Review: Kubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin"

Main Screen
Well, it's that time of the year again. Canonical just released the spring editions of Ubuntu, Kubuntu, and Edubuntu (and with those have come releases of the officially-recognized derivatives Xubuntu, Lubuntu, and Mythbuntu). Today, I'm reviewing Kubuntu, for a few different reasons.

The first is that this is the last version of Kubuntu that will be officially maintained by Canonical. After the announcement about that over a month ago, the future of Kubuntu appeared to be in flux, but thankfully an announcement was made a few days ago that Blue Systems, the maintainer of Netrunner and primary sponsor of Ubuntu-based Linux Mint with KDE, would also sponsor Kubuntu and would take a couple developers from Kubuntu who were previously at Canonical.
The second is that this is a long-term support (LTS) release, and as this is still going to be supported by Canonical, that means this version will get 5 years of support. To match that, Kubuntu needs to be quite stable and bug-free, so I want to see how well that works out.
The third is that I am looking to replace Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" GNOME with something that will in all likelihood be based in some way upon Ubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin". I want to see how this version of Ubuntu can fill that role.
The fourth is that this is the 500th post on Das U-Blog! I think that warrants a pretty big review like this one.

I tested the 64-bit edition of this as a live USB system made with MultiSystem. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

After the boot menu, I was greeted by a boot splash. Although it is a Plymouth-based boot splash that uses the 5 dots as in Ubuntu, it is customized for Kubuntu and uses a very nice, soft blue background with the Kubuntu logo above instead of the previous darker blue background that looked rather garish. I'm glad to see that change made. After that, I was greeted by the KDE splash screen and then the desktop. But before talking about the desktop, I should say that I noticed that the transitions from the boot splash into the KDE splash screen and from that into the desktop are much smoother than ever before; there are no brief flashes or screen artifacts anywhere now. I have not seen such smooth transitions ever before in KDE anywhere, so I give major kudos to the Kubuntu developers for that. Little details like those do count.

The desktop is vanilla KDE; even the wallpaper is the same, although that itself has changed between versions 4.7 and 4.8 of KDE. But the impression of smoothness in the splash screens carried through the desktop too. The notifications popped up fluidly rather than jerkily as before; the same can be said of the Kickoff menu when it is clicked. It was really a pleasure to use something so slick.

Muon Package Manager
Rekonq is the default browser, but I went ahead and installed Mozilla Firefox using the menu item. Going to YouTube prompted me to install proprietary codecs, and while that did not work last time, it did this time, which is great. Also, my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts were recognized, which is good.

LibreOffice is the default productivity suite. At version 3.5, it works quite well, and it also seems to load faster than what I am used to seeing. Otherwise, the standard software selection is fairly basic once again.

Dolphin has received a number of improvements in KDE 4.8. Animations are now smoother and nicer, while it has undergone some backend changes as well. Overall, it is just a little nicer to use. The one issue that I had was that although I told it to only open files upon clicking twice and to apply the same preferences for all folders, it would still open some files like video files upon clicking just once. Plus, the pane containing information about files would play things like MP3 audio files but not MP4 video files, which was a little strange.

Mozilla Firefox + KDE Lancelot Menu
Neither Skype nor Google Talk were available in the repositories, so I had to download the appropriate DEB files from the respective websites. When Mozilla Firefox saved them to the system, it didn't know how to open them; worse, though, for some reason it didn't even have a program (i.e. Dolphin) associated with opening the containing folder, which is rather strange. Anyway, I was able to find both files and install them using QApt (the KDE version of GDebi). Skype worked great and was totally stable. At first, I thought Google Talk could not recognize my webcam because in the settings screen of Gmail, all I could see was a black screen for the webcam image, but when I clicked it the image was recognized fine, so that worked well.

After that, I tried installing Mupen64Plus and the F.lux GUI. Both installed fine, but neither one worked. Well, that's not entirely true, because Mupen64Plus could be run from the CLI, but its GUI did not work, and the same goes for F.lux. That's annoying for me at least.

Both the Muon Software Center and the Muon Package Manager have gotten updates. Unfortunately, the former did not work for me much because it wasn't able to show the packages that I searched for, so I used the latter almost exclusively. That's fine because anyway in Linux Mint I use Synaptic Package Manager almost exclusively compared to the Linux Mint Software Manager. The only issue that the Muon Package Manager gave me was that while it was apparently able to install the remaining proprietary codecs when I asked it to do so, it didn't do the job properly. This is supposedly a known bug in this version of Kubuntu, and I was able to solve it quickly by searching for a solution online.

Desktop effects worked well. They seemed to be enabled out-of-the-box, so all I needed to do was enable my own preferred set of effects. Even the effects seem smoother too.
Dolphin + LibreOffice Writer + Desktop Cube
One other thing I did to make myself feel "at home" was to install the KDE Lancelot menu. That worked well, and that also feels a lot more polished in its operation.
Kubuntu used about 700 MB of RAM at idle. That's quite a lot, and that is significantly more than the previous version. Granted, this is the 64-bit edition, so the comparison is not entirely apples-to-apples, but when comparing the RAM usage of 32- and 64-bit editions of other distributions, the difference is only a few megabytes, not a few hundred megabytes. It seems like most of that came from Plasma, KWin, and the KDE Lancelot menu (which apparently uses over 30 MB of RAM at idle, which is a lot for what is just a menu). That's not so good, but then again I didn't really feel like the desktop was slow at all.

Well, that's where my time with Kubuntu ended. The fact that Mupen64Plus and F.lux did not work here where they worked in my tested MATE setup means I would probably go with something that fully meets my needs, and Kubuntu is not quite there. But oh my goodness, Kubuntu is incredibly smooth and polished! That and the fact that most everything else that I care about worked fine means that I can give it my highest recommendation to anyone from newbies to experts. Give it a try; you probably won't be disappointed.
You can get it here.