Review: KaOS 2014.04

It's been a while since my last review. Now I'm a bit more free because the semester ended over a week ago. At the moment I'd really like to get my hands on the official release of Linux Mint, but that isn't out yet. In the mean time, though, I'm going to check out KaOS.

Main Screen + KDE Homerun Kicker Menu
This distribution caught my eye from a DistroWatch review. That review concludes that it isn't clear exactly what the goal of this distribution is. Looking at the website more, I can't say that it's any clearer to me either. All I can glean is that this distribution aims to please more experienced users with a rolling-release model, maintain a small base of packages so that those will be polished before use, and target newer computers by using KDE and only 64-bit releases. I'll have to try this distribution out to see if there is any more information regarding the target audience of this distribution. I tried KaOS on a live USB made with MultiSystem. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

After going past the boot menu, I was greeted by a scrolling wall of text. This gave way reasonably quickly to the KDE splash, which is customized for KaOS. This then gave way to the desktop. The first thing that I saw was a very nice simple welcome screen, which gave information about live session passwords, installed packages, and other things. For a live session, this is the kind of information I like seeing, and I wish most other distributions (aside from a few that do) would do that.

The desktop is somewhat customized for KaOS. The wallpaper, KDE Plasma, and icon themes are all different (in particular, they look rather flat, perhaps in an attempt to emulate a little of Microsoft Windows 8). The KDE Kickoff menu has been replaced by the KDE Homerun Kicker menu, which is essentially an old-style accordion menu. The issue I kept having with that was that the gap between different panes was too big, so I kept having to fiddle with the mouse more to keep the menu open at the desired category. The task switcher is icon-only, again probably in an attempt to emulate Microsoft Windows 8. The desktop is completely empty (aside from the panel and wallpaper); there isn't even a KDE Plasma folder containment present. Overall, I can't say I'm a huge fan of the look, but that is purely my personal opinion regarding aesthetics; again, the only functional issue is with the KDE Homerun Kicker menu, which I think could be improved.

QupZilla is the default browser. It reminds me a lot of Mozilla Firefox, which is not surprising considering it used to use the Gecko rendering engine (though now it uses WebKit), so it has maintained a similar interface; moreover, changing the appearance is as easy as it used to be in Mozilla Firefox before version 29. Although QupZilla has an extension to block the automatic playing of Adobe Flash on websites, the Adobe Flash plugin is not installed. After installing it (detailed below), that worked fine, as did my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts.
The Calligra Suite is the default productivity software installed. At this point, though, I would likely install LibreOffice anyway. There are a bunch of other multimedia applications installed as well.

Installing Adobe Flash and a few other programs happened through Octopi, which is the same GUI package manager used in Chakra. That worked quite well. Although I was able to install the Google Talk plugin, it wasn't compatible with QupZilla, so I had to install Mozilla Firefox (and install the requisite extensions to restore the classic interface to preserve my sanity) in order to use Google Talk. I was also able to install Redshift and the associated KDE Plasma widget, but while that ran just fine, I'm not sure that it actually worked as intended, because I couldn't detect any changes in the screen color even after trying to toggle it on.

Skype is not available in the repositories, probably because of the KaOS vision of lean repositories. I went to the website to download and install the dynamic package, but despite following the instructions in the README file, it refused to load after that. That wasn't any good. At least the Mupen64Plus dynamic package (as it was also not available in the repositories) was a little more cooperative than that.

Dolphin + Gwenview
+ Desktop Cube + KDE System Settings
KaOS used about 610 MB of RAM at idle, which is pretty heavy. Most desktop effects worked fine, though overall the desktop felt very slightly jumpy and sluggish. One other annoyance was that my volume settings were not being preserved, so even if I turned the volume down very low, if a notification came up in KDE, it would blast from my earphones at full volume, which was quite annoying.

That is where my time with KaOS 2014.04 ended. The nonworking nature of Skype and Mupen64Plus are dealbreakers for me, so I can't use this on a regular basis. Even beyond that, I really can't see who this distribution is trying to target, or what this distribution has to offer that other distributions do not have; from what I can see, I might as well just go with Chakra and get better package support as well as a more reliable desktop from it. I'm not going to totally ignore this distribution though; I'd be interested to see how it and its focus evolve in the near future.
You can get it here, though remember that it only works for 64-bit computers.


  1. Replies
    1. A huge number of people depend on it for work and family communication. More often than not, there's no alternative to Skype, like it or not.

  2. You need the static package for Skype, it has worked without fail on my Debian machines for about 18 months now, even when upgrading to Sid.

  3. @David A. Spicer: See the comment below yours.

    @Anonymous: You said it better than I could!

    @Barnaby: Now that you mention it, I do remember using the static rather than the dynamic package in past reviews when there was no special package available for that distribution. Unfortunately, Skype doesn't offer the static package as a visible download on its website anymore, and it seems like this is a permanent change.

    Thanks for the comments!

  4. Yes Skype. Like, seriously, maaaan.

    Skype is the only VOIP that works on Linux for me. At less than 3 cents a minute, it is a good deal compared to cell phones. Although now that I have a long distance plan, I no longer use my skype. But still, it remains a useful tool.

    I think I'll pass on Kaos which is probably just somebody's pet project who wants to learn how to make a distro. Thanks for the review, Prashanth. I read you a lot.

    1. @igor: Wow, somehow the idea that KaOS might just be someone's attempt at making a new distribution never crossed my mind. That put this distribution into a much better perspective for me. Thanks for the support!

    2. When comparing to Chakra, the biggest difference is the release model. Chakra uses a half rolling model, where roughly 1/3 of the packages are fully up to date, 1/3 gets updated once or twice a year and 1/3 is held pretty static (updated at most every 2-4 years). KaOS is rolling, all packages. No package will be older than one year, even if no updates, it will be rebuilt, so everything integrates as good as possible. KaOS has set a clear and primary focus on packaging from the start, Chakra has many more goals, developing new tools (new package manager for example) and application takes much of their manpower, so does maintaining CCR. Development of keeping GTK separated from the regular install (either through bundles or setting up a unique Chakra file system for GTK applications) is another goal. KaOS wants to keep all as simple as possible. Users are offered a GTK free base after the initial install, but there is no separation to use any GTK after that start.
      The model used for the rolling kernel is very different too. There are two versions available in KaOS, the stable “linux” kernel, and the latest, fully rolling “linux-next” kernel. Any new major kernel release is tested at least 6 weeks as linux-next, once the upstream update rate and amount of patches used in every update (usually around x.x.8 or above) slows down and all tests well, that linux-next version moves to be the new stable kernel.
      Chakra uses roughly twenty repositories, in KaOS there are three repositories in use, this greatly increases transparency and ease of use for the user and from a development point of view, significantly simplifies things.

      Splitting of packages is held to minimum in KaOS too, with one toolkit, one DE there is no need, another way of simplifying things. Filesystem used follows mainstream Linux distributions and application development as much as possible. This means that /lib, /bin, /sbin, /usr/sbin contain regular files and binaries, these are not filled with symlinks. A move to get all those in /usr might be best in the future, but at this stage, needing thousands of symlinks to make that work is not what KaOS sees as a clean and simple solution.