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Jack Wallen shares what he likes and dislikes about KDE Plasma and reveals who might be best suited to use the open source desktop.

Image: Jack Wallen

I have to confess: I don’t give KDE a fair shake. It’s not because I don’t believe it to be a strong take on the Linux desktop, it’s just that I prefer a much more minimal desktop. Also, I was never a big fan of the old taskbar/start menu/system tray combo. I leaned more toward the GNOME way of thinking and doing things.

Recently, a reader called me out on my lack of KDE coverage, so I thought it was time to offer up my take on where KDE Plasma stands, and who might be best suited to use this open source desktop. Comparing Plasma to my usual GNOME desktop is really quite challenging, given these two desktops are night and day. It’s like comparing the works of Clive Barker to that of William Gibson–they’re both incredibly good at what they do, they’re using the same tools to tell stories, but in very different genres. 

So instead of doing the usual comparison, I thought I’d take a more creative approach to the task. I’ll even lay out my conclusion right here:

GNOME is e.e. cummings, whereas KDE is Alfred Lord Tennyson. One uses the minimum amount of “words” to convey the subject at hand, while the other opts to use a flooding flourish of words to great effect. One says:


While the other states:

With the single tap of the phalange, a world of wonder shall open and display for you the tools with which you might explore new worlds, new ideas, and unheard of possibility.

What in the world am I getting at? 

Let me explain.

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I’ve gone on and on about GNOME. At this point, there’s little to say about the current iteration of GNOME that I haven’t already said. In fact, my summation of GNOME in my piece Is GNOME or Unity the desktop for you? is the same statement I’d make today about this particular desktop:

GNOME is for users who need a desktop to get out of their way. They want to focus on applications and require as much screen real estate as possible. GNOME users don’t care so much about tweaking the desktop–they simply want a desktop that is reliable, predictable, and polished.

With that said, let’s take a look at the latest release of KDE, by way of the KDE neon project.

KDE Plasma Desktop

Okay, first let’s talk about the name. Is it KDE? Is it KDE Plasma? No. It’s just Plasma. The name Plasma was introduced upon the release of KDE SC 4.4. To some, of course, it’s still KDE. To others, it’s KDE Plasma. I’ve even seen it referred to as the Plasma Desktop.

Name aside, what sets Plasma apart from GNOME? 

Just about everything.

At first blush, one could draw the conclusion that Plasma is what happens when the Windows 7 designers channel the macOS desktop designers to add enough panache to the desktop to create something completely different–and yet not.

Why not? Because in the end, Plasma holds on to the tried-and-true desktop metaphor of taskbar/start menu/system tray. There’s a good reason for that–in a word: Familiarity.

Actually, two words: Familiarity and ease of use.

Sorry, Tennyson took hold and turned two words into five. Let’s reword that.

Thing is, there’s poetry hidden on the Plasma Desktop, just waiting to be released. You might think the developers and designers stopped at that collaboration between Windows 7 and macOS desktop, but you’d be wrong. Why? Plasma has a few tricks up its sleeve. One trick comes in the way of widgets. 

But wait, doesn’t the macOS desktop have widgets? Fancy that, it does. Desktop widgets are exactly what you think they are–small applications you can add to the desktop that do anything from a simple analog clock, application launchers, menus, calculators, dictionaries, clipboards, device notifiers, and more. This is very familiar territory here–nothing you haven’t seen before.

That’s telling. But alas, there’s more, my friends. 

What are KDE Plasma activities?

There’s no way to “simply put” what an activity is in Plasma; however, you can think of them as virtual desktops that allow for more fine-tuned control over your experience. That’s a bit vague. But seriously, what are activities? 

Again, virtual desktops with a bit more control. For example, you could create one activity for programming and add a number of developer-related widgets to that desktop. Next, you could pin developer-specific applications to the taskbar. 

You could also set certain privacy restrictions for different activities. For example, you could create an activity specifically for web browsing and then set that activity to clear the history of that activity after one month (oddly enough, that’s the shortest time frame you can set). Thing is, the clearing of activity history doesn’t actually dive into browser history. 

So what does history clearing do? 

After a quick test, it doesn’t clear the history of the KWrite text editor–even after clearing all history of all apps on the current Activity.

What gives? Why add a feature if said feature doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do? 

