Kubuntu 12.04 review - Precise what?


Updated: May 7, 2012

Kubuntu is the second child in the line of Canonical kings, hence it gets less attention compared to the royal heir and favorite son, Ubuntu. Now, to add to the drama, starting and ending with Precise Pangolin, the company decided it will no longer officially support Kubuntu from its own resources, and it will become a community distro, like the other flavors. This means Kubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin will be the last in-house Ubuntu spin with the KDE desktop.

Politics and financial support aside, what can Kubuntu 12.04 offer? I liked Natty, and even committed it in my production setup, which is a hallmark event. I almost skipped Oneiric, but then I tested it in my triple review, on an SSD-ed box, where it showed some good promise overall. And now it's time to see what Pangolin can do, on the same machine. So let's have some fun.

Teaser

Live session - Hm, somewhat bland

Kubuntu 12.04 comes with a new logo, somewhat thinner than it's more classic gearbox KDE thingie. Then, it boots into a desktop with a rather bland wallpaper, feeling rejected like an orphan just told a piece of really bad news. Like that scene in The Meaning of Life, where John Cleese tells a choir boy: Oh, Jenkins, apparently your mother died this morning. That sort of thing.

Live desktop

Crash, a-ah, Savior of the Universe!

And then, the very first thing that happened, KMix decided to misbehave. Blimey. Why? Could you not sort this in your very last and supposedly most dignified LTS? Why does my session have to begin with a stupid segfault?

KMix crash

Look & feel - archaic and modern

I'm beginning to realize that after some stellar improvements in version 4.6, KDE is starting to show signs of regressions again. It's not the technology, it's the presentation layer. For example, the menu, while clear and functional, could feature a bit more color, a little easier navigation. The bad part is, you can have those, AFTER you do some manual tweaking, but why?

Menu

Another few examples would be the Wireless setup or the arrangement of icons in the system area. Notifications are notoriously unneeded, not in the way they are presented. Do you really need the Klipboard? Now, it's nothing bad, but knowing how delightful KDE can be, I really wonder why the developers and the marketing team, so to speak, chose this specific choice of color and items to display.

Other things

Well, you get your network connectivity, Wireless, Bluetooth, Samba sharing and all, but nothing too exciting. Multimedia is out of the question until after you install the necessary plugins during the installation. Firefox is not installed, you have rekonq, which might not appeal to most users. Never mind, let's install.

Installation - A bit quirky

I installed Kubuntu Pangolin on top of Oneiric installed just a few weeks ago, alongside Ubuntu and Mint and the still-not-destroyed beta release of the 12.04. The installation was relatively simple and quick, with some small and annoying exceptions.

Installation

Remember how I praised Kubuntu for properly detecting my keyboard based on the language setup? Well, not anymore. Just like Ubuntu, it now defaults to whatever region you're in, which is bloody stupid.

Then, the download of packages and updates was that much longer and slower than stock Ubuntu. It's nothing cardinal, but if Ubuntu took only about five minutes, Kubuntu needed twice as much. Finally, all of the slides feature a rather weird text overlap over displayed images, as if the two come from different sources, and are not well integrated. Perhaps this is deliberate, but then, the effect is not quite as spectacular as one might expect.

Text overlap

Eventually, Kubuntu installed fine. Now, it is important to remember I reused the home directory of the previous edition of the distribution, so all users settings ought to be imported, including various files, shortcuts, icons, and others.

Using Kubuntu - Not sure what to say

Indeed, the user account import worked flawlessly. Everything was there, including a much more reasonable choice of the desktop background, plus a scattering of desktop shortcuts. My other activities were also preserved, including the different wallpapers and widgets. Very nice.

Desktop installed

Multimedia

You get MP3 and Flash, as needed. Amarok also comes with the Amazon Store integration, which is fine, but this only works in the few countries that really count in the world, so feel free to feel like the second-class citizen. Can someone explain to me why an international distribution comes with a very local discriminatory service? Oh, Amarok also has a nice white icon, in line with the rest of the system area.

Amazon store locale

Amarok icon

Anyhow, music and video:

MP3 playback

Flash

Package management

While Ubuntu uses the Software Center, which is very much appy in spirit, Kubuntu has a more traditional package manager called Muon. Underneath, the technology is the same, but it comes back again to the presentation layer.

