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KDE Plasma 5.21 Review
Every KDE Plasma desktop release brings ‘real’ features. Not just bug fixes and minor updates here and there across desktops. The changes overall cater to look-n-feel, customizations, core module updates, new features, and performance boost.
This review is based on the KDE Neon stable edition which features the KDE Plasma 5.21 desktop. If you want to experience real KDE Plasma, it is recommended that you use KDE Neon. Alternatively, you can separately install it in Arch Linux as well.
Installation and First Impression
The installation of KDE Neon is smooth. As expected, there are no surprises or bugs. After the successful installation, you get the first glance at this nice and modern desktop.
The first thing you notice is the stunning Milky Way wallpaper which is introduced in this release. KDE team introduces new wallpaper for its new releases, at least once a year. And I must say, this is by far the more elegant wallpaper that KDE ever introduced.
The second item you notice is the new KDE Kick-off menu. This new Kick-off menu is more advanced and modern aligning with today’s needs. If you compare the old kick-off menu with this new one, you can find many usability differences. And that makes the new menu more aligned with the modern desktop philosophy.
The categories at the left and mouse hover action shows the sub-items on the right. The kick-off also a search bar at the top with history, recent items in a separate tab section. It also includes Sleep, Restart, Shutdown, Leaves options right at the bottom for the user. Unlike GNOME, where you have to click 4 times to shut down your system, which is in my opinion is not a good thing.
Power of KDE Application and KDE Framework
KDE Plasma 5.21 features the KDE Framework version 5.78 which brings the latest features with support of Qt 5.15. The most powerful aspect of the KDE Plasma desktop is its homegrown application stack – which is specifically designed for the KDE desktop. You get all applications you need for your desktop – pre-installed. Unlike other Linux desktops, you do not need to keep looking for extensions or applications after the base install.
Almost all the native KDE apps upgraded to their respective stable release in Plasma 5.21. There are some new feature additions as well for certain apps. For example, the audio volume applet includes a dynamic visualizer which shows the volume/recording levels. A native fingerprint manager also landed in KDE Plasma 5.21 which gives you the flexibility to manage your fingerprints for login and other authentication. I do not have a fingerprint-enabled device to test though.
Core Updates in this release
As always, this release brings many Wayland updates and fixes. I am still skeptical of Wayland would be a proper replacement for X11 anytime soon. It’s like a never-ending improvement of Wayland to be a mainstream alternative to X11. However, the more the fixes and update, the better for all – especially those want to use it.
Plasma 5.21 officially uses Systemd at startup when available. This enhancement comes with various underlying benefits. For general users, they feel the startup time is much faster in KDE Plasma 5.21. Under the hood, this change avoids process race conditions during startup, better session clean up – both eliminates possible system hangs. Also brings better resource management between OS processes using control groups (cgroups).
The main window manager and compositor of KDE – Kwin sees a major rewrite. The compositor now provides an option for you to choose between more ‘smooth animation’ or a ‘lower latency‘ experience. This major work also brings the mixed-refresh-rate display setups on Wayland. If you have a multimonitor setup with a variable refresh rate then you get better performance while running Plasma under Wayland.
The system settings shortcut page now shows which shortcuts you have changed since opening up the settings dialog – when clicked on “Highlight changed settings feature”.
So, overall these are major core updates worth mentioning in a review.
In my test of KDE Plasma 5.21 in a virtual machine environment, the overall performance is satisfactory. It is well optimized in terms of memory and CPU usage.
Idle memory usage is under 1GB (~950 MB) and CPU usage is low. A close look at the process list reveals top 3 processes taking up more memory is plasma shell, system monitor, Kwin.
If you still think today that KDE is resource hungry, well you should try the latest Plasma 5.21 to experience the performance difference. It can compete with other lightweight Linux desktops and come as the winner in all aspects.
During my test, I have not seen any major show-stopper bugs, or have not heard anything major from the community forums. So it is indeed a very stable release. There are bugs – but they are minor and would be fixed in the upcoming KDE Plasma 5.22.
One of the important facets of any software is the upgrade path from the prior releases. In my upgrade test from Plasma 5.20 to Plasma 5.21 went very smoothly. The
pkcon update took care of everything, then a nice reboot. And at the end, it’s all good.
Closing Notes and Looking Ahead
There are very few Linux desktops which is a fine piece of software. If you look at from the broad perspective, there are only GNOME, KDE Plasma, MATE, Cinnamon, and Pantheon desktop which are active and somewhat good. But if they are compared between work-out-of-the-box features, ease-of-use, customization options – I feel only one desktop come to the top. That is KDE Plasma.
I am not saying that GNOME, MATE, and others are bad. They are perfectly fine with their user base and perform exactly what they intended to do. But I believe they lack a bit of modernization touch while being a traditional desktop. On the other hand, GNOME is trying too much to be a desktop for touch-based devices and moving away from a traditional desktop flavor it seems.
And with this release of KDE Plasma 5.21 – it becomes a more “perfect” Linux desktop to be adopted by all types of users. Probably a good replacement for Windows desktop as well backed by Ubuntu base.