Updated: October 16, 2019
Plasma is an extremely extensible, flexible desktop environment, and it lets you customize and change anything and everything to the tiniest detail. You can go about mimicking other desktops and systems as you please, limited only by your imagination and patience. If you want a Mac-like look or a Unity look, you can.
So I thought, I should revisit my old Plasma widgets article and explore some fresh applets out there, to see what else you can do here. Indeed, there are lots of hidden goodies lurking beneath the surface, and if you're curious, you will discover fresh tools and features that can make the Plasma desktop experience even more enjoyable.
Window buttons and window title
If you read the two articles linked above, you will notice I've made heavy use of these two. In combination with the global menu, you can have a fancy look, complete with a dock, for a rather un-Plasmaish experience if you're so inclined.I have a tutorial explaining how to compile and configure these two plasmoids manually. But if (and when) they become available in Discover without any compilation, you should install them that way. It's faster and simpler.
Speaking of Discover, Plasma is shifting focus from the old system widget interface. Plasma addons are now controlled directly through the package manager in a nice, simple convenient way, complete with screenshots, ratings and reviews. Very handy. And quite pleasant to use and explore.
This plasmoid allows you to save your current Plasma configuration, and then quickly restore it later on. This applies to anything desktop, including your widgets, applets, any panels you have, theming, and so forth. Very convenient if you plan on making visual changes to your desktop. Of course, you can always manually back up configuration files, but this is accessible to ordinary users, without any need for advanced knowledge.
Once the applet is installed, add it anywhere you like - the panel seems like the obvious choice. Then, when you click on the widget icon, it will pop a simple interface where you can save your desktop with a unique name, import existing configurations (even from other desktops), export the saved ones, delete them, etc.
Saving desktop configurations is quite easy and instant. If you want to switch to a saved one, though, you will need to log out and log back in. You may come under the impression that the widget isn't really doing anything, but it does need to load the configuration fresh. This might change in the future.
We've also mentioned this one in the Unity transformation guide. But it has other uses, too. In combination with a minimalistic, Unity-like menu, it gives you system control that the other applet does not allow. But we will touch on that one shortly, let's focus on this plasmoid first. USwitcher is a modified user switcher widget, and it gives you several common system functions - like session commands, access to settings, system monitor, and a few others. Very handy. And you can also make it pretty by using your name, your avatar, or even a custom logo - but it must be in the right image format. For instance, jpg works, but jpeg does not.
This one draw inspiration from the elementary OS world. A minimal menu, which only has several tabs of applications and nothing more. Visually, it's quite lovely, but then you do need something like USwitcher to be able to control your session. Hence the former.
The name of this widget is not intuitive, but the functionality is quite neat. In combination with a modified Breeze theme, it allows you to change your theme transparency (alpha), in a manner somewhat similar to how it's done in Windows. This way, you can have glassy effects without having to use specialized themes, although there are some rather cool options available, if you want them.
I did notice that if the widgets also comes with the system area integration, so you don't really need a dedicated widget. But if you do want to remove it, you will also need to log out and log back in for the icon to be fully gone. Other than that, it's quite handy for the transparency lovers.
The last one I have for today is the Touchpad applet. It's a simple yet effective one. It mimics the hard switch you have on some laptops, which lets you quickly enable or disable touchpad. Very handy for laptops with over-sensitive or pesky touchpads. Plus, of course, you can actually fine-tune and configure the functionality, but this also depends on the particular model and driver support you have in your distro. Anyway, if your case doesn't have a button or a switch, this can be a handy alternative.
There we are. Plasma strikes again. A pleasant, configurable desktop that keeps on giving and surprising. Even though I'm using many an hour a day, every day, I still manage to come across new and practical things. Not just novelty for the sake of it, but functionality that makes sense and helps improve overall efficiency. Of course, that begs the question, why isn't all this extra goodness baked into the default product? And the answer to that question is, because desktops are complex things, and it would be an unnecessary sensory overload. This way, you have new fun little discoveries all the time.
We touched on many different aspects of the desktop usage - and yet, as you guessed correctly, this is not the end. There will be more cool stuff coming out of the Plasma ovens soon. Among other things, the freshly baked Plasma 5.17 release. Moreover, if you have any suggestions on useful widgets, don't be a stranger, do send them over. The end.