Looks & Feel

As of Plasma 5.2 KDE has fully migrated to the new “Breeze” visual style and away from the previous Oxygen mainstay. Previous iterations of the desktop saw only certain portions of the style enabled by default – withholding others like Breeze window decorations – owing to technical issues and performance reasons. Those issues have since been cleared up, and everything has been green-lit for prime-time.

The style includes the usual trappings of a complete theme; icons, cursors, decorations, widgets, a workspace theme, and screen-lock screens. Breeze follows the trend desktops have been paving, moving towards a lighter and less cluttered design, using more subtle effects, and attempting to introduce animations where appropriate. Plasma 5.2 and Frameworks 5 Applications have transitioned to a flatter style, and it’s safe to say Breeze veers towards a more Apple-esque school of design over Google or Microsoft takes on flatness.

The login screen can be customised with a personal wallpaper.
The login screen can be customised with a personal wallpaper.

Applications in Plasma 5.2, whether using KDE Development Platform 4 or Frameworks 5, all follow a uniform look and feel; this is a stark difference from the KDE 3 to Frameworks 4 jump where KDE 3 applications never received an updated theme due to limited toolkit potential. GTK applications don’t seem to be following along – but that may just be a result of pre-release software. Plasma 5.2 out-of-box looks and feels completely uniform, with all parts and most applications working in unison. About the only exception to this is applications with unique toolkits such as Chrome, Firefox, and Libreoffice, which still stick out – but luckily most of them can at least pick up on the colour scheme so they don’t utterly wreck the unified front KDE has managed to put fourth.

First Blush

The Breeze workspace theme is at first blush very similar to Oxygen on the desktop, only flatter. The first thing likely to be noticed is the “overline” which marks various elements of the panel, and the use of monochrome icons. The KDE logo in the panel is a more reserved dark grey, as opposed to the shiny blue icon which ruled before it. The Breeze workspace theme feels more like an extra-refined evolution of the Oxygen theme, and that’s not a bad thing; Oxygen was already headed in that direction and it provided a polished desktop feel.

Panels and widgets now make use of a more OSX-like filtering process which brings backgrounds to a consistent luminosity. The effect surfaces the hues of the background into the panels, creating an almost “milky” appeal. The effect is subtle and hard to notice, but it guarantees the panels and Plasma-based surfaces will be readable regardless of the desktop background. Much like anything else in KDE, this extra filtering process is built as a modular option, and can easily be disabled separate from the background blurring process. The filtering process adapts to the colours of the background and the colours of your panels, so if you’re rocking a dark theme the panel backgrounds will instead force the luminosity down to match.

The panel, popup, and desktop widgets are uniform in their effects, in Plasma 4 the desktop plasmoids would not have the frosting effect.
The panel, popup, and desktop widgets are uniform in their effects, in Plasma 4 the desktop plasmoids would not have the frosting effect.

Moving your eyes up you’ll see a vibrant triangle pattern wallpaper, replacing the previous wallpaper of Plasma 5.1 which was a… vibrant triangle pattern. Whoever made the new wallpaper had no imagination whatsoever. But stepping outside of Plasma 5, previous releases of KDE tended to use various blue wallpapers which maintained the ‘brand’ but ultimately felt heavy and even somewhat oppressive, so while the vibrant triangle wallpapers of Plasma 5 may be a hair too colourful for some, the default look no longer feels brooding, and the colourful hit more readily calls the eye.

The mouse cursors have been updated as well, using the more chunky shapes found in the Oxygen cursors, only with a more mac-like colour scheme and flattened appearance. The shadows are barely underneath the icons, making them feel much closer to the content below. Dark and bright cursors are available this time around, with dark cursors remaining the default.

Icons

Breeze includes a new icon set to supersede the Oxygen icons of old. The Breeze icon set is split into two distinct halves; small monochrome icons used in task bars and lists, along with vibrant full-colour icons representing files, applications, and categories.

The Visual Design Group heading up the design of the look and feel started the entire design process with a colour palette as their first task, and the Breeze icon set showcases the palette with gusto. Throughout the entire experience consistent colours and appeal are pervasive, and the icons seem to just “match” everything thoughout the environment. The palette used by Breeze is much smaller than that of the original Oxygen, and it helps make the matching scheme more obvious.

