[ Friday, 10 April 2009, tzglobic ]
It is that time of the year again, along with the beginning of the spring, yet another release of Ubuntu 9.04 codenamed Jaunty Jackalope is coming shortly to a server near you. As the beta version was released couple of weeks ago, I decided to have a quick look and see what can be expected from this coming release. To give things a little bit of twist though, I decided to go with the KDE flavour, and downloaded Kubuntu. I have to admit I didn’t have a particularly positive encounter with Kubuntu 8.10. It was rather short and disappointing, after I played a bit with the live CD I decided to give it a try and install in on my laptop, unfortunately Kubuntu wasn’t in a cooperative mood, and despite few attempts, it wouldn’t install on my HP Pavilion dv6238ea. This was particularly strange as Ubuntu 8.10 installed flawlessly, it puzzled me a bit, but then I decided not to hold a grudge against Kubuntu and give it another try when a new release became available. I decided to use exactly the same laptop, just to see if the things have improved, and I’m pleased to report that they did although not everything went as smooth as I hoped, but let’s start from the beginning.
Installation And Booting For the First Time
This was fairly easy and flawless experience, it took me less than 20 minutes to have the system installed. A simple and straightforward guide takes you through all the installation stages and unless you are determined to get things broken, you should not experience any trouble with it even if you are a complete novice to the subject. After rebooting I was welcome by grub menu, I have to say I’m not particular fond of the Spartan style of it, developers could really come up with something visually more pleasing but the bottom line is – it does the job. One of the more advertised features of the new release was the quick booting time, and I’m pleased to report that Kubuntu indeed boots up very quickly – about thirty few seconds I was presented with a brand new KDE desktop. Kubuntu 9.04 ships with KDE 4.2.1 as the default desktop, and my first impression was very positive, everything looks very slick and well arranged. After few moments of visual appreciation I decided to dive in to the system to see it working.
Hardware Support And Networking
My wireless network card was recognised and configured out of the box, so I decided to waste no time and connect to the wireless network. The new KDE Network-Manager Plasma Widget came very handy is doing so, it is a visually pleasing little widget grouping all your connections and enabling you to pick the one of your choice. After successfully connecting to my home wireless network, I’ve decided to test other network options, so I plugged in my mobile broadband USB adaptor. The system correctly recognised it but to establish the connection you need to setup connection parameters which might prove difficult at times as many service providers don’t support Linux. Fortunately I’m using Vodafone an open-source friendly provider in terms of mobile Internet, there is a utility called Betavine you can download from the net that takes care of connection management, and it works both with Ubuntu and Kubuntu among few other distros, the setup is straightforward and in my case all worked well. Next came Bluetooth, I decided to connect with my mobile phone Samsung Tocco, Kubuntu without any difficulties managed to identify my phone, but despite several attempts I didn’t manage to establish a connection – a bit of disappointment here. Having tested connection options I thought about moving on and tackling other parts of the system when I noticed that I lost wireless network connection. This puzzled me as the router was on and seemed to be working fine, I checked my other machine and the wireless connection was fine, I opened the network connections widget and reconnected with my wireless network. This required in my opinion a closer investigation. To my disappointment it turned out that every time I log out, reboot or suspend the system to disk, the connection and password is lost. This proved to be a very annoying problem over the course of the testing period and I just hope this is going to be addressed before the final release. Loosing wireless network connection and password resembled similar problems I had with another OS… Windows Vista, probably not the best example to follow in terms of network connectivity. All the rest of hardware was recognised and appropriate drivers were used with the sole exception of the webcam, something that came as no surprise, as it is a rare model and none of the other distros I had installed on this laptop managed to recognise it. This is not a major problem however as there is an open source solution available and after few minutes the webcam was up and running. Summing up Kubuntu did rather well in terms of hardware detection and drivers availability, unfortunately the almost perfect picture was spoiled by questionable performance in the networking area, hopefully this is something that can be sorted out before the final release.
