2011-10-28

Review: Kubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot"

You can consider this to be the second part of a series of reviews of the relatives of Ubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot. Today I'm reviewing Kubuntu.

 Main Screen
I've said some bad things about Kubuntu in the past. Mainly, it has to do with how a couple years ago on Ubuntu, KDE and GNOME would not mix very well, and Kubuntu's implementation of KDE, while vanilla-looking, wasn't very vanilla-working (and really didn't work well at all). Things have improved since then: Kubuntu 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat" was generally lauded as the first good Kubuntu release since the transition from KDE 3 to KDE 4. Kubuntu 11.04 "Natty Narwhal" was even better, and this version has been reviewed by others as the best ever; not only that, but the aforementioned other reviewers have also said this is among the best KDE distributions out today, period. That's quite a lot of praise, so I'm seeing if (1) that praise is warranted and (2) I need to change my previously sour opinion of Kubuntu.

I tested Kubuntu on a live USB made with UnetBootin. I was going to test the installation...on a real computer! A $friend of mine in college heard me and another friend discussing computer-related things and how I thought it would be interesting and ironic if I could put Linux on an Apple iMac/MacBook and use it instead of Apple's Mac OS X.$friend had a slightly older Intel-based Apple iMac that $friend wasn't using, so$friend was willing to lend it to me for the year; $friend was cool with me using it to test and install Linux distributions on the hard drive, because$friend actually used a triple-boot Linux setup on the Apple iMac on a regular basis before it fell into disuse. I figured I should use this opportunity to try to install Kubuntu, so I followed the instructions on the Ubuntu website to create the appropriate live USB with another 2 GB SanDisk Cruzer Micro USB stick I got 4 years ago but haven't used at all since high school; unfortunately, while the Refit bootloader (that I installed beforehand) did apparently recognize the live USB, booting just hung at the white screen. While I am aware of a few potential solutions, I've also read on the Refit website that different Apple iMac generations tolerate live USB booting at different levels: some are fully cooperative, while others pretend live USBs don't exist. I believe this particular Apple iMac is closer to the latter end of that spectrum, so I didn't pursue it further. I do know another friend who has been collecting many desktop computers that are a few years old, so I might ask that friend to borrow a working one for such installations. That'll have to wait for a future review though. In any case, this time around, despite my best efforts, installation did not occur. Follow the jump to see what Kubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot" is like.

After the boot menu, I was treated to a fast boot and a nice boot splash with a blue screen and dots typical of recent versions of Ubuntu. This is better than the black screen with which Edubuntu greeted me recently. After that, I was taken to a nice screen asking if I wanted to install Kubuntu right away or try out the live session; I opted for the latter, so that quickly took me into the desktop.

The desktop is stock KDE 4.7; the only icon present is an icon to install Kubuntu. Otherwise, there really isn't much to say. I will say though that it appears that the change in the Kickoff menu of the large back/forward buttons to small category breadcrumb buttons is an upstream KDE change. I remember chiding Kororaa 15 "Squirt" KDE for this, but now I know it's a KDE issue and not a Kororaa issue, so I hereby retract the statement I made regarding this in my review of Kororaa.

Rekonq is the default browser. Though codecs are not included, instead of trying and invariably failing to find plugins as in Mozilla Firefox, Rekonq took me straight to the Adobe site which recognized the Ubuntu base of the system and told the package manager to install Adobe Flash plugin from partner repositories. This is really quite sophisticated on the parts of both Adobe and Canonical. The package installed almost unusually quickly; at first I thought something went wrong, but no, it was really that fast. After that YouTube and Hulu worked fine, which is good. Also, Kubuntu recognized my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts fine, which is to be expected from a relative of Ubuntu.
Right after this, Rekonq crashed, but I didn't even feel it because it happened after I already closed it.

LibreOffice is included and integrated well with KDE at version 3.4. I'm glad it is at version 3.4 because for some reason the LibreOffice Ubuntu PPAs still haven't included that new version so I'm personally still stuck on version 3.3 using Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora". Otherwise the software selection is pretty standard and sparse.

