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Plasma is one of the key technologies of KDE 4, and one of the most visible to users. As Plasma treats the user interface differently than a traditional desktop, there may be confusion on what Plasma is, what it does, and how to perform common tasks.
This document attempts to address these problems by providing answers to the most common questions.
Q. What is Plasma?
Plasma is one of the core technologies of the K Desktop Environment, also known as one of the "Pillars of KDE", alongside other KDE technologies like Phonon and Solid.
Q. What does Plasma do?
Plasma is the component that is "in charge" of the user interface; the desktop, taskbar, and related elements. However, Plasma goes a bit further than these common pieces to the interface puzzle. The "Desktop" has not changed much since originally conceived, typically composes of shortcuts, a task bar, and icons for currently running applications. Plasma aims to change that, incorporating semantic application elements, and bringing cooperating technologies to the user's fingertips in a way that is visually appealing while easing work flow.
Q. What is wrong with the current desktop technology?
Today's desktops are static. Typically they are tied to a folder in which one can find icons (application launchers), or user-placed documents and folders. Along with pictures and images as backgrounds, the current desktop doesn't go any further, or work for the user. Plasma takes a different approach, engaging the user by by creating a dynamic and highly customizable environment.
Q. I don't think it's such a good idea...
With Plasma, you can let your desktop (and accompanying support elements) act like it always did. You can have a task bar, a background image, shortcuts, etc. If you want to, however, you can use tools provided by Plasma to take your experience further, letting your desktop take shape based on what you want and need.
Q. How does Plasma work?
Plasma's components are applets, called Plasmoids. Plasmoids can take on a variety of functions, ranging from displaying your desktop and associated wallpaper, showing your laptop's battery level, displaying your plugged in devices, and drawing the taskbar. Applets can be grouped together in "containers" called containments.
Q. It doesn't sound too new... other operating systems have done that.
The key difference here is that plasmoids can interact together. You want a better view of your laptop battery in order to find out when you are running low? You just drag it away from the taskbar and put it on the desktop. Also, applets can be resized and rotated at will, thanks to the use of Scalable Vector Graphics (SVGs). As you can see, the desktop not only interacts with you, as the user, but also with itself in new and interesting ways. You now are able to control how your workspace behaves and what it displays, in a visually pleasing and user-friendly manner. Since Plasma is the sum of its plasmoids, every element, even the desktop itself, is a widget. This allows you to move your desktop anywhere with respect to the windows (back and forward). It is no longer rooted behind everything, and becomes instead another element of real interaction.
Q. Kicker and Kdesktop were working fine in KDE 3! Why did you have to change that?
Especially regarding kicker, there was the important issue of maintainability. The code was in place since the KDE 2 days, and it was difficult to add new features without breaking others. In the end, to proceed forward, the only viable option was to start anew from scratch.
Q. I can't my favorite <insert feature here>!
Don't forget that Plasma is still in its infancy (it's brand new, after all) and that KDE 3 was an extremely polished codebase: it took seven years to get to that, while Plasma had about 18 months to get to its current status. With time, the Plasma developers plan on reintroducing features that have been missing and fix regressions. As KDE progresses through the KDE4 cycle, Plasma will improve with it.
Q. The default desktop has no icons. Can I place them?
Of course you can. Dragging an icon from Dolphin or Konqueror to the desktop will work. There is also legacy support for the existing Desktop folders.
Q. Why on earth did you decide with no icons on desktop?
The idea of a Desktop folder is fundamentally a broken concept. It assumes that everything you will access there resides on a single physical directory on your disk. It may be convenient, but at the same time it greatly limits what you can do. For example, you can't use custom layouts for different desktops, as everything would be read from the directory. Also, quite often a desktop structured like that becomes a dumping ground for files and folders, without any other function. That said, you can have icons on the desktop in Plasma (see previous question).
Q. I am using two screens, and I used to have kicker over the two displays. Can I do that with Plasma?
No. The reason is that having a panel over two displays adds a great deal of complexity, especially when the two displays have different resolution. As a result of this added complexity, this feature would not be guaranteed to work in all cases. As a result, it was not implemented.
Q. How can I add applets to the panel?
Open the Add Widgets dialog in the Plasma toolbox (upper right corner of the screen) then select the widget of your liking and drag it directly (don't double click or use the Add Widget button) to the panel. It should embed gracefully. If it doesn't, there is probably some bug in the widget itself.
Q. What's the deal with the K menu? It's big and ugly!
During the development of KDE 4.0, different approaches for a K menu (application launcher) were tried. Some projects, like Raptor, were ambitious but there was no way they could be completed on time. At the time, one developer ported the SUSE Linux's application launcher (Kickoff) to the new KDE architecture. As it was the most ready and feature complete (not to mention the product of usability testing) it was chosen to be the default menu in KDE 4.0. However, this does not mean that there aren't alternatives: projects such as the aforementioned Raptor or Lancelot are being actively developed. There is also a "traditional" K-menu available.
Q. I heard that you can use OS X's widgets with Plasma. Is this true?
There is some code in place already, however as widgets rely on WebKit, it won't be available until Qt 4.4 (which incorporates it), and therefore unlikely before KDE 4.1.
Q. My widgets are hidden under the windows. How can I show them?
You can bring all the widgets to the front by pushing Ctrl-F12, which will bring the Plasma Dashboard to the front.
Q. How can I lock the positions of the widgets?
Right click on an empty area of the desktop and select "Lock Widgets" from the contextual menu. If you want to reverse that, right click again and select "Unlock Widgets".
Q. How do I remove widgets?
If they're on the panel, right click on the widget and select "Remove this...". If the widgets are on the desktop, you have different options:
Q. Some GTK+ applications (such as the IM client Pidgin) do not behave well in Plasma.
That is unfortunately a bug in the GTK+ graphics toolkit which is exposed by the way Plasma operates. A bug report has been opened in the GTK+ bug tracker. Recently, a patch for Plasma (KDE 4.0.0) has been posted in KDE bug tracker and it has also been incorporated in the 4.0 branch (meaning it will be present in KDE 4.0.x).
Q. I use the NVIDIA binary driver on Linux and scrolling is really slow! It is a fault of Plasma?
No, it is a bug in the NVIDIA binary driver. Update the driver to version 169.07 or newer and the problem should be solved.
Q. What is the Zooming User Interface (ZUI)?
TODO (get information from the TechBase page?)
Q. How does the ZUI work?
Daniel Laidig & Simon St.James - thanks for the umeet IRC logs!