Adding Plasma Desktop to Ubuntu 17.10

Mark Constable

Mark Constable

I would like to use the Neon Plasma packages but they are stuck with an old 16.04 xenial foundation which may be stable but the surrounding OS is far too stale for my liking. I will gladly swap so-called stability for the latest new and shiny features any day and if *buntu ever provide some kind of an official rolling-release then I would be all in on that. I suspect I will end up converting to the Debian “testing” package repositories one day but before I take that plunge I thought I’d investigate whether the Kubuntu-CI (continuous integration) PPA packages would work on top of a fresh stock standard 17.10 Ubuntu Desktop installation… and after 24 hours of trying just this, the sky has not yet fallen in.

Why? Well I was curious to see how the new GNOME 3 Unity-like stock Ubuntu system looked and felt and I have done this once before about a year ago. That is, installed stock Ubuntu Desktop (with Unity 7 at the time) and then added the neon-desktop packages on top. This was problematic at the time because Ubuntu wanted to use the LightDM display manager whereas KDE/Plasma prefers SDDM. Either desktop should work with either display manager but I had to disable LightDM and force SDDM instead and, in my case, this prevented easily selecting Unity as the alternate desktop when logging in. Not to worry because I really only wanted the Plasma desktop anyway.

Let’s try that again, why install the Plasma desktop on top of a stock Ubuntu installation instead of using ie; Kubuntu? Four main reasons: one is that I have more confidence in the Ubuntu OS foundation because it’s far more widely used and tested than Kubuntu. Things like the GUI side of networking, sound and bluetooth tend to have a little more attention to detail and work slightly better. Two is that I do not want a full dump of all of KDE including a large swag of legacy KDE4/Qt4 apps and libs which I only end up wasting time trying to remove. I also do not want or use Akonadi and friends like Kmail etc. That’s a pity because Kmail and Akregator (for RSS Newsfeeds) used to be excellent apps back in the KDE4 days but since they have relied on the Akonadi backend (that forces one to have a ram sucking MySQL database on a desktop!) the PIM personal info suite of apps became unreliable and therefor unusable IMHO. Three, I am curious to compare Canonicals work on GNOME3 with Plasma 5.11 side by side and to see if the old/new GDM display manager would allow me to seamlessly switch between the two desktop systems, and on that front, it does… so far. And forth, I wanted to try Wayland and at this point in time I feel Canonicals effort with Wayland is stronger in this release than either Neon or Kubuntu. Again, it just seems to work and so far I would not know that I was not using Xorg (except for certain apps that require Xwayland to run).

The procedure was fairly straightforward. I just installed 17.10 Ubuntu onto my main drive and after a couple of hours of trying to get used to the unfamiliar GNOME desktop I managed to…

apt install plasma-desktop konsole dolphin kate kde-spectacle konversation \
    vlc minidlna bridge-utils lxd nfs-kernel-server

and sure enough I had a Plasma option on the login screen. I did add a separate user which I specifically use for Plasma leaving the default user installation for the original GNOME desktop if I ever need to switch desktops for whatever reason. Separate users may not be necessary but after my previous problems trying to co-exist between both desktops on the same system as the same user I thought I’d at least give each desktop their own user space.

So here I am 24 hours later after waking up to a new desktop installation and getting some work done, and lo n behold, all seems well. This is my current /etc/apt/sources.list with kubuntu-ci/stable and the Firefox plus Thunderbird “next” PPAs added as well…

# apt-key adv --recv-keys --keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com KEY
# apt-get install --no-install-recommends packages

deb http://au.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ artful main universe multiverse restricted
deb http://au.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ artful-updates main universe multiverse restricted
deb http://au.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ artful-backports main universe multiverse restricted
deb http://security.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ artful-security main universe multiverse restricted
# adobe-flashplugin
deb http://archive.canonical.com/ubuntu/ artful partner

deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/kubuntu-ci/stable/ubuntu artful main
deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/mozillateam/firefox-next/ubuntu artful main
deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/mozillateam/thunderbird-next/ubuntu artful main

I am very impressed with the level of polish of the new Ubuntu GNOME (as I was with the older Unity7) desktop and it makes even Plasma 5.11 look and feel a bit amateurish, but… BUT, I cannot stand the boxed in lack of configuration flexibility of GNOME. However I did not have to tweak GNOME to get it to work any better than it already did by default but that is partly because there are relatively few tweaking options and my lack of understanding what I could or could not modify. It “felt” like it just worked out of the box and I can understand why Canonical chose GNOME compared to ie; Plasma or any other desktop system. OTOH I did have to spend my mandatory 1/2 hour going through the Plasma settings to get it up to my normal expectations for my particular workflow. I like working with 6 separate virtual desktops where my main apps are set to full width and height, without borders, on each desktop so I can use control-left/right arrow keys to flip between those desktop based apps. It would take me less time to add the Plasma packages and setup my workflow as I expect it than to spend any more time with GNOME trying to figure out how to get it to work the way I want my desktop to operate. Besides, if I were going to stick to the stock Ubuntu GNOME desktop I would end up installing Dolphin, Kate and Konsole as my preferred main work apps anyway.

My takeaway point is that if you want a good cutting edge OS foundation with the latest apps, libs, kernel and drivers then stock Ubuntu 17.10 with the latest and greatest Plasma desktop packages layered on top seems to work together very well. What I describe above is one very tempting semi-long term desktop possibility with all the caveats that, as always, if it breaks you get to keep both pieces!

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