KDE Plasma — 1

For many years KDE has seen little action in the house network since the days of KDE 3 and early Trinity Desktop Environment (TDE). KDE 4 was poked a bit but never felt comfortable. Tinkering with KDE 4 ended when Akonadi became a non negotiable “pillar.”

Initial testing of Slackware 15.0 required resizing the system partitions on several house computers. The idea was to provide sufficient space to tinker with and review a full Plasma desktop.

Unlike LXQt, the Plasma collection of packages indicates a significant “kitchen sink” approach. The collection reduces the effort to find suitable software replacements. Not to be fooled, the number of KDE packages is overwhelming.

Initial testing began in a virtual machine (VM). One of the testing user accounts in the house network was reduced to a “skeleton” profile. As much as practical all vestiges of GTK, LXQt, KDE, and TDE were removed in the profile. All with the idea of giving KDE Plasma as clean a slate as practical.

A prominent challenge with any migration is avoiding disruptions to work flows and habits. In many ways KDE Plasma has much of the same design and foundation as the old days. The learning curve should be reasonable. Yet enough has changed that massaging Plasma into a comfortable desktop will take a while. Preliminary toying with KDE Plasma in the VM soon grew a lengthy check list targeting a meaningful breakaway from GTK.

High on the list to avoiding work flow disruptions is administration. There is no way to avoid administrative privileges with computers. This is a home network and not an enterprise environment with multiple layers of privilege and security. While the command line is used heavily in the house network, for convenience this means admin access to a few GUI tools:

  • Text editor
  • Diff tool with inline editing
  • File manager
  • "Root” terminal window

Since the KDE 3 days, in the house network certain user accounts have been configured with a Super User submenu in the panel menu. Accessing these tools with admin privileges is done through custom pkexec files. Although those four categories still populate this special submenu, in practice the ones used daily are the text editor and diff tool. A GUI text editor with root privileges is a cornerstone requirement in the house network.

Once in a blue moon a GUI file manager is nice, but most admin file management is performed with midnight commander. A “root” terminal window is not mandatory because a simple su - provides the same access.

Related testing were “acid tests.” Although seldom used in the house network, KDE Plasma was launched using the root user account.

Despite a history in recent years of being designed to deny root access, surprisingly Kate and KWrite offered no complaints when launched as root. Both launched fine with sudo in a non root account. A polkit pkexec file for authorized non root users also succeeded.

Important is a GUI diff tool. Meld has been used for some years but is somewhat clunky and can be temperamental. Before that in KDE 3 Kompare was used but Kompare does not support inline editing and only supports unidirectional changes. KDiff3 supports inline editing but is awkward to use. Regardless of any GTK migration, Meld likely will remain installed.

After many years of user complaints, Dolphin now allows root access but displays a childish warning banner. The Xfce Thunar file manager does this too. Both tools need an option to disable the banner — treat users with respect and dignity. Considering that a GUI file manager is used in the house network only occasionally, this might be a paper cut that can be tolerated. Ironically, the Krusader file manager run as root has no such banner.

During the days of KDE 3, Konqueror was a decent web browser but possibly the best file manager. In that spirit, launching Plasma Konqueror as root fails fully with an error message about a lack of sandbox support. That relegates KDE admin GUI file management to Dolphin and Krusader.

Tinkering with Dolphin resurrects some of the glory days of using Konqueror as a file manager. There is a full detailed tree view in the file pane, tabs, a configurable sidebar, bookmarks, etc. Notable is that like the original Konqueror, browsing files in tree view is snappy. Easy to notice when spinning hard disks are used.

There is much in Plasma that is tempting. A cursory glance at Plasma indicates many parts should be usable in one way or another even if not using a complete Plasma environment. Wandering around Plasma reflects potential for being productive after work flow migrations are resolved. Notable is much of the documentation is part of the desktop, continuing the tradition of KDE Handbooks. That is welcomed in this day when too many developers presume everybody should connect to the web to read user guides. Sadly, there are some KDE tools with only online documentation. Oh well.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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