Plasma 5.20 is an exceptionally refined desktop

Updated: October 21, 2020

Mr. Negative reporting for duty, sir! Now that I've taken some time off any serious Linux distro testing and me chakras be cleansed, I am ready to embark on a new Tux adventure. As it happens, the KDE team has released Plasma 5.20 unto the wild. The release notes tell us, 'tis a nice one. But check we must.

Have you followed me recent endeavors with Plasma? Hopefully you did. Which will show you a mostly solid track record, occasionally spoiled with problems, bugs and regressions. Indeed, Plasma 5.18 LTS started somewhat lukewarm, then improved, then the 5.19 release was a bit off. Not bad overall, but it feels like the desktop environment is standing precariously on the edge of a precipice, trying to manage the rare momentum of progress it's driving in the desktop world against the lethargy and apathy surrounding it. Well, let's see what gives with this 5.20 release. After me.

Teaser

Installation and/or upgrade

Initially, I wanted to test KDE neon User Edition as a live media, because that means a fresh, clean start, without any changes. I do have the distro installed in my multi-boot setup on my G50 machine, but it has seen a great deal of modifications, tweaking and testing, which take us away from the baseline most new users will see and experience. The problem was - the distro would not boot. On the G50 machine.

The last time I faced this was with a bunch of systems around 2015/16, so this is hardly encouraging. I truly hope this is not a beginning of a new trend, because that would really be the final nail in my distro testing coffin.

But I did want to test 5.20, so I booted into my neon instance and ran the full upgrade. This included upgrading the system base from Ubuntu 18.04 to Ubuntu 20.04, and then also upgrading the Plasma set. My instance happens to run the neon Testing Stable branch. The annoying thing is that the KDE team no longer supports the older base, even though, officially, Ubuntu 18.04 is supported until 2023. But hey. On top of that, I also installed the distro in a virtual machine, just to get a vanilla impression.

The upgrade was long - almost three hours, and it wasn't hands off. Some of the packages asked me those stupid Y/N/D whatever questions, as if I care for some random changes in whatever system configuration or file, especially since I've never manually changed them. The worst part is that you can't just yes-to-all this process, so if you go away and come back, you can suddenly discover a silly ncurses-based prompt waiting for you for a couple of hours, when you expected the upgrade to have been completed already. Eventually, it completed fine, and without errors.

Fresh install, first impressions

Nice. Plasma 5.20 is pretty, elegant, consistent. Tons of tiny little bugs have been dusted away or polished, leaving you with a refined, first-class desktop.

Fresh desktop

While I've been using the icons-only layout for quite a while now, it's default in Plasma 5.20. This should make Windows folks happier. The task manager comes with extra indicators and clues, making the interaction pleasant and efficient. You get action progress bar, indicators, thumbnail preview, you name it.

Icons-only task manager

The system area now comes with a grid layout. Not sure if this is better or more useful than the list, but it could make more sense to new users or people migrating to Plasma from Windows. So far, my opinion is neutral. On top of that, the clock now also displays the date. I think this is a little clunky - and before you say anything, it's clunky in Windows, too. But the different size of fonts for time and date makes me a bit jittery.

Grid

The Settings menu is more refined than before. Cleaner, easier to navigate. If you change something, you can now get a glimpse of the settings that will be affected by this change - indeed, the Highlight Changed Settings button at the bottom of the Settings sidebar will provide you with a color indicator next to the relevant categories. This can be useful, especially if you're new to Plasma.

Changes, highlight

Some problems ...

I did encounter a few issues in this new Plasma. The official release notes mention Plasma Disks monitoring functionality and SMART data, and that you need to install it. But finding it is not trivial. If you just do a standard global search, you won't see it. You actually need to search for it under Plasma Addons. If you select any entry, it opens a view pane to the right, but I don't know how to collapse it. Then, it shows Plasma Disks as installed, but I couldn't find it under Settings, and the search yields nothing. Rather confusing. This might be a glitch or whatnot, unsure.

Disks, cannot find

Disks

Cannot launch

Upgraded system

Again, no problems, including the fact I'm using a mixed Breeze global and Breeze Dark desktop theme. All my settings were correctly preserved and ported. No Wireless off/on bug for now.

Upgraded desktop

About

Visualistics

There's more visual consistency all over the place, and this pleases me greatly. System Settings, noice. Then, for instance, the volume management in the system area. Plasma underwent a plasticky revolution around version 5.16 or so, but this has now been toned down quite some, and we're back in the realm of calm and professional.

Settings

Volume, system area

A notable change - Gnome integration. Gnome apps look great. Enough said.

Gnome integration

I did encounter some small glitches here, too. Look at the desktop right-click menu. Seems like separator lines stick out 1px to the right. Maybe this is intentional, maybe not. The Gnome Screenshot icon initially showed with a very old, rudimentary style, hardly the theme I'm using. But unpinning and then-repinning the application did the trick. Weird.

Right click

Old icon

New icon

And I sorted the clock:

Clock sorted

Performance, responsiveness, stability

Phenomenal. I have no complaints. The system was fast, sprightly. Everything worked instantly. On idle, the memory consumption stands at about 550 MB (or a bit more), while the CPU ticks around 1%. There were no crashes or errors of any kind.

Resources

The speed extends everywhere. Discover responds more quickly and processes its actions faster. The updates functionality feels quicker than before, and there's no delay showing the packages and their size, something that used to take a while in the past. Not bad at all.

Discover, updates

I am also delighted by the Samba performance tweaks. I'm seeing better throughput speeds, reduced latency when connecting to shares and/or browsing them. This is cautiously approaching Windows levels of usability. Very cool.

Application improvements

I tried Elisa and Falkon, to see what the native stack of programs offers. At first, Elisa wouldn't show my music collection, but after I deleted its config file (elisarc), things were much better. I must say, Elisa is still a rudimentary player, but it's quite pretty, reasonably consistent and works well.

Elisa

Similarly, Falkon seems to show promise. The look & feel is still a bit off, but the browser is relatively fast, you have (some) addons, a built-in session manager, and you can put your tabs on top or bottom, without having to succumb to the low-IQ modern trends. Not quite the movers and shakers of the software industry, but you get some very nice and commendable improvements.

Falkon

Dolphin is also dope:

Dolphin

Conclusion

There you go. I have to say, this is the best Plasma release in a long while. I would say since 5.12. In fact, this should have been the LTS. You get everything: speed, stability, consistency, beautiful looks, highly functional software. And now, the challenge: this ought to remain, without regressions, for three releases.

There are some small niggles here and there, but all in all, there's nothing cardinally wrong with this edition. Quite the contrary, it brings massive improvements on many levels, and infuses joy into my jaded soul, a ray of hope that has been absent for many months now. If you're contemplating Linux, or contemplating replacing your desktop environment, then Plasma 5.20 offers the freshest, most elegant solution by a huge margin. Worth testing and using - and hopefully, there will be some long-term version available somewhere, so that people need stability and minimal change can settle in and enjoy a refined, pleasant desktop. That's my wish for the new year, and now off you go testing. Bottom line: awesome. Bye bye.

Cheers.

You may also like: