead of cramming unwanted ads in that tight space (I am looking at you, Ubuntu).

plasma54 Swapnil Bhartiya

Plasma has refined search capabilities.

Application Dashboard basically has five components:

  • A search bar that allows you to simply run a search for what you are looking for and be done with it. As I said before, it's a powerful search. I just searched for the term 'i tried' and Plasma pulled out the novel I am working on and other documents that contained the searched term.


  • Favorites, which allows you to add application, etc. for quicker access.

  • A component that shows search results or another option you choose from the next component, which is…

  • A list of stuff

  • The fifth component is a set of three buttons to logout of the session, restart the machine and shutdown.

What makes it even better is that it has 'sophisticated scaling to screen size and full spatial keyboard navigation.'

plasma 54 launcher Swapnil Bhartiya

You can switch launchers easily.

Application Launcher is available as an alternative to the default launcher and you can switch between launchers by simply right clicking on the 'start' button and choosing the launcher you want.

What else?

More polished artwork. With this release Plasma users get over 1,400 new icons that cover not only KDE applications but also third party apps such as Dropbox.

Krunner gets memory. Krunner is one of my favorite tools that is missing from all major DEs  (as far as I know) and now it has some memory. Krunner now remembers your previous searches and automatically completes from history as you type.

Graphical network applet. Once in a while we all need to keep an eye on networked traffic. The Networks applet is now able to display network traffic graphs. It also supports two new VPN plugins for connecting over SSH or SSTP.

Brand new volume applet. Audio management on a Plasma system can be a pleasure or a pain, depending on how you see it. It offers way too many options, which can be tricky if your system has more audio hardware. However, it also comes in handy if you do want to take complete control of audio on your system. With this new release the community has added a new Audio Volume applet that works directly with PulseAudio "to give you full control over volume and output settings in a beautifully designed simple interface."

Wayland. KDE, along with all major communities, are putting their weight behind Wayland, the successor of X Server (the display server for Linux). Plasma 5.4 comes with the first technology preview of a Wayland session for Plasma users.

KDE community said in a press statement, "On systems with free graphics drivers it is possible to run Plasma using KWin, Plasma's Wayland compositor and X11 window manager, through kernel mode settings." However, do keep in mind that "the current state does not yet allow to use it as a replacement for Xorg based desktop, but allows to easily test it, contribute and watch tear free videos." If you want to run Wayland on your Plasma system, check out their WiKi page.

Other notable changes: There is a long list of notable changes, but these are the ones that I cared about: Improved high DPI support, smaller memory footprint, desktop search received improved and faster backend, sticky notes adds drag & drop support and keyboard navigation, system tray gains quicker configurability, ISO date support in Digital clock, easy way to switch 12h/24h clock format in Digital clock, Telepathy contact favorites show the contact photo and a real time presence status badge, monitor configuration tool, etc.

I am already running Plasma 5.4 on my Arch Linux system: I installed it the moment I saw the announcement. You may have to add some repository to install Plasma 5.4 on your system. All I can say is it’s extremely stable on my Arch system and it’s ready for prime time. So if you have been holding back from Plasma 5, this is the time to upgrade.

Trust me, you won’t regret it.

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