plasma-desktop

Adventures in Plasma Land

Or, can a man fall in love with KDE, 20 years later

KDE has never been able to capture my heart. I remember trying KDE 1.1 or so on Madrake Linux 6 in the late 90s. It just never clicked for me. I opted instead for Enlightenment. Ever since then, I’ve tried it every year or so to see if I could understand peoples’ love for it. I didn’t fall for KDE 3.5 that so many people remember fondly, or KDE 4, which people recall much less fondly. I’ve peeked in on KDE Plamsa 5 during it’s development, but it never was able to bring me in. But here I am, in 2019, about 20 years since I started using Linux, and I’ve giving KDE Plasma 5.16.4 a go!

Background

So, why now? Well, as I said, I try KDE every now and then. Something about it always draws me in, before turning me off again. I recently ended up down an internet rabbit hole following articles on Plasma mobile, Qt Python bindings and even Qt C# bindings for .Net Core (and I love me some C#). I wondered: “Could Plasma, Plasma Mobile, Qt, and C# be the epic combo of my dreams?” Let’s find out!

Setup

I’m running KDE Plasma 5.16.4 on KDE Neon Linux. Neon is based on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS using KDE’s own, and constantly updated, repos for Plasma itself. I figured as long as I’m giving a fair shake, I ought to go right to the source. (As I’ve written this article, I’ve upgraded across a few versions of 5.x Plasma)

I’m running it on my trusty desktop with a Core i7 920, AMD Radeon RX 560, 12 GB RAM, a 512 GB SSD, and a HiDPI monitor at 3840×2160. It’s my daily driver at home for general computing, gaming, and game development.

I’m also running the X11 version of Plasma, rather than Wayland. I did some testing and Wayland seems to be particularly fluky with AMD graphics, though remarkably stable on the Intel-graphics based laptop I tested on. Your mileage may vary.

KDE System Info

Window Dressing

At work I use a Mac, so having the close, minimize and maximize icons on the left just keeps my flow going. I really thought this was going to be one of those “sorry, can’t do with Plasma” things. Oh, how wrong I was! In face, Plasma lets you customize all the icons on title bar.

Titlebar icon placement is handled by the “Look and Feel of Windows Titles” settings menu.

Bluetooth

I was able to connect a Bluetooth Microsoft Arc Mouse and my Apple AirPods without any difficulty whatsoever. Major bonus in my book!

Scaling

One of things I love about Plasma is the decimal-based resolution scaling. Wheres the GTK-based desktops I’ve used require scaling at 1x, 2x, 3x, etc., Plasma allows you too choose, for example, 1.5x. This is a huge improvement for HiDPI displays.

The caveat is, you’re probably not going to be running all Qt apps. Invariably, you’ll also run some GTK apps as well. These will ignore your scaling. This was the case for me with Unity Editor.

Luckily, there’s an easy fix!

Open kmenueditor

Find the app you need to scale

Prefix the command with: GDK_SCALE=2

Multiple Displays

While this isn’t an issue for me on my main computer, I did want to see how Plasma handled multiple monitors in case I’m able to get a 2nd display at home someday. Using a test laptop with Intel-based graphics I had no problem at all running Plasma with two 4K monitors daisy chained with DisplayPort.

Extra Surprises

PSD Previews

One of the things that drives me crazy about Nautilus is that it doesn’t support the preview of PSD files out of the box. Perhaps there’s a plugin or setting somewhere, but not that I could find. I was thrilled to open a folder with a whole slew of PSD files and see previews of them working by default.

Latte Dock

If you’re a lover of docks like I am, I can’t recommend Latte Dock highly enough! Latte Dock is integrated beautifully into the Plasma ecosystem, with all the fun stuff like pinning and app actions. For example, the Spotify app will give you playback options right from the dock icon.

Issues

Media over SMB

Dolphin (KDE’s file manager) does fantastic job of browsing SMB shares. It’s handy to be able to view shares without actually mounting them, but there’s quite a few drawbacks. Most frustrating was getting media to play when double clicking the file. I was eventually able to get it to work with VLC by using the snap version and dragging/dropping the file into the VLC window, but this still required me putting in my username and password for each video. My recommendation: mount the share, and everything works fine. I found smb4k recommended in a forum for this, and it does a fantastic job. Just make sure to exclude it’s default mount point, ~/smb4k, from your backup jobs.

Discover

Discover is Plasma’s app installation and system update tool. It’s gotten much better over the years (and even since I began writing this article), but can still be finicky.
For example: if I search for ‘kmenu,’ I get nothing. It’s not until I search for ‘kmenuedit’ that I get a search result. I just seems by now that I should be able to do a partial search and good results.

Wherefore art thou kmenuedit?
Oh, there you are.

I will say this about Discovery though, it’s ability to handle both apt and snap versions of packages is very convenient!

KRDC

KRDC is a Qt-based remote desktop app for Plasma. It works great on a regular-resolution displays, but has some strange scaling issues for me on a HiDPI display and AMD graphics. I like to have a bunch of remote desktop sessions open at once, so I’ll typically have the remote desktop display be the current size of the client window. This works great in Remmina (the GTK equivalent of KRDC), but with KRDC I can never get it working quite right. (See below)

My old Windows VM and Plex server, before I migrated it to Ubuntu

Verdict

I’m sold! I started this article about four months ago wondering when I’d switch from Plasma back to Budgie. Now, I can say without a doubt that Plasma will remain my desktop of choice for the foreseeable future. Great job Plasma team!

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