KDE Plasma 5.5: The Quintessential 2016 Review
Plasma 5.5: Is it Ready?
This past year has been an incredibly busy one for KDE Developers; the visual catch-up to Oxygen, adding a huge number of new widgets, KDE Connect, Wayland, and application porting have all been hallmarks of 2015 development. Of course, everythign has flaws, so lets start with the bad news first.
Stability. While it has improved substantially I could not in good conscience say this is no longer a valid concern, and my recommendation is thoroughly testing it to ensure it will be stable with whichever graphics and Qt versions your distribution has saddled you with - at least on an unvetted machine, especially if you use Intel graphics. Again though this concern is evaporating and it's not strictly a problem with Plasma as much as it's making sure your system has up-to-date drivers and Qt. You may find one distro may work flawlessly while another is unstable, so if you find you have stability issues it's a good time to consider shopping around.
For users on low end machines wanting the Plasma experience on 1GB or RAM or less I recommend burning Akonadi to the ground and salting the earth behind you. Akonadi will consume almost a third of the RAM used by the system on a fresh boot, and there's no justifiable reason for it unless you use organisers to the hilt. You can disable it by making sure the “reminder” notification is disabled and set to not start on boot, and you may in the future need to turn off events on your calendar (in a future release). These features aren't justified for the current cost of Akonadi, and you can run other non-KDE applications more efficiently to do the same things.
Applications bundled with Plasma veer towards functionality, and while it makes tools like Dolphin great it also means experience-oriented applications like Dragonplayer or Juk feel dated. This is perhaps the starkest contrast to the desktop because Plasma is moving so fast it makes the apps feel like a time capsule at points.
Stability. Again. The biggest factor holding users from migrating to Plasma 5 is a quickly evaporating issue. I will say with confidence is that once you verify you won't run into Qt or driver issues Plasma 5 is an absolutly rock-solid desktop, and I severely doubt this will be something I remember even thinking about by the end of the year.
Plasma users moving from 4 to 5 will find the environment faster, more efficient, handsome, and productive. Even on some fairly ancient business machines it runs exceptionally well. The software has been updated enough to feel fresh and easier to use, but it's not a transition which will feel like you've landed onto an alien desktop - it's still Plasma, but it feels better.
Plasma 5 is also evolving very rapidly. Between each release I see a slew of features and enhancements, and the pace is breakneck, even with the length of this review I've failed to cover it all. Plasma 5.6 coming out next is already sporting a more seamless crash system for applications, Unity launcher API integration, jump lists, vastly improved Wayland sessions, and more.
Applications are still solid and if something wasn't crashing on Plasma 4 it's not crashing on Plasma 5, because they are the same applications. I've bashed on the apps for lacking in “experience” but they continue to be some of the most functional, and professionals needing functional tools will be pleased to see they are stable and maintaining their featureset. If you use a different desktop the most functional KDE Applications are more tempting than ever, with their dramatically reduced footprints as they no longer drag in the whole of the KDE ecosystem.
If you're thinking of making the plunge I encourage you to do so, but first fire in a live disc or USB drive and take it for a spin. If you find it unstable check to see if your distro is keeping up-to-date packages, and possibly look for alternatives if it's out of date. If you have an exotic setup try fully configuring your system to ensure all the options work as expected.
I certainly recommend it over the discontinued Plasma 4, and unless you physically cannot run Plasma 5 there is no reason not to switch. For holdouts on Plasma 4 wondering if the latest-and-greatest from KDE will serve their needs, the answer today as of Plasma 5.5 is a yes. The only legitimate reasons for keeping on Plasma 4 today are because you either have graphics driver which will crash Plasma, a mission-critical machine which absolutely cannot be changed, or an extremely exotic tool which has not been ported. There is absolutely no reason to select a system which uses Plasma 4 if doing a fresh installation.
Plasma 5.5 marks the beginning of the lifecycle where the vast majority of people will find it capable of serving as their workhorse environment. While at the beginning of the year Plasma 5.2 was exciting but a little wobbly, 5.5 has seen enough iteration to mature and close the significant issues found by the majority of early adopters.
As of 2016 Plasma 5.5 has evolved well beyond where Plasma 4 ended while showing no signs of slowing down in the slightest, and I confidently recommend trying it out.
Thanks to Ken Vermette for this guest post and his insightful thoughts on the Plasma 5 desktop. If you would like to support the KDE project, consider donating to the KDE project at KDE.org. As always, guest posts are always welcome on Phoronix. If you would like to see more of them rather than contribute one yourself, consider joining Phoronix Premium so more funds are available for guest authors.
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