The Linux world above all else consists of lots and lots of choices. You can mix and match software to your liking, from things like file managers to your entire operating system. The same applies to your desktop environment, the bundle of software that you run your programs on.
This is especially the case with KDE’s Plasma desktop. It’s built with lots of options for users to play with and is extremely flexible. You can even make it look like Windows or macOS or anything in between. The applets and widgets built for this desktop further extend it.
Getting Plasma Add-Ons
The openDesktop.org website serves as the host for many of KDE’s extensions, along with other content for different desktop environments. Plasma has a built in way of downloading them so you don’t need to worry about the finer details. It’ll also automatically extract and install these downloads for ease of use.
However, getting to it might be a little difficult at first since it’s rather hidden away. First, right click on an existing panel and select the Unlock Widgets option.
This should reveal a settings menu on the panel. Click on it, then on the Add Widgets button that appears. You’ll be greeted with a menu on the side, full of your current Plasma extensions. At the very bottom, click on Get New Widgets > Download New Plasma Widgets.
You’ll be greeted with a window that lets you search and install extensions. If you want, you can also look at screenshots and descriptions of them by clicking on the Details button of each add-on.
Once you’ve downloaded your new applet, using it is a matter of going to the Add Widgets menu and dragging it anywhere on your desktop. Some of them can even be used in your system tray. All you have to do is its settings with a right-click and enable it from the Extra Items section.
1. Redshift Control
Traditionally, Linux users who want to protect their eyes at night use Redshift (the alternative being F.lux). For those who don’t know exactly what it does, it reddens your computer’s display during the night. This is meant to help you get a better night’s sleep even if you use your device before bedtime.
Redshift Control provides the Plasma desktop with an integrated way of controlling the app. It also gives you ways to change how Redshift behaves without manually editing its configuration file.
For example, you can choose how red you want your screen to be at night. Along with this, you can disable or enable smooth transitions of the color shifting. As you approach night time, your screen gradually changes until it reaches your specified redness.
It’s a useful alternative for those who want more than just a system tray icon. Or even just an easy way to tweak Redshift.
2. Active Window Control
If you’re using Plasma on a smaller screen, then chances are you want to reduce as much space used by windows as possible. The Active Window Control applet is a great help in that regard. Using it allows you to put your window title bar into your regular panel, among other things.
For example, it can also mimic macOS’s menu-bar look, by displaying an application menu next to the title. It has the added bonus of compressing even more space out, leaving more room for the actual program.
One caveat about this is that it only works for applications which support it. Software written in GTK+ won’t have their menus appear using Active Window Control, for example (the title bar will still work fine). This might change in the future however.
There are also many, many ways it can be configured. From the behavior and appearance of the controls, it’s all laid bare to the user if they so wish it.
It can be easy to get a little lost in them, but with a bit of effort, you’ll have a menu that works exactly as you want it to.
3. Win7 Volume Mixer
There’s nothing wrong with Plasma’s regular volume applet. In fact, it works very well. However, if you don’t like how it looks, this applet might be for you. Win7 Volume Mixer, as the name suggests, is a spin of the default applet, styled similarly to Windows’ mixer.
One of the nice things about it is that it shows all of the sound information in a single screen. Compare this to the native sound applet, which requires you to click to another tab to adjust application volumes. It makes accessing everything that much more convenient.
It also provides a useful feature that negates the need for Plasma’s native media controller. From the applet, you can adjust, play, and pause your media playback. In a way, it’s even better than both native volume and media applets combined. Everything is accessible in a single click.
4. Tiled Menu
The Plasma desktop comes with three different start menus already. One of them is a compact menu in the style of more classic Linux desktops. Another is a bit like GNOME’s menu, covering the whole screen. And the last one straddles a line between them. The Tiled Menu applet is unique in that it tries to emulate Windows 10’s Start Menu.
In a way, it fills out a niche between the other three menus, since, like the others, it does things a little differently. Favorite programs are pinned on the right as tiles for starters. Your folders for Documents, Music, and so on are also easily reached via shortcut buttons.
The menu also boasts two different view modes. You can either sort programs alphabetically (a la Windows) or in your regular Linux categories. It’s basically the best of both worlds.
5. Latte Dock
There are a number of macOS-like docks out there for Linux. Latte Dock is special because it’s tailor made for the Plasma desktop. However, it can’t be installed like the other applets above, since it’s a fully fledged program that runs on its own. Instead, you use installation packages from their development website and open it as a regular program rather than as a Plasma extension.
Since it’s designed for Plasma, it’s also much better integrated. Latte Dock acts a lot like your regular system panels for example. As such, you can drag whatever applets you like into it, such as your recycling bin, start menu, or even volume mixers. It’s not just a program dock!
The higher amount of integration also means more subtle improvements, such as extra commands for your apps. For example, you can open up a new terminal tab from the right-click menu and manipulate your media player.
Like most KDE applications, it also comes with plenty of features to adjust to your liking. Want a dock with a transparent background that hides itself when a window is over it? Latte Dock can do that.
There are plenty of other extensions to KDE’s desktop — this is just the beginning. Combined with how flexible Plasma is out of the box, you’re left with one of the most versatile desktop environments in the Linux world.
How do you style your desktop?