A Look at Desktop Environments: KDE 5 Plasma

Mike Turcotte-McCusker
Mar 25, 2017

This time around we will be looking at KDE: powerful, graphically beautiful, and filled with an array of useful software; but the most resource intensive of the major desktop environments.

KDE has always been a weird thing for me, I quite enjoy its almost limitless amount of customizability, the great tools that it comes with, and yet I never seem to stick with it and I have no idea why; I actually couldn’t pinpoint the reason even if I tried, so you can take that as you wish.

Check out the first part of the desktop environments overview covering Mate here.

A Look at Desktop Environments: KDE 5 Plasma

The machine I am using has the following specs:

  • Intel i5-4210U
  • 8GB DDR3
  • SSD
  • Fresh install of Manjaro KDE with no extra software installed

For this I decided to wipe my Manjaro XFCE/MATE install and install a fresh copy of Manjaro KDE for two reasons.

Firstly, because I read that installing KDE over XFCE with Manjaro can be a headache and I simply didn’t want to deal with that.

Secondly, I initially was going to install OpenSUSE as it’s my favourite KDE powered distro, but I read that Manjaro KDE was very well put together, I hadn’t tried it yet, and I love Manjaro; so I thought it would be a good experience. However, this overview will not be focusing on Manjaro specific software.

Customization and Default Appearance

Manjaro KDE Default

KDE is gorgeous, this is a well known fact; it’s got plenty of bells and whistles, effects, transitions, animations and other various forms of eye candy.

In Manjaro running KDE Plasma, it’s a mostly dark theme with green accents, flat icons, and an abstract background by default; overall, a great start.

Right clicking the desktop and selecting “Configure Desktop” took me to where I could change my wallpaper and a few other options, so I promptly swapped over to one of the other defaults, a nice forest photo.

KDE Cascade Kicker

The kicker menu in the bottom left corner is nice, great animations, nice organization too; however I find it clunky and slow, I absolutely love it’s organization but I find the delay in animations slows down my productivity.

Thankfully, KDE has the options built right in to change your menu style to either a fullscreen system that reminds me of Gnome or UNITY as well as the Launchpad from Mac OS X, or a more traditional cascading menu like the older windows systems.

I prefer the cascading menu, as it’s still got superb organization including the option to add favourite applications to a little side bar built into the menu for quick and easy launching of frequently used programs.

The animations have a lot more zip to them as well, so no delay when you want to find a program, and overall I find it still looks attractive to the eye as well. To make this change, you simply right click the kicker, and select “Alternatives.”

Changing themes was a breeze in KDE as well, and has some rather nice options included by default. Clicking the kicker menu > Settings > System Settings, will take you to a screen where you have all the various settings similar to the Windows Control Panel; simply click “Workspace Theme” and the theme manager will open.

I personally selected “Maia Dark” as my theme, and I must say it’s rather nice. More themes can be downloaded from https://store.kde.org/

Default Software

Talking about default KDE software, should always begin with Dolphin in my opinion. Dolphin is the creme de la creme of GNU/Linux file browsers; powerful, attractive, full of features and nicely organized, it’s truly hard to beat Dolphin.

I typically customize my Dolphin to include a filter bar, folder tree, and split screen view; maximizing my efficiency and saving myself clicks down the road when I have work to do I don’t feel like doing via CLI.

KDE Dolphin

Other awesome pieces of software include things like Gwenview, which is the default photo organizer and viewer for KDE Plasma; it’s attractive yet minimalistic (for KDE), and does everything I personally need... digiKam however takes that to the next level with an open source KDE alternative to Adobe Bridge.

A very powerful, professional grade photo organizer and manager; digiKam is a great piece of software for anyone who’s seriously shutter happy like I am.

KDE digiKam

One piece of software I’m not sure about whether is shipped with KDE Plasma by default or whether the Manjaro team decided to use on their own, was Krita:

Krita is a photo editor similar to GIMP or Adobe Photoshop, however I personally haven’t used it much.

Note: it is available as a free download for Linux, Mac and Windows here.

Doing a little research on it, it seems like many people are starting to switch from GIMP to Krita, and it (apparently) has much better organization and tools that neither GIMP nor Photoshop have. So, YMMV with Krita, but definitely worth checking out!

KDE Krita

Some other noteworthy applications included with KDE are:

  • Kget – A download manager that I have made great use of in the past
  • Konversation – an IRC Client. I typically use weechat (a CLI IRC client) inside a screen session on a VPS of mine so I’m constantly connected, but Konversation is quite great for casual IRC users.
  • KnetAttach – A tool to make easy Dolphin integration to remote folders a breeze.
  • K3b – CD/DVD burning software
  • KDE Partition manager
  • Ksysguard – KDE Task manager. Very similar to Windows Task Manager, very simple to use (CNTRL+Esc makes for a nice and easy hotkey too, which is set by default)
  • Kate – KDE version of notepad
  • Ark – Very powerful and easy to use archive manager similar to winRAR / 7zip /pzip

There are others included as well, KDE does a wonderful job of including plenty of built in tools to manage your system, and all of them are powerful.

