KDE Plasma 5 Linux desktop arrives

KDE Plasma 5 Linux desktop arrives

Summary: The popular Linux desktop has its first major renovation in over six years.


When KDE made a radical change to its popular Linux desktop in 2008 in KDE 4, I hated it. Over a year and many changes later, I finally found KDE 4.3 usable. This time, with the just-released KDE Plasma 5, I didn't have to wait for it to be usable. The new KDE is already good to go.

The new KDE 5 is attractive, works well, and is ready to run for discerning Linux desktop users.

That isn't to say that KDE 5 is perfect. It's not.

The new default Breeze Plasma desktop theme has a chunky, half-baked look to it that's not at all to my taste. However, it's easy enough to change to another theme. 

What really struck me about this new desktop is how fast it is. KDE's developers have clearly been hard at work tuning the desktop for maximum performance. The speed boost starts at a very low level. The desktop is based on a new, full hardware-accelerated graphics stack using an OpenGL ES scenegraph, with Plasma itself using Qt 5 and KDE's recently released Frameworks 5 libraries.

KDE's other new features include:

Converged shell: The "converged Plasma shell" that loads up the desktop in Plasma 5.0 can be extended for other user experiences. This lays the base for a converged user experience that brings up a suitable user interface for a given target device. User experiences can be switched dynamically at runtime. So, for instance, if you plug in a keyboard and a mouse, you'll get access to a desktop-style UI; without them, it will default to a touchscreen tablet-style interface.

Modernized launchers: The application launchers' user interfaces have been reworked. Among the changes are a visually redesigned Kickoff application launcher, a new, menu-like launcher called Kicker and a new, QtQuick-based interface for the KRunner shell program launcher.

Workflow improvements in the notification area: The notification area has been cleaned up, sporting a more integrated look. It has fewer popup windows and quicker transitions between, for example, power management and networks settings. The result is a more distraction-free interaction UI with better visual coherence.

Better support for high-density (high-DPI) displays: Support for high-density displays has been improved. Many parts of the UI now take the physical size of the display into account. This leads to better usability and display on screens with very small pixels, such as Retina displays.

Another nice overall change is that, unlike the transition to KDE 4 (which broke many of the old ways KDE 3 had of doing things), you'll have no trouble putting KDE 5 to use if you're comfortable with KDE 4.

The one exception to this is that the new Kickoff menu no longer has a visible search field. So if you want to search for a file or an application, you just start typing and the search window will open. This puzzled me at first and I know it's going to confuse new users. If you find Kickoff's new look too distracting, you can always right-click on the menu icon and select Switch to Classic Menu Style. 

Last, but not least, there are still a few bugs. The one that annoyed me the most is that the Plasma calendar doesn't display events. KDE tends to be good about fixing bugs promptly and this one screams to be fixed sooner rather than later.

All in all, however, I found this new KDE Plasma 5 to be a good, solid desktop. Unlike GNOME 3, which disappointed users so much that its release led to numerous GNOME desktop forks such as Ubuntu's Unity, Mint's Cinammon, and MATE, KDE users will be pleased with this new model KDE.

Want to give it a try? KDE 5 is packaged and ready to go on Arch Linux, AOSC, Kubuntu, KaOS and openSUSE. You can also, of course, download and install it from the source code. The one thing you can't do, however, is try to run KDE 5 on the same desktop with KDE 4 installed. You'll need to uninstall the older version of KDE.

That said, I expect most, if not all, KDE users to really enjoy this new release. Have fun!

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Topics: Enterprise Software, Linux, Open Source, PCs

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  • I have to admit

    Plasma 5 looks really good.

    Not good enough to make me stop using Yosemite, but really good.
    Michael Alan Goff
    • Yosemite is a copy of GNOME 3.12

      It's rather funny that you'd mention Yosemite when Mac OSX is doing nothing but playing catchup and copying all the UI elements of GNOME 3.x.
  • Haha!

    Perfect timing. Day off tomorrow!

    This article did being back some memories of KDE 4's launch. I'm glad this is a positive review, but I may steer clear of linux forums for a bit - noting polarises the community like a new desktop revision (kde 4, gnome3, unity)

    What's fun is that f it follows the kde 4 upgrade debacle it's everywhere as KDE is the darling of the BSD and sun-derived flavours.

    Really excited about this!
  • Glad someone isn't doing the flat thing

    There still seems to be some 3D texture in the display. So thank you KDE for an alternative in that regard.
    • .. me too

      there is a crazy trend of everything flat all aroud the globe

      the new Mac UI was a strange surprise for me - they got everything elegant by default in Mavericks - why they try now to look like others ..? strange

      BTW - I am not sure Mac copy Gnome (gnome has plenty of themes) but seems like a MS + HTML5 unusable main UI trend.

      A the end of the day probably KDE5 will remain the most polished desktop along all other DE's from any OS.
  • So in other words...

    Your telling me that the millions of folks that need to switch from XP, are going to be lost with the new KDE - which I always thought was the whole point in the first place!! Sorry, but that is how I interpret this article as I understand my clients!
    • No.

      To paraphrase:

      'The whole point of KDE is to rebuild windows XP for people that want to keep using XP a decade later'

      Um no. Kde predates windows xp by 3 years. The point of KDE desktop provide an ALTERNATIVE desktop experience, not a clone.

      Fortunately it's open source so you can just theme it to look like xp if you want.

      To be honest even kde 4 was too feature packed to be an xp replacement. You probably want something aimed as being lightweight and basic - I'd recommend LXDE just theme it with a blue menu bar and green start button and you are good to go.

      Fortunately with linux, you can have both.
      • Neither

        "To be honest even kde 4 was too feature packed to be an xp replacement. You probably want something aimed as being lightweight and basic "

        says who?
        • You suppose that I said you couldn't use it as such

          I didn't.

          I was saying that it wouldn't be a direct comparison to the old xp - it has many more features (just a fact) and that lxde is closer in features to xp.

          Kde is a heavier desktop with more features. Doesn't mean you couldn't use it as an xp replacement, that's preposterous, but if you just wanted to make an xp desktop, lxde is going to be a quicker job coz you wouldn't have as much to disable. All just facts.

          I was replying to the op's comment that kde should be a direct replacement for xp. This clearly isn't my view as I do use kde on open suse instead of windows.
  • Hmmm...

    I installed KDE 4 somewhere odd when I set up Arch, it doesn't want to replace Kwin 4.13 with the Kwin 5, I'll have to poke around and see what I did wrong, when I forced it to use the kwin_x11 it couldn't find the window decorations.
  • GNOME 3 Rocks

    "I found this new KDE Plasma 5 to be a good, solid desktop. Unlike GNOME 3..."

    Why? Because you can't plaster your screen with 1001 different panels and launchers? :-)

    I just don't understand the hate myself. I've been using it daily since the 3.6 release and found the new UX to be great improvement over the previous Windows 9x UX clones (like GNOME 2). It's fast, stable, clean, smooth and, most importantly, fits my workflow well.

    It's not without faults (I think the notification system needs some work) but it is, for me, the best modern desktop on Linux... so good that I don't reach for the Mac all the time :-)
  • Cinnamon

    I'm all about Cinnamon. I tried KDE and GNOME in the past. GNOME was the first environment I tried, but Cinnamon is, in my opinion, the best middle ground between having too many or too few features. It's fast, intuitive, easy to browse and use.
    Sebastian Tristan
    • what is the problem with too meny features

      if they do not get in your way??
  • My verdict

    Performance is a great improvement, the interface works well, it looks slick as anything, the new fonts are much clearer, overall a huge improvement