Plasma – The road to perfection is paved with bugs

Call it bias, call it taste, I like the Plasma desktop environment. After many years, I feel KDE is finally regaining some of that solid pro feel it used to have back in the (g)olden days. But then, the feeling of satisfaction is not guaranteed. Quality is a fickle thing in the Linux world, and KDE is not immune to regressions, especially when compounded by distro permutations and hardware dependencies.

Now, one might claim that a great operating system – and a great desktop – are immune to tiny variations in the operation setup. I agree. And so, I’d like to compile a list – with the necessary discussion of course – of some (of the many) things that I currently think are missing in Plasma. Things that could and should and would make it a professional contestant in the desktop world, currently a VIP club mostly reserved to Microsoft and a few other members. Then, some of you have expressed a view that I’m too biased when it comes to Plasma, but the lack of criticism (perceived as such) comes from the fact that Plasma is actually a genuinely good desktop environment. But it’s not perfect. Not yet. And here’s why.

Baseline

So before we begin. Just a few quick notes. Most of the stuff comes from day-to-day testing, usually over a period of (just) several hours. My observations follow a simple usage logic, from initial connectivity to fun stuff that people need. Legend wise, [C] denotes cosmetic and [F] denotes functional. We talked about a lot of this stuff in my State of Plasma article from early 2017 and more recently the 5.12 LTS review.

Most importantly, this is not any kind of replacement for official bugzillas or an attempt to ape them poorly and with much less detail. This is more of a running, on-the-go impression from a user with a keen sense of OCD and aesthetics, and a simple approach to computing. Things should work. They should be intuitive, robust, elegant. Regressions are horrible. Stability and quality are the factors that determine success in the long run.

BTW, most of the stuff I have mentioned in the 5.12 LTS review are getting attention and focus by the KDE team. These guys are taking the problem seriously, but as most things Linux-based, their approach is from the dev perspective, mine is strictly from the user perspective. In fact, there’s extra work being done on ironing bugs, and this in turns is drawing more and more people to join the Plasma community.

The (short) list

Brace yourselves, here we go. And so I was merrily journeying across the Plasma desktop, when …

[C] Widget button on the left side is too close to the desktop folders.

[C] Widgets list always opens on the left side, regardless of the button placement.

[C] Wireless icon (when not connected) is too pale and may be mistaken for a gap in the system area in the panel.

[C] When connecting to a Wireless network, the user may be prompted for password twice, which is probably related to the KDEWallet service.

[F] When you add/pin applications to the task manager, the menu auto-closes. This is annoying and distracting if you want to add more than one icon at a time.

[F] Menu session end buttons all have the same result, regardless of what you click on. Whether you choose suspend, reboot or shutdown, you still have a 30-sec timeout screen with the same options presented again. A confirmation is nice, but it should also correlate to the chosen action. Clicking suspend or reboot and then choosing shutdown a few seconds later negates the first choice.

[C] The system menu does not differentiate between several versions of the same application, if installed. For example, the standard repo and the snap version of VLC 3.0 both show exactly the same, and the only way to tell them apart is by the icon (lower-res for the snap), or alternatively, by launching the program to check which version it is.

Plasma menu, multiple entries

[F] The order of different versions of the same application as listed in the system menu changes based on usage/launches.

[C] Panel height resize is done using a drag/slider rather than a precise input value. Both options ought to exist, so that both methods can be used. Hand sliding, especially without an external mouse pointer, is tedious and inaccurate.

[C] Brightness slider does not go all the way to the right on the 100% mark.

Brightness slider

[C] The clipboard in the system area, after you copy media files, does not have a perfect vertical alignment, leading to the bottom-most line to be partially obscured (cropped).

Clipboard line crop

[F] Default font color is too pale – insufficient contrast; should be black.

[F] Default font size is too small (10pt).

[C] Default font anti-aliasing settings are sub-optimal in all tests I have performed, including different laptops, with Intel and Nvidia graphics. The system defaults should be set to RGB and slight hinting.

[F] Spectacle does not have an option to remove/disable shadows when taking a screenshot of an active window area. The shadow size also depends on the selected theme – and may be impacted by compositing, which can lead to inconsistent results. It is also not apparent whether there are shadows in created screenshots or not while they are being taken.

[F] Spectacle usage model is complicated – Save & Exit is the same button that opens the preferences menu, and it is not immediately apparent this is the case. It also makes no sense to place the two under the same hierarchy element.

[C] System settings menu opens at a “wrong” default size, leading to category labels text breaking over multiple lines.

[C] System settings category labels are too pale – and barely visible.

