Updated: April 1, 2023
I am a little late to the party, but you know what they say? If you're important, they'll wait for you. Or, coming in last, you get the chance to impress everyone with a lame entrance joke. Like I'm doing now. But what we will be doing today, together, is a Plasma 5.27 review. KDE's desktop [sic] has been updated to a new version, and that means a rather rigorous examination of its capabilities.
Recently, I've been Plasma-ing a lot. This is because I got meself a Slimbook Titan laptop, and I've already shared some half a dozen articles on the topic. Predictably, they all revolve around the fine and elegant and slick Plasma desktop environment. I also have a little Slimbook Pro2 surprise, but that will have to wait a while longer. Still, in a nutshell, you may say, how about a little variety, Dedo? Well, not today, I'm afraid, me hearties. Today, we will do MOAR Plasma. I used the word Plasma way too much in this opening sequence. Let's.
Live test, first
Normally, you can get a pretty good impression of what a desktop does simply by running it live from a USB drive. This is how I started my 5.27 experiment. I downloaded the KDE neon User Edition image, and booted it on my test-focused IdeaPad 3 laptop, which comes (when not in a live session) with a triple-boot setup.
The most immediately noticeable thing about the new version is a landscape-motif wallpaper, as typically, neon ships with geometric-shape backgrounds. It ain't bad, right. The rest of it, you get the familiar Plasma look and feel, including some minor annoyances. Ha!
I had to do my usual tweaks - scaling, font color and such. The experience was predictable, in a good way. However, one thing that never "showed up" was the Plasma Welcome thingie. I read about it in the official release announcement, but it was nowhere to be seen. So I figured, well, maybe I should install the distro, and then, the welcome wizard will pop up for the newly installed desktop on first login. Maybe.
We need to install ...
With that in mind, I set about installing KDE neon on the laptop. This isn't strictly Plasma, but it's an interesting exercise nonetheless. The installer annoyed me twice. First, it complained about the fact the laptop hasn't been plugged into the power outlet. The message is ambiguous. It lets you continue, but then tells you that "some features might be disabled". Which features? And why would they be disabled? The source of electricity makes no difference. Also, what does "might" mean? Yes or no?
In the partitioning section, I selected the laptop's 250MB EFI partition and set the correct mount point. The installer then told me: "EFI system partition configured incorrectly". Supposedly, it needs to be at least 300MB in size. This is absolute nonsense.
The partition is only about 25% used, so 250MB is way more than enough. Second, the warning message here is also ambiguous, and totally wrong. I have no idea who came up with the idea of 300MB, but it makes no sense whatsoever.
The slides are totally meh and uninspiring. Feel like a 5-min job in LibreOffice Impress. Speaking of five minutes, the system installed in about three. All of it. The battery indicator barely moved. Then, after reboot, everything was dandy. Not only where there no problems, things worked as they should, because the messages thrown at the user during the installation are indeed meaningless.
However, there was no welcome wizard, still.
Plasma 5.27, more testing
Overall, things work just great. But there are lots of annoying little problems that shouldn't be there in the first place. For instance, mouse action is set to single-click rather than double-click. This is the first thing you see on the home page of the Settings menu, true, so you can change it, but it's still unnecessary, and people expect this option to be found specifically under Mouse, not anywhere else.
I was able to configure the right kind of looks easily - the Breeze Classic color scheme is there, but I still needed to change the fonts to pure black. Since the laptop is relatively small, I had to increase the scaling to 125%. Worked majestically, without any artifacts whatsoever. The laptop's screen is meh, but the glare is way less than in the past. Could be something in Plasma's color calibration perhaps. I'm not sure. Whatever the effect is, it's quite welcome. Speaking of welcome, it just ain't there.
Over the years, Plasma's package manager has improved a lot. But it's still a bit wonky. For example, the Updates section didn't list all of the packages, but had them all bundled under a single System upgrade entry. Hm, okay? This works well for normies, and no argument there, but then, saying "Unknown" for size is not professional. There should be an option to expand and see exactly what gives. I did try that. I clicked on the first entry, and then Discover froze.
Discover has a new "home" page, and it is prettier than before. But it shows a different list to what I had in the live session. It also takes a while to display information. In the screenshot for VLC below, you can see that there's no version, size or distribution data.
The text editor is a bit weird. I mean, it's become a lot better, but the landing/splash page is confusing. And when you open a few tabs, and save some files and whatnot, under every tab, there will be a navigable path for the file, like you're in Dolphin. Confusing and unnecessary. This be clutter. The worst part is, you have the toolbar right there, with just New and Open - soooo much unused space where things can go, so no need to add stuff to the sidebar or the far right side, or such. Feels like an exercise in 4D, and what to add to otherwise empty space.
Welcome Center, finally!
After a huge set (unknown size really, right!) of updates, Plasma finally had the Welcome Center. So I launched it, and started exploring. The tool would be a great thing if it did things. But it's useless in practice. It gives you a bunch of info, and then on the sixth step, it helps you configure online accounts as the one actual action in the entire wizard. Except you get just four options, one of those relevant to most people, and the other three totally niche choices.
Then, this happened while I was using Welcome Center:
What? Window Switcher broken? How, who, where? Alt + Tab was working fine. No idea. I did log out and log back in, and the error did not recur. But I have no clue why this suddenly popped, and how it's relevant. Might be a bug related to the seemingly already buggy Welcome Center.
The system was very fast and quiet. But this ain't new news. Plasma has always been super-responsive. The newer releases are super-optimized, and when you throw in modern kernels, there's very little noise. I cannot attribute all of it to Plasma 5.27, but in the worst case, things aren't any worse than before, which is great. This is definitely one of the fastest, leanest desktop environments out there, even more so when you consider how much cool, practical stuff you get, and not just a bare bones UI.
I noticed that when you're saving files in different programs, there's no (more) similar-names dropdown shown. What I mean by this is, say you have four files in a folder, named dedo-1, dedo-2, dedo-3, and dedo-4. In the past, if you were to save a new file as dedo-5, as soon as you started typing, there would be a dropdown list of similar names shown, slowly narrowing down the more you type, until you get to your unique name choice. It allowed you to deliberately overwrite files, or quick-select long names, and then only make a tiny change, like adding an extra number or such. From this round of testing, it seems this feature isn't active anymore.
Lastly, you still get pointless shadows and massive alpha borders in screenshots.
I am not 100% sure what to think about Plasma 5.27. In a way, it feels like a non-release. Yes, there are some improvements, and some new features, but nothing major that I could see. The differences are tiny, say if I compare to Plasma 5.24, which I explored quite extensively lately. The bulk of it works fine, the bulk remains unchanged, and so I am not sure the latest KDE bundle really warrants its own version. But that's a small technicality complaint really.
What I didn't like was a handful of application problems that shouldn't be there. Welcome Center, Discover, Kate, they all had unnecessary niggles. In particular, Welcome Center does not feel complete. Some baseline ergonomics could also be better. Stability was decent, performance great. If you're a Plasma person, then you should definitely explore. But some Plasma editions are simply better than the rest. Today, here, we have an average offering. If you want the best this desktop environment can offer, I'd say, for now, 5.24 is what you want. Anyway, see you soon.