I can’t help but think how the Plasma team seems to have an incredible sense of momentum behind the project. Every update has been nothing but smiles and happy dances. At the time of writing, I am using 5.18.1 which rolled down recently and although you can read all the cool new features from the horses mouth here, I’m going to tell you all the things that make my experience just a bit better.
GTK Theme Integration
First and foremost, the GTK theme integration is tremendously improved. Really, this is a little thing but many of the GTK applications just look better now. Specifically, Gnome-Recipes and Virtmanager have a nicer look about it. Some applications don’t seem to look quite right, like Audacity and Firefox are only pulling some of the correct colors but over all, it is an improvement. From what I can tell. If the application is GTK3, it looks right. If it is GTK2, not quite as right.
From what I can tell, the color information is being pulled from the Plasma theme. The GTK2 theme doesn’t seem to do the same but I am sure it is a work in progress.
It should also be noted that the shadows underneath GTK applications match the rest of Plasma. It is a very subtle thing, really and not that big of a deal to not have but overall, this does look a lot better.
Gnome recipes is still lacking on the button preferences I would rather have at the top but this is better, overall than it was. Some applications, like Virtmanager look as though they are like any other Qt based application. It should be noted that there are some color issues with Firefox and Audacity. The accent color does not match the rest of my desktop.
The Night Color controller, which was given to us in Plasma 5.17, now has an icon that is in the system tray. Version 5.16 and before, I was using Redshift, which was well enough but having something a bit more integrated into the system is preferred. The only issue was that there wasn’t a tray indicator and occasionally, there would be issues with Redshift, nothing horrific, I would just have to toggle it or the “GeoClue” service would runaway and have to be killed. Night Color doesn’t seem to have any bugs but was introduced without a tray icon or indicator. Now there is a nicely sized icon in the tray that allows for quick activation / deactivation and access to the configuration options. Not that you are going to adjust it but a quick click on the icon and it will return the temperature to the cooler default when you disable it. Truthfully, I seem to much prefer the warmer look of the screen these days.
I have a couple low specification machines and what impresses me is how the memory resources have further been reduced. This is completely colloquial and should not be taken as absolute for all cases as I have read more than once that Plasma will take advantage of extra memory when available. Regardless, Plasma, on my low-spec multimedia machine not hovers at about 370 MiB of RAM but doesn’t go beyond 420 MiB on a machine with 4 GiB (well… 3.8 GiB after being gobbled up by the GPU). It should also be noted that after many hours of use, there was not perceivable memory leak or weirdness. Not that one would expect it today, but I do think it’s worth noting and nice to see that there do not seem to be any issues.
A feature that is touted that looks cool in the pictures but not so useful in my setup is the emoji picker. I think my issue is that I am running with a dark theme and the icons being chosen are just as you see but it would be nice if it had the more traditional, multi colored emojis. Truthfully, I don’t use emojis much at all but on those rare instances, I would much prefer to have something more… colorful.
I don’t know if I care enough to even file a bug report or feature request.
Default Audio Device
If you are like me, and I hope not, you have multiple audio devices you connect and disconnect at any time. I have become quite the fan of using Bluetooth devices on Linux as it works very reliably. What is nice is the ability to tell Plasma that when it sees a device, to make that one the default and switch to it when connected.
In my case, I have a Bluetooth headset that when it connects, I want it to be the default device so that when I press the volume up/down keys on my laptop, the headset is what adjusts volume, not some other device. This works 100% of the time, so far.
With every release of Plasma, I have been quite pleased and happy to get the latest and greatest that they have to offer. I truly believe that this is how software updates should be. The steady progress of better performance, feature refinements and improved memory usage has made using Plasma a continual joy. I do admit, these are small refinements and tweaks, but that is a welcome method of introducing changes. There is nothing radical or earth shattering in Plasma 5.18, just refinements.
I very much welcome these improvements and look forward to the next round. Personally, I am hoping for further refinements to the GTK integration. Currently, I am quite pleased with the changes that were made for client side decorations. I am also hoping that this course of performance and resource utilization improvements continue. I do realize that it is likely “we” are bumping up against realistic limits but I do recall a time when Plasma 4 could run quite nicely on a machine with 512 MiB of RAM, so… that’s something.
If you haven’t tried Plasma in a while, 5.18 is not likely to disappoint. Running Plasma on openSUSE Tumbleweed is a great experience, not necessarily for the defaults as they closely follow upstream and a dark theme should be default. I haven’t had any of the glitching or strange behavior that Plasma has been known for in the distance past, Plasma runs great on 14 year old hardware as well as modern hardware. Most important to me, none of the changes in 5.18 are irritating. Sure, that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement but for me, there is no greater statement that can be said about a desktop as the changes are not irritating.