When I first started using Linux about 6 years ago I ran Mandrake with KDE. So KDE holds a special place in my geek heart. But with the early KDE SC 4 releases things just weren’t working well and I ended up becoming a refugee in the Fluxbox world.
I always gave Kubuntu a spin but never felt that it held its ground next to its Gnome sibling, Ubuntu. However, with the KDE SC 4.3 release I dived into Arch Linux and found myself loving KDE all over again. Kubuntu, though, still didn’t do it for me. So when Muktware went looking for a Kubuntu 10.10 review, I jumped at the occasion, and here it is!
As I expected, like the other *buntus, the installation was simple and straightforward. The user only has to go through a few easy-to-understand steps to get Kubuntu up and running. Even for the more complicated task of custom partitioning, the interface was easy to use and well laid out.
One potentially difficult aspect for new users is the naming of drives and partitions in the partitioning tool. It uses the /dev/sd** naming system. This will require some prior knowledge of how Linux names drives and partitions. However, if the user chooses to use the automatic or easy resize option they will not be faced with this problem. Naming drives by manufacturer, model and drive size would make things a lot easier for many. Also, I would have liked to have had the option to create and install to LVM partitions.
What I especially like about the installer is that after the partitioning step has been completed, the installer begins the installation while the user continues to provide other details. This is a very clever time-saving trick and makes me wonder why no one has done this before. Kudos to the developers at Canonical.
The installer provides options to install updates and non-free packages and I expected all of them to be installed once it was done. However, on reboot I found out that was not the case. 54 updates were available, including a kernel update - that meant one extra reboot; and I was prompted to install codecs and Flash when I fired up the browser.
Look and Feel
Right from boot, Kubuntu oozes class. The Plymouth bootsplash is a pretty sight. There is no arguing the artistic touch here. You are greeted with the KDE login screen within seconds - a feat the folks at *buntu are getting better at pulling off.
In my opinion, KDE SC 4 is the most modern looking desktop on any platform, and also the most well integrated one. Kubuntu does not disappoint. The theme and color scheme are (or are close to) the default KDE setup. I don’t mind that at all but some may feel a more custom look would be more appropriate.
One thing that deserves mention is that Kubuntu, like Ubuntu, now uses the Ubuntu font by default. Canonical has done a great service to the FOSS community by providing such a high quality user interface font. It is very crisp, beautiful and easy to read at all point sizes.
Hardware Detection and Support
My test machine is an Acer Extensa 5630EZ laptop. It runs an Intel Dual Core 2.1 GHz processor with 3GB of RAM and an integrated Intel Mobile Graphics Media Accelerator 4500M. All the hardware was detected out of the box. Running in the live CD mode and on first boot, the desktop effects were not enabled but after updating the system, it was firing on all cylinders. At boot the system uses around 450MB of RAM.
Bluetooth, wireless networking and webcam all worked as expected. I was able to transfer files to and from my phone with a minimum of fuss or fiddling over Bluetooth thanks to the new BlueDevil Bluetooth stack. Network manager in KDE has polished off all the rough edges and works as well as any other network management tool... for the most part. I tried using my USB mobile 3G modem and it needed some manual configuration. To be fair I had to jump through the same hoops in Arch Linux. However in Ubuntu all I had to do was select my ISP from a predefined list and Gnome setup the rest for me. Come on KDE folks, we can get this ease too, can’t we?
Kubuntu fared very well in this department working with everything I could throw at it.
Software selection and stability
Kubuntu, with version 10.10, has gone with the default KDE SC selection of applications for the most part but has also deviated in some key areas. I’ll go into that a little later.
Linux kernel 2.6.35, X server 1.9 and KDE SC 4.5.1 are the default version numbers in 10.10. They individually bring with them some key improvements. With X server 1.9, HAL has now become obsolete but KDE still requires it for suspend and hibernate, so HAL is still present. I would have liked to see KDE SC 4.5.2 which is already stable and implements some important fixes for desktop effects in KWin. Hopefully, we’ll see 4.5.2 as an update soon.
