The Current State Of the New Linux Desktop Environment, Plasma 5

Ivana Isadora Devcic 09-04-2015

After years of polishing the 4.x series, KDE is once again leading the innovation race among Linux desktop environments with its latest product: Plasma 5. We introduced the new Plasma The New KDE Plasma 5 Desktop Is Gorgeous -- Here's How To Try It While the KDE Frameworks is considered to be stable, not all things KDE have been modernized. However, you can use other methods to try out KDE 5 until it's widely available. Read More a little less than a year ago, but a lot has changed since. With Plasma 5.2 released in January 2015 and a bugfix release (5.2.2) that came out just last week, it’s high time we looked at the current state of KDE’s fifth incarnation.


What’s New In Plasma 5?

Aside from the obvious visual transformation that everyone’s writing about, there are several changes below the surface that are worth mentioning. First of all, KDM is gone – the default display manager is now SDDM, although you can install KDM if you so desire. Screen locking is now controlled by the compositor, and you can no longer add desktop widgets to your lock screen.

Another major change is the so-called “death of the semantic desktop“. Perhaps you remember Nepomuk, an underestimated tool that so many users wanted to disable as soon as they installed KDE. In Plasma 5, it’s replaced by a simplified and less resource-hungry file indexing and searching How to Find Files on Linux With 3 Easy Commands Read More solution called Baloo. (Note that Baloo doesn’t index external media by default; you’ll have to enable this option if you plan on using it.)

A whole host of smaller enhancements have also found their way into Plasma 5, including but not limited to:


What Works… and What Doesn’t?

The burning question among current and potentially future KDE users is whether Plasma 5 is “ready for the desktop”. The answer is, unsurprisingly, that it depends on a lot of factors: your hardware, your expectations, the apps you plan to use and the features you need. While it’s still very much a work in progress, Plasma 5 is usable on most desktop configurations and can work without threatening the stability of your system. However, a number of features are missing, some of which might be considered crucial.


Currently, many applications do not work with the new system tray and therefore can’t display their icons in it. Another big issue is that almost all widgets had to be rewritten for Plasma 5, which supports only those built in QML 2 or C++. This renders a lot of existing widgets completely inoperative under Plasma 5, and you will have to wait for the third-party developers to port them or find acceptable alternatives. (Or write your own 7 Useful Tricks for Mastering a New Programming Language It's okay to be overwhelmed when you are learning to code. You'll probably forget things as quickly as you learn them. These tips can help you to better retain all that new information. Read More widgets!). Due to upstream changes in Qt, locale customization is radically restricted in comparison to KDE 4, and your Plasma calendar is not yet able to show holidays or events.

People who love to customize the desktop How To Completely Customize Your KDE Wallpaper [Linux] KDE for Linux comes with plenty of customization options that exist on all distributions, adding to the uniform beauty of KDE.Today we'll be looking at very small portion of the possible options: the desktop. Read More might suffer, too, because it’s not yet possible to tweak the few existing desktop themes to any advanced degree. Add to this the fact that, at the moment, there aren’t many themes for Plasma 5 to choose from, and that you can’t download them directly from the System Settings dialog.


Other desktop-related problems include the inability to set a custom wallpaper for each virtual desktop, and the Dashboard can only show the widgets that are on the desktop, but not its own, separate set of widgets.


Still not discouraged? Great, because Plasma 5 already offers beautiful, delicate improvements to the user experience, and it’s only going to get better. The popular Icon-only Task Manager is back, and now you can control music playback from KRunner. Setting up your desktop is made so much easier thanks to the “Undo” feature that lets you reverse any change you apply to widgets. Swapping widgets is also a breeze, because every widget has a right-click “Alternatives” menu from which you can simply choose another widget for the same purpose.

If you’re worried about your favorite Qt 4 applications clashing with Plasma 5, calm down – they will work normally and integrate visually with the new desktop environment. Some applications are being ported to Qt 5, and you can even check their status if you’re impatient.


How To Try Plasma 5?

By now you probably can’t wait to experience Plasma 5 for yourself. The good news is that nearly all major Linux distributions The Best Linux Operating Distros The best Linux distros are hard to find. Unless you read our list of the best Linux operating systems for gaming, Raspberry Pi, and more. Read More already offer it in the repositories. The bad news, however, is that on most of them you cannot install Plasma 5 alongside KDE 4. You can solve this problem by dual-booting a distribution with Plasma 5, or simply trying it in Live mode The 50 Cool Uses for Live CDs Live CDs are perhaps the most useful tool in any geek's toolkit. This live CD how-to guide outlines many uses live CDs or DVDs can offer, from data recovery to enhancing privacy. Read More . But which distribution to choose? Here’s a short guide:

  • Two KDE-focused distributions, Netrunner and KaOS, offer Plasma 5 as the default DE of their latest releases, available only for 64-bit systems;
  • Project Neon has been discontinued and replaced by Kubuntu CI (Continuous Integration), so users of Kubuntu 14.10 and 15.04 can grab their Plasma 5 packages there;
  • Arch Linux, Gentoo and Slackware all have Plasma 5 in the repositories, waiting for you to test it;
  • The developers of Manjaro Manjaro Linux: Arch For People Who Don't Have Time Read More have released a Plasma 5 version of the distribution with their own modification of the default Breeze desktop theme.


