KDE today releases the first Alpha version of the next-generation Plasma workspace. This kicks off the public testing phase for the next iteration of the popular Free software workspace, code-named "Plasma Next" (referring to the 'next' Plasma release-see below "A note on versioning and naming"). Plasma Next is built using QML and runs on top of a fully hardware-accelerated graphics stack using Qt 5, QtQuick 2 and an OpenGL(-ES) scenegraph. Plasma Next provides a core desktop experience that will be easy and familiar for current users of KDE workspaces or alternative Free Software or proprietary offerings. Plasma Next is planned to be released as 2014.6 on the 17th of June.
The converged workspace
Modern day computing device abilities are starting to blend with each other. Tablets can be used with a keyboard, phones can stream their screen contents to a television, laptops have gotten flip and touch screens. To deal with this, Plasma Next has been designed as a converged workspace shell. It will be able to switch on demand between workspaces optimized for these different form factors, like a tablet user interface turning into a traditional desktop workspace when paired with a keyboard and a mouse. Plasma will be easily extensible as new form factors emerge.
The mechanism to adapt to different form factors is fully implemented and functional, but, as there is only one workspace available right now, it is not useful at this point. In the months to come, the Plasma team plans to make available additional workspaces, such as the tablet-oriented Plasma Active user experience, and the media-consumption-targeted Plasma Mediacenter.
A note on versioning and naming: The code name "Plasma Next" always points to the upcoming release of Plasma, KDE's end user workspace. The current Alpha will become 2014.6, to be released in June of this year. If the team opts for a 6 month release cycle (still to be determined), Plasma Next will refer to the 2014.12 release once 2014.6 is out.
Ready for testing, not production
The workspace demonstrated in this pre-release is Plasma Desktop. It represents an evolution of known desktop and laptop paradigms. Plasma Next keeps existing workflows intact, while providing incremental visual and interactive improvements. Many of those can be observed in this technology preview, others are still being worked on. Workspaces optimized for other devices will be made available in future releases.
As an Alpha release, this pre-release is not suitable for production use. It is meant as a base for testing and gathering feedback, so that the initial stable release of Plasma Next in June will be a smooth ride for everybody involved and lay a stable foundation for future versions. Plasma Next is intended for end users, but will not provide feature parity with the latest 4.x release (although this is expected to be accomplished in a follow-up release). The team is concentrating on the core desktop features first, instead of trying to transplant every single feature into the new workspaces. The feature set presented in Plasma Next will suffice for most users, though some might miss a knob here and there. This is not because the Plasma team wants to remove features, but simply that not everything has been done yet. Of course, everybody is encouraged to help bringing Plasma back to its original feature set and beyond.
Plasma Next builds on top of Qt 5. With this transition, all QML-based UIs—which Plasma is built exclusively with—will make use of a new scenegraph and scripting engine, resulting in huge performance wins as well as architectural benefits, such as being able to render using available graphics hardware.
Plasma Next is the first complex codebase to transition to KDE Frameworks 5, which is a modular evolution of the KDE development platform into leaner, less interdependent libraries.
Users testing this Plasma pre-release are greeted with a more refined visual appearance. The new Breeze Plasma theme debuts in this pre-release with a flatter, cleaner look. Less visual clutter and improved contrast make Plasma Next a noticeable improvement over the current stable Plasma workspaces. There has been some polish to much of Plasma's default functionality, such as the system tray area, the notifications, the settings for the compositor and window manager, and many more. While it will feel familiar, users will notice a more modern workspace.
Installing and providing feedback
You can install Plasma Next directly from source. KDE's community wiki has instructions. Some distributions have created packages; for an overview of Alpha 1 packages, see this page. You can provide feedback either via the #Plasma IRC channel, Plasma-devel mailing list or report issues via bugzilla. Plasma Next is also discussed on the KDE Forums. Your feedback is greatly appreciated. If you like what the team is doing, please let them know!