Review: Chakra 2011.12 "Edn"

There's a new build of Chakra out, and I have some free time to check it out, so I'm doing so now. The other reason why I want to try it now is because a member of my family was raving about KDE in Fedora, so I figured it would be worth my time to dig deeper and see if I can massage KDE into becoming something that I could really like and use regularly. I'll spare any introductions because I've reviewed Chakra enough times already, so I'll skip to the main part of it.

Kickoff + KDE System Monitor
There doesn't seem to have been too much changed from the last version, aside from updates of applications across the board. But now that the day is getting closer for me to look into upgrading from Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora", I'm not just going to do my usual testing, but I'm also going to dig a bit deeper and really see if I can recreate something at least as good as what I have right now. With any Ubuntu-based distribution, it's almost guaranteed to be a trivial process, but with Chakra, I can't say that with as much confidence off-hand. I did all the testing using a live USB made with MultiSystem; I did not test the installation. Also, do note that I tested the DVD edition this time, so it does have more stuff out-of-the-box than the CD edition, which is what I have tested in the past. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

The boot process was basically the same as always: it was a scrolling wall of text on a black background, and the boot time was fairly reasonable. After that came the desktop, which is essentially unchanged from last time, so I won't dwell on that at all.

Rekonq is the default web browser, but I've noticed some rendering issues with it. For example, on the Chakra website itself, Rekonq sees some links as files to be downloaded for some weird reason. That's why I usually download Mozilla Firefox; in the Bundle Manager, which hasn't changed in operation at all since last time, it is available as the latest version (9.0.1-1). Codecs like MP3 are included, but Adobe Flash is not; that is available either in the regular package manager AppSet-Qt, or bundled (no pun intended) with the Qupzilla browser in the Bundle Manager. (Side note: Qupzilla is a new Mozilla Firefox-based browser that uses Qt; it's essentially the KDE counterpart to what Epiphany used to be before its version 2.28, when it switched to WebKit rendering. I'm not sure why Qupzilla is in the Bundle Manager considering that it is a Qt application, though I guess it makes sense considering that it is bundled with Adobe Flash, and that does require GTK+ dependencies.) Installing that worked well, and after that YouTube and Hulu worked fine, as did my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts.
As this is the DVD edition, LibreOffice is included out-of-the-box, as are a few other more useful applications. LibreOffice is very well-integrated with KDE, which is great.

I was able to install Skype using the AppSet-Qt package manager, and that worked well. Skype also recognized my laptop's webcam and mic fine, which was great.
Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Writer + Desktop Cube
I installed Google Talk using the Chakra Community Repository (CCR), which required me to first use the command-line package manager Pacman to install the "base-devel" and "ccr" packages. After that, I was able to use the CCR command-line tool to install the Google Talk package. Once installed, that also recognized my laptop's webcam and mic fine.

Desktop effects worked great. I think it's safe to say that KWin is at least as good as Compiz now.
Stability was good too. It's good that there have been no Plasma crashes or anything of that sort; that's a good sign for me to use Chakra on a daily basis. Also, Chakra used about 350 MB of RAM at idle with desktop effects turned on; I think that's pretty fine performance, though it's certainly not the lightest or the heaviest I've seen KDE perform.

But this isn't just my usual testing. I want to see if my current desktop setup can at least be replicated, so the article doesn't end here.

The first thing to try is probably most important to me, because I've incorporated it as a part of my usual workflow. In my Linux Mint setup with Compiz, I've assigned different applications to open in different workspaces. For example, Mozilla Firefox opens only in workspace #1, while LibreOffice and its constituents only open in workspace #2. For a long time, I was under the impression that only Compiz was capable of this, and that's the reason why I emphasize Compiz so much in my other reviews (and make such a fuss when it is absent). Anyway, after a quick search online, I found out that the way to do it in KDE is much the same: I right-click any window, configure advanced window behavior, and configure the window rules to my liking. Awesome! Now I have no reason to complain about the lack of Compiz when KWin is present.

Another thing I did, which I haven't been able to do anywhere else, is to force similar applications to automatically tab together, taking advantage of KDE's tabbed windowing. Now, multiple instances of the same application open as tabs of the same window, which saves quite a bit of space. I find this especially useful with Skype, because the Linux version of Skype lacks the single-window interface of Skype for other platforms, so the main contact window, chat windows, and call windows are all separate and clutter the desktop. Now, however, they are all grouped together very nicely, which is great.

Lancelot + Dolphin + Tabbed Windows
I've always wanted to use KRunner more, considering it does as much as, if not more than, GNOME-Do, which I use regularly. The only impediment to my using it is the default assigned shortcut: ALT+F2. I find that to be a bit cumbersome. A quick online search showed me how to reassign the shortcut for KRunner, and I did reassign the shortcut to SUPER+SPACE, which is the same as that for GNOME-Do. Now I have no excuse not to use KRunner. At the same time, I also made the workspace arrangement 1 row of 4 columns, and I assigned shortcuts for switching to workspaces in different directions, which, oddly enough, had not already been assigned. Now workspace switching works almost identically as in Compiz.

I've never been fond of the Kickoff menu that comes standard with KDE, and the KDE 3-style Classic menu doesn't do it for me either. I've been spoiled by the Linux Mint Menu, but thankfully, the KDE Lancelot menu comes darn close. I installed it using AppSet-Qt, and then configured it a little to make sure that I had to click on applications to run them (rather than just hovering the cursor over the icons) and to make sure that it wouldn't reset the view to the "Favorites" tab when closed and reopened. That worked, and I can definitely get used to it.

There are just two other applications that I use on a semi-regular basis. One is Mupen64Plus, which is a Nintendo 64 video game console emulator for the computer; I was able to install that through AppSet-Qt. The other is F.lux, which is a tool that changes the color temperature of the screen through the day to minimize eyestrain; I was able to install the Xflux package through CCR.

This is not to say that there were no problems. There were a few, though they were quite minimal.
The first is that Dolphin seems to be unable to preview certain file types, even when the requisite packages seem to be installed. The most annoying such issue was its inability to preview MP4 video files when it could properly preview MP3 audio files.
The second is that Mupen64Plus didn't work quite right. When I tried playing a game at one point, at times it would work fine, but at other times it would lag a little or jump around a little. Thankfully, the game never became totally unplayable, but it became a little annoying and frustrating. In addition, installing the Qt front-end for Mupen64Plus failed, so I had to do everything via command-line. This also meant that doing things like changing the video settings (to possibly make the emulation work better) and the controller keybindings became really cumbersome. Then again, because I don't use this all that much nowadays, it really isn't a big issue.
The final one is that I don't think Xflux was doing its job. F.lux only has a GUI for Ubuntu, so the CCR package only installed the command-line Xflux package. I configured it to work with my ZIP code, and it said that configuration was successful, but I could not detect any difference before and after. I killed the application, and the screen didn't change color at all. That isn't good, because I can tell the difference between F.lux running and not running on Linux Mint. That said, I worked for so many years without F.lux, so I could definitely live without it on Chakra.

That's where my time with Chakra ended. Once again, the aforementioned issues are quite minor, and I could probably live without them. I'm glad that I dug deeper into KDE's true power, because now I know that I have the ability and patience to transform it into something that I could enjoy using as much as I do Linux Mint with GNOME and Compiz. Plus, I think Chakra's software repositories rival that of Linux Mint, what with AppSet-Qt, the Bundle Manager, and CCR, so I should never be found wanting of software. In short, I now think more than ever that Chakra could seriously compete with Linux Mint 13 LTS "M[...]a" for space on my hard drive in a few months. Bravo!
You can get it here.