Updated: December 16, 2019
The end of the year is an important part of the, ehm, year. One of the cardinal reasons is the tradition of watching the best Christmas movie of all times, Die Hard. The second reason - and tradition - is to reflect upon the past twelve months of distro testing, and come up with a winner. But before we do that, we ought to have a little game. We should examine the Linux systems based on their desktop environment first.
Let's start with Plasma. Last year, I selected Kubuntu 18.04 as my winner, because Slimbook, with Manjaro in second place. I was rather happy with how things went yesteryear. I even had a sense of optimism imbue my brain cells, hoping that the Linux desktop world can, this time, despite the odds, sustain the momentum, grow and flourish. So let's explore 2019, and see what happened, Plasma style. After me.
KDE neon 5.15
I've done a whole bunch of Plasma release testing, including the latest edition and all that. But from a purely distro perspective, I only "tested" neon once. The system did remarkably well, and I must praise the overall resilience of the upgrade functionality, despite my best effort to casually ruin things. That said, the rest of it often feels rushed, and not quite like something designed for everyday use. It's more of a bleeding-edge testbed for developers than a platform with a clear objective and the Average Joe user in mind. Things you would expect as a given, like network connectivity or smartphone support, aren't necessarily there. Performance and battery life are good, but there's too much devsy flicker in the neon light.
Kubuntu 19.04 Disco Dingo
The spring release did quite all right. It was fast, elegant, equipped with a decent bundle of software, and managed to offer a fresh, enjoyable experience, something that you can't take for granted, oh no. Almost as sweet as the phenomenal Zesty from two years ago. But then, there were niggles, too. It is ironic how advanced and friendly the Plasma desktop can be, and yet carry some rather glaring problems around. And not just carry, but cherish like a prized possession, because they sure ain't getting fixed. Like screenshots and shadows, Samba copy timestamp, Samba printing button, and so forth. You can't also be too casual with smartphone support either. But you can rely on speed and great battery life, though. All in all, this was one of the more refined Plasma systems of 2019, with some pretty cool features.
OpenSUSE Leap 15.1
Once upon a time, openSUSE used to be my go-to distro. But it's been almost a decade since, and I'm still hoping for a spectacular comeback. However, if Leap 15.1 is a stick by which one measures, it's a good few centimeters (or inches for those of you using the olden units) short. In addition to the bugs we've already seen with other distros, Leap 15.1 also had a fresh basket of problems. The partitioning recommendation was not good, and I used to swear and bless penguins by it, package management was broken, there were crashes, all sorts of bugs, and the resource footprint was twice what you normally get in a typical Plasma release. I felt rather disappointed, because the distro was just too rough to use and enjoy.
Manjaro 18.0.4 Illyria
Noobs, look away, for 'tis Manjaro, an Arch-based distro! Well, this claim no longer seems to be true, because Manjaro has come a long way from being a torture device for newbies. It has become a rather refined, slick, and above all, feature-rich distro, packing some cool and unique features you don't see elsewhere. The Plasma edition is no exception, and I was quite happy going on and about with what Illyria could do.
Lots of cool software, friendly driver setup, speed. But there were also niggles, like icon pinning and the whole free vs nonfree startup. Package management remains the Achilles' Heel of this distro, and until Manjaro offers a friendly store slash frontend, it won't be able to fully compete with the rest of the distro world in this regard. But despite a flurry of (little) shortcomings, this was a surprisingly well sorted system, and one that has immense potential for growth. But then, we've been waiting for the Year of the Linux Desktop since 1999 or so.
Kubuntu 19.10 Eoan Ermine
In many ways, the autumn release of Kubuntu was very similar to its predecessor. You get impressive performance and battery life figures, improvements in package management, solid peripheral support, and good stability. But then, the old ghosts were still there, haunting, teasing and annoying me. The day I see my Samba timestamps updates shall be a day I burst into tears. Or something. But Eoan Ermine is a reasonable distro, and it's a good baseline for testing and enjoyment. There.
And the winner is ...
Now, before we do that, let me also remind I've done quite a few other interesting experiments with Plasma throughout the year. I tried Kubuntu on my eeePC machine and also upgraded my Asus Vivobook, but I'm not 100% sure how to count these efforts toward the final vote. So I'm going to leave them out, but be aware that Kubuntu remains my primary - and pretty much almost only - productivity distro.
I would have to say Kubuntu 19.10 seems like the best system clad in Plasma that I tested this year. It wasn't phenomenal or perfect or mindblowing, but it was better than the rest, by a huge or tiny margin. Not the kind of bells and whistles you would expect, but then, the desktop space has been stagnated, stagflated, call it what you will, for a while now, and a general lack of enthusiasm as well as long-delayed progress in major projects sure don't help on the morale front. But there we are.
Judging based on the Plasma results, 2019 isn't exactly an emotion maker year for sure. This is something I've observed recently. Amidst technical achievements, if and when they happen, there's a growing bud of apathy, which could be just simple, cruel facts of life. The desktop as a product ain't a novelty, and there's nothing larger than life to keep us nerds happy. The other important fact you should remember is - this short list only covers the distros that I've personally tested, it's not an attempt to drop names for every which Linux that has Plasma.
But that's it. If you're after Plasma and you don't want to be using older stuff, i.e. 2018 LTS or some such, then you will probably have the most fun with Kubuntu 19.10, at least for the short duration it's supported. After that, who knows? Now, we still have the Gnome and Xfce categories to cover, and then the mega summary for all these different systems combined, plus an odd entry or two using desktop environments outside the three penguinos. Well, 'tis the end of the article. Stay tuned for the next compilation.