Review: KDE neon 5.25

It has been a long time since I've reviewed a Linux distribution on this blog; the last one was of Linux Mint 19 "Tara" from 4 years ago [LINK]. In a more recent post about problems that I had with a scanner that required me to install Linux Mint 20 "Ulyana" MATE because the existing operating system was damaged beyond repair [LINK], I explained that I had come to trust the consistency & stability of Linux Mint enough and liked it enough that, in conjunction with the lack of novelty in Linux distributions compared to 10 years prior, I no longer felt motivated to do such reviews. Thus, it may seem strange that I should do a review like this now. In truth, the motivation wasn't hugely compelling, but I thought it might make for a nice post on this blog as I didn't have much else in mind. I thought of checking out a showcase of KDE, namely KDE neon, because it had been a long time since I tried KDE and I was getting a little concerned that the odd artifacts I was starting to see in Linux Mint 20 "Ulyana" MATE when hovering over right-click menus might be the tip of an iceberg of problems. While the latter concern has thankfully not come to pass even after several months of experiencing these more minor issues, I figured it might be nice to see what KDE is like now.

Default desktop, before changes
This review will be a bit different from past reviews. In particular, in past reviews, I took the perspective of a newbie to Linux trying to do ordinary tasks, whereas the purpose of this review is to see whether I can replicate the look & feel of my desktop in Linux Mint 20 "Ulyana" MATE. Thus, I will focus mostly on changing the desktop and on using the default KDE applications; I will not focus on the presence or absence of other applications or on other parts of the live USB environment. Follow the jump to see what it is like.

After booting and logging in, I made changes to the appearance of the desktop environment. I changed the panel height to be 32 pixels, the panel appearance to be opaque, the panel widgets to have (from left to right) a menu button, a button to show the desktop, a workspace switcher, a taskbar, a notification area, and a clock, the desktop theme to make the titlebars and panel (along with associated widgets) dark, and the fonts to be a bit bigger. Furthermore, I disabled compositing, turned off a lot of other effects, changed the localization settings for date, time, and measurements, changed some keyboard shortcuts to my liking, and changed the behavior of other things like clicking, scrollbar appearance, and workspaces. One annoying thing I found was the inconsistent use of scrollbars; for example, when selecting localization settings, the list of options is huge but there is no scrollbar. Once I made those changes, I felt right at home. The main menu is very similar to the Linux Mint Menu used in MATE, and I could make a few simple changes to make up for the minor missing features (like having places & system tools visible at the same time as applications). The desktop became much more responsive after turning off compositing, and the command "free -m" showed that the system was using 550 MB of RAM at idle; after accounting for background processes, this is comparable to what I see in my installation of Linux Mint 20 "Ulyana" MATE.

Gwenview and Okular
As expected, Dolphin, Gwenview, Okular, and Konsole were available out of the box. In the past, I've been impressed with the powerful functionalities of each of these programs, and my impression hasn't changed. I appreciate that Gwenview is not just an image viewer but has some basic editing features too, like cropping. Okular is far more powerful than its MATE counterpart Eye Of MATE, as Okular has thumbnail views that won't break the zoom setting and support clicking & dragging and it has much better support for PDF annotations made in other programs. With a little work, I was able to get Dolphin to look & act much like Caja does in MATE, at which point I felt more comfortable. Finally, perhaps after having forgotten, I discovered how Konsole has much more powerful features like split views compared to MATE Terminal.

KWrite and the KDE Calculator were also available out of the box, but I was more disappointed by these. In fairness, the KDE Calculator description did say it was a very basic program, but I didn't realize how basic it was until I tried it; it seemed odd that a program comparable to the MATE Calculator wasn't present out of the box. Meanwhile, at this point, KWrite is just KATE with some features intentionally removed; even some of the settings for KWrite are carried over from and explicitly refer to KATE. This isn't a problem in itself, but I was unpleasantly surprised by the lack of support for tabbed browsing in KWrite, considering that Pluma in MATE supports tabbed browsing despite its somewhat more limited feature set overall.

Konsole, after changing the desktop theme and fonts
To rectify these problems, I installed KATE and KCalc from the KDE Discover application, which was easy to use and worked well. With a little work, those programs behaved as I wanted them; in particular, I was able to change the interface of KATE to not be too overwhelming but also still have the features that I used on a regular basis (like tabbed browsing, bracket matching, and line counting). I also used the KDE Discover application to install Kolourpaint, which is very similar to Microsoft Paint; many other Linux applications exist similar to Microsoft Paint, but Kolourpaint is the closest that I've seen, and I've found it to be the most reliable, so it was a pleasure to use it again.

In conclusion, I emphasize that for most other things that I use my computer to do, I would install & use other applications anyway (like GNU Emacs for programming or VLC for audio or video), so I feel like my review doesn't have to go much beyond what I've written thus far. I was quite happy & comfortable using KDE, and if I ever have to move away from MATE, I'd be fine with going to KDE. In fact, if the Linux Mint developers still made a KDE edition (which they stopped doing many years ago in order to focus efforts on MATE, Cinnamon, and Xfce), I'd seriously consider using it. It is worth noting that some things I used to harp on in my reviews many years ago, like desktop effects, accessing remote filesystems, and seeing & interacting with previews of audio or video files as well as folders in the file browser, no longer matter to me, so in that regard, I may be easier to please now than I was several years ago. (UPDATE: I forgot to also mention that compared to several years ago, with the exception of Mozilla Firefox, I much prefer visible top menu bars in each application instead of consolidated menu buttons. I'm glad that KDE applications give the option to restore a full menu bar, though it might have been nice to have a global KDE setting to show or hide full menu bars for all KDE applications or to allow each application to have its own setting.) In any case, I really like what I see, and I think KDE is a desktop environment that can work for almost anyone.