The KDE Project released version 5.8 of the Plasma desktop environment this month. This is the KDE team’s first long-term support release (LTS). That means you can expect support even after the next several versions hit the web.
Now for the catch: most distributions don’t yet offer 5.8. Some won’t have the latest features for months. But there is one option out there whose primary purpose is providing a pure KDE experience and delivering updates as quickly as possible. So if you want to stay ahead of the curve, consider KDE neon [sic].
What Is KDE Neon?
KDE neon is what you get when you combine an Ubuntu long-term release with the latest software from the KDE community.
KDE neon isn’t a Linux distribution per se. You can download an image to install as you would any distro, but it’s more similar to an Ubuntu flavor. The project began as a way to try the latest versions of KDE software in Kubuntu. Now the developers — one of which was Kubuntu’s founder — have turned KDE neon into a standalone experience.
KDE neon is not an official distribution from the KDE Project. That doesn’t exist. The KDE community continues to produce code for any distros to package and distribute as they wish.
But KDE neon is one of the fastest ways to get new versions of KDE software. The project provides current versions of KDE Plasma, KDE Frameworks, and KDE Applications. Check out their mission statement:
KDE neon provides an easy and elegant way for people to test the latest from KDE, or use the latest releases of KDE Software.
KDE neon is also easier to explain to absolute Linux newcomers. Rather than distinguishing between Linux, KDE, and Kubuntu, just tell them you use KDE, which they can try out at neon.kde.org.
There are two versions available for download. The User Edition is for everyday users who want to enjoy the latest KDE releases. The Developer Edition provides pre-release software on the day developers repositories get updated. This experience is less stable, but it insures that you’re tinkering with the latest code.
What’s It Like Using KDE Neon?
KDE neon starts you off with the essentials. You have a web browser (Firefox), a text editor (KWrite), a video player (VLC), and not much else. This isn’t a desktop that will create spreadsheets and organize your music library out of the box. For some people, that’s an inconvenience. Personally, I prefer this approach. It saves me from having to uninstall all the software that I don’t want.
You install additional software through Discover, the same package manager you have on Kubuntu. This empowers you to turn your computer into whatever you want it to be. If you don’t like the app, you can use APT via the command line instead.
KDE isn’t my primary desktop environment, but I don’t notice any included software made specifically for KDE neon. This is a vanilla experience, not unlike using Kubuntu. Technically, the two aren’t that different.
That said, there are a few key distinctions. Kubuntu provides LibreOffice and tons of other software to help you hit the ground running. Plus it sees a new release every six months. KDE neon is based on Ubuntu LTS releases, which come every two years. The project keeps KDE software up-to-date, but other applications may lag behind the versions in Kubuntu’s non-LTS releases.
In short, if you’ve used Kubuntu, you have a good idea what it’s like using KDE neon. The latter simply gets certain updates to you faster, such as Plasma Desktop 5.8. It’s the easiest way to stay on top of what the KDE community has to offer.
What’s New in Plasma Desktop 5.8?
Version 5.8 looks the same in many screenshots, but that’s because you’ve already missed the first big change. A new login screen has arrived. This provides a smooth KDE experience from the moment your computer boots. There’s also a new lockscreen that you will likely see far more often, which you can customize with an animated live wallpaper.
Once you’re logged in, you will see a few improved and more memory efficient applets. When you right click supported media players in the panel, you now have access to media controls.
Anyone fluent in a right-to-left language, such as Arabic, will be happy to see improved support in panels, dialogs, and other parts of the interface.
Power users will appreciate the simplified global shortcut configuration. Even more appealing may be the ability to open the application menu using the Meta (Windows) key.
If you really want to dive into the weeds, you can view the complete changelog.
Are You in Love With KDE?
Then you’re the kind of person who should consider KDE neon. This project is aimed squarely at people who can’t get enough of the Plasma desktop. Specifically, it’s great if you get excited every time a new KDE Software Compilation is released and hate waiting the weeks or months before your distro gets updates. KDE neon delivers the goods ASAP.
Have you used KDE neon? Do you prefer the software experience in Kubuntu or the Arch-based experience in Chakra? Are you trying out KDE for the first time, or have been using it for decades? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts on KDE and KDE neon!