System Resources

KDE Ksysguard

The one potential downside to running KDE is that it’s hungry. I do not recommend running KDE on a netbook, older machine, or anything less than a decent i3 with 4-6GB of RAM minimum. Just my own personal recommendation mind you, those are not official numbers from the KDE community.

On my system, with nothing open or running outside of the default startup services, KDE used around 600MB of RAM and 8% CPU. With Firefox +40 Tabs on the Manjaro Homepage, Gwenview with a photo loaded, LibreOffice with this document loaded, Dolphin and Spotify with a song playing, it used 1.7GB of RAM, and around 18-20% CPU; not the end of the world, this laptop handled it without issue, but do keep in mind if you are using a netbook or other older machine that KDE will without any doubt run your machine to a grinding halt.

Final Words

KDE is beautiful. KDE is powerful. KDE is customizable beyond potentially all other desktop environments with the inclusion of things like widgets / plasmoids and endless amount of theme possibilities...I do not have any real reason why I have never stuck with KDE in the past; perhaps since it’s installed on this laptop I’ll run it for a while and see if it can trump MATE in my personal preferences. I do highly recommend KDE to anyone who doesn’t mind sparing the resources, and desires a gorgeous and mighty environment for their GNU/Linux machine!

What about you? What are your thoughts on KDE? What DE do you use?

More desktop environment overviews to come, so stay tuned!

A Look at Desktop Environments: KDE 5 Plasma
Article Name
A Look at Desktop Environments: KDE 5 Plasma
Mike Turcotte takes a look at the KDE5 Plasma desktop environment on Manjaro covering customization, resource usage, and default software.
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  1. analogtek said on March 2, 2022 at 11:47 pm

    I do not like the Dark theme thing. I am a bit visually impaired (age 60+). I like kde . Can adjust color and bar size or everything to my needs.

  2. someonesomewhere said on December 10, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    And it has wobbly desaturated translucent windows if you want that extra bling (wobbly is pure bling but the rest can be a usability feature too) :)

    You can set the animation speed to instant/very low if it bothers you.

    You forgot to mention the built in spellchecker, Android interoperability, per app sound settings and a bunch of other stuff, btw

  3. J.R. said on September 9, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Am using SolydK 9 – KDE Plasma 5.8 on Debian 9 Stretch. Using older AMD dual core 2.6 ghz with 4 gb ram. Runs fantastic – better than the Ubuntu Mate 17.04 that I was previously using. It uses significantly LESS system resources, both in terms of ram and cpu and rock solid stable. Typical cold boot ram is 360 to 390 mb. The new KDE Plasma is MUCH lighter than older versions of KDE.

  4. Orbmiser said on March 30, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    I have been running KDE & Plasma 5 on older Amd dual-core with 4gb of ram last 4 years. Driving dual 22″ displays. And rarely go above 2gb. And mostly within the 1.5gb with half-a-dozen apps running across multiple virtual desktops. And rarely see swap used. Only when editing raw images or video editing.

    So unless into heavy games,Image & Video editing. Can get by with 4gb quite nicely. But have see 2gb happy users also. So usability is fine with only 2gb.

  5. Jozsef said on March 27, 2017 at 10:09 am

    Very good! I loved everything about the launcher’s appearance but using it was tiresome, yet I never thought to right click. The cascading version is very convenient and now KDE is a real option. Thank you, Mike.

    @IPnonyMous, @Carl Draper I have KDE Neon installed on a ThinkPad and it’s very appealing but I’m nervous about jumping in and using it as my main system because my impression has been that it’s primarily a plasma showcase with no real attention paid to general usability beyond presenting an up to date, pure Plasma experience. This is gleaned from their site a few months ago, so have things changed?

  6. kalmly said on March 26, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    Enjoyed reading about KDE and seeing the screenshots. Having to accept that my days with Windows will come to an end when my only option becomes Win10 – very sad – it is at least encouraging to see I can still have a pretty UI. Software remains the problem. I’m hoping that, with more and more people moving away from Microsoft’s OS, programmers will turn their attention toward Linux.

  7. shaggy said on March 26, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    @ Jhon Doe

    No -they don’t. Remove your Icon’s on the panel and beginn to pin (!) them on the control/bottom panel. They should have all same size.

