Fedora + Plasma + Unity = Nice looks?


Updated: August 16, 2017

Hybrid things aren't usually the best option around. Like hybrid cars, for example. Technically, when you marry concepts, you change the energy state, and while this could make sense in that you blend the best of several worlds, when this is done in a forced manner over a short period of time rather than eons of evolution, you end with the worst bits as the product of your mutation.

I read about the United theme for Plasma a few months ago, and given that I've spent a fair deal of time fiddling with themes and icons and fonts and making different desktop environments look prettier than their defaults, I was intrigued. So I decided to see whether the notion of having Plasma look like Unity is a sane option. Let us.

Teaser

Expectations

Now, let me assault you with a plethora of links and awesome reading material first, so you get the full context for this game. I started liking Fedora a lot recently, and even got to a point where I'm spending a lot of my free time tweaking the distro to insanity. Mostly Gnome 3 games, including accessibility tips and tricks, and theme editing. It becomes addictive after a while, being able to change things and see superior results manifest as the fruit of your loi ... loom.

But then, I've also tested Plasma quite extensively recently, and found a lot of little problems and bugs in the usability space, most of which have been solved recently, offering a most splendid experience in the form of Kubuntu 17.04. Which leaves us with Unity, a Gnome-based yet independent desktop environment that offers a consistent if somewhat bland workspace. An interesting concept then. What happens if you try to apply Ubuntu looks onto the Plasma desktop?

Well, I fired up Fedora and installed the Plasma desktop (dnf install @kde-desktop), and then downloaded the United Desktop Theme. You do need Plasma 5.9, so some extra repositories are needed for this work, but you will find the resources for how to do achieve this in the reading section below.

Installing Plasma

Plasma 5.9 looks nice

I was quite pleased with how Fedora does Plasma, although it is a little difficult to separate all the bits and pieces coming from my own customizations, like icons and fonts, and the specifics of the distro theme.

System menu

Some customization

Looks, details

Unite, Unite ... Plasma

Now, let's install and apply the new theme. You should use the desktop layout as provided by the theme. This is a destructive action, which will reset your settings, so you will lose any panels, icons or widgets you may have done. Backup your Plasma config before doing this. The relevant files are stored under ~/.config/plasma-*.

Installation wise, the theme is available through the system settings menu, and this is the preferred method of installing it. This way, you will avoid any little inconsistencies that there may be in the package.

Install United

Switch, and let's observe the results ... Well, you'll get a top panel, much like Ubuntu, with a somewhat different system area look and behavior. Also, you will get a second, transparent panel on the left side, designed to act as an icons-only task manager.

United, installed

This looks like Ubuntu, but not quite. True, you do get the necessary decorations, but Launcher + Dash have a lot more than basic transparency as their chief attribute.

Icons only task manager

The new full-screen system menu is something we've seen in the Maui 2.1 review, and it's not quite as effective as Ubuntu's solution. It feels too big, too simplified, and does not fully emulated the scopes and lenses and whatnot. I am not keen on the aesthetics, either, although that's probably the least important part here.

United menu

Plasma being Plasma, you can always change the menu, but then you lose even a tiny resemblance of what United is all about. The same applies to icons, which I changed. And here, there were some inconsistencies in how they featured in the task manager.

Menu, other

Other icons

Context menu

Problems

Well, you may think a new set of icons and windows decorations is all it takes, but you can't really compare Dolphin to Files and vice versa. If you click on the top panel, it will obscure the task manager - our would-be Launcher - which is not what happens in Ubuntu, and having the distro icon partially obscured is an ugly and intrusive thing.

Top this with the problems inherent in tweaking a distro to your liking and all sorts of leftovers in the decorations space, and you don't get a pure Plasma nor pure Unity setup, but rather something that has a semblance of both without a critical mass of satisfaction of either.

Extra reading

If the above wasn't enough, then you should sample these, too:

Fedora fonts: The Font Strikes Back, also known as The Return of the Font and A New Font, but it has nothing to do with Star Trek really, honest

Fedora 24/25 pimping, parts one and two

Ubuntu tweaking guide & Macbuntu transformation

Some additional Gnome 3 pimpage ideas

Conclusion

What is thy point, Vanessa, the astute among you may ask? Well, I have nothing against United or its creators, but I did come to the conclusion that too much tweaking is worse than no tweaking, if this statement makes sense. I like the notion of trying to overcome the inherent problems in each desktop through the use of themes and extensions. After all, I've been doing that profusely for the past few months.

But it gets undone when you cross the desktop environment space. Making Gnome better yes. Making Plasma better, absolutely. Unity as an overlay for Plasma, well tricky. There's too much disparity for you to be able to hide the underlying workflow mechanisms and UI philosophies. Then, every little inconsistency glares. You notice things you do not expect, and you get angry because there are certain things you do expect. Some transformations work quite well because they build on the foundations, e.g. various Gnome panels or Macbuntu. But Plasma has its own special charm and flow and making it into a weird version of Unity, which itself is a weird version of Gnome misses the bigger picture.

And so, if you're asking me, Plasma and Unity are two separate worlds, best enjoyed in isolation. United is an interesting notion, but it also signifies the upper limit for my own wild ideas and tweaking. Yes, you can make it work, then again, it means taking away from the beauty and style of what these two desktops do, and that's not the purpose of my pimping guides. So we shall stop here, and explore other colors and shapes. Have fun, little penguins.

Cheers.

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