Meet the Plasma 5 Widget Family

The Cashew is Dead – Long Live the Cashew!

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The toolbox presents criticle menu entries necessary should the desktop be left in an unusable state.

Plasma 5.2 is one of the most forgiving desktops to configure and offers several escape-hatches in the event you literally customise it to death. There is one persistent widget called “the toolbox” (previously known as “the cashew” for the icon it used in Plasma 4, it now uses a hamburger menu) which defaults to the top-right corner of the desktop – and if all else fails this widget is how you fix a terminally customised desktop. When clicked it allows you access to all ‘critical’ operations you may need, including power operations, desktop settings, and the widget toolbox. If you ever find yourself with nothing but a wallpaper the toolbox is your first point of recovery. This is a mainstay from Plasma 4, and it drives tweakers nuts because it’s the one unchanging thing on the desktop. There have been heavy debates on how to hide it, but for the interim it’s here to stay.

Krunner; New & Improved

The Krunner search (found by hitting alt+F2 or alt+space) is a hidden tool ready to peek out from the top of the screen. From it you can search every aspect of your entire computer; applications, documents, actions (like logging out), bookmarks, and nearly anything else which this versatile tool plugs into are open to search. In Plasma 4 Krunner was fast but highly disorganised, just throwing everything into a sloppy list and calling it a day. This next-generation Krunner uses a much more sophisticated engine which apparently increases the speed further – though it was already too fast for me to detect lag in the searches before. Krunner now categorises results, and this minimal amount of organization goes a long way, letting you quickly zero-in on the result you wanted.

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Categories are well organised and extremly useful in making search results human-digestible.

This criminally hard-to-discover tool is a staple for many hardcore KDE users, and has only improved. If you are unsatisfied with any of the result categories, or have no interest in pulling results for things like system commands, the settings button present on the search box presents a simple and understandable configuration tool which allows you to control what is and isn’t searched. I doubt you’ll ever need to turn a plugin off though; this seemingly psychic utility is good at pulling up what you want, and I have yet to be flooded with unwanted results.

Krunner can also be added as a standard widget to the desktop, and is simply named “search”. If you’re a fan of how Apples’ Spotlight is a physical button on a panel, then this is the widget for you. It uses all the same guts as Krunner, but does away with the extra configuration button in favour of the standard settings window. That being said you won’t need to configure this widget, just like it’s parent tool this widget is spooky psychic and crazy fast.

I manually imported Firefox bookmarks from my previous installation, and Baloo (the search engine) dutifully indexed them.
I manually imported Firefox bookmarks from my previous installation, and Baloo (the search engine) dutifully indexed them.

The Standard Launcher

The standard Plasma launcher has seen a modest update in its translation to Plasma 5.2; this version does away with the strange ‘shine’ background that made the previous launcher look displaced. The behaviour is mostly the same in this new version: mousing over the category tabs switches the page, there’s a search function, and the users’ basic information at the top. It will hint that you can type to begin searching, however it does not immediately show the search bar until you start keying in your terms. The search itself is faster and more in-depth than the Kickoff of old – but does limit itself compared to the Kickoff tool, and once you know about the best-kept-secret Krunner the standard launcher search quickly becomes redundant.

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The launcher organises itself with tabs covering topics you would find in the contemporary Windows 7 start menu; user info, search, system info, favourites, applications, common folders, history, and various power/account mechanisms. Because of the large number of bases this widget covers it can be a little bit cumbersome as most of the functions are behind 5 tabs; the idea is to smoothly guide your mouse over the section you want as you’re moving into them, but it does require a momentary pause before those tabs switch, and those tabs are always between the launcher button and the content you want. Generally it’s not an issue as the focus is clearly on getting to your favourite applications, but doing anything other than accessing a favourite application simply feels an iota slower than it needs to be, and it’s the one place where the transitions slow down your work flow.

It’s a Wonderful Tray

The system tray has seen one of the most radical designs compared to all other widgets available on Plasma 5.2, both aesthetically, functionally, and behaviourally. Plasma 4 saw the tray put in a ‘wild west’ situation where applications would do whatever they wanted. Clicking some tray items would offer a plasma-based popup, some would offer a contextual popup, and others would just outright launch their parent applications; I’m not even talking about non-KDE applications, I’m talking core Plasma-based widgets.

Plasma 5 saw a complete reinvention of the tray to calm the choppy seas. At first blush it’s a standard tray, and you can hide certain applets you don’t care about as per usual; The tray becomes unique when you click on an item; all core Plasma applets now use a consistent Plasma-based popup, and many of those popups contain a secondary navigation to switch between other available tray items. The secondary navigation can be redundant at times, but it usually contains all available applets including those hidden from the tray itself.

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A downside to the cleaner interface is applications which don’t adhere to modern tray protocols – namely applications stuck on xembed – have been officially put to pasture by the update; supporting these applications held back the evolution of the tray and developers have officially left xembed by the wayside in order to further the goal of consistency. The benefits from the new design far outweigh the lack of support for old applications, and Frameworks 5/Plasma 5 are moving towards supporting Wayland which means applications depending on X will eventually be left behind anyway. For other toolkits which don’t traditionally support the preferred Plasma tray API there are patches and helpers which enable the functionality, so for all relevant modern applications support is a non-issue.

Other Widgets

Some widgets offered on the Plasma 4 desktop are still absent, including the Weather widget – but more gaps are getting filled in. There are a few widgets which are still quite raw in terms on their configuration options, but across the board there’s a notable improvement in quality with very few exceptions, unlike Plasma 4 where widgets often varied wildly in polish and design.

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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).

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    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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