Kubuntu now has the option to select "low-fat" desktop options to work better on older hardware, but because I have a newer laptop it worked fine with its full settings. I sincerely believe this, and not what GNOME 3 does, is the way to properly do fallback settings.
 Desktop Cube + LibreOffice Writer + Dolphin + Kate
Kubuntu used ~300 MB of RAM at idle without effects, and it used about ~30 MB more with effects. In my experience, this is slightly less than the average KDE distribution, which is fine.
Desktop effects worked really well. In fact, the keyboard shortcut to transition between effects and no effects is absolutely seamless — I couldn't tell when it had been done, and I actually had to try out a few effects to make sure there was a change. In a sense this is good because it makes the fallback experience feel almost identical to the full shebang, but it's bad because users who feel a performance lag (though I didn't personally feel any such thing) may wonder what the cause of that lag is and they'd have no obvious way of finding out.

Skype and Google Talk worked fine, though I had to install Mozilla Firefox using the button in the menu to use Google Talk, because despite being able to use Chromium plugins for some reason Rekonq couldn't use Google Talk. Mozilla Firefox also comes with great KDE integration, which is great.
A lot of the animations and transitions seem a lot more polished than in other distributions. The fonts look a lot better and clearer with the Ubuntu fonts than with the default Liberation/DejaVu fonts; in fact, they may be the clearest and cleanest default fonts I've seen in any KDE distribution.

There are two package managers: the Muon Software Center and the Muon Package Manager. Interestingly, I was able to run both side-by-side simultaneously, which is contrast to older versions of Ubuntu and Linux Mint which would complain if two applications using APT were open simultaneously.
 Muon Software Center + Muon Package Manager
The Muon Software Center is basically like the Ubuntu Software Center but built for KDE, though it looks like the older interface that shipped with version 11.04 "Natty Narwhal" as opposed to the new shiny interface. It is still quite user-friendly: it shows different categories of packages, and its details are presented in a very neat manner. The only problem is that it would occasionally hiccup and return the list of all packages when trying to search for one package. Installing Skype from this took way less time than I remember, which is great.
Muon Package Manager is basically like Synaptic Package Manager but built for KDE, so it is good that Kubuntu still cares about power users; it seems even a little nicer than Synaptic, which is amazing as it is, and it too is blazing fast.
Also, QApt is basically like GDebi for KDE, and that was what was used to install individual packages like Adobe Flash and Google Talk. It also seems way faster and nicer than GDebi ever was even in GNOME 2.

As I tried typing this post and uploading pictures, Rekonq crashed twice more. Three crashes and a nonfunctional popular plugin makes me feel like Mozilla Firefox should be installed by default even in the live session. Sure, it makes the distribution "impure" as there won't be purely KDE/Qt programs present by default, but frankly, Mozilla Firefox is still far superior to Rekonq in terms of stability and extensibility.
One nice thing about Rekonq is that it has nice tab previews when hovering over inactive tabs. It would be nice if the same thing were enabled in KWin for windows in the taskbar by default (it is enabled in Chakra, but for some reason it apparently isn't possible at all in Kubuntu). Another nice thing is that in the URL bar (similar to the "Awesome Bar" in Mozilla Firefox), visited URLs have little preview pictures next to them.

That's where my time with Kubuntu ended. Barring a few Rekonq crashes which could be fixed by Mozilla Firefox, Kubuntu is absolutely amazing. It is stable, polished, and really, really fast. Plus, it brings with it the benefits of a familiar interface (compared to Ubuntu's Unity) along with the large package selection and the PPA system of Ubuntu. I would strongly recommend that newbies try this, and if the trend of improvements is an indicator for future versions, I might just consider installing Kubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin" on my laptop as my main distribution, now that I know that it will be supported for 5 years. It, along with Linux Mint, Chakra, #!, and Pardus, is now a contender. Bravo Kubuntu!
You can get it here.