At the beginning of the year I gave KDE Plasma a try as the primary desktop on one of my devices. It wasn’t my primary laptop but I still used it heavily in that time. I enjoyed it but there were still some niggles that meant I wouldn’t have been happy with it being my primary desktop at the time.
A week ago I happened to come across the announcement for KDE Plasma 5.14. The thing that really caught my eye there was the “Display Configuration widget”. This led me to giving KDE & Plasma another chance, another week of testing. Again this is on my primary laptop, a highly-sepecced Lenovo ThinkPad X260.
At the time of writing Fedora did not have a KDE spin that included Plasma 5.14 beyond Rawhide and I didn’t want to try Rawhide on my laptop. I’ve been hitting a lot of paper-cut style bugs with Fedora 29 anyway including not being able to update my laptop at all due to TeX Live package issues. I therefore decided to try KDE Neon, I figured this distro would show Plasma as intended by the people behind KDE. For anyone not familiar with KDE Neon, it is based on Ubuntu’s current LTS release (18.04) and has the latest KDE packages on top. There are a few options depending on how bleeding edge you want to go, I went for the “stable” option.
There were two interesting parts to the new display configuration widget that really drew me in. The first is the fact you have five easy to select buttons for instant monitor configuration. This is extremely handy for me at conferences and meetings where I need to quickly setup to give a presentation. The second is a rather innocuous switch that was actually my main draw “Enable Presentation Mode”. This mode works a lot like the popular Caffeine extension in GNOME Shell. It inhibits the screen blanking / locking for when you are giving presentations. I actually also use this during conference calls when I’m using my laptop as a second screen to my desktop that is making the call and don’t want it to go to sleep in the couple of minutes that I’m not reading.
Everything is Better!
In my previous post I broke things up into Good/Bad/Ugly. I can’t do that this time because every bug I hit, every crash I had… It is all fixed. I’m someone that almost always installs software from the command line but I even found “Discover” a joy to use!
KMail works pretty well, I’m using it as my primary mail client now. Whilst configuration can be a bit fiddly with it once it is up and running it is a pleasure to use. I’ve been having issues with performance with Thunderbird 60 onwards, no matter what machine I used, scrolling thousands of emails is painfully slow. I was looking to switch mail clients anyway so this is a refreshing change.
Things I Discovered
The screenshot tool is called “Spectacle” and it is amazing. You have much more control over what you are taking a screenshot of and you can even use a magnifier for area selections. It will even connect to a few screen recording applications to do video capture.
Dolphin, the file manager, has always been a very powerful tool. But I found out there are integrations such as Dropbox and Git available. I’ve only used these plugins briefly but they appear to work very well.
Idle power usage is insanely low. When the screen is off (and the system is not yet in suspend) it is as if the battery isn’t being used at all. I’ve left the laptop overnight open with the screen off (I disable auto-suspend) and the battery drain has been tiny.
That being said the battery drain appears to be a little higher than GNOME Shell when using a web browser. It appears a process called “kwin_x11” uses a lot of CPU time. I think with heavy usage I’ll only get 10-12 hours instead of 16-18 that I would get with GNOME Shell at the moment. But I’m OK with that. When using other applications the battery usage seems to be on-par with GNOME Shell.
My Workflow Changing
One of the big differences for me between GNOME Shell and KDE Plasma is task switching. As I said in my previous post I often have a lot of terminals open at any time and I like the fact that “Alt-Tab” in GNOME Shell brings them all to the front in one go. Plasma doesn’t have something like this, but it is OK.
Konsole’s multi tab and split screen is awesome. I found myself gravitating towards that and using Firefox containers instead of Chrome’s multi-window user profiles for personal/work Google account separation.
I have also created an “Activity” for development work which is separate from the one that has email, web, etc… on it. So I can work for a while pretty much distraction free.
This means I have less windows open at any time to do the same things I was doing before. I feel comfortable with this workflow.
Things I Would Like To See
KCalc is really useful when I’m doing base conversion work. But I would like to see a history there like other calculators do, I would also love if “Numeric System Mode” showed a preview of the result in other bases like GNOME Calculator’s “Programming Mode”. I think basically I just want a KDE version of GNOME Calculator.
I still miss having automatic timezone switching that is integrated into GNOME Shell. I have a trip in a few weeks where I will be spending a few hours in four different timezones. It would be nice for Plasma to see use the libraries that can see that and adjust accordingly. There are workarounds using scripting but I’ll adjust this manually for now.
I’m also missing slightly newer versions of software such as GIMP that can be found in Fedora. For now it isn’t too much of an issue, but waiting for 2 years for such things to be updated (the next LTS) may become an issue for me. If it were possible to have Neon against the latest Ubuntu releases I think I would be very happy. But this would put huge demands on the KDE team so LTS is a good compromise.
I have gone from not liking the workflow changes in my previous post to easily adjusting my workflow accordingly now. In hindsight I think the many paper-cut style bugs were dampening the experience for me. But now? Things are great. KDE Neon is the primary driver on my laptop and at least for now it is there to stay.
I may in the future also change my primary desktop computer’s OS to Neon, but this is a much larger task so I want to continue on my laptop for at least another few weeks before I try it.
Featured Image credit: neon by Martin Abegglen