Truth be told, Plasma activities are somewhat of a mystery–one that most new (and/or average) users won’t ever bother using.

This little foray into widgets and activities brings me round to one of the reasons why I decided Plasma wasn’t the desktop for me some time ago.

It doesn’t really know who it is. Is it e.e. cummings or Alfred Lord Tennyson? Barker or Gibson? Is it Windows 7 or macOS? 

On the surface, Plasma is a fine take on the traditional desktop; it’s stable, fast, and incredibly easy to use for anyone who has worked with any sort of desktop interface. Plasma stumbles when it introduces new features but doesn’t define them in such a way as to make them stand out as truly useful or unique. 

Don’t get me wrong, I like Plasma. Every once in a while it’s nice to install the latest version of Neon to see what the KDE developers have done with the desktop. Sadly enough, however, they haven’t done much to refine the features that could set it apart from desktops of the past or present. Plasma is a taskbar/start menu/system tray desktop with a few extra bells and whistles that do little to entice me into making the switch from GNOME.

Again, not that Plasma is bad. For anyone who prefers the traditional desktop, you would do well with Plasma. But once you start digging into some of the other features, confusion might set in, and you’ll find yourself wondering, “Why is this here?”

To go back to my original analogy, Plasma is to desktops what Tennyson is to poetry: There are a lot of beautiful words used to describe something where fewer words would do.

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Vi Weekend Data Rollover Offer Extended Till April 17: All the Details

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Vi (Vodafone Idea) has extended its weekend data rollover offer till April 17 from its previous end date of January 17. The company started the data rollover system back in October last year for its prepaid customers and it allows them to carry forward their daily unused data to the weekend. The updated time frame can be spotted in the terms and conditions section on the official Vi website. The weekend data rollover offer is still available with the same plans as before.

Vi website has been updated to show that this promotional offer is applicable from October 19 2020 to April 17 2021. This gives users another three months to enjoy the benefits of weekend data rollover as the offer was initially supposed to end on January 17. The minimum recharge value to avail this offer is Rs. 249 and is valid for unlimited packs with daily data. It is valid for Rs. 249, Rs. 299, Rs. 399, Rs. 449, Rs. 595, Rs. 599, Rs. 699, Rs. 795, and Rs. 2,595 plans. Currently, all these plans are listed on the website with weekend rollover along with an additional offer such as double data, 5GB extra data, or one year subscription to Zee5.

Every plan offered by Vi comes with some amount of data limit, that may not always be completely used. This results in some data being wasted as it resets the next day. With the weekend rollover system, Vi customers will be able to make use of whatever data is unused throughout the week, over the weekend.

Customers should note that unused data between Monday 0000 hours to Friday 2400 hours will be accumulated and made available between Saturday 0000 hours and Sunday 2400 hours. Post that, any and all unused data will be forfeited. The terms and conditions also state that Vi reserves the right to discontinue, modify, or withdraw the roll over or other product features subject to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) regulations.

What will be the most exciting tech launch of 2021? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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For preschoolers and soldiers: 4 new Acer Chromebooks meet military and toy safety standards

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Two models have antimicrobial coating and a spill-resistant gutter system to keep up to 11 ounces of liquid away from internal components.

The Acer TravelMate Spin B3 meets both military durability standards as well as toy safety rules.

Image: Acer

Even after several product announcements at CES 2021, Acer has more laptop news with five new products designed for the classroom. These laptops meet durability standards designed for military use as well as safety guidelines from toy manufacturers.

Several of the products feature zero-touch enrollment which means that IT departments can drop ship the laptops and automatically enroll the devices into a school’s system as soon as a student connects to the internet.

Here are the highlights of these new products. 

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Travelmate Spin B3

This convertible laptop is built for the toughest environment with extra durability. It is certified to meet ASTM toy safety standards and military-grade durability standards. It has a keyboard with mechanically anchored keys and a moisture-resistant touchpad. The processor is an Intel Pentium Silver and the battery life is up to 12 hours. The laptop has an HD webcam and Wi-Fi 6. According to Acer, the laptop can withstand up to 132 pounds of downward force, for those times when technology is too hard to grasp. 