[F] The installation of new themes, icons and other decoration is vague and broken. Sometimes, there are multiple install options that do not clearly signify to the user what they’re installing, and these installations often fail due to misconfigured third-party resources. Even when installed, decorations may not show up in relevant lists due to unlisted incompatibilities. It may take a full session restart (log out, log in) to see the effects of newly applied decorations.

[F] System customization should include a backup and restore-to-defaults options, including a desktop/system wide configuration, as well as individual options. This may also be realized as preview function, so the users can see what the new theme/decoration will do before it is applied.

[F] Discover shows no screenshots and no rating for selected programs.

[F] Discover sources management remains confusing and insufficient – no way to change locality/priority of listed distributions, no way to search or install proprietary software.

[F] In the sources view, Discover has a scrollbar that obscures the list of repos and also partially blocks the UI itself.

[F] Discover seemingly keeps on checking for updates, even though the action is not happening and/or it should have completed already.

[F] Discover search results are broken; programs that can be found using the command-line package manager utility do not show in the UI when the same search string is used.

[F] It is difficult to find the option to configure/enable the desktop session restart (X kill), normally activated by the Ctrl + Alt + Backspace combo. There are no less than three different options to configure and use keyboard shortcuts. You have normal and advanced settings, but then you also have the hardware configuration, and it’s the last one that you actually need for this.

Desktop restart key combo

[C] Dolphin requires drag ‘n’ drop to add shortcuts to the sidebar; an (easily discoverable) menu option would be preferable, especially for network shares.

[C] There’s no easy way to quickly remove/hide entries in the Dolphin sidebar, except by removing the entire category.

[C] The list of devices in Dolphin seems random – devices should include both label, device name and size through a configurable setting, and there should be an option to allow the user to sort the devices based on their preference.

[F] In Dolphin, copying files to Samba shares will result in their timestamp being updated to the current mark. This is most significant when working with pictures.

[C] No way to add multiple versions of same application as separate (custom) launchers to the task manager. This is only possible via configuration file tweaks, with session logout to take effect, and even then, launched programs still default to the original (pinned) application launched.

[C] No way to add URL shortcuts by drag ‘n’ drop from browsers; no favicons are used as shortcut icons.

[C] No way to add an existing URL shortcut (on the desktop) to the task manager. Launched program/site via the shortcut defaults to the browser application icon.

[C] The panel clock is too big – full height – while the rest of the system area icons are smaller. The use of the alternative gadget Event Calendar helps, but this should be a customizable option in Plasma defaults.

Plasma clock

[F] KDE Connect only works with Android devices.

[F] iPhone/iOS devices will not be auto-mounted in Dolphin; you may need to use a manual configuration to identify and mount them.

[F] The mount prompt in the system area (regardless of the device/phone/camera) type is vague. It offers several mount options, associated with programs, but it does not identify the mount protocol, e.g. MTP or PTP. This only becomes apparent after the device has been mounted and presented in the file manager.

[F] There is no umount option for phones or cameras in Dolphin.

[F] Media playback (music and video) from Samba shares does not work well. There is no unified approach to how the remote filesystems should be treated, and it is up to individual applications to handle authentication and playback.

[C] Not all media players have system integration, and/or some have their individual icons + media playback button in the system area.

[F] Accessibility options are vaguely defined or executed. They should be available out of the box and configured for immediate use, including the lock and login screens.

Orca missing

[F] Open file dialogs for different applications behave in different ways, including how directory trees and files are displayed. Often, paths and names are truncated, and there’s no standard display method.

And thus ended a short session of use. A single one. Imagine what happens if 100 people did this daily.

Conclusion

There you go. Now, before you say “But Windows or Gnome also …” Wait. Stop. The purpose of this list is not to seek solace in failures or incomplete/imperfect implementations of desktop environment solutions that may exist out there. The purpose is to express my view, as an individual user, of the big and little things that do not seem to work well in Plasma. After all, the desktop is there to allow people to enjoy themselves, to have fun, to be productive, and whatnot. And every little papercut or inconsistency is detrimental to the experience.

It would be a nice exercise to actually do the same thing with … other desktop environments. I believe that Plasma probably has the fewest issues, as odd as it may sound after you’ve just consumed this long j’accuse list. But it is still not perfect, it’s still not good enough to everyday use, and there are many things that need to be improved. Then again, no one said creating a splendid desktop environment was going to be easy or boring, right. Take care, and perhaps in your comments, you will come up with a few more niggles that I missed. Let’s hear your thoughts. Spill them out.

Cheers.


 

Cover image courtesy of wikimedia.org (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported).