Assalamu Alaikum. Ramadanul Mubarak. I have been wanting to make this tutorial for quite a long time. I could blame academic pressure for that, but to be truthful, I’m just loo lazy.
In case you don’t know, Plasma is a desktop environment developed by KDE Community. Therefore it’s also referred as KDE Plasma and sometimes, just KDE. KDE Plasma is excellent in many ways, but when comes to customizability, I can quite safely say this is THE BEST desktop to go!
For this tutorial I’m using Manjaro KDE. There are many other Linux distros available in KDE Plasma variant, including- Kubuntu, KDE Neon, OpenSuse, Fedora KDE, Solus Plasma, Garuda Linux, Feren OS, MX Linux KDE, Debian KDE and so on. This tutorial should work mostly on them also, but if you are on a older (or perhaps newer if u read in future) version of Plasma, their may be some differences. Plasma 5.24 is being used for this tutorial, but it includes some older screenshots from Plasma 5.23.
Please note that after applying a setting, sometimes it doesn’t properly apply before starting a new session (meaning restart or log out-log in). It doesn’t mean you need to re-login each time after making a change. But if a setting doesn’t apply properly right after applying, it’s likely the most common case.
KDE has made theming so easy right from the System Settings. We need to go to System Settings > Appearance > Global Theme. Here a few options should be found to choose from, but so many more can be found in the ‘Get New Global Themes…’ option. Themes can be sorted in preferred way or the desired theme can be searched if the name is known. My personal favorite is Layan, so I’m installing and applying this one.
There is a ‘Use desktop layout from theme’ option. If this is ticked and applied, then your panels, desktop widgets and wallpaper will switch to theme’s configuration. For Layan, it would make something like the screenshot below.
It uses a global menu next to the Application Launcher (Start Menu) and it seems to be made to be used with Latte Dock, more on that later, so there’s no taskbar. If you then want to go back to the default layout, you can apply Breath theme with use desktop layout box ticked on, then switch to preferred theme without use desktop layout box ticked on.
We shall customize the panel, wallpapers, widgets later, so I’m not switching to Layan’s layout, just I’ll use the theme. You may get Korners Bug with 3rd party themes including Layan, and this bug is planned be fixed in later KDE releases.
Global theme changes most of the theming options at once, but we can mix-up different Application Style, Plasma Style, Colors, Icons, Cursors etc. from different themes to get a preferred look. KDE is built on Qt library, but apps like Firefox and LibreOffice uses GTK LiSystem Settings > Appearance > Global Themebrary. For theming those apps, we need to change Gnome/GTK Application Style under Application Style. I shall use Layan-dark here.
Now my desktop looks like this:
In my case, in the preview of the file manager, you can see there is apparently a bug, Layan has made the preview borders light instead of dark. Hopefully it is something to be fixed in later versions of the theme, but for now, using a different matching Plasma Style is a workaround, I’m using Orchis-dark.
Kvantum is a theme engine for Qt. Now a days, Kvantum Manager is available to install directly from the software manager in most major distros, just search for it there. If it’s not in your distro’s repository, you may refer to this article.
Many KDE themes, including Layan, are made to look and feel better with Kvantum. Layan theme for Kvantum can be found here. If you feel separate Download and Install buttons confusing, then you can use the Download button. I’m downloading the regular one, not the solid one, it’s your preference (With solid Kvantum theme, Layan-solid Window Decorations would be better match). Now we need to extract the archive.
After that, open Kvantum Manager, select theme folder (the earlier extracted one), hit Install this theme. Then select LayanDark from Change/Delete theme. You can do further configurations or make exceptions here. However, you also need to apply kvantum/kvantum-dark from Application Style in system settings to actually apply Kvantum.
After this step, our desktop looks like this-
A good wallpaper is always important. To change wallpaper, right click on desktop and click on Configure Desktop and Wallpaper… Alongside with the pre-included ones, you can add your’s or get new one’s online. But interestingly, KDE offers different types of wallpapers and there’s an option ‘Get New Plugins’.
