It's the start of 2016 and over the past year KDE developers have brought numerous new features and improvements to the Plasma 5 desktop, some tangible with others more under-the-hood.
With the sun set on 2015 it marks the first full year since Plasma 4, a stable workhorse which many users still rely on for day-to-day computing, has been discontinued. Plasma 5 is on the clock for users who need to know if the widgets, settings, and some painful regressions have been sorted out to see if it's safe to embrace modern Plasma in the new year.
This review will cover the evolution of KDE Plasma and its applications since the release of 5.2, listing many of the biggest differences and examining if they have caught up with Plasma 4 to a satisfactory degree for everyday users looking for a supported daily driver. We will also look at the desktop from the viewpoint of users who are thinking of trying or returning to the KDE/Plasma ecosystem, and may not necessarily know about some of the core Plasma functionality.
While I have avoided bias to the best of my ability, for full disclosure I am a member of the KDE Visual Design Group.
Testing Plasma 5.5
For the operating system I have tested Plasma 5.5 on KaOS 64-bit, an independent distribution influenced by Arch Linux focusing on a pure KDE/Qt default installation which sports the Pacman package management system. While KaOS tries hard to keep Qt vanilla away from GTK chocolate, KaOS is not a vanilla KDE/Plasma experience and runs a distro-specific look-and-feel package along with several different applications. The design is pleasant, but for the purposes of this review I have combed the system and reverted many of the tweaks made by the KaOS developers to better reflect what users will expect from a vanilla Plasma 5.5 installation. Because of this I will be reviewing older Muon software utilities from a different system.
Specifically, this test was done with Plasma 5.5.1, Qt 5.5.1, KDE Frameworks 5.17.0, and KDE Applications 15.12.0. For hardware I'm using a fairly modern mid tier laptop with 6GB RAM, an Intel i54200-U dual-core 1.6GHz processor, and integrated (Haswell) graphics. Shortly after writing this article the Plasma 5.5.2 packages were released and some minor corrections to this article were made.
I will review some key applications which are core to a KDE-driven experience, though the focus will be on the desktop. There are simply too many pieces of software which KDE Applications provides and many distributions play fast and loose with the bundled selection, so app review will not be comprehensive.
This article on Phoronix is a guest post by Ken Vermette, which he has exclusively shared with Phoronix. He asks that if you enjoy this article please consider donating to the KDE project at KDE.org. If you want to view this very long article on a single page and without any ads, join Phoronix Premium.