For the last three years, KDE Plasma has been the most widely used desktop on both the LinuxQuestions and Linux Journal polls. Part of this popularity is due to the innovations in the desktop itself, but an equally important part is the ecosystem of applications that depend on it.
KDE Plasma applications are like no others on the desktop — and not simply because of the tradition that they must include a “K” in the name.
Where GNOME desktop applications are carefully minimalistic, engineered to include only the most common features, KDE applications are crammed with every feature imaginable, and endlessly customizable. At times, KDE Plasma applications suffer from organizational problems because of their all-inclusivity. Yet at their best, many are among the killer apps of the Linux desktop.
Don’t believe me? Then look at these nine examples, listed in alphabetical order:
Amarok is not just a music player. Rather, it is an attempt to reproduced the experience of playing a CD or vinyl disc.
Besides the usual abilities to view digitalized music or create playlists, Amarok also includes a cover manager for showing album art, and a context pane.
The context pane substitutes for album notes by looking for photos, upcoming gigs, and Wikipedia entries based on the meta-tags of the file that is currently being played. The Wikipedia choices can sometimes be hilariously wrong, but serious musicphiles may appreciate the efforts to include information that is often discarded and lost with digital music.
In addition, Amarok includes plug-ins for dozens of online services, including many popular radio shows. Supported by its own database, Amarok is capable of handling tens of thousands of files, the only serious delay occurring when you re-scan your collection.
digiKam began as a front end for managing cameras. It continues to do this job with a minimum of fuss, but has expanded into related tasks as well. Recent versions include extensive menus for uploading or downloading images from social media sites, a light table, and, a batch editor for running scripts against multiple files with a single command.
digiKam also includes an image editor that might be called a Krita or GIMP Light. This editor includes not only the tools to scale and crop images, but also tools to edit color — including red-eye in portraits — and a small selection of filters.
Since many of its tools open in separate windows, digiKam could almost be seen as several applications in one. However, since this arrangement helps to simplify the options for the task at hand, it is more of a benefit than any hindrance. The separate windows is really just another example of how KDE applications have evolved to keep their completist tendencies from being too much for users to handle.
Probably, Kajongg is not the Mahjongg that you are looking for. Instead of yet another version of the solitaire tile-matching game found in most distributions, Kajongg is a version of an ancient Chinese game that resembles gin rummy. Not only is it the only version of true Mahjongg available on Linux, but, so far as I know, it’s unmatched by any modern software on Windows or OS X.
Like the tile-matching game, Kajongg’s version of Mahjongg is based on collecting sets. However, in Kajongg, you are competing with three other players. An alert player can calculate their chances of completing sets by watching what other players have declared, and how many tiles remain to be drawn.
True to its KDE roots, Kajongg can be played with any combination of four people or computer players. It includes the capacity for loading different variations on the rules, as well as different tiles. Expect, though, to spend at least half an hour on a game, and more likely twice as long.
Few other pieces of software handle complexity as well as K3B. Most of the time, K3B does nothing with CDs and DVDs that the much less feature-rich Brasero can’t do on GNOME. However, if you run into difficulties, K3B has options that can often successfully complete a task that might leave you helpless with Brasero.
Mercifully, those options are hidden and can be safely ignored much of the time. K3B is set to the most common use-cases, and the more complex options — many of which you have probably never heard — can be ignored until needed. As a result, K3B is powerful, but much simpler to use than it first appears.
In addition, K3B has among the most powerful tools for ripping audio CDs on any operating system.
Krita started as the paint program in KOffice and later Calligra Suite. After implementing a development policy of consulting working artists, Krita went in a couple of releases from a hobbyist toy to a serious alternative to Photoshop, GIMP, and Corel Painter whose affairs are overseen by its own foundation.
One of Krita’s strengths is an editing window in which most tools are a single click away, and the rest no more than two or three. At first, this selection is overwhelming, but Krita’s icons and mouse-overs are designed well-enough that any initial anxiety is quickly overcome.
However, Krita’s most obvious strength is its array of brushes, which rival the selection found in Corel Painter. The brushes include not only different media, but also angles, textures, and other variables. Dozens more have been developed by users, and are easily installable.
Unsurprisingly, Krita takes time to learn, but if you are serious about graphics, the time will be well-spent.
Are you uneasy about relying on Google Maps for directions? Maybe you are uneasy about relying on a corporation after you have gone to the trouble of moving to Linux to get away from proprietary software. Or maybe you have seen too many examples in which Goggle’s directions were wildly wrong, and you had no way of correcting them. If so, then have a look at Marble.
This underrated application is primarily a desktop replacement for Google Maps, based on OpenStreetMaps, a free software project that has laboriously created its own maps throughout the world. Starting with a globe, Marble zooms down to fine details as you search for locations and routes.
In addition, Marble also serves as an atlas, with political, geological, meteorological, and even historical views, as well as less classifiable views, such as a night view of Earth — all of which makes Marble not only more than a replacement for Google Maps, but much more fun as well.
Okular is KDE’s document view. It can be used for viewing Open Document Format without waiting for LibreOffice to load, but, for most users, its main purpose is probably to view PDF files.
In fact, Okular is among the best free PDF-viewers available, comparing favorably with Adobe’s Acrobat Reader in functionality, and looking far-less intimidating. Unlike Acrobat Reader, Okular cannot create annotations that other views can read, but it does allow annotations that can be read from within Okular.
Okular also includes a customization of the tools to parse different formats, and a pane for running PDF presentations. It is often paired with KDE’s equally useful Gwenview graphics viewer.
Depth on the Bench
If you use KDE applications, at this point you may be asking, “What about Konsole? Dolphin? Kate? KRunner?” Or maybe you are missing any of half a dozen other applications.
To which I can only reply that, to show the available variety in this space, some applications had to be left out. The fact that I would have no trouble substituting each of those I mentioned with another application equally deserving of praise only proves the high standards set by KDE applications.
However, one tool that I did not mention is KMail. Personally, I like KMail, especially the ease with which it sets up multiple accounts and allows encrypted email. But since it has started being governed by the Akonadi personal information manager, it has been consistently buggy, being unable to count the number of unread messages in a folder properly, and randomly losing feature like the ability to drag messages to another folder. KMail’s potential is there, but its performance is not up to the standards of many other applications.
But in general, what I appreciate about KDE applications is the knowledge that all the features I am ever likely to need for a particular task are available in a single application. When I run into problems, I don’t have to go digging into the repositories to find another tool that does what I want. I know that the features I need will be only a few clicks away.