The device has a drainage system that can redirect up to 11 ounces of liquid away from the internal components out of a drain in the bottom of the chassis. Also, the touch display is covered with a layer of antimicrobial Corning Gorilla Glass that can reduce the growth of odor and stain-causing microorganisms, according to the company. To boost the cleanliness factor even more, there is an optional BPR and EPA-compliant antimicrobial agent in the keyboard coating, touchpad, and palm-rest surface. A Wacom AES pen and a 5MP HDR front-facing camera are other optional features.

The Acer TravelMate Spin B3 (TMB311R-32) will be available in North America in April starting at $329.99; in EMEA in Q2 starting at €409; and in China in February, starting at ¥2,499.

Chromebook Spin 512 and 511


Image: Acer

These two new convertible Chromebooks are also for the school environment with designs that meet military and toy durability standards and the specially designed gutter system to reduce damage from accidental spills.

The Spin 512 and Spin 511 come with an 8MP MIPI world-facing camera and an HDR webcam. Both have antimicrobial Corning Gorilla Glass display, ideal for education settings in which students share devices. Both devices have 360-degree hinges and N4500 and N5100 Intel processors. The new Acer Chromebooks will be available with up to 64GB eMMC storage and up to 8GB RAM.

The Acer Chromebook Spin 512 has a 3:2 aspect ratio HD+ IPS display. It also has an antimicrobial agent in the coating on the keyboard touchpad and palm area that is proven to show a consistently high microbial reduction rate against a broad range of bacteria. The Acer Chromebook Spin 512 will be available in North America in April starting at $429.99.

The Acer Chromebook Spin 511 is smaller with an 11.6-inch HD IPS display. 

The Acer Chromebook Spin 512 (R853TA) will be available in North America in April starting at $429.99; and in EMEA in March 2021, starting at EUR 399. The Acer Chromebook Spin 511 will be available in North America in April starting at $399.99; and in EMEA in March 2021, starting at €369.

Chromebook 511 and Chromebook 311


Image: Acer

These two new clamshell 11.6-inch laptops also feature compact designs and military durability. Both laptops meet leading toy safety standards. The 511 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c Compute Platform and 4G LTE connectivity. Battery life is up to 20 hours, according to the company. It will be available in North America in April starting at $399.99.

The Chromebook 311 has a Mediatek MT8183 processor and was designed around industrial durability and toy safety standards for younger students. A touch screen is optional. It provides up to 20 hours of battery life. It will be available in North America in January starting at $299.99.

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GeoSim: Photorealistic Image Simulation with Geometry-Aware Composition

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Humans can synthesize unperceived events in their heads, for instance, to imagine how an empty street would look during rush hour. The similar capability of computers may be useful in film making or augmented reality.

A recent paper proposes GeoSim, a realistic image manipulation framework that inserts dynamic objects into existing videos.

GeoSim Photorealistic Image Simulation with Geometry Aware Composition

Image credit: Unsplash/Kimi Lee

This method uses the data captured by self-driving cars to build a 3D assets bank. Then 3D scene layout from LiDAR readings and 3D maps is used to add vehicles in plausible locations. The Intelligent Driver Model is used so that the new objects have realistic interactions with existing ones and respect the flow of traffic. Neural networks are employed to seamlessly insert an object by filling holes, adjusting color inconsistencies, and removing sharp boundaries. It is the first approach to fully consider physical realism and outperforms prior research by qualitative and quantitative measures.

Scalable sensor simulation is an important yet challenging open problem for safety-critical domains such as self-driving. Current work in image simulation either fail to be photorealistic or do not model the 3D environment and the dynamic objects within, losing high-level control and physical realism. In this paper, we present GeoSim, a geometry-aware image composition process that synthesizes novel urban driving scenes by augmenting existing images with dynamic objects extracted from other scenes and rendered at novel poses. Towards this goal, we first build a diverse bank of 3D objects with both realistic geometry and appearance from sensor data. During simulation, we perform a novel geometry-aware simulation-by-composition procedure which 1) proposes plausible and realistic object placements into a given scene, 2) renders novel views of dynamic objects from the asset bank, and 3) composes and blends the rendered image segments. The resulting synthetic images are photorealistic, traffic-aware, and geometrically consistent, allowing image simulation to scale to complex use cases. We demonstrate two such important applications: long-range realistic video simulation across multiple camera sensors, and synthetic data generation for data augmentation on downstream segmentation tasks.


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