How to make the Plasma desktop look like a Mac

Updated: July 12, 2019

The world of things falls into three categories - the things you don't want to do but have to, the things you want to do but can't and the things you can do. Skinning your KDE desktop to look like macOS falls in the third category. It serves no higher purpose, philosophical or existential, but it is something that Plasma users have the option to try, and try they will.

I've dabbled in the Mac transformation packs for many years now. The original Macbuntu test was the best. Ever since, the subsequent attempts came out somewhat short. However, I've always done this on Gnome- and Unity-based desktops, never Plasma. Well, that's about to change. We're attempting the unattemptable.

Teaser

The tasks ahead of us

Having recently upgrade the KDE neon instance on my eight-boot Lenovo G50 to Plasma 5.16, I thought this would be a good opportunity to create a new user and start from scratch. Indeed, the idea is to use no third-party repos, only whatever is available through the standard channels. No PPA, no hacks.

I started the transformation while downloading the hefty Plasma 5.16 update, and did it in parallel. There were some small niggles, and it's definitely not what you should do. But again, thanks to the resilience of neon, I was able to make it all work just fine. So I did the following:

Let us commence ever so boldly, shall we.

Latte Dock

Plasma has recently gained a native dock called Latte. It is available as a plasmoid widget and/or as a complete dock application, which you install normally and then run (and it can also auto-start with your session). The install command is a simple - using KDE neon as my testbed:

sudo apt-get install latte-dock

I had some problems with the dock's right-click context menu - because I was doing this while upgrading Plasma, too. But after I finally completed the setup (with two interruptions, including suspend and reboot), the desktop was properly configured, and Latte worked as intended.

If you right-click and open the dock settings window, you can tweak its look and feel and behavior. You can hide it, change the theme, change the background, use a zoom effect, set the degree of animations you want, if any, and several other options. Very handy. The one complaint I had is that the dock is a bit sluggish, but other than that, it did its designed purpose. You can also add widgets (via drag 'n' drop), and also rearrange icons as you see fit.

Latte, right click

Latte, right click, settings

Latte, advanced settings

Latte, settings

Panel layout & global menu

Once I had the dock in place and working correctly, I removed the bottom panel and added a blank new one to the top. Then, I added to it, left to right: application menu, global menu, spacer, system area. This is pretty much how it is in Mac, but also used to be in Unity. In fact, I did something similar in my Plasma setup on the Asus Vivobook. Yes, you can add extra items - but then, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Top panel

The global menu works fast and true and for all applications. Unlike the test I did with Ubuntu MATE recently, I did not notice any discrepancies or programs that would not integrate correctly. The global menu also shows and disappears really fast. However, Unity still does it better for fully maximized apps, by temporarily shifting the window buttons up into the panel, hint hint.

Global menu

Global menu, more

I also tweaked the system menu. In fact, almost everything in Plasma has several layouts. For example, the clock, the task manager (you can use alternative views, like icons-only), and similarly, you can change the application menu. You can use the classic, Windows XP layout, the modern one (default), or a full-screen overlay, which kind of fits nicely here. It also comes with a soft blur effect, and the dark theming is pretty effective (even though I hate dark themes on the desktop).

Menu 1

Menu 2

Themes and icons

With most desktops - even today, you must roam the net and manually install icons and system themes. Not so with Plasma. Furthermore, the old "Get new themes" functionality has moved from the old popup wizard into Discover. It's all there, nicely and elegantly sorted, and it all works beautifully. I have not encountered any broken themes, and soon enough I had what I needed. There's a plethora of Mac-like themes available, including the likes of Mojave and Yosemite and such. For icons, I chose La Capitaine.

Themes in Discover

Window decorations

Looks really nice and effective.

Battery indicator

Settings

I also tried the dark theme for the panel, and this one looks quite all right, too.

Dark theme

Then, if you're really picky, you can tweak the system area - hide or show icons to rearrange them. The ones you show will always be added to the left side, so you can do the trick a few times until you have the perfect, desired layout.

System area

Optional extras

There are a few other tricks you can try. First, a super-powerful Krunner is always available via Alt + F2, and it will drop from the top center of the screen, and it can do a whole lot. This omnibox tool can run commands, search for files, perform basic calculations and queries, send emails, start sessions, and so much more.

Krunner

We talked about fonts - you can use whatever you like - and even change the color. No need to hack any files, this can all be done elegantly using the standard menu options. Similarly, you can position the buttons on the left if you so desire. Very flexible and enjoyable. Best of all, everything works smoothly.

Gallery

Some fine images and whatnot:

WIP 1

WIP 2

WIP 3

WIP 4

About

Conclusion

This was a very enjoyable little exercise. A true testimony to the power and flexibility of Plasma. Not just that, it is faster, easier and more effective making the Mac-like transformation in KDE than it is in all other desktop environments I've done this in the past five years. For example, I found similar endeavors with Gnome 3, MATE and Xfce buggier and more difficult to implement; I had to manually copy themes, the global menu didn't always work, the dock was buggy, etc.

In the end, you can have a very not-KDE desktop, and it will be consistent and pretty. Plus, it's very simple to reset the configurations and go back to the classic desktop formula. All in all, I feel complete, because after so many years, I've done another Macbuntu, and things gel. In essence, given KDE neon's root, this is indeed a Macbuntu, but because it's done with Plasma, we should call it Makbuntu. Or given it's KDE neon name, then maybe Macneon or Macplasma. I'll leave the funny naming to you. Anyway, if you want to do some things just because you can, you can. And if you feel certain aesthetic elements are missing, aha, well, stay tuned!

Cheers.

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