  8. shaggy said on March 26, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    @ jeff


    best thing would be load a live plasma5 CD/USB and play with plasma.
    I like the cascading Menu (onboard- already) (rigthclick application-menu-alternatives)
    witch is full modifiable.
    Rightclick on application-menu – modify application
    You only have to dip into.

  9. Jeff said on March 26, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Is there a launcher on KDE that is similar to Classic Shell on Windows? Specifically,
    – Integrated search box
    – Cascading submenus to organize infrequently used stuff
    – Full unlocked customization
    – Text labels for items, not just icons which make it harder
    – Option to put stuff directly in the main menu too outside of submenus

  10. Carl Draper said on March 25, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    I use KDE Neon LTS as my main desktop OS, it is the best KDE experience I’ve had.

  11. IPnonyMous said on March 25, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    To the KDE crowd. I suggest a look into KDE neon. KDE neon is intended to be “what KDE should be” stripping away the bloat for KDE and getting ‘the” most polished variant of KDE. It brings low resource usage and the best responsiveness/performance with least amount of bugs. I found KDE neon to run very well on a 9single core Celeron laptop 2012 win 7 w/ 4g memory) @ under 400megs loaded after startup, however it would not run on older hardware(dual core 64bit 3g memory ~2007 vista machine), though I hear that may change in the future depending on demand.

    I always felt KDE had the most potential, it had been less(most distros on my machines) responsive and confusing to find where many settings are located for customization when compared to Cinnamon, Xfce and Mate, That all changes with KDE neon who’s main fault is compatibility with older hardware. That said,..

    My personal desktops are xfce(Debian or Arch based), love Mate but found XFCE was easier to customize and find support(articles, website tips and community support), and in my experience the choice was XFCE for the best balance of ease of use, responsiveness, customization and compatibility across all computers i use old and new.

  12. Jhon Doe said on March 25, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    Looks terrible. Icons on the bottom panel are all different sizes.

  13. chesscanoe said on March 25, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    It depends on how you want to define photo editor – Krita and Paint.NET can certainly be used on a photo if you want to visualize the work as painterly. Another photo editor for Windows and Mac is Phocus; you don’t have to own a Hasselblad to get and use the program.

  14. krita said on March 25, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    krita is not a photo editor

    1. MdN said on March 25, 2017 at 7:15 pm

      It’s a drawing/painting program, but it also has most of the photo/image editing functions and filters of Gimp or Photoshop.

  15. shaggy said on March 25, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Rightclick on them and select remove from Favorites!

  16. shaggy said on March 25, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    Krita belongs to KDE – Applications but not to default install form plasma means plasma-desktop.
    It depence on the choosen Linux DE if it is shiped per default.

    Manjaro is, for my taste, one of much distros to start and acquire a taste to run Linux but no system to run.
    To that i read time and again things about how there embedded into the Linux Community that prevent me to use Phillip Müllers Manjaro.
    There are good howtos from them on one side, but questionable Handling in Relation to Development and how they sell it to there user.
    Want to have latest plasma 5 out of box?


    For Interest for KDE Plasma 5:



  17. shaggy said on March 25, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Take right-click on them and select remove.

  18. shaggy said on March 25, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Krita belongs to KDE – Applications but not to default install form plasma means plasma-desktop.
    It depence on the choosen Linux DE if it is shiped per default.

    Manjaro is, for my taste, one of much distros to start and acquire a taste to run Linux but no system to run.
    To that i read time and again things about how there embedded into the Linux Community that prevent me to use Phillip Müllers Manjaro.
    There are good howtos from them on one side, but questionable Handling in Relation to Development and how they sell it to there user.
    Want to have latest plasma 5 out of box?


    For Interest for KDE Plasma 5:



  19. Bobzer said on March 25, 2017 at 1:02 pm
  20. chesscanoe said on March 25, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    For Windows, I still need GIMP, IrfanView, Krita, and Paint.NET for free graphics programs. No single graphics program does everything I want.

  21. Bobzer said on March 25, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    KDE all the way! Although I never liked any of the launchers, the standard one is just BLEHHH, the full screen one should be more like GNOME and the cascading one drives me insane because I can’t get rid of the favorites thing on the left. I put my favorites on the taskbar where they belong, always visible not one click away. Then again, KDE is crazy customizeable so there’s probably an option to remove that thing somewhere in the settings, dunno? Oh and for KDE 5.9 there’s this option now too http://www.omgubuntu.co.uk/2017/02/simple-menu-kde-plasma-app-launcher

    1. Sylos said on April 1, 2018 at 3:29 pm

      You might know this already, but removing the Favorites section in the cascading menu is possible as of Plasma 5.11. You just have to empty all Favorites from the section for it to hide.

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