2011-01-20

Revisited: 3 Newbie-Friendly KDE Distributions

A few months ago, I did a comparison test between 5 KDE distributions that aim to be friendly to newbies. These distributions were PC-BSD 8.1 "Hubble" (which is technically a distribution of BSD, not Linux), PCLinuxOS 2010.07 KDE, openSUSE 11.3 KDE, Sabayon 5.3 KDE, and Pardus 2009.2 "Geronticus Eremita" (live CD). (I also tested Chakra Alpha 5 "Panora", but that wasn't compared to the others due to its pre-release nature.) I did all these tests on my old Sony VAIO desktop. I intended to make live USBs out of all of these using UnetBootin, but only Sabayon and (surprisingly, given its origin and its developers' previous statements about using UnetBootin in this particular case) PCLinuxOS cooperated. The others required that I make a live USB using the "dd" command, which wipes all existing data off the flash drive and writes the ISO file onto the USB with a primitive filesystem type that can't coexist with other partitions. This didn't look good for me, because I didn't want to keep erasing and rewriting data on the flash drive. Thus, I tested all these distributions in VirtualBox. The downsides to this were that as my old computer only had 1 GB of RAM, I could only allocate 448 MB of RAM to the guest OSs, which in some cases was clearly too little, and that I couldn't in some cases properly test things like hardware detection and installation of programs in this limited virtual environment.
Then, a couple weeks ago, I found a program called MultiSystem, which I wrote about promptly. This program allows writing a live multiboot setup to a USB drive partition without destroying other partitions. Plus, it supports distributions like Mandriva (which I tested shortly after the original comparison), openSUSE, and Pardus which otherwise require the "dd" command. (Unfortunately, it doesn't support either PC-BSD or Chakra, the latter of which is surprising in its omission considering that distributions like Arch, ArchBang, and CTKArchLive are all supported.) Clearly, this was what I needed. Now I could go back and test Mandriva, openSUSE, and Pardus as live USB systems with direct access to all my computer's hardware without issue. And that's exactly what I've done and that's the subject of today's post.
Please note that I'm not including any screenshots with this post because the relevant screenshots have already been put up in the previous comparison. Next, I'm not actually comparing these distributions to one another, as that's already been done — I'm just seeing if each one on its own will cooperate with my computer's hardware. Also, I realize that because I'm testing these on a much better computer than before (and I'm using Mandriva 2010.2 instead of version 2010.1 that was previously tested), the methodologies may turn out different results than before. With all that in mind, follow the jump to see how each one fares.

Mandriva 2010.2 KDE

The first one I tested was Mandriva 2010.2. After making the multiboot system, restarting, changing the BIOS, and moving past the boot menu, I was greeted by a text-filled screen as opposed to a graphical splash screen. This surprised me somewhat. Oh well. Anyway, after that came the Mandriva-customized KDE splash screen sequence followed by the desktop. Overall, the boot and loading process was somewhat slow, going against what I've seen in the distributions that I've recently reviewed.
But I'm not here to appraise the desktop. I already did that. What I will say is that unfortunately, Mandriva didn't recognize my laptop monitor's native widescreen resolution (1366 by 768) and instead set it to 1024 by 768, which made the desktop look kind of like what regular TV channels look like on a widescreen HDTV — stretched and a little too fuzzy. I was able to change it easily though, and it looked much crisper and sharper afterwards. Unfortunately, Mandriva didn't properly recognize the full capabilities of my graphics card, so desktop effects were disabled. Going to the Mandriva Control Center seemed helpful at first, because when I clicked on the button to enable 3D graphics acceleration and desktop effects, I was told to install the "glxinfo" package; unfortunately, the program searched for that package and couldn't find it. That was the end of my attempt to enable desktop effects in Mandriva.
Just for fun, I opened Mozilla Firefox and tried YouTube. It worked fine. Also, I now know that the Mozilla Firefox theme used is the stock GNOME 2.30/2.32 theme, which doesn't work especially well with the rest of the Mandriva theme. I would have at least liked to see it with the Oxygen theme. Oh well.
I tried installing Skype, but there's no RPM for Mandriva. Looking in the Mandriva wiki only fostered further discouragement.
Thankfully, Mandriva did recognize my webcam and mic in Kopete. That's good news.
Overall, Mandriva could have been better. It seems like I wasn't able to experience Mandriva's legendary ability to automatically recognize and properly configure even the most obscure hardware (and my computer's hardware is fairly mainstream).

