I fear I’m sliding down a slippery slope. First, I thought I’d play around with a cheap Linux server with no display. Then, I decided I liked the speed and responsiveness of a Linux display, so I tried it out as a laptop/tablet. I was curious to see how it would do with some serious hardware, so I went ahead and brought the system up to modern standards and it really impressed me. Now, I’ve decided to flaunt that power and do something really amazing with the interface. Where will it end??? (Ok, it’ll end when it costs real money. Fine! It’s still a fun hobby.)
My latest foray into modern alt-computing has been switching from GNOME3, the latest-and-greatest mainstream Linux desktop interface used in Debian/Ubuntu and CentOS/RedHat/Fedora, to what many consider to be a gratuitously “heavyweight” interface: KDE Plasma 5. The “K” Desktop Environment (KDE) with Plasma user interface is more modern, slick, and technically sophisticated than GNOME. It uses more UI effects, has better support for high-definition screens, and is more flexible out-of-the-box (without add-ons or plugins). It’s clearly been designed with big screens and graphics processors in mind. At the same time, it stays out of the way, leaving the screen uncluttered and keeping the focus on your work.
It was only two weeks ago that I decided, on a lark, to try the KDE interface on a virtual machine. Starting from the Fedora KDE Workstation Spin, I booted it up and had it running and customized to my liking in just a few hours (spread over several days, of course).
The look and feel was surprisingly nice, so I decided to see how it performed on real hardware. I installed the KDE packages on a GNOME system (I think it was my Dell laptop), and logged into a Plasma desktop. Again, it was easy to customize to my liking, and it was lightning fast!
The epiphany hit last weekend, when I realize that I could move the “panel” (the menu bar at the bottom of the screen where all of the desktop gadgets show up) to the left side and make it wider, like a dock. All of a sudden, it became a cross between Ubuntu’s Unity and GNOME3, but even better. No menu bar at the top or bottom of the screen: just a narrow band on the left side (where I have lots of space anyway, thanks to wide screens), with a dense instrument panel-like collection of icons, clock, and logout buttons gathered at the bottom of the screen. This kind of panel wouldn’t have worked with the 72 dpi displays of ten years ago, but it works beautifully with today’s high-definition (120+ dpi) displays.
Suddenly, GNOME3 looks old-fashioned and clumsy to me. Two weeks after my first VM install, I’ve switched all of my Linux devices (including the one our boys use for gaming) to KDE Plasma. Just like that.
Who needs to wait around for Microsoft or Apple (or Google) to release their annual OS upgrade? Linux users can choose exactly when and how to try out the latest innovations, thanks to the open source development community.