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The Linux Desktop-a-week Review: KDE Plasma

KDE Plasma did not meet my expectations, which is both a good and a bad thing.

081114 plasma 4.13

So far in my “Deaktop-A-Week” adventure, I have been using some pretty lightweight Linux Desktop Environments. Enlightenment, Awesome and MATE all have a deserved reputation for being peppy and easy on your PC's resources.

That all changes today.

Well, technically it all changed about six and a half days ago when I installed KDE 4.13. But “that all changes today” sounds far more awesome than “that all changed roughly six and a half days or so ago.”

See also: The desktop-a-week review of Awesome

The desktop-a-week review of Enlightenment E17

I went from one of the most lightweight (Awesome, using just a handful of Megabytes) to one of the most heavyweight (KDE, clocking in at roughly 300 MB). In fact, the only way I could run a more resource intensive Linux Desktop Environment would be if I installed Unity.

Now, I've always liked KDE. Even back when KDE 4.0 first shipped and half of it just seemed broken, I still liked it. It always seemed to me like KDE was doing something worthwhile and interesting.

Let me tell you what my expectations were heading into this week of me running nothing but KDE... then we can see what actually happened. Really, my expectations were pretty simple:

  1. Everything would be a bit slower to launch, and a bit less responsive, than the lightweight Desktop Environments I'd been growing accustomed to.
  2. The visual effects and polish would be more modern and attractive than most others (with the possible exception of Enlightenment).

Much to my surprise, both were wrong. Let's deal with those in order. First, performance.

Applications launched just as quickly as under MATE and Awesome. The file manager was incredibly responsive. In fact, there was no point in which KDE felt bloated in any way. Everything was responsive and fluid.

I'm not going to lie - that weirded me out a little. The last version of KDE I used for any prolonged period of time was 4.10 (I believe) wasn't so slow as to be unusable, mind you. But it was a bit sluggish in spots when compared to most other Desktops I'd been using (again, except for Unity). But 4.13? This puppy runs like greased lightning.

To be fair, this was testing on a machine with 8 GB of RAM. My guess is things aren't quite as peppy on machines with less memory, but I didn't actually test that out.

Now, let's talk about the other area I was completely wrong about – KDE 4.13's visual effects and polish.

The effects are great: smooth animations, nice effects. Nothing about it is going to rock your world and convince you that the future has arrived, but it’s not too bad.

But much of the visual design, as I began using it for my daily work, kinda made me cranky.

Some of it was little things, like the default active window “glow,” which was cute for about five minutes, then just made me feel all stabby. That sucker got turned off pronto. (System Settings → Workspace Appearance → Window Decorations → Configure Decoration → Shadows... which I am documenting here for the next time I install KDE and need to turn that setting off.)

Some of it was... bigger things, such as the toolbars in KDE's office suite, Calligra. Specifically, Calligra Words. The toolbars, by default, are on the right hand side. No biggy, they're movable (and collapsible) after all. But they're also really...wide, with lots of empty space.

And when you move the toolbar sections up to the top of the window – which you can, because KDE is nice and customizable like that – the toolbars remain... wide. With that empty space I mentioned earlier.

It looks extremely funky (not the Parliament Funkadelic kind of funky... more the “I wonder what's in this Tupperware” kind), takes up a ton of screen real estate and yet, surprisingly, manages to show far less possible functionality than it really seems like it should.

Now, KDE folk, don't take that too hard. Some of the KDE Plasma Desktop (and related KDE apps) have some designs that I find funky. Sure. But the UI remains quite usable and the quality of these applications is nothing short of astounding. Calligra Suite has become a staple of my workflow even on non-KDE desktops.

All-in-all, KDE 4.13 is solid... but I don't think I'll be coming back to it until I give the next big release a chance.

Next up: Unity. I felt like I was picking on it a bit in this article... so time to give it another good chance. So I'll be living in Unity (and Ubuntu 14.04) for the next week. Wish me luck.

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