KDE Plasma 5.6 Released

KDE Plasma is the desktop environment that powers Kubuntu, Chakra Linux and openSUSE (among others). This week sees the release of Plasma 5.6, which brings several tweaks and improvements.

KDE is a modern desktop environment, but unlike several desktop environments, it has avoided the trend of "dumbing down" the interface. Although there's much to be said for a simplified environment, power users value the ability to customize and configure their work environments. KDE provides plenty of opportunities to tweak and streamline the experience.

Of course, the range of choice available in the desktop world means that users are well cared for, whatever their preferences. KDE isn't the only configurable desktop environment, and some users prefer minimal window managers or text-only interfaces.

Just about every desktop environment has its own army of loyal supporters, and many a bitter flame war has been fought over which one is best. Will Plasma 5.6 sway new supporters to its side?

Previous versions of Plasma have offered an attractive interface, and the latest release is no exception. This incarnation offers some new polish in the standard themes. Some of these are minor tweaks, such as improving the tooltip animations. Small as they are, they do improve the overall feel.

There are functional improvements as well. The task manager (or taskbar) can show the progress of running operations, such as downloads. This means you can tell how the job is progressing without having to tab into the application's window.

The application launchers have been overhauled too. You now have the option of adding your own "jump lists" to group your frequently used apps.

The weather widget has returned, which is a nice touch. It makes it simpler to check the weather forecast without opening a new browser tab.

Like most of the desktop world, KDE is taking steps toward Wayland support. In Plasma 5.6, it's just about being functional, but in the words of KDE, it's not "production ready". So it's really just a taste of things to come. There are some nice Wayland features to play with, such as window decorations and "window focus on mouse-over".

So should you switch to KDE? That's really up to you. For most people, it's a matter of personal preference, and the only way to know for sure is to take it for a spin and see if you like the experience.

A few factors could sway your decision. KDE Plasma is built using the Qt toolkit, so it does enjoy better integration with other Qt apps. If you find yourself favoring Qt-based apps, this could be a factor.

To be honest, interoperability between the major desktop environments is quite good these days, thanks to the freedesktop.org project. Of course, there are some exceptions.

If you're into flashy gimmicks, such as wobbly windows and 3D task switching, KDE has you covered. I've personally never found them to be "mission-critical" features, but they are fun.

Features like media player integration are more useful. KDE makes it easy to pause or play tracks by hovering over an application's icon in the taskbar. It's much less disruptive than switching windows.

Fans of KDE praise its clean and responsive interface. Detractors say it reminds them of Windows XP or Vista, but I wouldn't go that far myself.