The Many Features of the KDE Plasma 5.21 Desktop Environment

KDE Plasma 5.21 features


Yes, it’s that time of the year again when we can check out the many new features and enhancements of the next major Plasma desktop environment, in this case KDE Plasma 5.21, due for release in early 2021.

Like all major Plasma releases, KDE Plasma 5.21 is packed with lots of exciting changes and I am happy to break them down to you in this article that I’ll update from time to time with more interesting improvements as they are revealed by the KDE development team.

Let’s dig in, shall we? First and foremost, KDE Plasma 5.21 promises to ship with a new look and feel called consisting of a new “Breeze Twilight” global theme that features a Dark mode for Plasma and a Light mode for apps, smaller shadows for inactive windows, more distinct colors for Plasma pop-ups, notifications and windows, as well as colorful icons for sidebars in settings windows. You can see a preview in the image above!

Apart from the new look and feel, under the hood, KDE Plasma 5.21 promises faster startup and load times due to the use of the systemd init system on GNU/Linux distribution where it’s available. While the use of systemd will be optional in Plasma 5.21, the KDE devs say that it brings several benefits like better logging, better session cleanup during logout, improved responsiveness and clarity in system monitoring apps, and much more.

Better networking is coming to the Plasma desktop as well. The upcoming Plasma release promises to notify you when your network connection is poor and you risk to lose Internet access, provide a fancy new Network Interfaces page in the Info Center app to better view network details, and offer clearer and more consistent terminology for all network authentication dialogs and VPN-related notifications.

System Settings received many changes during this cycle, such as support for the “Highlight Changed Settings” feature for the Window Decorations, Window Rules, Shortcuts, Task Switcher, Window Behavior, Notifications, and General Behavior pages, a new fancy and simpler layout for the Audio Volume page, the ability to open pages in the icon view with a single click, as well as support for displaying the same set of frequently-used items that are shown on the home screen.

KRunner, which could be renamed to Plasma Search, also saw many changes, including the enablement of the Spellcheck plugin by default, an optional “Keep Open” feature to force it to stay open when losing focus, changes to how uninstalled apps are being displayed to no longer confuse users, the ability to close it with the return or enter keys if there’s no text in the text field, and the use of DuckDuckGo-style “bangs” for invoking web shortcuts.

Some KWin and Wayland improvements are present as well. For example, the “iGPU multi-monitor” feature is now supported on Wayland to let you use multiple monitors from both a dedicated graphics card and and the on-board Intel GPU, support for KWin to use a connected VR headset as another screen, changes to the opaque effect for windows to improve productivity, and support for the Wayland virtual keyboard on GTK apps.

Moreover, it will be possible to configure the Desktop Grid effect to only activate desktops on click and KWin should no longer eat a lot of CPU resources when drawing hardware-accelerated cursors. Also, the Plasma Wayland session now allows pasting of text copied inside an XWayland app, and it won’t crash when dragging an icon from the Kickoff Application Launcher to the Konsole app or from an XWayland app to a Wayland app.

Smaller improvements were also brought to the layout of the screen chooser OSD, the touchscreen right-click interaction with files and folder for mobile devices, as well as the multi-monitor support. KDE Plasma 5.21 also brings a new option to let you change the first day of the week in the calendar popup of the Digital Clock, as well as a new “Move to Trash” item in the context menu for file-based notifications.

Other than that, you’ll be able to more quickly choose the available audio streams controlled by the Media Player applet through a new tab bar, easily configure buttons for individual configurable applets in a single Entries page in the System Tray config window, and you won’t have to restart Plams after installing a third-party applet that adds a System Tray item, which will be displayed immediately.

The Plasma NetworkManager’s OpenVPN module gained support for multiple types of compressions, the “number of CPU cores” sensor now displays the correct info, the System Setting’s Accessibility page has a brand-new been user interface written in QML, all system tray applets gained full support for touch screens, and there’s a fancier pop-up menu when hovering over a Panel applet while in Edit Mode.

Moreover, KDE Plasma 5.21 will bring back the old Alt+Tab behavior to let users place minimized windows at the end of the list by adding the MoveMinimizedWindowsToEndOfTabBoxFocusChain=true parameter to the [TabBox] group in the ~/.config/kwinrc file, and promises to introduce a brand new app called Plasma System Monitor, which is designed as a replacement for KSysGuard.

Users will also be able to download new KRunner runners from store.kde.org via the System Settings page, and the Plasma Wayland session will no longer crash when you’re dragging tabs from the Firefox web browser. Furthermore, your Subwoofer will no longer make odd noises when using the sound check feature on the System Settings Audio Volume page.

Thanks to Nate Graham, the Time Zones page in the Digital Clock applet settings has been totally overhauled to make it easier for users to change the system-wide time zone and to clarify the difference between changing the system-wide timezone and changing the applet’s timezone.

Smaller enhancements were brought to the Media Player applet in KDE Plasma 5.21, which implements a warning in the System Settings KWin Rules page that appears when users try to set rules for a window that’s not managed by KWin and cannot be affected by window rules. Also, the NetworkManager applet now comes with integrated search field into the header area by default.

That’s it for now. Check this article in the coming weeks for more features and improvements of the upcoming KDE Plasma 5.21 desktop environment, which is expected to hit the streets in early February 2021, with the beta version ready for public testing in mid-January. Until then, I highly recommend that you use the latest stable release, KDE Plasma 5.20, and update it regularly as new point releases become available.

Image: KDE/Nate Graham

Last updated 3 weeks ago

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