KDE Plasma Desktop review: I’m still not switching from GNOME


Jack Wallen shares what he likes and dislikes about KDE Plasma and reveals who might be best suited to use the open source desktop.

Image: Jack Wallen

I have to confess: I don’t give KDE a fair shake. It’s not because I don’t believe it to be a strong take on the Linux desktop, it’s just that I prefer a much more minimal desktop. Also, I was never a big fan of the old taskbar/start menu/system tray combo. I leaned more toward the GNOME way of thinking and doing things.

Recently, a reader called me out on my lack of KDE coverage, so I thought it was time to offer up my take on where KDE Plasma stands, and who might be best suited to use this open source desktop. Comparing Plasma to my usual GNOME desktop is really quite challenging, given these two desktops are night and day. It’s like comparing the works of Clive Barker to that of William Gibson–they’re both incredibly good at what they do, they’re using the same tools to tell stories, but in very different genres. 

So instead of doing the usual comparison, I thought I’d take a more creative approach to the task. I’ll even lay out my conclusion right here:

GNOME is e.e. cummings, whereas KDE is Alfred Lord Tennyson. One uses the minimum amount of “words” to convey the subject at hand, while the other opts to use a flooding flourish of words to great effect. One says:






While the other states:

With the single tap of the phalange, a world of wonder shall open and display for you the tools with which you might explore new worlds, new ideas, and unheard of possibility.

What in the world am I getting at? 

Let me explain.

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I’ve gone on and on about GNOME. At this point, there’s little to say about the current iteration of GNOME that I haven’t already said. In fact, my summation of GNOME in my piece Is GNOME or Unity the desktop for you? is the same statement I’d make today about this particular desktop:

GNOME is for users who need a desktop to get out of their way. They want to focus on applications and require as much screen real estate as possible. GNOME users don’t care so much about tweaking the desktop–they simply want a desktop that is reliable, predictable, and polished.

With that said, let’s take a look at the latest release of KDE, by way of the KDE neon project.

KDE Plasma Desktop

Okay, first let’s talk about the name. Is it KDE? Is it KDE Plasma? No. It’s just Plasma. The name Plasma was introduced upon the release of KDE SC 4.4. To some, of course, it’s still KDE. To others, it’s KDE Plasma. I’ve even seen it referred to as the Plasma Desktop.

Name aside, what sets Plasma apart from GNOME? 

Just about everything.

At first blush, one could draw the conclusion that Plasma is what happens when the Windows 7 designers channel the macOS desktop designers to add enough panache to the desktop to create something completely different–and yet not.

Why not? Because in the end, Plasma holds on to the tried-and-true desktop metaphor of taskbar/start menu/system tray. There’s a good reason for that–in a word: Familiarity.

Actually, two words: Familiarity and ease of use.

Sorry, Tennyson took hold and turned two words into five. Let’s reword that.

  • Familiarity

  • Usability

Thing is, there’s poetry hidden on the Plasma Desktop, just waiting to be released. You might think the developers and designers stopped at that collaboration between Windows 7 and macOS desktop, but you’d be wrong. Why? Plasma has a few tricks up its sleeve. One trick comes in the way of widgets. 

But wait, doesn’t the macOS desktop have widgets? Fancy that, it does. Desktop widgets are exactly what you think they are–small applications you can add to the desktop that do anything from a simple analog clock, application launchers, menus, calculators, dictionaries, clipboards, device notifiers, and more. This is very familiar territory here–nothing you haven’t seen before.

That’s telling. But alas, there’s more, my friends. 

What are KDE Plasma activities?

There’s no way to “simply put” what an activity is in Plasma; however, you can think of them as virtual desktops that allow for more fine-tuned control over your experience. That’s a bit vague. But seriously, what are activities? 

Again, virtual desktops with a bit more control. For example, you could create one activity for programming and add a number of developer-related widgets to that desktop. Next, you could pin developer-specific applications to the taskbar. 

You could also set certain privacy restrictions for different activities. For example, you could create an activity specifically for web browsing and then set that activity to clear the history of that activity after one month (oddly enough, that’s the shortest time frame you can set). Thing is, the clearing of activity history doesn’t actually dive into browser history. 

So what does history clearing do? 

After a quick test, it doesn’t clear the history of the KWrite text editor–even after clearing all history of all apps on the current Activity.

What gives? Why add a feature if said feature doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do? 

Truth be told, Plasma activities are somewhat of a mystery–one that most new (and/or average) users won’t ever bother using.

This little foray into widgets and activities brings me round to one of the reasons why I decided Plasma wasn’t the desktop for me some time ago.

It doesn’t really know who it is. Is it e.e. cummings or Alfred Lord Tennyson? Barker or Gibson? Is it Windows 7 or macOS? 

