Updated: March 14, 2019
It's that time of the year - there's a new Plasma release, this one labeled 5.15. If you've followed my Plasma escapades of late, then you're aware of my enthusiasm for this desktop environment, plus the fact I've been using the environment in a serious, real-life production mode on my Slimbook machine, trying to ascertain whether Linux can be mustered for everyday activities, the whole plethora of it. This quest comes with its own deck of articles, aptly dubbed combat reports, now at number five and counting.
This means I am rather fanboyishly enthused about this latest version, as I'm always keen to discover new features, and better yet, learn about all the fixes and improvements added to the existing stack. There is a lot of great momentum in the Plasma world, and the desktop is speeding toward the Pro Station like an unstoppable bullet train. Let's see what 5.15 brings to the table.
The great unveiling
First, I will try to keep KDE neon findings separate. While the two are closely tied, they are not the same. Essentially, you can run Plasma 5.15 on any which distro, so it's important to keep that in mind. I went for the User Edition test here, which ought to be more stable.
The desktop is pretty and 100% KDE. It comes with a familiar frosty blue-purple theme and a classic desktop layout, with a panel + menu at the bottom. The fonts are ... not pure black, so this is one thing that instantly put me off. Luckily, you have the option to customize system colors in a very simple and friendly way. While I do laments the defaults, at least Plasma makes it easy to make the necessary changes without having to hack CSS files.
You get the browser integration thingie, which is really cool. However, you don't get either the Show desktop or Minimize all windows widgets by default, and you need to add them yourself. The system is also configured for single-clicks, which I find annoying - and even more so the fact the single/double click control is not done through input control (mouse), so this can be quite confusing. Touchpad was also rather jittery.
Dolphin is ever so slightly better. Cleaner, nicer. You get clearer indicators which of your devices are mounted, and you have the option to hide entire sections (or individual devices if you like). There's also a section called Network, and it looks just the thing ordinary people will want to use - even though their Samba connectivity will most likely fail due to security zealots ruining the experience for everyone since last Thursday.
There are some plus points on the network side. More VPN support, and you can also mark your connections as metered, although I'm not sure what the practical implication of that currently is - does this impact updates or anything alike? A placeholder for the mobile future?
The package management is slowly becoming a proper, mature frontend. There's more relevance and order to its UI, and you can actually find meaningful content. For instance, wallpapers and Kate Snippets. I think one day this will replace the theme/icon add-on management in Plasma, although I am wondering if it's only going to be the back end that changes, or there's going to be some massive revamp in the functionality. Either way, it's not bad. We might finally get rid of all the broken themes and extras.
I am bothered by the thin scrollbars. They just look completely out of place, plus they obscure the logo top left, which feels weird. So far, Discover is coalescing into a reasonable product, but there's more to be done here. Given the current track record in Plasma improvements, I'm confident this will be done, and with style.
KSysGuard (system monitor)
This is one dope application. You get more control over the UI, and you have the option to add extra tabs, configure various tools, and then some. I'm liking this so much that there's going to be a whole article on this subject. Stay tuned.
Over the past few months, I complained some about Plasma software, including both Kate and GwenView. I mentioned shortcut issues in GwenView as well as session management and tab management in Kate. Well, I'd like to believe my feedback did result in some changes, but changes be some! Good changes. You can now reassign default shortcuts in the image viewer, and make it instantly more productive. Kate comes with a refined session control, and it loads the Documents plugin by default. Very neat. The only problem is, neon ships with KWrite as the default text editor, and that one does not even have tabs. I mean, really.
But here's the good stuff! I'm really happy about all these improvements.
Kate can also use all the existing system color themes - including my custom ones! I created Brooze while playing with font colors, and it's right there. This is very handy and helpful, and ensures consistency across the board.
The one thing I'm not so sure about in Kate is the text highlight on changes - the stuff saved in the current file session will be marked green, new and unsaved changes will be marked in yellow, while the loaded content from the disk will be unmarked. It's a nice touch but can be distracting.
But there's more. You can actually launch Dolphin and Kate as root now! You do get a prompt that this can be a dangerous action, but it works fine. Also, I did note Dolphin uses a completely different theme when launched as root, but I guess this is expected.
I need to see whether these improvements are going to propagate down into Plasma LTS used in the Kubuntu Beaver instance, so that my Slimbook becomes even more fun to use than it is now. I'm not sure, but maybe in a few months or so.
Side by side with good stuff, you also get some annoyances. For instance, Spectacle still does not seem to have the option to disable shadows. It's got everything else, and it's a superb, fully featured program, but it adds a massive alpha layer that serves no purpose. Which means it's Gnome screenshot for me.
Digging through the menus and options, I found a wealth of goodies. Some of these may have been around for a while, and I may have missed them in the previous editions of Plasma, but still. Great stuff, smart choices, and a lot of thought has gone into making Plasma extensible and friendly. And every day, there's more pro stuff coming into the desktop layer. Very sweet.
In addition to all the issues and bugs I pointed out earlier, I found a few other, obscure problems. Like the built-in Help. Looks KDE3/4-themed, and there are a lot of pages missing. The documentation feels incomplete and inconsistent. You get nice navigation in the left pane, but then the content on the right side is a bit old school, with ancient dates. I know it's super-hard maintaining good documentation, 'cause it's a full-time job, but that's one of them big-boy-pants pro-school requirements.
If you change the Konsole theme to black on white, the user name and hostname look very pale in default neon green. I guess this wasn't tested well enough to account for all the color variations. I'd expected all of the colors to change in both the BG and FG buffers.
There was also a stability issue - at some point, I couldn't auto-resize application windows using double click on the window titlebar. Something seems to have gone bad. I tried to restart plasmashell and kwin processes, and this did not help. Only a full logout, login worked. Of course, one or two applications crashed while I was doing this little game. On the plus side, the session restore was fast and flawless.
I also noticed there's Open with in the right-click context menu in Dolphin - but this exists even when there are no files in the folder. So you can invoke this option on an empty directory. That does not make any sense to me, or perhaps I'm missing something obvious. Maybe GwenView is there because it's the Pictures folder?
At the end of the session, I was quite pleased I must say. Lots of cool and interesting things, an avalanche of improvements. And this was just the live session - there's of course the installed instance of KDE neon on the G50, part of its eight-boot Windows & Linux configuration, but that's something we are going to discuss separately.
Plasma 5.15 is a very good release. It's not the fireworks release like 5.12, or perhaps the cannonade that we saw in the previous version, but there's still a heapload of great stuff to write home about, or tell your friends whom you like and cherish. A combination of steady improvements in the existing stuff, new and thoughtful design that shamelessly stabs at the professional world, continuous polish and fix of bugs and problems, and a strong current of enthusiasm imbuing it all.
On top of all that, the desktop environment purrs like a tiger, with lithe, smooth performance, great and consistent looks, and there's always something new and fun to find and discover. Things are coming together in a good way. Some issues too, because you can't have Linux without regressions. A couple of scars to add character, right. But the good stuff outweighs the bad stuff by a hefty margin. So if you're feeling somewhat dejected by the slump in creativity gripping the open-source world, cast your eyes Plasmawards, and you should find lots of fresh energy yonder. I'm liking, and I'm liking where this is headed. Most recommended.