Why I switched from Gnome to Plasma and how it helped (Debian Stable)

I hope sharing this experience might be of some use to distro / desktop hoppers who are low on resources!

Having used Gnome for a couple of years now on Debian Stable, after being inspired by the desktop customisation episode of DL, I thought I’d try Plasma. It was also because I run old hardware and Gnome was using a lot of memory and doing background tasks I wasn’t convinced were essential. Not good if you only have 2GiB RAM as some of my really old machines do :frowning: I have been using Plasma pretty-much exclusively for about a fortnight now.

Straight away, Plasma seemed to be saving me a large amount of RAM (approx 700MiB I believe) which helped reduce swapping when multitasking and sped things up very noticeably.

Besides this, I have started to quite enjoy being able to customise pretty-much everything the way I like it, not just on the DE but on the core applications as well, such as Konsole and Kate. I am also enjoying that these have not been pared-down to absolute minimal as in Gnome. I like Gnome minimalism staying out of my way by not having huge menus etc. but it was really failing me by not getting out of the way behind the scenes, e.g. it seems to be constantly running software update checks and disk indexing software or something in the background.

One thing Gnome was better at is how Gnome Software checks and informs me when Flatpaks have updates. I don’t believe the Plasma equivalent does, or maybe I haven’t figured this out yet?

I originally switched to Gnome from XFCE because it is modern, consistent and I love it’s workflow e.g. with automatic creation of new workspaces. I still appreciate these features. However given the numerous advantages I have found for my needs by using Plasma, it isn’t likely that I will be rushing back to Gnome any time soon, not that I dislike it in and of itself.

I find there is a lot to learn in Plasma and I’m still working on it. If you have any favourite features that you recommend I try, please let me know :slight_smile:


I wonder how you survived all that time on Gnome with that amount of resources. That was one of the main reasons back in the day why I switched away from Gnome or Unity to Xfce when I had such hardware and yet it is cool that apart from that Gnome still can run with only 2 GB of RAM.

You might install Discover to be able to have updates for Flatpaks from a GUI.

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I used XFCE for a good few years and find it pretty solid. I’m really proud of all of my Linux systems and the performance I got from them from the hardware they run on. I used to find people thought Linux was a bit old-fashioned when they saw my XFCE screen though and I also thought it was time I tried and learned some of the newer ways, hence Gnome. There are a lot of things about Gnome that hooked me straight away. I loved some of their design decisions, such as using the horizontal space better, sticking to absolute essentials only (in the foreground at least) and generally just being very, very unintrusive in use. Except when it keeps hogging resources in the background!

One one of my newer machines with 8 GiB Gnome runs fine, but I like to have consistency between machines to save time when I switch from one to the other, hence it’s Plasma all the way right now!

I have Discover installed but I don’t think it was telling me when Flatpaks needed updating. Perhaps there’s an option I need to look at. Thanks for the tip and I will put-it to the test :slight_smile:

Who knows if the Debian version of Discover supports Flatpaks in stable.

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I have been impressed with how Plasma seems to cram itself in smaller and smaller spaces. Maybe it is to make room for new features? I do appreciate how efficient it has become over the years. That switch from KDE3 to KDE4 / Plasma was quite the bump in the road but since Plasma 5, the road has been smooth and pretty much, trouble free. The more you get to know Plasma, the more you will like it. There are a lot of options for making Plasma your own but I do think that is its biggest strength. It really puts the “personal” back in “personal computer”.

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I’ve been looking online and have now installed the plasma-discover-backend-flatpak package. When I look in the settings for Discover, it has flathub listed as a software source. Not sure if it will now check for updates but I guess within a few weeks we’ll know as flatpaks do update fairly regularly, I find.

Update: Discover is detecting when flatpaks need updating and is able to perform updates directly from the GUI. In one case (Eclipse for Java Developers) it detected need to update, had some blip while updating, then flagged update necessary again.

CLI flatpack update reveals error when trying to update Eclipse, apparently because it requires a newer flatpack than currently available on Debian Stable, which is unfortunate.

Meanwhile Gnome Software simply reports system is up-to-date without mentioning any errors.

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It might be a bit out of focus for the scope of this thread, but I am super curious to know what your impressions are of all of the various places settings are placed. Does it seem cumbersome to change settings, or does it feel like you have to navigate to five or six different places to put things how you like them?

I ask because I am running Pop’s GNOME at the moment, and I’ve been honestly trying to give GNOME a fair go. It’s been a few months, and while I’ve managed to memorize a few of the shortcuts, and tend to be a single-task-at-a-time person, I don’t feel that GNOME is exactly my cup of tea.