When you log into Kubuntu for the first time you are greeted by a pretty standard KDE desktop. They have opted to add two plasmoids by default on the desktop; the Desktop folder view and micro-blogging plasmoids. The micro-blogging plasmoid connects to Twitter and Identi.ca and configuration was simple and straightforward. To nit-pick, the Desktop folder view plasmoid was empty with some text mentioning this. Some icons or shortcuts in here would probably help new users understand exactly what it is as many still find it hard to understand the concept of the the entire desktop as plasmoids.
I think the boldest and best move by the Kubuntu team was in choosing Rekonq 0.6.1 as the default and only browser that is installed by default. This project has come a long way from its humble beginnings to become my default browser even on Arch Linux. It is a brilliant, lightweight Webkit-based browser that has full KDE integration and a Chrome-esque minimalist UI. This means that is uses KDE technologies wherever it can. All dialogs are in Qt so all your KDE bookmarks, KIO slaves and the like are at your disposal. Downloads are managed by KGet, password saving by KWallet and source viewing by Kate.
In the Kickoff menu there is a Firefox entry. However, Firefox is not installed but instead the user is prompted to install it when he/she tries to run it. This is a nice touch for new users who want a more conventional browser for whatever reason.
Another nice touch which I first saw in Linux Mint is that when you run the IRC client it automatically connects to Kubuntu IRC channel. This is great for new users who need a quick and easy way to get help. The IRC client used is Quassel, which I prefer over the KDE SC default, Konversation.
The default office suite is the solid OpenOffice.org 3.2. What else is there to say? This workhorse is a staple of Linux distributions. I would like to see more KDE distributions ship with KOffice. Hopefully that will draw more attention to it as Kubuntu did to Rekonq.
The KDE Personal Information Management (PIM) suite works brilliantly. Being a user of Google services, this is one of the aspects I love about KDE SC. Akonadi is easily configured to use the Google address book and calender. Couple that with KMail configured for GMail and Akregator pulling in Google Reader bundles, and you have a very pleasant, productive and uniform experience with KDE PIM. KJots, the note taking application is not installed by default, but that’s an easy installation away.
K3B, KTorrent, Kopete, Amarok, Dragon player, GwenView and a host of other KDE applications are present and perform their tasks well. Kopete does not feature a specific Facebook configuration module. That means some manual configuration is required but a quick Google search should sort that out. Amarok comes with a number of online services, my favorite being Jamendo which provides a wide selection of free Creative Commons music. I would have liked to have seen the Ubuntu One Music store as well.
Nepomuk chugs along in the background bringing the vision of a semantic desktop to reality. I did notice that Strigi file indexing was disabled by default. This is probably to keep the live system and fresh install as light as possible. But I really enjoy the functionality provided by both Akonadi and Nepomuk. With these two, KRunner (Alt+F2) really becomes the only launcher you will ever need. Learning to use it will give a huge boost to your experience in KDE.
I experienced two rather annoying bugs. 1) On log out from the KDE desktop I was dropped to a virtual terminal login prompt; no KDM log in screen and no clear way to get it back. This happened both on bare metal and in a virtual machine. 2) Rather randomly, the screen would freeze up. The mouse cursor could not be moved and all animations stopped. Alt-TAB or simply pressing the Ctrl key would get the screen responsiveness back. I think this has to do with the KWin bugs I mentioned earlier.
Some things that I really expected to find in Kubuntu by now but didn’t are: an Ubuntu One client, OneConf and the Ubuntu App Store. Their absence really makes me feel like Kubuntu does not stand out when compared to other KDE distros. Canonical can only do so much but I think integrating their own services into one of their distros is a reasonable feature request.
On the whole I think Kubuntu 10.10 is a solid release. Get KDE 4.5.2 in there, solve the log out bug and I think I would rate this release on par with OpenSUSE 11.3 with KDE SC, if not slightly better for feeling snappier. Unfortunately, it is not enough to pull me away from Arch Linux. However, for a new user looking to try KDE, it would be on my short ‘try it and see’ list.
- Up to date packages
- Snappy system on decent hardware
- Easy for new users
- Ubuntu software selection and PPAs
- Log out bug that really should have been fixed before release
- No integration of Canonical services
- No KDE 4.5.2