The monochrome icons use spot-colour to indicate the potential ramifications of clicking a button, such as red indicating that you may be taking a destructive action, while green hints you’ll create something or successfully finish a task. The mono icons are far less eye-catching than their full-colour brothers, and this helps keep your eyes off the toolbars and trays to more firmly focus you on whichever task you are working on. It can occasionally be hard to pick a monochrome icon from a line-up, but it also means none of them stand out to distract you either.

icons

The colour icons are where the Breeze icon designers have stepped up; where the monochrome icons are reserved, the colour icons are unabashedly willing to step out and announce themselves with sharp lines and recognisable shapes. These icons are flattened but not flat; where the Oxygen icons tried to create shapes and use perspective, Breeze relies on subtle gradients and angular shadows to accentuate depth. The effect gives icons the appearance of layered glossy construction paper, and the icons seem more recognisable by eliminating much of the noise Oxygens’ highly detailed icons created.

Application Theme & Window Dressing

As of Plasma 5.2 applications are fully vested in the Breeze styling, including window decorations and the general application theme. Unlike Oxygen which aimed for the ‘slate’ look by making windows appear to be a slab, Breeze visually separates the decoration from the window with a dark grey on top, and a lighter off-white below. Interestingly, you can manually set the decoration palette used in per-application settings.

snapshot11

The controls and toggles Breeze offers feel ‘lighter’ and visually refreshing, with bright blue highlights and much more reserved flair. Where Oxygen made heavy use of gradients, alternating shades, wireframes, and depth, Breeze looks to present the minimum required and get out of the way. This isn’t to say the design is void of depth, and the theme incorporates shadows on many widgets which are clicked on. By default Breeze also uses a much lighter colour palette than Oxygen previously used, making the design feel fresher, crisper, and ‘cheery’ without being obnoxious.

controls

The new design is also highly animated, and clicking radio buttons or check-boxes has slick little animations. Window title all smoothly fade between active and inactive colours, with every button using a smooth transition.

Panels and Widgets, a Unified Style

Plasma is the most modular desktop available today. Period. Typical Plasma desktops at their core are an assembly of “widgets” and “panels”, which can be moved, configured, and changed at will. Moving from a Plasma 4 desktop onto Plasma 5 almost all of the widgets had to be re-written or heavily re-tooled individually to work on the new platform, which offered a chance for desktop developers to revise the look, feel, and layout of the many pieces the Plasma desktop is assembled with.

In Plasma 4 widget authors generally designed their widgets to their individual tastes which resulted in a mishmash of slight differences that made the components feel like disparate parts hewn together with blatant disregard to the overall look and feel. Some widgets used heavy gradients, others added “shine lines”, some used flat blocks of shading to separate cells while others used rounded rectangles to do so. The representative example of this is the calendar widget opened by clicking the time; in previous releases it had strange spacing heuristics and somewhat random shading, while it’s newer incarnation it’s a dashing and cohesive grid which fits the look and feel perfectly. Desktop widget developers constantly back-referenced visual guidelines and referred to designers for the visual structure of individual widgets, allowing them to work in tandem and create a consistent experience.

snapshot3

Technologically the look of the Plasma desktop has also become more consistent; the “milky” background shading is pervasive throughout the entire desktop style, with panels, popups, and widgets all adhering to the effects engine – unlike Plasma 4 which failed to always apply effects to desktop-laden widgets. In Plasma 4 adding a calendar to the desktop yielded a semitransparent widget with no blurring underneath, but opening the exact same calendar by clicking the clock would yield a popup with full visual effects. In Plasma 5 the effects are now applied to widgets on the desktop the same way they are applied to popups, making the widgets feel much more “solid” and consistent, and far lass “tacked on”. This can obscure your wallpaper more easily, but the consistency is apparent.

Not only are the effects universal on the new Plasma, but animations are remarkably consistent throughout all widgets, and I have yet to notice a single lacking transition. In Plasma 4 occasionally the transitions of widgets could have inconsistent quality, and there were odd glitches; but in Plasma 5.2 the effects are driven by QML, resulting in just about everything on Plasma 5 being animated. While an over-animated desktop could begin to feel counterproductive, the animation in Plasma 5.2 is reserved enough to not become a liability, and while you can appreciate the animation you never feel like it’s trying to distract you or show off.

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52 thoughts on “Plasma 5.2 – The Quintessential Breakdown

  1. I have learned newer and more effective things by your website. One other thing I’d really like to say is that newer pc os’s have a tendency to allow much more memory to be played with, but they in addition demand more memory space simply to run. If people’s computer can not handle much more memory as well as the newest software program requires that ram increase, it is usually the time to shop for a new Personal computer. Thanks

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  2. Hi, Im using Netrunner 15 Prometheus (KDE Plasma 5) and have all the latest update. Anybody can give me explanation why I cannot play Euro Truck Simulator 2 (through Steam)? It goes black, then bricked desktop, finally back to desktop with 1024 x 768 resolution (my default is 1366 x 768).

