Updated: April 27, 2020
Several months ago, I reviewed Plasma 5.18 LTS. I was happy but not elated. There were problems, there were bugs, there was sadness. But all in all, Plasma is a superb desktop environment, it's charging forth like a mad colt, and innovation is aplenty. This good momentum results in continuous changes and fixes being introduced to the desktop, resulting in an ever-more-refined product for the end user.
This means, by now, Plasma 5.18 should be quite polished. The rough patches we saw are most likely gone, no more, ceased to be, expired and gone to meet their maker, a stiff, bereft of life, rest in peace! But, we need to test that hypothesis. As it happens, I ran a merry update, Plasma got bumped to 5.18.4, and I'm doing my round of prodding and pushing. Follow me.
On Her Majesty's Bug Squashing Service
First, I have to say - a lot of old problems have indeed been resolved. Some of these have been around for years! Gone, ceased to be, expired! My favorite, Samba. We get timestamps! Woo-hoo. If you copy files from a Plasma 5.18.4 box to a Windows share, the files will have the correct, original time and date. Samba copy is also faster than before. Goodness, gracious, great balls of Tux.
The Wireless connection - no more deactivated/activated nonsense! Also, in 5.18.2/3, Discover would run on session login, cover the entire screen - and then fail to fetch updates because of the Wireless thingie. Now, the package manager stays put, and there are no associated errors.
Playback from Samba shares has also been fixed. Remember the caching issue that was suddenly introduced and ruined it for me? Gone. We're back to normal, sane behavior where there's only a very brief pause before a file on a remote Samba share is displayed in the media player (Dragon or VLC).
Now, this works 99.4% of the time, though. I did notice an occasional hiccup, where the file would suddenly not play. Looking at the actual player logs, I see something like:
[00007f2e94062920] smb stream error: read failed (Software caused connection abort)
There are a bunch of old bugs related to this around the Web, and they point to Samba. So we're almost there, but not yet achieved perfection. However, overall, this is a big and important step in the right direction. I am really happy.
I also noticed the package manager has become more refined. Definitely better looking. The whole settings section has also been vastly improved. Then, it's also more responsive than before. However, it still takes a bit too long to check for updates. The equivalent apt-get command is faster. But then, I'm impressed by the amount of positive changes that have gone into the desktop environment since the official LTS launch.
Some issues remain ... some issues have come to stay
Now, Spectacle has also undergone a change - the shadows are now much smaller and the alpha frame around images is symmetric. An improvement. But still not good enough. A simple toggle to let users decide if and when they want the shadows would fix it once and for all. Perhaps soon.
One thing that totally baffled me - I got that weird limited connectivity notification all of a sudden, for no good reason! No VPN, nothing. Just ordinary usage, and boom, an icon that is meaningless. So apparently, not all villains have been caught.
Other things, cool things
I've noticed - when you download files from thee Web, you have a clock/timer thingie notification in the system area. Maybe this is part of the browser integration plugin, or maybe a generic improvement. Either way, it does not hurt.
Stable, check. Fast, check. Good, good.
This isn't my longest or most comprehensive article - but it's a happy one, and its length belies the importance of some of the changes that have gone into this dot release. The Samba fixes, for instance, finally put Plasma on the same footing as all other major Linux desktop environments. They also allow me to be able to wholeheartedly recommend Plasma to any prospecting Windows person, because they won't be in an odd position where something as simple as file copy cannot be taken for granted. Then, there's an avalanche of other fixes, equally valuable. And just a sprinkling of bad frosting.
Now, with most Linux products - the story is familiar. You get something released, and then you get bugs, bugs, bugs. This shows that QA is poor in Linux, across the board. But then, the Plasma team actually tries hard to fix the issues that surface - which isn't universally true. Yes, many projects do strive to address the concerns and problems, but then many a bugzilla is a battlefield of obstinacy and revisionism, too. That is something that won't be resolved any time soon. However, for the time being, we have a reprieve, an oasis of goodness and joy, and Plasma 5.18.4 is a refined, recommended milestone. Let's hope the karma lasts. Speaking of, Kubuntu Focal review coming very soon!