Distros with KDE Plasma support

Distro Walk – KDE Plasma Distros

© Lead Image © Viktor Gmyria. 123RF.com

© Lead Image © Viktor Gmyria. 123RF.com

Article from Issue 241/2020

KDE Plasma's philosophy of customization has led to some unusual variations that promise a desktop to meet everyone's taste.

KDE and its Plasma desktop are a paradox among Linux distributions. While they regularly poll as the most popular desktop environment, preferred by just under a third of users, a majority of desktop environments use Gnome technology. Consequently, for many users, KDE and its Plasma desktop are largely unknown. Upon encountering KDE Plasma for the first time, I've heard many Gnome users say: "It's like an entirely different operating system."

Founded in 1996 by Matthias Ettrich, KDE was among the first fully-loaded desktops for Linux. Before that, Linux's graphical interfaces were limited to window managers. The name originally stood for "Kool Desktop Environment," but it quickly became just the K Desktop Environment. Several years ago, the KDE project reorganized into a group of sub-projects. The name KDE now applies to the overall project, and the desktop environment is called KDE Plasma. (Other KDE sub-projects include KDE Frameworks and KDE Applications.)

Despite being a response to Motif's proprietary Common Desktop Environment (CDE), KDE quickly ran into problems, because of the Qt library's proprietary license used to build KDE. In fact, this issue led to the creation of Gnome to give Linux a truly free desktop. However, the licensing issues were eventually settled. For years, KDE vied with Gnome for the honor of the most popular Linux desktop. That era ended in 2008, when KDE 4 introduced radical changes that upset the user base, and Gnome 3 experienced similar problems a couple of years later.

Today, KDE Plasma is a choice in many distributions alongside Gnome and half a dozen others. In many distros, Plasma support is generic, even though it is supposed to be the distro's default. However, in a few cases, the use of KDE Plasma leads to some unusual variations, including the seven distributions discussed here.

KDE neon

As mentioned above, KDE development is divided into three streams. As a result, by the time Plasma developments make their way into the KDE Software Compilation (SC), they may no longer be cutting edge. KDE neon [1] was founded in 2016 by Jonathan Riddell as a way to overcome that delay by being a showcase for the latest developments in Plasma – a rolling release, as it were, of KDE technology. It runs on the latest Ubuntu Long Term Support (LTS) release, which helps to compensate for the increased possibility of bugs in software that might not have had time to mature.

Originally, KDE neon seems to have been designed for the curious, who can easily install it as a virtual machine to keep themselves informed. Because there are always users who want the latest software, it has also become popular as a distro in its own right, polling 11 on DistroWatch's page hits list. In addition, two Slimback laptops have been released in Europe with KDE neon preinstalled.

With a few exceptions, KDE neon releases are numbered the same as KDE SC. Two versions are released: a more stable User Edition and a Developer Edition intended for increased testing.


In 2004, Kubuntu [2] was the first flavor (official variant) of Ubuntu. In 2012, a dispute over Canonical's control of Kubuntu led to Blue Systems becoming the project's official sponsor, but Kubuntu continues to be listed as an Ubuntu flavor.

When Ubuntu defaulted to its Unity desktop, Kubuntu probably gained users who wanted an alternative. In the last five years, though, Ubuntu's switch back to Gnome and the release of KDE neon seem to have made it less popular. For instance, as I write, on DistroWatch, Kubuntu is ranked 34 for page hits compared to KDE neon being ranked 11. Considering that both Kubuntu and KDE neon are built on the latest Ubuntu LTS release, the main difference may seem to be the desktop wallpaper. Still, Kubuntu might be considered a stabler choice than even KDE neon's User Edition.


OpenMandriva [3] is a descendant of Mandriva and Mandrake, which gives it a long history of support for KDE and Plasma. Its immediate ancestor is ROSA Linux, a Russian-based Mandriva derivative. OpenMandriva itself is based in France, along with many of its users.

With over two decades of development, OpenMandriva has had plenty of time to get things right. It continues the Mandrake tradition of developing its own tools, like its Software Repository Selector and Control Center. Just as importantly, OpenMandriva also includes many KDE tools not always installed by default in other installations, including the Kdenlive video editor and the Krita paint program. Rounding off this unusual collection is an eclectic assortment of other apps gathered from diverse sources, including dnfdragora and Midnight Commander, the command-line interface (CLI) file manager. Even those who think they know Linux and KDE are apt to find some surprises in OpenMandriva's default install. Fortunately, many dialog windows have built-in online help, so users can quickly learn any unfamiliar apps. Despite its uniqueness, OpenMandriva remains exceptionally user-friendly.

OpenMandriva is recommended for those who want something different in a desktop or a desktop thoroughly oriented towards KDE Plasma. OpenMandriva is doing more things in each new release than many better-known ones.

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