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  3. Why is this article split into multiple HTML pages, is there a version where all is on one page? I would even content myself with a PDF version of it.

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  4. One minor correction/addition: Krunner is not criminally hard to discover, in fact, I discovered its existence by accident. Just click on your desktop and start typing and Krunner will pop out on its own.

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  5. Flat design, flat design, flat design – 2.5D Icons, distinguishable window frames even with stacked windows … gone. The pager that doesn’t truely representing the content of every desktop (i need 4 of them at least) – gone with 1st Plasma version. KDE walked a long way from plastic look to a flat design desert.

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    1. This exactly, even though I am very impatient to switch to it on first available free evening I am petrified to see how much it followed the new trend. I have been sticking to KDE because of its resistance to the unusable and uninspired flat design that makes me want to quit career as a developer and anything computer-related sometimes. I hope the old 3D style themes around kde-look.org that make me feel as if I can almost pick up the icon or window by hand and my eyes have visual anchors will be compatible here and designers will continue making them.

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  6. I have plasma 5 installed on my Manjaro install, and everything works fine. The aesthetic is much more up to date and I like the login screen a lot. It’s definitely an improvement to kde4.x, but somehow I was underwhelmed overall. I think it has something to do with the contrast, the feathering, the subpixel rendering, the font rendering, … something. Something that I couldn’t straighten out. I tried different fonts, different themes, etc., and I just couldn’t get anything that looked great. It looks good, just not great. After all the frustrations of not being able to theme Gnome, the Adwaita theme looks really, really sharp now. And the Numix themes are also excellent. From the screenshots Plasma5 looked like it was going to be really slick, but it’s not quite there somehow. Obviously, this is just a personal opinion.

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  7. Thank you for this excellent review Kver. I am really looking forward trying Plasma 5.2 when it is released. One question :

    Running on different form factors was one of the main goals of designing Plasma (4.x). You quickly talked about KDE Connect in the conclusion, and I am surprised not reading anything about Plasma Active, Plasma Netbook or Plasma Media Center in your review. Is this still one of the main goals of Plasma 5 but the other shells are not ready for 5.2, or Plasma has been refocused as a desktop environment first, with other shells as only side projects? Is the redesign work at application level taking into account the requirement to run on various screen sizes, with various DPIs, and various input methods?

    I think this goal has never been as relevant as it is today. As an owner of an hybrid tablet/netbook computer (unfortunately running Windows at the moment), I can only say that I am sure it will replace the whole netbook segment in the future. With Windows 10 following this path too, I am convinced there will be more and more devices where Plasma will be able to run, and KDE has a lot of strengths and opportunities to provide a coherent experience on all these form factors. I think being overtaken on this by Canonical’s Unity and Windows 10 would really be a shame.

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  8. Er … , you’re aware muon stuff is entirely specific to kubuntu and not part of KDE ? It took me a google search to find out what this muon stuff was. I had never heard of it ..
    Great article nevertheless.
    Yet, it feels like yet another “At last kde is usable, we swear, this time for true”. There has been countless such articles since kde 4.0. It keeps us hoping.

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    1. !!!

      Alrighty, I’ll correct the article (it’ll be next week) after I properly research KDE-based package managers and software centres.

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      1. The direction I see is to go for a package-agnostic system. The winner there seems to be the great work done in PackageKit, which works with YUM, APT, Portage, Pacman and many others. That work is backed by Fedora, I believe.

        Gnome already has a great built-in front-end for it, called “GNOME Software” (in their attempt to make every software name obvious and unsearchable).

        KDE is working on its front-end, Apper, which I must say isn’t as polished graphically, but already works quite well. Publications about it are less intense than what its Gnome counterpart does. It is still active, however. This is the latest blog post about it: https://dantti.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/apper-0-9-1-released/

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    1. You are correct about “its’ “, but not about “it’s”; “its” is possessive and “it’s” is a contraction. “its’ ” is a bad habit of mine because I tend to unintentionally carry possessive noun inflections. :/

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  9. Thank you Kver for this really nice article – it was a pleasure read!

    I have a question on high dpi. As far as I understand the situation, the dpi setting from the Fonts dialog is a surrogate for the screen resolution, or to be more precises, for the preception of the user of the screen resolution. Form this value, I guess, a scaling factor is determined which is the used to scale up/down buttons, spaces, fonts, etc.

    My first question is, what happens if a high and a “low” dpi screen is connected to the same mashine. There is only one way for setting the font dpi.