Using Video wallpaper is a nice way to make your desktop feel more dynamic, but you should also resource usage. With the ‘SmartER video wallpaper’ plugin, this is really easy to set up. Install that plugin, browse for your desired video, configure if needed and apply, that’s it! You can find some free videos for wallpaper here.
If you face black screen issue, for Arch based distros:
sudo pacman -S qt-gstreamer gst-libav and for Debian based distros:
sudo apt-get install libgstreamer1.0-0 gstreamer1.0-plugins-base gstreamer1.0-plugins-good gstreamer1.0-plugins-bad gstreamer1.0-plugins-ugly gstreamer1.0-libav should solve (From zetabemol).
Desktop and Panel
KDE’s panel may look quite similar to Windows Taskbar, but when comes to customizability, it just nails the game! Right clicking at the panel would show an option to Enter Edit Mode. Then to resize, there are two arrows, one denotes the minimum and other denotes the maximum width and there’s option to adjust height. Also alignment, visibility, opacity can be configured from more options. Panel widgets can be added, moved or removed. To move something to center, place them in between two Panel Spacers with Set Flexible Size ticked on.
KDE has a great support for widgets in desktop and panel, and yes, it is way better than that of Windows 7. To add a new widget select Add widgets from panel editor or right click menu on panel or desktop. A sidebar would show up with a collection of widgets, and yes, these same widgets are usable in desktop and panel both places. We are not just limited to the pre-included widgets, there’s many more available from Get New Widgets… > Download New Plasma Widgets for more.
In the panel, to add margin to the widgets, we can Margin Separator widgets and put widgets inside that.
If you prefer to use a dock, Latte is a popular one for KDE. It comes with awesome integration with the system. It can be also used in panel mode, does supports KDE widgets and it is possible even to replace KDE’s panel with Latte Dock. You should find it in your package manager and install it from there.
You may like a Mac style panel with Global Menu on the top and a dock at the bottom. To do this move your panel to top, then from edit mode, remove task manager and add Global Menu widget there. You can install the Window Title widget and add that before it.
Then open Latte Dock > right click > Configure Latte > Preferences > Enable autostart during startup. Now closing that, again right click on the dock > Edit Dock and customize as you prefer.
To customize login screen, move to System Settings > Startup and Shutdown > Logi
KDE’s window manager KWin can be added some awesome effects you can find from System Settings > Workspace Behavior > Desktop Effects. If you are looking for some fun effects, you can try Woobly Windows, Fall Apart, Magic Lamp and also check for the other effects!
From System Settings > Workspace Behavior > Screen Edges, hot corners or corner triggers can be configured.
Windows 11 Style
If you want a Windows 11 like interface, the good new is, it’s easy to do! For the panel, make it maximized, move the Show Desktop widget to the right, then add two spacers with set flexible size options ticked to both sides of the items to be centered. Then with Win11OS-dark Global Theme, Cobalt-dark Icons Theme, Breeze Application Style and OnzeMenu 11, you can get something like this, pretty much Windows 11-ish!
For a Mac-like interface, WhiteSur is a nice Global Theme. Kvantum comes with Mac inspired KvMojave theme included, I’d use that with it.
For the layout, we can use a top panel and Latte Dock. From Download New Plasma Widgets, install Corner Menu, Window Title Applet and OSXLaunchpad widgets. In top panel we would use Corner Menu, Window Title and Global Menu in the left and then a spacer with flexible size, then System Tray, Digital Clock and Search at the right. In the Latte Dock, we would add OSXLaunchpad widget. To set it to be open with Super/Meta/Windows Key, Tick “Press Meta to activate Application Launcher” from Configure Latte > Preferences.
You can see, I have added a groundbreaking innovation, “The KNotch” here, to make it feel more premium and Mac-y. To install this, first download source code zip, then go to Add Widgets > Install Widget from Local File > Select the zip (clear Filter in file selection dialog to find it).
There is so much more to explore, so much more to customize with KDE. But for this tutorial, let’s end it here.