Plasma adventures - Traipsing through the KDE forest

Updated: September 11, 2020

If Linux were a mathematical function, it would be a sine. You go up, up, up, all is good, then top, and down, wheee, panic, despair, and you're up again. And on and on it goes, the emotional rollercoaster. The thing, I'm extensively using the Plasma desktop, both in my production setup and on my test boxes, trying out the new features, uncovering bugs, discovering bugs, and whatnot. Fun game, but there are tears, too.

Well, in between the Plasma testing and Slimbook reports, here we go. In particular, before we plow on, I'd like to draw your attention to two of my articles slash reviews, please. First, my original take on Plasma 5.18 LTS, which was less than ideal. Then, there's second test of the 5.18 desktop, conducted a few weeks later, which shows all the bugs and problems being resolved. But the advenutre does not end there.

Teaser

Plasma 5.18, I spoke too soon

I was really enthused and pleased with Plasma 5.18.4. It fixed most if not all of my problems with 5.18. Samba now works correctly, the desktop is behaving, there are no oddities and weird messages anywhere. Alas, this fine, fragile beauty has since been shattered. I had my KDE neon User Edition updated, and then, the old woes returned.

Discover pops up in full-screen mode on login, which is something that shouldn't happen. This also coincides with the network connection setup (Wireless), so you end up with a "failed" software update. There's a timing issue between the two actions, plus the network authentication is slow because you need to unlock the KDE Wallet AND you get the deactivated/activate network bug. Three or four problems compressed into a single issue, on the first second [sic] you login into your desktop.

Discover, network problems

So much happening there, wowsers!

Then, after a while, I had an unrelated kdeinit crash ...

Kdeinit crash

All in all, this is not good. Bugs are understandable - to a point. But recurring bugs drain the soul.

I also looked at the Online Accounts functionality afresh. This is something I've always found intriguing, but it remains rather overlooked and unused in Linux, across the board. My view is, if you add a piece of code into the system, it should work flawlessly. There's no point adding a half-baked option. Alas, the Online Accounts thing is exactly that. In Plasma in particular, it had never matured beyond basic concepts, it was always buggy, with Akonadi backend errors and whatnot, it came and went, and the latest guise is disappointing.

What you get is only three options - Google stuff plus ownCloud and Nextcloud. Now, the two *cloud services actually require that you set up your own storage, which means this option is inaccessible to 99% of people out there. Or they'll go with a simple disk backup solution, if anything. Google has merit, but then if it's included, the Online Accounts should also include other services, like Yahoo!, Hotmail, GMX, and whatever. And we go back to the original problem of offering a viable solution that will be properly maintained. It would be much simpler to just remove this completely.

Online accounts

Not even icons for the two *cloud services.

Slimbook problems

While I normally keep my findings of the Slimbook experience for the combat reports, I felt I needed to include some fresh information here, too, as it gives us more perspective on the desktop environment, and the issues I've highlighted above. As it happens, my 13th report wasn't too fun, but then it feels like an anomaly in a long and fun series. So, fast forward a few weeks, are we back to pure goodness?

Not really. The issues are piling up. My Kubuntu 18.04 is now less stable than it was months ago, and I'm not sure if this coincidences with the release of the new LTS, the release of the new Plasma version, or something else entirely. Over the past two years, the Slimbook journey was positive and improving, and the bugs I noted mostly went away - some feature bugs remain, which is kind of understandable. Now though, not only are the issues I've flagged in the 13th report (boo, unlucky omen) still present, there are some extra annoyances around.

The most annoying problem at hand - smartphone connectivity. I talked about this in my last combat report, and since, despite updates, the issues remain. Normally, it boils down to this. Connect a phone - any phone, and then you will be able to do one activity (like say file copy from a folder). Try to repeat that action, say file copy of a second batch of items (like photos) from another folder, and the action will fail. You won't be able to "retry" it, and you must unplug, re-plug the phone and start all over again.

Occasionally, the MTP whatnot will time out. And then, you may end up in a situation where files are copied with their full device path instead of just file names (still). I wonder how forward slashes actually even survive in the filename, but I guess it's another silly bug. For those of you wondering, here's a screenshot from the last time, so just extrapolate that:

Broken photo names

Anything good?

Of course. It's not all bad. Far from it. These are relatively small problems, and you can ignore most of them, most of the time. But they are also 100% unnecessary, and they lower the bar of professionalism. And I can't stand regressions. Just can't.

In general, I'm quite happy. The progress in the Samba space is a big redeeming factor. The desktop is largely stable and consistent, and the experience, both in 5.12 and 5.18 is pleasant and fast. Plasma is by far the most elegant and advanced desktop environment in the Linux world. It's such a shame that silly and easily avoidable problems are allowed to tarnish the overall impression.

Conclusion

Thus we end up here, and I'm ... torn. Building reputation and trust takes time, months, years. Destroying is so utterly easy. Now, no need for drama, we're not there yet. Plasma is a fantastic desktop environment. But shooting oneself in the foot and eroding user confidence shouldn't be on anyone's agenda, especially since Linux still hasn't established itself as a dominant force in the desktop space. Even then, mistakes can be super-costly, with eternal repercussions. Internet Explorer 6 anyone?

It comes down to the biggest issue in the Linux world since day one. Not a user-centric product. Some parts, yes, but largely, it's just self-sustaining enthusiasm. But what Linux needs is boredom - testing and yet more testing, endless pages of QA and validation and automated scripts that test everything, and never allow a single bug into the userspace. 1% coding and 99% testing. Today, it's the opposite. So it's no surprise when there's a rush and pressure and new releases, you end up with bugginess where stability is expected, sadness where happiness is needed.

What worries is me is that Plasma has been largely steady in the past several years, innovating, growing, becoming better, and ... it's running out of steam. We've seen this a thousand times before, and it's ever more depressing. I hope this isn't a beginning of some horrible downward spiral, but truly just a small set of temporary issues that will quickly go away. Because I don't think I have the desire and energy for another round of false hopes. I've already given up on the whole the year of the Linux thing. I just want a stable, fun platform to do my computer thingies. Thus endeth this part in the Plasma adventure.

And if you're wondering, this above be a hint and a teaser - 5.19 test coming soon!

Cheers.

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