    If my assumption made in the first paragraph is correct, than it shouldn’t matter, how the scaling factor is determined. Therefore, ksrceen could provide a dpi setting for each screen, which could be set to a sensible value by default if the screen provides proper EDID information.

    Do you have any information to share on the subject? Thanks you!

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    1. Right now both screens will need to share the same DPI setting; so you’ll have to choose between a standard screen rendering large UIs, or a high-DPI screen rendering tiny applications.

      The general consensus is “there’s a ways to go” when it comes to high-DPI in KDE, and right now the current state of affairs is rudimentary. I have some ideas I’ll be relaying during the Plasma Sprint, but I have no idea the work involved with my own solutions to issues like this.

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  10. thanks Kver, i know all suggestion around VDG forum and koko application 😀 i hope in futture all new “Breeze” application is building around tag concept (mac style yep) and around social shairing, beaucose is the base for modern application, obviuvsly ever good design 😉

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  11. hey Kver, one thing that interests me is how baloo and the search for tags on Dolphin, because here on kde4, while in Gwenview for example tags and I find I can search by tag, in search of dolphin can not customize also search (video, music, documents) with personal tags, and with the search for tags inserted not find them

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    1. I don’t know too much about tags; I don’t think I’m the man to answer your question on that one… I don’t use tags at all, and I’ve never found myself liking the way they worked enough to really pay attention to them as a serious feature. I’d just love a mac-style tag-a-colour system, or a Gnome-style add-an-emblem feature.

      About the only thing I can say with certainty is that most apps are still Frameworks 4 based, so you won’t see a significant change in behaviours if you switched to 5. There’s discussion about replacing Gwenview with a new image viewer, but I don’t know how it will affect tags.

      Dolphin is using Baloo now, so it should be capable of searching the database for tags at least – but it may not necessarily be using them.

      I’m afraid I just don’t have any solid answers for you – sorry. :/

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  12. Thanks for a great article, but I am wondering if you had the time to check on some less visual aspects of the desktop.

    I have been a KDE user for over a decade, but I am currently using mint because it is impossible to use libreoffice with dolphin to browse smb shares.

    Libreoffice files simply will not open if they are on a samba share. Dolphin will see them, but you cannot do anything with them. Has this been fixed? Linux Mint Cinammon gets this specific thing right, ubuntu gets it right with unity and even the gnome people get it right.

    For most adults that use linux for work not being able to use smb shares in a work setting is a pain in the ass. Yes some files do open from smb, but many do not and not being able to work with libreoffice files mounted over smb is simply a deal breaker.

    So, is there some hope? Does anybody in KDE land actually use KDE in a real work settings like we do?

    I would love to hear from you. Thank you.

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    1. Congratulations Ken, thanks for your work and for this fantastic article, only note on my part about the cashew, the solution is simple to kill him, just make sure that you can not kill the plasma panel if it has one, in fact remain without panel does not make sense, and it’s even better cashew, because it could happen that are left panel but do not know what’s the cashew, also if the plasma goes to freeze or crash, cashew does not save you the same but it is ugly, god, if it is ugly 🙂

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      1. Thank you!

        Generally if the software is crashing I treat that as a different class of issue entirely. Once the conversation moves into application crashes I tend to view any design-level discussions as pointless since you can make the argument that *nothing* is reliable. It’s like not having health insurance because you assume you’ll be hit by a bus. 😉

        But yeah, there’s several ways to kill the cashew if you’re determined; such as using another widget – but I’m just going on the fact that there’s no built-in method of removing it, most users aren’t going to go to extremes to remove it, and the Plasma developers won’t care if the method being used breaks.

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    2. I run several KDE computers around the office; if you have a permanent connection to the shares in question you can always use the fstab configuration file and run the shares as if they were mounted drives. This has the added side benefit of letting you control permissions, not needing to manually re-mount the drives constantly, and configuring Plasma widgets to feed right off the share super-easy.

      I’ve also had success using FTP as opposed to SMB, as Libre seems to be capable of handling that protocol on its’ own. Depending on requirements, you could also use Calligra – but it’s not an option for everyone.

      But yes, I’ve noticed Libre doesn’t do so well in that area – I’m not sure if its’ Libre specifically, a compatibility thing, or Frameworks specific.

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      1. Thanks for the suggestion. I have tried fstab-mounting the smb share, but if the network connection isn´t “stable” such as when mounting smb shares over wifi or via vpn, the whole KDE desktop becomes unresponsive and you cannot even launch applications until the network share comes back and is actually detected again by KDE, which can be a LOOOOOOONG time.

