Updated: September 29, 2017
Recently, I have been having a lot of fun with the Plasma desktop. It all started with Zesty Zapus, a phenomenal release that redeemed KDE. In fact, I've boldly proclaimed that my next serious box to use Linux will be running Kubuntu, most likely the upcoming 2018 LTS. It hasn't been this merry since roughly 2006 or so. Happy days.
With so much time and pleasure spent on Kubuntu, I've dubbed the perfect distro, and then, I've also shown you how to deftly pimp it into sweet submission, as well as graced you with a few more tips and tricks that should make your Plasma experience sweeter still. Now, we will discuss another less known feature in this desktop environment, and that's the task manager. Shall we.
Not the band, the distro defaults that is. Most likely, you're using Plasma in its standard configuration, with a Windows-like bottom panel arrangements; you have shortcuts on the left, task manager windows list on the right. This isn't bad, but the use of the horizontal space is less than optimal, especially if you have multiple apps open.
To make things more complicated, once you exceed a certain number of programs in the task manager, the text goes away, the icons shrink, and you may even end up with several lines of window buttons. Then, there's a difference between pinned widgets and pinned applications. They may look similar, but they behave roughly the same, except the visual part.
If you add widgets, they can be stacked nicely on the left and shuffled as needed. With pinned apps in this mode, they will be placed first-clicked first-pinned, so this creates visual clutter. Also, the launchers will pop out of their default placement to the far right when you start the respective applications, and with text added into the equation, it looks messy, and even less optimal than before. Of course, like anything in Plasma, there's an alternative way around this.
Right-click on the Task Manager > Alternatives. This will open a little menu that lets you choose one of available modes. Indeed, whichever element you pick, be it the menu, the clock, other system area widgets, you have multiple options. The task manager comes with three choices. The number of choices shalt be three, and three shalt be the number of choices. Not two, not four. Anyway.
The standard Task Manager is what you know and use and want to change. So you may want to select Icon-only Task Manager. While the former is more like a typical Windows XP style setup with a quicklaunch area and a taskbar, the icons-only setup is similar to newer Windows configurations introduced in Vista onwards.
The really cool thing about the Icons-only Task Manager is that you can pin apps any which way you want then shuffle them as you please. There used to be a bug in older versions of Plasma that prevented this, but this has been fixed now. Then, you also retain the powerful context menu functionality for individual applications. Very neat.
Additionally, you can fine-tune the task manager settings, including things like displaying an icon for applications that play audio, how to cycle between programs, and more. This goes hand in hand with my superlative observation around Kubuntu and Plasma earlier. A great combo of insight, functionality and professionalism, similar to Windows.
Now before you get angry, you should not forget that Windows is the most popular desktop operating systems, and Microsoft has thousands of engineers working religiously on figuring out the ergonomics and UI appeal. So this is a high compliment, not a slight.
Behold, for it was sweet and pretty and dope:
Finally, if you do want to use the classic task manager and you feel bothered by the fact you cannot rearrange pinned applications, well, you can. You can manually edit the Plasma configuration file and order the application launchers - after all, it's just a comma-delimited list. You will need to log out and log back in to see your changes.
Plasma desktop is way ahead of anything else in the Linux world right now. Yes, there are still glaring issues and annoying bugs, like the file copy timestamp for Samba shares or the ability to play media from remote devices, but overall, it's shaping up to be an excellent product. There's a lot of thought and attention to detail, and layer upon layer of smart, intelligent functionality packaged in an elegant and presentable way. I'm really really liking this.
Well, hopefully, today's little guide gives you even more reasons to try Plasma. It started with a revelation that is Kubuntu 17.04, then I've shown you how to pimp this desktop for everyday use, and given you a wealth of tricks that should make the experience even more enjoyable. Finally, we have these task manager tweaks. Well, if you have a request for anything else, don't be a stranger. Shout, happy KDE, and may Plasma be with you.