Plasma 5.20 & display scaling - Excellent

Updated: November 23, 2020

When I got meself the Slimbook Pro2 laptop, I had to contend with an issue that usually didn't bother me. The laptop has a full HD resolution, which, when displayed on just fourteen inches of equity, feels a bit too small. The natural thing is to simply use display scaling - Plasma has this built-in, including fractional scaling. Thinking about it, the only two desktop environments that did this well, seamlessly, and like years ago, were Unity and Plasma, the latter still going strong. But this was less than optimal, so my solution was to do a series of HD scaling tweaks as a workaround.

Now that Plasma 5.20 is out, and if you've read my review, 'tis a blast. But the one thing I didn't check right away is the display scaling. So I thought, well then, let's see how well has this important aspect of desktop functionality changed in the last couple of years. The most important question is - has it actually improved?

Display configuration

The scaling settings are available in the Plasma Settings tool, under Hardware > Display and Monitor > Display Configuration. In the right pane, you have the option to change the global scaling from its default 100% value. And right away, I noticed changes compared to my early endeavors.

Plasma now dictates the minimum fractional value you can use. This wasn't available in the past, ans you could actually go for any arbitrary value, like 104%, 117% and so forth. Hint: you still can tweak DPI as you like, but then, you'd be veering from scaling into a set of tweaks like I did on the Slimbook.

Scaling

Anyway, your jumps are now limited to 6.25% each. You can configure properties for each connected display separately, so this is highly useful if you have a multi-monitor setup (which I find wrong), or if you connect your device (laptop) to multiple external monitors with different sizes and resolutions. Each change in the global scale percentage requires a session restart.

Does it work?

Yes it does. Really well. My testing is limited to my own set of hardware, but from what I did, I have to say I'm quite pleased. In particular, I checked how the scaling factor affects Firefox - as previously, browsers didn't cooperate well with my scaling tweaks on the Slimbook. And I have to say, noice. Then, hold your breath, I tried the same with Microsoft Edge no less, and again, no complaints!

Scaling works

Not sure what you get from the image above, but it's standard Plasma desktop, at 112.5% scaling, and everything is smooth and crisp and clear. No problemos, Mr. Roboto.

And that makes Plasma the ONLY modern desktop environment that I've used, Windows 10 included, which has proper scaling. Not sure how this works on Apple's operating systems, but with my range of software, Plasma does a most excellent job, way ahead of everything else out there. Not only do you get fine granularity, you can actually make the desktop behave as you want, which is very hard otherwise.

I remember the frustrating space of scaling games with Windows 10 on a 2K display, the time it took to find the right setting, or the fact the sound icon disappeared once I used a fractional setting in between 100% and 125% - I went back to the defaults. But the point is not to compare the two, or complain about Windows. It's to praise Plasma!

Conclusion

Excellent results. I'm happy. And also annoyed. The real problem with Plasma 5.20 is that it's not LTS, and that its superb features won't be backported to either 5.12 or 5.18, which means I will have to wait YEARS before I finally get to enjoy the truly spectacular package that is the latest Plasma release. Until then, I'll be forced to cope with various outstanding glitches and problems present in the earlier versions. Yes, the way things are, I'm not going to enjoy Plasma the way it ought be - scaling, Samba tweaks, looks - until Kubuntu 22.04.

That's the price I need to pay for expecting stability first. Which is great when you work with a complete, mature set of features in an operating system. But when Plasma evolves so quickly, including some erratic developments along the way, it's rather hard to settle and enjoy only a subset of the things you need due to administrative partitioning. Perhaps one day, it will be possible to completely decouple the underlying system from the desktop and applications. Until then, I must praise Plasma 5.20 for its outstanding job and be sad that my LTS won't be getting any of this sweet nectar. Back to our topic - scaling, job well done. Bye bye.

Cheers.

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