Kubuntu 13.10 Saucy Salamander review


Updated: November 2, 2013

It is time to open the autumn hunting season. This year, we will do it alphabetically. Thus, with the plethora of Ubuntu versions available since mid October, we shall begin with Kubuntu as the first victim.

Normally, I would do a test on a quad-boot laptop with Intel graphics and SSD first, followed by another installation on an Nvidia-powered machine, usually the one with an internal dual-boot and some seven or eight distros running from an external disk. This time, we will do a much simpler setup, using the recently rejuvenated LG box. Later on, we might do another test, but I guess it's more important to see what happens when there's proprietary stuff involved, because the T61 notebook rarely gave us any hardware-related issues. Anyhow, avanti.

Live session & installation

Salamander boots into a familiar KDE desktop session with a pleasing blend of colors. Not bad, given some lackluster displays in the past. You won't spot any great visual differences until you click on the Wireless icon, though.

Live desktop

The latest Kubuntu now comes with a somewhat Windows-like network manager, with a simpler, clear, more humane arrangement. Select the desired access point and provide your password. If everything works out fine, you will see a green icon informing you of your success. Cushty. Although, if you ask me, the visual layout of that Connect button can definitely be improved. It's ugly, indented that way.

Connect Connected

Moreover, Bluetooth and Samba sharing worked just fine. Otherwise, the live session was quite boring. You won't get any fancy Flash playback in rekonq or MP3 support until after you install the desired codecs. So the only thing left is the installation.

Again, you're on friendly turf. You've see this before, including the last Netrunner test. The new installer is not the prettiest, but it has slightly improved, although there's more to be done to properly align all the text and such.

Like the last fifteen Ubuntu releases, including the K family, the distro offered to shrink the largest partition found on the disk, which happens to be /home. It would not mark the two roots as potential candidates, something that openSUSE normally does, so I had to choose the manual setup to get things done the proper way.

Suggested partitioning

I selected a manual layout, and replaced Fedora 19 with Saucy. After that, the system wasted a few minutes copying stuff. It did not offer any regional languages or keyboards, so I was quite happy with that. The slideshow is unremarkably simple and adequate. There were no problems with the dual-boot configuration, alongside Ringtail no less.

Dual boot setup

Installing

Using Salamander

Time to explore the distribution. For those of you asking and/or too lazy to click links leading to other, equally exciting articles, the test machine is an older dual-core system, with 4GB RAM, a conventional hard disk and an Nvidia 9600M GS card, which is rather old by modern standards. Still, good enough.

Installed desktop

Package management

Lo and behold, Muon has been revamped. Rather than just acting as a boring frontend, it has begun to take an early shape of a software center akin to the one used by its big brother. The new thing is called Muon Discover, and it comes with fancy screenshots and recommendations. It's not a perfect system, and you still retain the old capability, but it is fairly fresh and elegant. However, there's a snag. More about that later.

Muon Discover

Applications

The stock arsenal is decent, very KDE centric. You do not get the usual Firefox and Thunderbird combo, instead you have rekonq and Kmail, but there's an installer for the Mozilla browser available. LibreOffice is there, too, as well as Krita, GwenView, and a handful more. A good, useful and balanced set.

Applications

Multimedia playback

As you know, Kubuntu can download and configure popular media codecs during the installation, should you tick the right boxen. Indeed, we now have both Flash and MP3 and life has some meaning again. 42, FTW!

Flash playback

MP3 playback

Nvidia graphics card

This is an important issue. In stock Ubuntu, something went haywire in the past two releases, and it comes as no surprise that my Nvidia tutorial gets an average of five or six views every minute. Even Kubuntu and Xubuntu have been partially affected, although much less, and I was expecting no troubles with the driver setup, using the true and proven Additional Drivers utility.

Install Nvidia

Indeed, there were no problems with the driver setup. 319.60 installed and running just fine. There you go, some faith in the system restored. Anyhow, on this particular laptop, the difference between Nouveau and Nvidia is not as drastic as some other models, but you still get a new dose of snappiness when running with the proprietary blob.

Nvidia working

Resource usage

Memory usage is fairly high, but it is comparable to the HP laptop running Ringtail. The total tally is around 700MB with the Nvidia driver, and the CPU is relatively quiet, although it will rev gladly when agitated with some desktop activity. However, you still get a fairly fast and responsive machine.

Resources

Problems!

At first, everything was golden. Really peachy. Despite the laptop's age and a slow 5,400rpm internal disk, the performance was quite reasonable, in all aspects. And there were no issues for a while. Then, Kubuntu decided to spoil its rather stellar record and began throwing a bunch of segfaults and other weird errors. When trying to setup KMail, Akonadi could not start. And then, Muon crashed.

Akonadi failed to start

Muon crash

Speaking of Muon, it won't let you install Steam, BTW, even if you enable the Canonical partner sources and refresh the repositories. We will talk about this snag separately, in a dedicated tutorial, but in the Ubuntu family range, Kubuntu is the only one that refuses to give you the most awesome and popular gaming platform. How rude.

No Steam

Even though I had Nvidia drivers in place, some of the juicier desktop effects would not run. I did not bother debugging, because it feels like a fundamental failure with the distro setup. Finally, another, quite persistent problem is printing. The Browse button for network shares is disabled, so you are welcome to book a ticket for the suckfest.

Printing does not work

Final looks

This is what I came up with this time. Don't hate me.

Final looks

Conclusion

Kubuntu 13.10 Saucy Salamander started pretty and strong, and then it ended as another underwhelming release that tries to shoot itself in the foot with a completely unnecessary bunch of stupid, uninspiring errors. Why, oh why? Why did it have to go wrong? Am I not entitled to having a normal desktop session, without problems? Is being able to print to network that much to ask? Must we have these silly crashes? When will it end, the torture?

Anyhow, this Kubuntu is a mixed bag of good and crappy. Not bad, but surely not a shiny example of the family. Worse than the spring release by a furlong, if you ask me. Ringtail felt more mature, more robust, with far fewer bugs and issues, and I have it installed on this same laptop as the first boot instance, so no tomfoolery there. In a way, this is a  disappointment, because I was betting on a spotless KDE experience. Alas, Saucy has no fire, it's just a mandatory tick on the project release chart. And so, 7/10. Ctrl, q.

Cheers.

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