        I love KDE and many of its apps are best-of-class in the free desktop world, but I cannot use it right now because of the smb issue.

        How does Kubuntu or Suse or anyone manage this on an enterprise setting?
        I would be willing to put money on this or start some sort of crowdfunding project if I knew that it would actually be fixed and allow me to get back to using KDE.

        Maybe a KDE dev will chime in and shed some light on how they are planning to address this really basic fundamental issue.

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        1. > I would be willing to put money on this or start some sort of crowdfunding project if
          > I knew that it would actually be fixed and allow me to get back to using KDE. […]
          > Maybe a KDE dev will chime in and shed some light on how they are planning
          > to address this really basic fundamental issue.

          Well, I’m not a KDE dev, although this evening I’ve spent some time looking that bug for you in
          https://bugs.kde.org/buglist.cgi?quicksearch=samba
          and it looks like that your bug is the same as
          https://bugs.kde.org/show_bug.cgi?id=274414
          if someone wants to log in there, add 20 votes for that bug to be solved, start a crowfunding – kickstarter proposition for someone to solve it, etc. 🙂

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          1. Thank you for pointing the devs to this comment and for highlighting its impact on users.

            I am going to see if I can contribute further to getting this resolved.

            Thanks again.

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      1. For Samba mounting, I’m using Smb4k and launching Libreoffice files from within Dolphin without any issue. Works great, but it does seem odd to me that this application is for whatever reason an external (separately installed) application, not integrated with KDE as part of a fresh install.

        Kver, awesome review; thank you!

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      2. Hi Hansi,

        I will try this very soon. Thanks for your insights and comments.

        How does Samba Mounter react to lost network connections when the mounted share has grown stale? In other words, does Dolphin and the rest of kde remain functional?

        The reason I ask is because I work with lots of remote servers via VPN and sometimes wifi or even VPN over wifi and it is really upsetting when I have to reboot the computer just to get back to being productive.

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    3. Just mount the share as people have suggested. I wouldn’t do this in fstab if there is no guaranteed connection to the server. I manually mount my nas using commands I’ve conviently put in the paste widget. Smb4k is also good and dors have “laptop” friendly options for unmounting before suspend and remounting on resume but I havent tried these.

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    4. KDE has had problems with samba connections for a few years. There’s a bug out there dating back to late 2010 when it started. https://bugs.kde.org/show_bug.cgi?id=253547

      I have found that smb4k is a good way to work around it, though it continues to astound me as to how this bug has gotten little/no traction over the years. As I mention in a comment on the bug report, it’s becoming more common for users to get home NAS units, whether it’s some sort of DIY implementation that I often set up for people on OpenMediaVault or they go out and buy a Synology, QNAP, or Netgear NAS unit. Given the lack of ability to bring up documents or stream media from a NAS without having to copy it over first, it really puts a damper on network connected file servers, regardless of whether it’s a massive server at work or a simple little NAS at home.

      To speak quite candidly, it’s the deal breaker for me. I’m subscribed to the bug, so when (if?) it gets fixed, I’ll likely be back. But until then… well…

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  13. There are some issues with regards to installation:

    – Plasma 5.2 does not depend on systemd; in fact BSD users can rest assured that there is no such dependency, it is an optional part used if available.
    – You left out two major distributions with regards to installation: openSUSE and Arch. I’m part of the openSUSE community KDE team so I’ll handle the former, and let the Arch people chime in. There are packages available for Plasma for past openSUSE releases in the KDE:Frameworks5 repository. openSUSE Tumbleweed users will get new versions as they become available, instead. With regards to the default, it will depend on the exact release date for the next version of openSUSE – depending on that, we will evaluate whether it makes sense to switch to 5.x as default (we’re thinking at least to wait until 5.3).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you; I’ve updated the Install & tech Info section to include that; I was under the impression the BSDs had ‘given up’ on KDE because of the systemd spat – I’m glad to hear I was wrong!

      Also, sorry for not including information on OpenSUSE and Arch; I’ve updated that as as well; it still includes a little extra info on Ubuntu (simply because that’s what I had experience with); but hopefully it won’t lead people astray. So, thanks again!

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  14. Thank you for your nice review.
    I’m wondering if it has a “netbook” variant; because plasma-netbook is my current desktop and I want all applications fullscreen, without decoration, and just a narrow panel.

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    1. Just tried it out, it appears to be working fine; perhaps you were caught in the middle of me messing with things. Also, I didn’t know Akregator had a browser built in! Neat!

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