KDE 6 hits RC-1 while KDE 5 brings fresh spin on OpenBSD

New versions and ports of the Plasma desktop ahoy

The KDE dev team has spent many nights working on the first release candidate of the new Qt 6-based release, during which time a tiny, intrepid band of coders was able to bring the current stable release to OpenBSD.

KDE 6 is nigh

Great things are afoot in the world of Qt and C++-based desktop environments. KDE Plasma 6.0 is nearly here, and according to the latest news release from the project, it is expected in about 50 days. If you are too impatient, though, the first release candidate is here, ready for the brave to get testing.

KDE Plasma 6 is a big release and has already been in beta testing for a while, as we reported in December. KDE is based on an upstream project called Qt, and that means periodic updates when the Qt Group releases a new version of the toolkit. KDE Plasma 5 is based on Qt 5, which reached end of life last May and so the KDE folks are [temporarily maintaining] their own fork while they rebuilt the whole environment and all its components and apps around Qt 6, which came out in mid-2020.

We discussed some of what was new last month, although we skipped one detail which, while it isn't vital functionality, is a welcome return: The spinning 3D desktop cube. This was made famous by the Compiz OpenGL-based desktop manager, and back in 2009 it was still cool enough that we highlighted it when looking at Linux on the Asus EEE.

KDE Plasma 6 isn't in any of the mainstream distros because it hasn't been released yet. For now, the safest way is probably to install the Unstable edition of the Neon distribution – this is the place to see the latest KDE shiny.

KDE Plasma 5 on OpenBSD

As the KDE developers have been hard at work on Plasma 6 for a while now, that's meant that the latest stable release of Plasma 5, KDE Plasma 5.27, has been out for some time without any newer successors. We covered its release in February last year (there are point releases with bug fixes, the latest being Plasma 5.27.10).

That's allowed developer Rafael Sadowski, who has been working on porting the latest stable KDE release to OpenBSD, to catch up, and earlier this week he announced the release. Right now, it's only in the development branch, known as -current, but it will be included in the upcoming OpenBSD 7.5, which is expected in a few months.

OpenBSD running the fvwm window manager on X11

OpenBSD running the fvwm window manager on X11

The Reg FOSS Desk first wrote about OpenBSD 7.1 back in April 2022 and we were pleasantly surprised. Although OpenBSD has a strong focus on security, it's not a dedicated tool. It's just another FOSS Unix-like OS, and can be used as a general-purpose desktop if you're happy to live with its limitations. We were surprised to find that a default installation yields a graphical environment, with the Xenocara X.11 server and cwm among other window managers. It's simple, and it works.

OpenBSD is minimal, clean, and spare in its design. We liked this summary from Hacker News commenter "enriquito":

Pros: htop only fills half of your terminal, and you know exactly what each process does because you put them there. A few well-written man pages are the complete documentation of the system. The whole thing is run by a handful of shell scripts.

Cons: exactly the same text, but read with a different tone.

There are other desktops available in the OpenBSD repositories, and we found it quite straighforward to install Xfce, but Plasma 5 is a lot richer and more complex, and it includes a whole suite of supplementary applications.

This is not a first for OpenBSD. Previous releases have included older versions of KDE, including KDE 3. Part of the issue is that the OpenBSD maintainers sometimes drop even substantial components if they are not adequately maintained or they feel that they're insecure. For example, as we noted when OpenBSD 7.3 came out, it dropped its whole Bluetooth stack in 2014 and no version since 5.6 has supported Bluetooth at all.

Plasma 5, although substantial, is quite clean code, though. It can run on extra-secure CHERI hardware, for instance. Obviously, a bigger step lies in the near future, as Sadowski acknowledges:

What will definitely be interesting is the KDE switch from Qt5 to Qt6. This should not be a big challenge for OpenBSD. All dependencies like all Qt6 modules are ported. So this will just be a task of hard work.

It may no longer be the current KDE version by the time that OpenBSD 7.5 ships, but as Plasma 6 is a big rewrite, it will inevitably take some time to settle down. Even if most typical OpenBSD users are happy with just a few terminal windows, this is a good demonstration of the OS's capabilities, and it will definitely appeal to some. Having the full KDE stack available is good news. ®

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