The new Plasma System Monitor - Is it good?

Updated: December 7, 2020

One of the applications slash utilities making Linux headlines recently is Plasma System Monitor, a most likely future replacement for KSysGuard, the current Plasma desktop task manager. With the old guard KSysGuard [sic] doing a remarkably good job, the successor needs to be not only highly capable but also better, because otherwise, we just have a new tool that does more of the same, and that's not really meaningful, now is it.

As it turns out, Plasma System Monitor can be tested already - it's available in the KDE neon repositories, and you can install it without any great manual compilation. I decided to see what gives, fully aware this is still early days - lots of bugs and problems are more than expected. So take this review with a hefty scoop of your favorite table spice. Off we go.

Start not start

At first, Plasma System Monitor wouldn't start. It kept crashing. It took a couple of full system updates in my KDE neon Stable Test Edition before the application would even launch. Again, expected, so no worries yet.

Startup error

Empty dashboards, what are we living for?

When I did get the program to launch, I have to say, the first impression wasn't good. There was a whole bunch of dashboards (pie charts and such) with useless titles. For example, the first row obviously shows the status of system resources like memory, disk and CPU, but this is not "really" obvious. Then, the Network & System row had two empty boxes - I couldn't see any network-related information. The bottom section has a process table, but you get a less-than-full-integer number of rows, and this feels odd, much like the seemingly unnecessary horizontal scrollbar.

First launch

Functionality

On the left side, there's a sidebar with several preset pages. Think tabs in KSysGuard. Well, you get a bit more useful information here - and you can also define and create your own custom pages, but more on that later. Here, you do get an overview of how your software is behaving, but then, it also lists services, which don't really qualify as applications. The network and disk graphs never showed anything.

Apps page

Then, you have the history (sort of), plus a full process table, with all the bits and pieces. So far so equivalent functionality, but nothing revolutionary that would set it significantly apart from KSysGuard just yet. Furthermore, the workflow feels less intuitive.

History

Processes

Custom dashboards

The strong side of this utility is that you can pretty much edit anything, and create any which view you like. You can use existing templates to create graphs and tables of all kinds. This feels nice, but also rather unnecessary. First, desktop users want simple information not hard work. Second, making these custom views seems more appropriate for a company trying to put together a unified view of all its assets rather than a personal computer. If so, yes, then SSH connectivity (also available in KSysGuard) plus custom dashboards do make sense, and this could be a sensible replacement for various existing monitoring applications and tools out there.

But looking at this from the desktop angle, too much hard work, a less than ideal workflow, and putting together new metrics doesn't always work - again, I was never able to get any network information, while KSysGuard has no problems showing network traffic. Go figure.

Custom dashboards

Notice the action in the right pane - feels very clunky. And why should I bother really?

After a while, things got a little better, but still:

Edited graphs

And in comparison, KSysGuard, more compact, more precise and more informative:

KSysGuard

Conclusion

So far, I don't know what to say about Plasma System Monitor. Looking at the official screenshots, which look much nicer and tidier than mine - they also show network info plus a few pretty custom dashboards - yes, this could potentially make sense. But the primary purpose of graphs is to provide meaningful information not to be pretty. Pie charts, colors, lovely, but ultimately, unnecessary. Or rather, why not, as long as the core data is not compromised by the presentation layer.

Then, there's the question of functionality (out of the box and then some) - Plasma System Monitor does not offer cardinally more value than the existing utility. It's more or less the same, so then, why do we need this replacement? I would like to see the great differentiating factor that makes this utility rock. At the moment, it does more or less what KSysGuard does, with a new and less optimal layout. BTW, I'm not worried about the bugs and issues, those will be solved. That's perfectly fine. It's the philosophical value that concerns me. Hopefully, by the time Plasma System Monitor goes proper live, this will be an awesome, practical, perhaps even indispensable tool for KDE users. At the moment, it feels a bit like an experiment, without a clear objective. Thus endeth this review.

Cheers.

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