I had tried Plasma in the past, but quickly became overwhelmed and frustrated trying to implement a new theme. It seemed like I had to change out icons, fonts, wallpaper, widgets, etc. etc. from so many different places… and then do it all over again for the GTK apps… just to see what something was supposed to look like. Plasma is beautiful, and I’m very jealous of just how well they have pulled off their take on the Desktop Environment.

Did it/Does it feel cumbersome or redundant to customize, or are you finding it to be very straightforward and trouble-free?

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This is a very interesting question! I think @MichaelTunnell has mentioned in at least one show that he wishes Pop!_OS would release a Plasma version. I’ve never tried Pop!_OS myself or their rendition of Gnome, which I understand has some excellent configuration out-of-the-box.

Like yourself, much of the time I tend to be focused on a single task, so Gnome’s minimalism worked fine for me. Also the quick workspace creation for tasks if I did need to keep them open in the background but completely out of my field of view helped. Even with Gnome and its limited configurability, I often got stuck trying to find the right setting between settings from the menu and its categories and settings in Gnome tweaks. Similarly with XFCE some years ago, I remember always having to delve a little as most of my time my focus was on the applications I was running, not the desktop. Hence I never really learned XFCE or Gnome shortcuts, aside from screen-lock which I use regularly on Gnome and have learned immediately on Plasma.

On Gnome, I never even played around with themes. Just left it at default. It was after the DL episode on configuring I started to play with Plasma and it turned out it had multiple other benefits.

With regard to configuring Plasma, here’s what I’ve done:

  1. I tried the online documentation first. I’m old fashioned and read manuals, even though I classify myself as an engineer, yes, I guess I’m odd that way :wink:

  2. I found documentation was very minimal so then I stayed with all of the defaults until I found something I really wanted to change, rather than just tinkering, for example changing the infamous single-click to open folders in dolphin, to double-click to open folders.

  3. In doing the above, first I’d try my intuition in going through all of the categories that come up when opening “System settings” and then search inside the category when found. There are lots of them; yes a little frustrating at times if something isn’t where you might expect but then a quick online search has tended to provide the results I need.

  4. I’ve actually now started paying more attention to the categories as I’ve concluded this is the DE I’m investing a lot of my future work in, so I often go through the whole lot, looking at what’s where as a learning process; not necessarily tweaking, but kind of getting the lay-of-the-land as it were, for my new habitat :slight_smile:

For the theming, I’m not hugely particular so just Breeze Dark, matching icons and font size that suits my requirements has been fine for me. If this is a lot more work than on other DEs I guess it’s because there’s a lot more flexibility. I love it’s very easy to quickly set everything back to default too, in case of over-tweaking :wink:

The amount of configuration possible is quite a delight at times, though of course overwhelming at first glance. Plasma is not the DE I would recommend to beginners; but it’s not so hard to use that it’s only for very expert users, in my opinion so far.

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Good review! Thanks for the insight. :slight_smile:

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It surprises me that nobody is talking about LXQt. Basically it is Qt’s version of Xfce :sunglasses::+1:

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I definitely liked LXDE though I didn’t use it very much, having preferred XFCE in those days. Yes, it would be interesting to hear from regular users of LXQt too.

I tried it various times and it never convinced me. At least it improves with every release. I still prefer to this day LXDE and it is slowly dying at least from a developer’s perspective. Though it still works.

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LXQt always seems to be always missing something for me. I try it out every so often. I find it ugly and clunky and really want to like it but feel like it’s never reached the heights that LXDE did. I find myself rather wanting to run XFCE or Plasma instead.

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I’ve been quite worried about Qt and Plasma because of recent licensing changes but I’m hoping that’s just me being over-anxious and it doesn’t impact projects that use it. I’ve never actually tried LXQt so thanks for the feedback :slight_smile:

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Although I’ve never tried LXQt, I found LXDE was okay but preferred XFCE for many years, before using Gnome for a couple of years, and now Plasma. If Qt licensing changes don’t affect Plasma it is unlikely I will switch again, it seems to me, because I am increasingly satisfied with it :slight_smile:

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I’m certainly enjoying it, now that it’s been about eight weeks or-so, I think. Still two GNOME apps I depend on, with no easy replacement in Plasma, I think: Boxes for quick VMs and strangely, Gnome Clocks app, with timer/stopwatch. Apparently the KDE equivalent is only for mobile devices?! Maybe I’m not looking in the right place.