openSUSE 11.3 KDE

Next, I tried openSUSE. Similar to Mandriva, the boot splash was replaced by a scrolling wall of text. That led into the openSUSE-customized KDE splash, followed by the desktop. The boot and startup time was a little bit faster than Mandriva.
Unlike Mandriva, openSUSE did correctly recognize and configure my laptop monitor's resolution (at 1366 by 768). Furthermore, I was able to use desktop effects (though they weren't enabled out-of-the-box) perfectly fine. That said, maybe it's just me, but I feel like KWin's effects are slightly slower and choppier than those of Compiz. KWin has certainly come a long way, but I think it still has a little bit of work to do.
Mozilla Firefox came themed with Oxygen, which is to be expected as the openSUSE developers were the ones behind better integration of Mozilla Firefox and OpenOffice.org with KDE. Theme aside, there weren't many proprietary codecs installed, chief among them Adobe Flash. When I went to YouTube to play a video, I was given the option of installing the missing codecs. This opened up a session of YaST2 (Yet another Setup Tool 2) which enabled the appropriate repositories and started downloading and installing the necessary packages. That's all good and fine, and YaST2 has a pretty user-friendly interface, but the process was really, really slow. I guess I've been spoiled by APT,  but YaST2's slowness put me off slightly. I suppose it goes to show that openSUSE is for users who want a stable system and who don't plan on installing new applications all the time. After all that was finished, YouTube played fine.
Skype does have an RPM available for openSUSE, so I downloaded it and it installed with YaST2 fine. After that, however, it just refused to open. That wasn't good.
openSUSE, like Mandriva, properly recognized my webcam and mic in Kopete. That was good.
Overall, openSUSE seemed to be a bit more cooperative with my hardware than Mandriva.

Pardus 2009.2 "Geronticus Eremita" Live CD

This one's going to be short. I selected Pardus, saw a little bit of boot text, and then...nothing. I was stuck at a blank screen. I tried again, this time waiting for 15 minutes — still nothing. I find it slightly ironic that Pardus won the last comparison test considering that it couldn't even start here. Then again, I have a strong suspicion that it's an issue with MultiSystem and that MultiSystem doesn't support Pardus nearly as well as its (MultiSystem's) developer(s) thought it would. Oh well. That was the end of that.

That's essentially all I have to say about this. I guess these particular distributions were better remembered than retested.

6 comments:

  1. You've forget Debian6 with KDE4 (look for the CD image ending in -kde-CD-1.iso).

    The release will be around Feb, 5-6.

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  2. @Debianero: I've reviewed Debian 6 "Squeeze" KDE before. However, (1) it isn't (in my opinion) a distribution that *tries* to cater to newbies and (2) I didn't include it in the original comparison (Mandriva aside), so it doesn't really belong in this article. That said, I am excited about the upcoming official release and do fully intend to try it out. Thanks for the comment!

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  3. Which edition of Mandriva Linux do you use ? One, Free or powerpack ?

    For Pardus, why not using the latest version ?

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  4. @Sylvain: I used Mandriva One, because that's what's compatible with MultiSystem. Also, I didn't want to use the latest version of Pardus here because I wanted to see how the older version of Pardus would fare with my hardware. That said, I have just published a review of Pardus 2011, so please do check that out! Thanks for the comment!

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  5. Im using Gentoo on most of my machines but for our family as well as both our sets of parents and a few others for whom I do free tech support (since Ive switched them, Ive seen then less often than in previous years!!), I was using Mandriva until PCLinuxOSc came out 3-4 years ago and blew every other distro out of the water.
    When KDE4.2 was finally mature enough for my family (my dad and son use my laptop where I test many distros and kept bugging me to install the new desktop. 4.2 is when I switched them), I started going back to Mandriva and now that PCLinuxOS has made the KDE4 jump, I feel confident enough to install either one for newbies.
    Seriously, Ive even asked people which name they prefer to see appear and decided that way.

    Never ask a newb the difference between distros of the same desktop. They all look the same to them.


    Right now, Im using Kubuntu 10 and its ok.

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  6. @Anonymous: "Never ask a newb" -- Just to be clear, I'm not saying a newbie should be deciding this -- I'm saying a somewhat more experienced Linux user should keep this in mind when recommending a KDE 4 distribution. Thanks for the comment!

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