On the surface, Plasma is a fine take on the traditional desktop; it’s stable, fast, and incredibly easy to use for anyone who has worked with any sort of desktop interface. Plasma stumbles when it introduces new features but doesn’t define them in such a way as to make them stand out as truly useful or unique. 

Don’t get me wrong, I like Plasma. Every once in a while it’s nice to install the latest version of Neon to see what the KDE developers have done with the desktop. Sadly enough, however, they haven’t done much to refine the features that could set it apart from desktops of the past or present. Plasma is a taskbar/start menu/system tray desktop with a few extra bells and whistles that do little to entice me into making the switch from GNOME.

Again, not that Plasma is bad. For anyone who prefers the traditional desktop, you would do well with Plasma. But once you start digging into some of the other features, confusion might set in, and you’ll find yourself wondering, “Why is this here?”

To go back to my original analogy, Plasma is to desktops what Tennyson is to poetry: There are a lot of beautiful words used to describe something where fewer words would do.

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Dell unveils new XPS desktop and S-series monitors


The tech giant also announced an additional color variant to its XPS 15 laptop.

S-series family 

Image: Dell

Dell rolled out its latest desktop model and monitor series on Thursday. The bevy of new items include the updated XPS Desktop, Dell 32 Curved 4K Monitor, Dell 27 UHD 4K Monitor, and Dell 27 QHD Monitor. 

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The new releases follow a number of other Dell products released in the past couple of months, including the Dell G Series gaming computers in June and the XPS 15 and XPS 17 laptops in May. 

While the XPS 15 laptop and Dell 5G Gaming Desktop were both announced previously, Dell confirmed availability and pricing on Thursday. The XPS 15 laptop is now available in the US, Canada, and across participating European and Asian countries, starting at $1,300. The Dell G5 Gaming Desktop is available now in the US and Canada beginning at $700, according to a blog post. 

Building upon its previous announcement of the XPS 15 laptop, Dell introduced a new color variant. This summer, for an additional $50 across select configurations, the device will also be available in frost machined aluminum with an arctic white woven glass palm rest.

However, the brand new desktop and monitors are particularly intriguing. Here are details into those latest releases, according to the blog post and fact sheets: 

New desktop 

  • XPS Desktop

Dell’s XPS Desktop has received a major upgrade—both inside and out. The latest system is powered by 10th Gen Intel Core processors and graphics options up to NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER, making it ideal for intensive business projects, gaming and virtual reality, and creative workflows.

Dell XPS Desktop

Image: Dell

Similar to the latest laptops in the XPS family, the new XPS Desktop features a minimalist design. Coming in either Mineral White or Night Sky, the system is designed to stay cool and quiet with optimal airflow. 

The latest XPS Desktop is available now starting at $650.

S-series monitors

All S-series monitors follow the sleek design of recent Dell products and come in Platinum Silver. The monitors are available from sizes 27″ to 32″ and come with integrated speakers, 99% sRGB color coverage, and AMD FreeSync technology. The devices also come with Dell Premium Panel Warranty to ensure zero “bright pixel” defects on the monitors.

  • Dell 32 Curved 4K UHD Monitor (S3221QS)

Dell 32 Curved 4K UHD Monitor (S3221QS)

Image: Dell

The 31.5″ curved 4K UHD monitor is equipped with dual 5W speakers to create a completely immersive experience. The TÜV-certified monitor has an adjustable stand that both tilts and configures to different heights. This device is ideal for entertainment, creating lifelike sound for an optimized movie-watching experience. 

The Dell 32 Curved 4K UHD Monitor is available on Aug. 20, 2020 starting at $450.

  • Dell 27 UHD 4K Monitor (S2721QS) 

Dell 27 UHD 4K Monitor (S2721QS) 

Image: Dell

The 27″ 4K UHD monitor enables HDR content playback and IPS technology for better creative experiences. The monitor offers four times the resolution of Full HD, has built-in dual 3W speakers, and is available in both a fixed stand or height adjustable stand with tilt, swivel, and pivot capabilities. 

The Dell 27 UHD 4K Monitor is available on Aug. 20, 2020 starting at $420 for the fixed stand and $450 for the adjustable. 

  • Dell 27 QHD Monitor (S2721DS)

Dell 27 QHD Monitor (S2721DS)

Image: Dell

The 27″ QHD Monitor has nearly identical specs to the UHD 4K monitor, except for the resolution, which isn’t as high of quality, but still gets 1.77 times more details than Full HD. Both Dell 27 models are referred to in the fact sheets as “lifestyle-inspired,” intended for the daily user looking for a quality experience. The monitor also features a fixed stand or adjustable stand. 

The Dell 27 QHD Monitor is available on Aug. 20, 2020 starting at $320 for the fixed stand and $350 for the adjustable. 

For more, check out Dell prioritizes remote workers with new Latitude, Precision, and Optiplex devices on TechRepublic.


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