Meanwhile, openSUSE offers Plasma 5 in the repositories for versions 13.1 and 13.2. It is expected that Plasma 5 will be offered as one of the default flavors in the next stable release. Fedora 22 and Kubuntu 15.04 have already announced a definite switch to Plasma 5, and rumor has it that Mageia 5 will follow suit.

Does History Repeat Itself?

Critics of KDE might be quick to conclude that KDE developers didn’t learn from their mistakes, and that they again released an “unfinished” product. If you haven’t started using Linux just yesterday, you probably remember the debacle of KDE 4.0 from 2008. Although it was an experimental release, due to miscommunication some distributions shipped it as if it were a final product. When it turned out that it was buggy, unstable and incomplete, it was already too late – both the users and the media lashed out on the developers, some of whom did not mince words in return. The main problem with KDE 4.0 was that its release coincided with the end of support for Qt 3. Both the developers of KDE and the distributions’ maintainers felt pressured to move on to Qt 4.

With Plasma 5, there is no such situation. Although it does represent a switch to Qt 5, Qt 4 applications are still supported and there is no rush to port everything. Another difference is the approach to releasing Plasma components. Instead of releasing everything at once, finished or unfinished, Plasma 5 opted for a cycle in which features are added when they’re ready and functional.


Also, there aren’t as many radical changes as in KDE 4.0. They won’t be replacing Dolphin with another file manager, and the Plasma Desktop and widgets Make Use Of KDE's Desktop Features: Activities, Widgets & Dashboard [Linux] It hasn't been too long ago (since the beginning of this month, in fact) that I switched from using a GNOME desktop to a KDE desktop for my Linux system. Now, I'm not trying to... Read More are not previously unheard of. Moreover, KDE isn’t as monolithic as it used to be. Following the brand repositioning in 2014, there are three main components of the desktop environment: KDE Frameworks, KDE Applications and Plasma. This modularity makes it much easier to maintain, since upgrading one component isn’t likely to break the entire system.

What To Expect?

According to the official roadmap, Plasma 5.3 is scheduled for the end of April. Developers and users alike speculate that this will be the first truly “end-user-ready” release, mostly due to improvements in the field of graphics (namely, better support for high DPI screens).

If all goes as planned, Plasma 5 will work on both X11 and Wayland, but won’t require X11. This is a well-thought out preparation for the inevitable switch from X11 to something more modern. A few exciting improvements are in the works as well: a battery monitor with detailed stats about energy consumption and—finally!—an option to change the position of notifications on the desktop.


This should be enough to keep you occupied until the next version of Plasma 5 sees the light of day. Of course, we’ll keep you posted on new developments, so make sure to watch this space.

Have you tried Plasma 5? What did you like about it, and what not? Share your experiences in the comments!

Image Credits: Plasma 5 Logo; Plasma 5.2 Screenshots; Manjaro Desktop; KDE Battery Module by Kai Uwe.

Related topics: KDE, Linux Desktop Environment.

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  1. Ethan
    April 29, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    I would add that from a pure usability point of view the flat design--or at least as done in Plasma 5 and as it shows on my computer--is less usable.

    The interface elements blend into each other and becomes more difficult to easily pick where one ends and the other begins. Tabs for instance. Selected tabs are almost the same color as unselected tabs. Applications are now harder to quickly pick out which is the selected app.

    So while I'm fine with simpler design and quicker display, I don't want to lose a user's quickness of identification of screen elements.

  2. Danny
    April 24, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    " Note that this was intensely promoted by the OS people (starting with Jony Ive at Apple) who most benefit from the increased number of apps that are enabled by trivializing user interface design."

    That goes to my point. Apple, particularly with Jony Ive....(who, by the way, is the REAL replacement of Steve Jobs)....has been a FASHION house ever since Steve came back in the 90's. It's just that he and Jony applied classic fashion design philosophy to the realm of computing. To much success, I might least to Apple's bottom line. (Let's not forget the multi-hued "Gum Drop" colors of the original iMacs and iBooks and how EVERYBODY (lemmings) applied that look to everything from mini-fridges to staplers, not to mention that everything was now named with something starting with a lower case "i".....iFridge, iStapler, etc.)