And there were some problems too. When I tried to upgrade the system after first boot, following yet another spectacular KMix problem, Muon complained about some of the upgrades not being marked [sic]. Get the pun, hihihihihi?

Not all upgrades available

Still, Muon is fairly decent overall. You do get screenshots, reviews, suggestions, and all the other information. The only problem is, there's no excitement, just utilitarian functionality.

Muon

Applications

Like most KDE desktops, Kubuntu Pangolin mixes a lot of completely unnecessary programs with some killer apps. The biggest miss in comparison with Ubuntu is the Mozilla combo. You don't get either Firefox or Thunderbird, although there's a quick installer option for the browser. For mail, you get KMail. You also have LibreOffice, Okular, Dragon Player, Gwenview, K3b, and some others. Personally, I think the selection is somewhat less useful than Ubuntu, but both need some serious pimping.

Apps

Still, on the bright side, Kopete comes with Skype integration, although you will have to install Skype separately. There's also webcam that worked just fine. However, you get funny notifications in Singlish, or Pidgin as they call it. Get it? Kopete, Pidgin, master laughter.

Webcam

Skype not running

Desktop effects

This one worked fine. Unfortunately, the available list of effect has been trimmed down, so no more fire, ice, water or snow for you like before. Truth to be told, most of these effects are nonsense, but that's beside the point. Those that did exist worked just great. When used subtly, they can enrich the experience.

Desktop effects 1

Desktop effects 2

Stability, system resources

I have officially decided that I am disappointed when it comes to KDE stability. This does not give Kubuntu an excuse to go about with random segfaults, though. Anyhow, the seemingly hopeful quiet that abounded during the last summer, when several distributions actually managed to survive a session without something crashing, is gone now, once again replaced by bad QA. Even after all available updates and upgrades, KMix kept on dying, a total of five times during some three hours of testing. Bloody stupid.

The resource usage is about 600MB RAM, a fairly high figure overall, with CPU being moderately noisy. Oh, to all those who think that I measure CPU behavior solely based on the little graph below and think I do not know how to burrow under /proc, your entire world has just been shattered. Boom. Suspend & resume worked fine.

System monitor

Final work

After some effort, I finally made the desktop rather presentable, with the FormaN window decorations, air theme + oxygen looks and a nice wallpaper. Throw in a few of the better looking apps showing their worth, and Kubuntu begins to shine. Unfortunately, you must work hard to get the desired wow effect. It's not a given, and it's a shame really. Why can't the user get all the goodies from the start?

Final desktop with decorations

Conclusion

It is absolutely obvious that Kubuntu is less favored than Ubuntu, and it shows. This spring, Kubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin was supposed to be the darling LTS release with a beautiful KDE desktop. Unfortunately, it is not so.

It is not as beautiful or stable as I would hope. It works well, there's some elegance and quality, but something's missing. Some spice, some extra zest, some hardcore fun, they are just not there, and they used to be. Thinking of openSUSE as one of the pure KDE fellows out there, it's pretty much the same desktop, and yet, when using it, I feel slightly more at ease there. Kubuntu Pangolin lacks the snazzy enthusiasm that it once possessed. Natty was better. And this probably tells you that the system and desktop cannot be two separate entities. Either they are developed hand in hand, or you get these experience seesaws. It's not logical that KDE should dictate Kubuntu's fate.

On the good side, you will get a proper, fully functional and free operating system that will cater to most of your needs. On the negative side, some glitches and crashes, some bland styling, a fairly boring application set, a rather liberal resource usage. It is as if someone didn't want to do some of the things, but was kind of forced, so they slapped the last parts in hastily and left it at that. Kubuntu feels like a follower and not a leader. The distro hides behind the KDE badge instead of proudly bearing it. Kubuntu is more than just the Qt4 elements that make things move, or at least, it should be. Not all is as black and dramatic as I present it, but Kubuntu Pangolin definitely needs more drama.

All in all, something like 8.5/10 at the moment, maybe a whole 9 on a good day. I was hoping for more. I was hoping to be left drooling and salivating and fondling my laptop in a way that is illegal in Oklahoma. But no. Not this time. Who knows, I might do another two months later review, like I did with SUSE. Have fun.

Cheers.

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