GNOME was my first love. I was always a fan of that classic GNOME 2 desktop back in the days when Metacity was the window manager. My first distro was Ubuntu 6.04 and as happens to almost anyone who one day decides to try Linux with some enthusiasm, it was not by far the last in the following years, nor was GNOME the only desktop I used. But like almost any self-respecting immature GNOME fan, I always gave KDE a bad look.
Linux desktops today are light years away from what they were at that time, some have disappeared, some have mutated, and some have evolved to rather surprising levels. In my humble opinion the evolution of KDE has been perhaps the most interesting of all. After spending more than a decade without wanting to look at it even from a distance, now it has me fascinated.
Bad Plasma and Good Plasma
My first experience with KDE was with Fedora and it was terrible. Those were the days of Plasma 4, and it wasn’t that KDE was a bad desktop or that it was worse than something like GNOME, it was just too heavy. KDE was like Windows Vista from Linux, very flashy and everything you want, but it was difficult to have a machine that did not end up crawling.
I got to try it on Kubuntu, on OpenSUSE, on Mandriva (and then when it became Mageia) and with Arch Linux, because its visual style kept catching my eye, but the result was always the same: my computer couldn’t handle it. And going from a light and fast desk to one where you could stand to go to the bathroom waiting for an app to open was just unacceptable.
All that began to change notably with the arrival of Plasma 5, the difference with its predecessor is almost like night and day. In fact, I would say that the difference between the first time I tried KDE Plasma 5 in Mageia about 5 or 6 years ago, and what something like KDE Neon offers today, is also extremely large.
LINUX and GNU: LINUX: WHAT IT IS and HOW IT WORKS
The best Linux desktop today?
Plasma has been progressing by leaps and bounds, but for someone who was used to looking at KDE with a heavy and slow environment, I spent years watching it from afar, more interested in options like MATE (basically the heir to my beloved GNOME 2), the Cinnamon Linux Mint, or the Pantheon from elementary OS, which has always been one of my favorite distros.
Modern environments but lighter than what GNOME 3 started to become with GNOME Shell, which although it has been improving a lot, is still far from satisfying many, especially if you have a modest machine.
In the last three years, perhaps since the release of KDE Plasma 5.10, I started to notice a huge tendency for the project to release more and better updates, always optimizing performance and increasingly polishing the design and details thoroughly.
By the time version 5.19 was released in the first half of this year, I decided that it was time to give KDE a real shot, beyond testing a distro with the environment or snooping through a live USB.
KDE Neon has been the distro that has given me the best performance on my low-resource secondary PC without having to sacrifice anything in experience thanks to Plasma
I installed KDE Neon on my little secondary computer, an Intel NUC with a processor that goes into a coma if I install Windows 10, and that crawls with something like GNOME. The 1.60 GHz Celeron N3060 that this machine has needs something light that leaves almost all the resources free for Chrome.
After trying Ubuntu, Xubuntu, Linux Mint (MATE and LXDE), elementary OS and Windows 10 with mixed results, but none very satisfactory, I have to say that KDE Neon brought it to life. I find it hard to believe that something like KDE feels smoother and lighter than something like MATE or XFCE itself, but it does.
On my main computer either of those distros or Windows 10 itself works like a rocket, so the goal here was get a desk for a more modest team that also offers a good overall experience. And I have to say that KDE meets more requirements than any of the above.
KDE Plasma is easy to use, especially if you are used to Windows, it will feel very familiar, something essential if you want to recommend a distro to someone who comes from there. Everything works fast, everything is easily accessible.
The application launcher offers excellent navigation through all available applications and options, the search works wonders, the notification system is excellent, the panel indicators put everything at hand what you need to manage updates, network, sound, bluetooth, and even a clipboard history. You can pin your favorite apps in the style of the Windows 10 Superbar.
A lot of this is partly the great work of the KDE Neon team, but overall Plasma is a fantastic desktop. The rest of the experience: applications and compatibility, is basically the same as in any modern distro, but in the details is where a system like this stands out.
KDE Neon offers a lot of customization options
KDE Neon reminds me a bit of that clean and fluid experience of the stock Android that the Nexus brought, where it seemed that nothing was left over. But, in a similar way, there is much you can add to customize everything to your liking, and in that the distro and the environment stand out a lot. From Discover, the software center, you can install anything, and with support for Snap, you don’t have to do anything extra to use these kinds of apps.
From the system preferences you can change from the global theme, plasma style, window decoration, icons, cursors, etc. Y you can download themes for everything directly from there. The number of options available is even overwhelming, and everything looks great. The level of detail at which they let you choose every last color and animation is more than appreciated.
It may not be the perfect environment or distro, but for this particular case, and for someone who’s been testing systems for a few years looking to get a little excited, the current state of KDE Plasma is the best I have ever gotten on Linux.