    But isn't that sad that the computing world, and increasingly in the Open Source realm, has to wait on Jony's NIGI (Next Insanely Great Idea).....regardless of whether or not it's a COMPLETE mistake and a step backward. (For instance, the shape of the original iPod was like an old transistor radio. The just released Apple Watch looks like a Armitron L.E.D. watch from the 70's. Is Jony stuck in the past, or is he a marketing genius who knows that with retro design he captures the Baby Boomers and their sense of nostalgia and at the same time captures the young hipsters who think "retro" is cool?

    Regardless of which is seems to me that marketing is controlling too much design and not actually a consortium of "real life users" and GUI designers.

  3. DonGateley
    April 10, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    It's a shame about the flat thing. The industry's silliest digression.

    • Michael Tunnell
      April 12, 2015 at 2:48 am

      It doesn't really matter, you will be able to change almost anything you can think of just like you could in KDE4. It just takes time to polish everything.

    • Danny
      April 17, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      I must say that I have to totally agree with this whole "flat" graphic meme that is sweeping the display industry. Completely useless....counterintutive...and FUGLY !

      Like a bunch of lemmings; some design house decided to differentiate themselves in their look.....and everybody began to follow suit. We had flat back in the day. It was called Windows 3.1. and MacOS Classic. Even Digital Research GEM. Why in the world are we going backwards in design simply for the sake of "new" (which flat design is ANYTHING but new)? We have graphics cards with 12 GB of RAM just on the card itself and all we can do is push around 2 dimensional polygons with random shades of "sherbet ice cream" color? Yee Gads !!

      As Michael said least with KDE I will have the option of going back to KDE 4 look with skeuomorphic icons and elements. The only issue with that is that your Desktop will look one way and all your apps made by the "cool kids" (lemmings) will be flat. Quite the jarring transition.

      It's ok. I've been using computers since the 70's. Like most fashion ( and that is what "flat" design is....simply fashion) it will revert to something we had in the past....which is usually better and the way it should have been in the first place. ( I do not wish to seem that I pine away for the days of Green on Black or Amber on Black monochrome displays. Although.....those types of displays are easier on the eyes for typing text that being blasted by blue-white light all day and all night)

    • Danny
      April 17, 2015 at 4:20 pm the way. Nicely done preview of Plasma 5, Ivana. Particular kudos to the mention of KRunner, the Energy Consumption window and the KF5 ports status page with a link (yea....links ! )

      And you're a vision of loveliness as well. Somebody had to say it ;)

    • Ivana Isadora
      April 17, 2015 at 6:54 pm

      Thank you so much, Danny! I really appreciate that. Your comment is so detailed and insightful, it could be an article in itself :).

      I have to admit that, at first, I intensely disliked the flat design, too. It seemed so lifeless and dull to me, but now I don't mind it so much. Probably because we're surrounded by it, since it's so trendy. But like you said, trends come and go, so I'm pretty sure it won't stay around forever. And with Plasma 5 we'll (hopefully) be able to customize every detail of our desktops, so we won't have to suffer the flatness :).

      It just takes time for features to get improved and implemented. Plasma 5.3 Beta came out this week with a bunch of improvements, so my article is already outdated :). But I plan to continue covering the best of Plasma 5 and KDE in general. It's great that the developers reached out and corrected my sloppy mistakes here in the comments - this is one of the reasons why the Linux community is so awesome. :)

    • DonGateley
      April 17, 2015 at 11:34 pm

      I think there is more to the flat objective than any appeal to esthetics. It eliminates graphic design from application GUI development and lowers the skills bar and/or the cost of development. Note that this was intensely promoted by the OS people (starting with Jony Ive at Apple) who most benefit from the increased number of apps that are enabled by trivializing user interface design.

  4. Pedro Florindo Marquez
    April 10, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    The sad part is that Plasma 5 still dies not scale automaticaly and correctly on hidps dysplays like retinas. Everything becomes super tiny and setting it up to look somewhat decent is a pain. However Gnome works perfectly out of the box. I think more effort should be put on this as these screens are clearly the future.

    • Michael Tunnell
      April 12, 2015 at 2:46 am

      They are already working on that and this article even specifically mentions that High DPI displays will have a much higher focus in 5.3 which is set to release this month.

  5. present_arms
    April 10, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    KT, We would be happy to sort out why your older rig isn't booting properly after the kernel update :D

  6. Martin Gräßlin
    April 10, 2015 at 7:23 am

    Just a small technical correction: screen locking is not controlled by the compositor.

