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I got a second monitor recently and have really loved how it improved my productivity. It's surprising how often I need to have two windows open next to each other when my screen just isn't big enough to display both properly. I've been using Plasma on this computer for a few months now, and some things annoy me about it. Namely, needing to pin windows to every workspace on my second monitor, as I only want workspaces on my primary monitor. Alas, that's not an option right now.

So, I thought I'd try GNOME again. I really like GNOME and use it on all of my computers except this one. I switched to Plasma originally because of an issue with my graphics tablet (my third monitor), but I managed to set it up properly this time.

However, I had a lot of trouble with setting up a good multi-monitor workflow on GNOME, so I switched back to Plasma after a week. This article is about the reasons why.

Some of these features might be present in Plasma 5 too, but I can only speak for Plasma 6.

Reason 1: Plasma 6 scales XWayland applications without blurriness.

This issue is a two-parter. If you're using a single monitor and are fine with either 100% or 200% display scaling, your X11 applications will scale fine without blurriness.

However, if you have multiple monitors, you'll likely need fractional scaling. The nature of fractional scaling on Wayland means X11 applications will be blurry when scaled, even if the monitor you're using has 200% display scaling applied rather than a fractional increment, as enabling the fractional scaling option causes this behaviour.

KDE Plasma provides an option for Legacy applications (X11) in its Display settings:

  • Apply scaling themselves (the compositor leaves it up to the application to scale itself, which will result in non-blurriness)
  • Scaled by the system (results in the aforementioned blurriness)

This is a workaround, the exact details of which I am unsure.

GNOME chooses not to implement Plasma's workaround, as it is not guaranteed to work in all cases.

However, it works great for most of the X11 applications I use, like Audacity, Steam, MakeMKV, Lightworks, and every game running on Wine through X11.

It doesn't work for Krita, but there are bigger fish to fry for that particular application on Wayland right now.

The real solution is to port all these applications to Wayland. It's going to take time for that to happen, and I doubt some of the X11 applications I use will ever be ported to Wayland. I still need to keep using them, though, and Plasma makes that easy.

Reason 2: ALT+TAB only walks through the windows on the current monitor in Plasma 6.

This is kind of an odd one. When you set ALT+TAB to Switch Windows on GNOME and activate it, it walks through the windows on the current workspaces on every monitor. This makes it unusable. There are a few extensions out there that fix this, but I've found they introduce other weird behaviour and instability in GNOME. I don't like extensions much anyway.

Plasma only walks through the windows on the current monitor when you press ALT+TAB. This is what I expect.

Some Miscellaneous Reasons

These aren't directly related to my multi-monitor setup, but they annoyed me:

  • My cursor doesn't scale in all windows. In some windows (i.e. the XWayland ones that aren't scaled), it's small; in some, it's large. It's very jarring. This just doesn't happen on KDE Plasma.
  • There is an inexplicable input delay and general jitteriness when playing games on GNOME Wayland. I have absolutely no idea what causes this, but Rocket League has an input delay on GNOME not present on KDE Plasma. It's just a siognificantly worse experience.
  • Magnifier is a mess of graphical glitches on GNOME. I have no idea why. The KDE magnifier just works.

Neither of these issues on their own was enough to make the experience notably worse, but combined, they defeat the productivity of a multi-monitor workflow. I'm glad I can keep that productivity on Plasma with no sacrifices, and hope one day I'll be able to switch back to GNOME and say the same.

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