After playing with network options I decided to move on and check my emails. I went to KickOff menu, applications, Internet tab and scrolled down and up and the again down, scratched my head and looked again. But despite my best effort the only browser I could see was Konqueror, not that there is anything wrong with it, on the contrary I think it is a rather good piece of software, but I really expected to see Firefox as well, and to my surprise beta version of Kubuntu doesn’t ship with it. Being always an optimist I came to the conclusion that this is even better as it is giving me an instant chance to try out KPackageKit, the new package management abstraction layer. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it, but I haven’t had a chance to see it in action yet. Without much delay I set out on the quest to find it in the application menu and found it under applications, system, software management. My first impression was rather good, simple menu, easy to navigate, divided in three categories, Software Management, Updates and Settings, the applet offers the usual ability to search by name and description, and a range of filters you can apply to your search results. One can select a package by clicking on a plus sign which change the icon to indicate the selection, if you want to remove it you click on a minus sign, both visually pleasing and easy to use. The application was responsive and did what it says – easy and comfortable tool that just works! Definitely a step in the right direction for Kubuntu. The selection of software coming with the beta release is modest; you get Open Office, Kmail and few other apps to accommodate the basic needs of an average user, there is no Firefox or Gimp, a bit of a surprise as other popular distros include those as the standard. This is not a major problem in itself as you can get everything you need from rather vast repositories, and the size limitations of a single CD have to be taken into account, but still this left me wondering if this is the best possible selection. Overall though you get all the basic utilities to use the system out of the box and for the rest you get a nice little tool KPackageKit to get you everything else you might need.
Proprietary Software and Multimedia
One of the major functions of any modern desktop oriented system is multimedia handling, which unfortunately in many cases requires use of proprietary software. Kubuntu has exactly the same approach as Ubuntu, it doesn’t ship with proprietary drivers or multimedia codecs but it makes it easy for user to identify and install them. Bearing that in mind it surprised me a bit when I attempted to install required codecs to play mp3′s and I was flashed with the message saying that those already have been installed, I scratched my head again, shrugged my shoulders and processed to play the music, but to my surprise despite whatever I tried I wasn’t able to play any of my mp3s. As it turned out in the end the codecs weren’t installed after all, and I have no idea why the system decided to inform me otherwise. After rebooting the system things proceeded much smoother, with codecs installed in no time. The Nvidia driver didn’t cause any problems either; the system suggested the best available driver and set it up. Kubuntu multimedia suit consists of Amarok 2.0.2, Dragon Video Player and K3b as a burning app, the first one still requires some work to be done to make it fully functional, but that might be sorted before the official release, the rest worked OK during the test but I have to admit but I didn’t test them thoroughly. My overall impression of Kubuntu multimedia handling is on the positive side, but there is room for improvement, and there are distros that are doing a better job in this area.
In the final words I would like to stress that this is a Beta release, and as such it cannot be the source for the definite conclusion about the coming system, as hopefully the known bugs will be fixed and rough edges will be polished before the final release. It however offers a preview of what is coming and shows the approach adopted by the developers. My impressions after a week of using it are rather mixed – it is a usable system despite the problems mentioned above, the adoption of KPackageKit is definitely a move in the right direction, as it is the choice of KDE 4.2.1 as a default desktop. On the other hand Kubuntu has a few rough edges and doesn’t have the feel of a complete, polished system. In comparison to its main competitors – openSUSE and Mandriva there is still a gap to be closed. If you like Ubuntu and there are plenty of reasons why you might, Gnome seems to be a better choice at the moment, if you looking for a new KDE 4 desktop bundled with a user friendly distribution consider openSUSE or Mandriva, as in my personal opinion both systems offer a better implementation of KDE 4 and consequently a better user experience with the same ease of use and stability found in Kubuntu.
The included screenshots comes from the official Kubuntu Beta information page since I didn’t get them on time from the author, sorry
Written by Tomasz Zgłobicki