    • Ivana Isadora
      April 10, 2015 at 9:20 am

      Hi Martin, thank you so much for the correction! Looks like I misrepresented this part from your blog:

      "In the case of Plasma the screen locker daemon will be moved from ksmserver to kwin, so that the compositor has more control over it. Screen locking is a dedicated mode supported by the compositor. "

      when I tried to simplify it for the readers. Sorry :(

    • Martin Gräßlin
      April 10, 2015 at 10:34 am

      That was from a blog post written in 2011 - so way before any plans for Plasma 5. In a future blog post I outlined that the architecture didn't work:

  7. Ed
    April 9, 2015 at 11:21 pm

    I don't know. I once installed KDE and Ubuntu on my chrome book and found KDE to be quite an abomination of a DE. Granted I spent maybe an hour on it (so maybe I didn't give it the chance it deserved), but found it overly complicated for a DE that tries to be pretty and in some ways mimic Windows 7. I couldn't get rid of it fast enough.

    I definitely found it to require too many clicks to get to certain settings and in some cases couldn't even find simple settings like volume control.

    Definitely found XFCE, LXDE, Gnome, Cinnamon, and dare I say, Unity to be much more user friendly and easier to navigate.

    It may be the best looking Linux DE, but it certainly isn't even close in usability to the other DEs. Just my opinion.

    • dragonmouth
      April 10, 2015 at 6:40 pm

      "found KDE to be quite an abomination of a DE"
      That's the way I feel about Gnome and XFCE. I guess it depends on what you are used to.

      "I definitely found it (KDE) to require too many clicks to get to certain settings and in some cases couldn’t even find simple settings like volume control."
      In KDE the volume control in on the Task Bar on the bottom right of the screen. :-)

    • Ed
      April 10, 2015 at 6:52 pm

      @ dragonmouth

      Yeah, I wasn't too crazy about Gnome after using it for a few months.

      I figured that was probably the case on the volume setting, with it being in the task bar. I guess the install of KDE from Crouton on a chromebook is very minimalistic and did not include it anywhere that seemed natural. Perhaps if I installed with the kde-desktop parameter instead of the kde only parameter things would have been different.

      I think I prefer the Linux Mint version of XFCE the best, though XFCE on current Ubuntu with the Whisker menu is really not too bad, but I do know you are not an Ubuntu fan.

      MATE and Cinnamon are quite nice.

      Looking forward to seeing a final version of the new LXQT (unless it's already out and I missed it). Looks a bit like KDE, but with the light-weight nature of LXDE.

      Thanks for your input.

  8. Jens Reuterberg
    April 9, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    You can download new themes, just not new Look and Feel packages (they are sort of forerunners to an idea of "megathemes"). Check "Desktop Themes" (third down, in screenshot two) most old themes still work and are just as available.
    Also Kubuntu 15.04 will ship Plasma 5 by default so just download the Beta or wait until its released.

    • Ivana Isadora
      April 9, 2015 at 9:08 pm

      Cool, thanks for the info! :) I knew about the unavailability of Look & Feel packages, but if regular themes are still usable, that's great news.

  9. Stefan
    April 9, 2015 at 8:32 pm

    I'm using Plasma 5.2.2 on openSUSE 13.2 and I can say that is pretty much usable even in current state. Only one thing that is driving me crazy is missing icon from Dropbox! This is a real deal breaker for lots of people...

    • Stefan
      April 9, 2015 at 8:35 pm

      And, great article! :)

    • Slim Bubba
      April 9, 2015 at 11:19 pm

      I'm running the same setup and my Dropbox icon is fine,

  10. kt
    April 9, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    pclinuxos kde 64 crashed my old pc (amd dual core, 4 gigs of ddr400 Ram, nVIDIA 210 gpu) after the last kernel upgrade. It still runs fine on my newer gaming rig though. I still don't like Mint's version of KDE.

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    April 9, 2015 at 4:45 pm

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  12. dragonmouth
    April 9, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    I am currently running the latest version of PCLinuxOS (2014.12) updated as of this morning. It uses KDE 4.14 and contains both Baloo and Nepomuk packages, neither one of them can be uninstalled without not only disabling the system but also about half a dozen applications.

    • Ivana Isadora
      April 9, 2015 at 4:02 pm

      Yeah, you can't uninstall them - they are core KDE components. That would be a bit like trying to remove Plasma. But they can be disabled so that they don't run on startup, or at all. Baloo indexing can be turned off in the configuration files in ~/.kde/share/config, and I believe Nepomuk can be turned off through System Settings. But the article is about Plasma 5, not KDE 4.1x, so we're kinda off-topic. :)

    • dragonmouth
      April 9, 2015 at 7:22 pm

      My point is that some distros (or at least one distro) are rushing things a bit and implementing Baloo without implementing Plasma 5

    • Ivana Isadora
      April 9, 2015 at 7:29 pm

      Oh, I think it's not the distribution's fault. According to the official documentation, Baloo has replaced Nepomuk already in KDE 4.13, probably as a way to prepare the users for the switch in Plasma 5. Here you can find more about it: