KDE Community has announced the official release of the KDE Plasma 5.21 desktop environment. Plasma 5.21 brings with it a massive amount of updates and improvements including a new redesigned interface of the Kickoff application launcher, a brand new theme called Breeze Twilight and many more enhancements. KDE says that “Plasma 5.21 is all about upgrading the looks and usability of Plasma” and this release shows how much time and effort has gone into it.
I’ve been using KDE Plasma as my daily driver desktop environment since at least 2014, it just gets better and better with every release. It’s no surprise to long time readers of Front Page Linux that I’me always excited to see a new release of Plasma. Though, if you aren’t aware of my KDE fandom then be sure to check out the video I made about My Top 5 Reasons I Use KDE Plasma.
There are many things I’ve wanted to see added to KDE Plasma over the years. The team working at KDE Plasma picked this year to gift them all to me in 5.21 and I couldn’t be more excited! KDE created a new application launcher, which a very welcomed improvement to the previous default menu, and they introduced a dark / light hybrid theme called Breeze Twilight!
New Application Menu
KDE team have created a new app launcher for Plasma 5.21 with the redesign of the Kickoff menu. The new Kickoff makes it faster and easier than ever to find and run your apps. This new launcher features a two-pane design to make it simple to locate your programs and comes with improved keyboard, mouse, and touch input, boosting accessibility across the board.
This new app menu includes an alphabetical “All Applications” view, a grid view for your favorite tools, and has conveniently placed all of the power actions (“Sleep”, “Restart”, “Shut Down”, etc.) at the bottom of the launcher so they are always visible and available.
Plasma 5.21’s new menu brings a lot of improvements to the previous experience which I think many people will consider it to be a welcomed change. I was never much of a fan of the previous experience of Kickoff so I always switched to the “Application Menu” alternative, aka Kicker, but this new menu is a great mix of both options. It takes the clean feel of Kicker and nicely blends it with Kickoff to make a great new default menu.
If for some reason you’d prefer to use the old version of the Kickoff app launcher, it is still available and only a few clicks away in KDE’s software store.
Application Design Improvements
KDE Plasma 5.21 also introduces many improvements to the look and feel of various applications. The apps that use Plasma’s default theme now have a refreshed color scheme and a brand new unified headerbar style which offers a nice clean and cool new look.
Breeze Twilight, A Sparkling New Plasma Theme
Breeze Twilight has arrived on the KDE stage and I think it is certainly going to be getting rave reviews from even the strictest of critics. Breeze Twilight is a new theme that combines a dark theme for Plasma interface elements and a light theme for applications, so you can enjoy the best of both worlds.
Kubuntu introduced a similar style of theme in 2018 with their Kubuntu 18.04 release. Almost instantly it was a big hit with the community and many KDE Plasma fans requested something like it to be available on their preferred distribution. Now with the release of Plasma 5.21, Breeze Twilight is available to all the Plasma Peeps out there regardless of which distro you drive on the daily.
I hope that going forward that Breeze Twilight becomes the default theme for KDE Plasma. In the meantime, you can activate Breeze Theme in the Global Theme section of your System Settings.
Plasma System Monitor
KDE Plasma 5.21 introduces a new System Monitor application for monitoring system resources and is now an integral part of Plasma. Plasma System Monitor provides a wide variety of different views, offering an overview page with information on important core resources such as: memory, disk space, network and CPU usage. It also provides a quick view of which applications are consuming the most resources. This lets you easily locate and demolish those applications or processes that are slowing your computer down.
If you need more advanced details, the Applications page shows you all the running applications along with detailed statistics and graphs. A process page is also available for per-process information, and History shows the evolution of the use of your machine’s resources over time.
Finally, you can also create your own new customized pages using the page editor. This lets you customize the information you get from your system to fit your needs.
Improved Wayland Support for KWin
KDE has been pushing to have first class support for Wayland and Plasma 5.21 makes massive progress towards reaching that goal. They have extensively refactored the compositing code in KWin and the changes should reduce latency throughout all compositing operations. They’ve also added an option in the compositing settings so you can choose between having lower latency or smoother animations.
In addition, KDE has added support for mixed-refresh-rate display setups on Wayland which is quite exciting. Mixed Refresh Rate allows the user to have one screen refreshing at 144Hz and another at 60Hz, which is ideal for improving work-stations with multiple monitors. Wayland has me interested more and more these days because of things like this and also it could potentially offer the possibility of having separate virtual desktops (workspaces) per monitor at some point in the future and that would be amazing.
There’s also many more improvements to Wayland support for KDE Plasma included updates to the virtual keyboard, better support for graphical tablets, improvements to KRunner under Wayland and Plasma on Wayland now supports features required for GTK 4, which adds the ability to run all GTK 4 applications.
“Simple By Default, Powerful When Needed”
KDE has been making a lot of strides in design and user experience with recent releases and I can’t wait to see what happens next. KDE continues to provide more and more reasons for me to use Plasma and I’m so excited to see they have in store for us in the future!
Have you tried KDE Plasma 5.21? Are you going to try out this latest release? If you do try it out, please leave a comment. I’m curious what your thoughts on the experience with all of these changes, do you consider them improvements or not? Let me know in the comments below.