So Much More
There’s a great deal to love with Plasma 5, and it owes a great deal to the work going into Frameworks 5. While the initial transition to the new Qt 5 may have taken time and effort, Plasma seems to only be picking up more steam as developers acclimatise to the new code-base and transition away from Plasma 4. There are many excellent features I haven’t adequately covered in this article, including the fantastic KDE Connect, various handy widgets, and extra applications like Krita which could easily consume whole articles on their own. I also could not cover the ‘megathemes’ feature added in this release, which are capable of switching the entire look-and-feel of a Plasma-based system in a single click.
Some of it is because I wrote this review using unreleased software, thus preventing me from getting the full use of the various facilities. I highly recommend waiting until Plasma 5.2 is released in earnest, and to run it on a stable distribution. Plasma 5.2 is an excellent desktop environment moving at a breakneck pace, and developers touching nearly every corner of the system are universally drawing plans and improvements.
The biggest change which will be obvious to most users is the dramatic visual overhaul compared to Plasma 4. Visual changes can be reverted easily enough, but aside from the desktop theme itself the look is very different. Some holdout widgets (seriously – I loved the weather widget) are still missing, and if you’re concerned that you may be missing widget “X” I would recommend checking the widget selection from a test environment. Many applications are still from the Plasma 4 era, but it’s just more of the status-quo and nothing feels broken because of it.
You cannot run Plasma 5 alongside Plasma 4, so going to 5 is a one-way road. People only interested in dipping their toes should hold off; if you have a good thing going with Plasma 4, there’s nothing wrong with that. Plasma 5 does intentionally feel like Plasma 4 for most operations, but you’ll generally find things have been tweaked all over the place – 80% of the time for the better, and 20% of the time the developers are working on it.
If you’re using a Plasma 4 desktop and a have a stable upgrade path to Plasma 5.2, I would recommend doing a quick test with a live CD to ensure everything will operate smoothly, then upgrading if everything is in good order. If stability is your primary concern and you’re on an LTS release I wouldn’t suggest taking the plunge quite yet; Plasma 5.2 is a fine release but if you need a rock Plasma 4 still feels a little more hardened. Overall Plasma 5.2 is ready for general consumption, but if you’re on the paranoid side you can wait a bit longer if you’re patient. If you’re a power-user and want the latest and greatest: Plasma 5 is a no-brainer.
Plasma is well on it’s way to becoming a rock-solid desktop, and I don’t doubt that within the next few releases the question will be “Why aren’t you running Plasma 5?”
Over half a decade ago KDE had one of the most chaotic and tumultuous software releases ever seen by open-source in the release of Plasma 4. Plasma 5 certainly has rough edges – and that’s fine! It’s brand new in almost every way, and saw two major technological upheavals in the transition to Qt5 and the untangling of Frameworks itself. For such a massive undertaking the stability and usability of this release is notable, and the developers have learned from history to focus on getting things functional before up-heaving too much.
Plasma 5.2 feels functional enough for day-to-day use, and unless you plan to really push the desktop into experimental realms such as high-DPI or extreme customization – you’ll find it’s a pleasant and usable experience. I personally was testing with an early beta version which felt fairly stable, and bugs are being hunted down before the full release. A major theme running though Plasma and Frameworks is to ‘do things right’; no short-cuts or brushing things under the carpet, and it shows.
Is Plasma 5.2 perfect? No! But it’s doing a very good job. Plasma 4 created the vision but always felt as if successive releases were attempts to fix and patch it’s original problems – almost becoming stagnant in the process. Plasma 5 feels as if its dropped that weight and is ready to begin another push to innovate. Using Frameworks 5 and Plasma 5 it’s obvious the goals KDE made in 2008 with Plasma 4 will be realised on this next-generation computing environment.
KDE Plasma 5.2 is available for many popular distributions; refer to your vendors’ wiki for installation instructions – or Google it.