Updated: November 14, 2014
Ubuntu family experience, take three. We had two reviews so far - like duh! - the first being all about Ubuntu. It was a massive failure, because screenshots did not work and the installer would not format partitions. Then, I tested Kubuntu 14.10, and it worked rather well, albeit with some restraint and boredom ingrained in its DNA.
Now, we will try to make the Kubuntu experience more magnificent. We will be riding majestic fiery steeds, flying through coruscating clouds and rainbows, firing Plasma cannon at the unsuspecting Linux crowds. In other words, we will attempt our luck at the technical preview of Plasma 5, which aims to replace the classic KDE4 framework. Let's go.
I started by downloading the ISO file and copying it to a USB drive. This attempt did not work well. The live session started booting, but then it stopped, complaining about missing init scripts. And we all know it's actually systemd causing trouble. I am really starting to hate this thing, and I'm beginning to suspect it might be the culprit for all my other woes we've seen in the previous reviews. The reason is, you cannot trust object oriented code. You can't.
All right, so I tried a live upgrade of a running Unicorn instance. If you follow the instructions available on the site, it comes down to using a new software source, doing a bunch of upgrades and finally rebooting. What the nerdy instructions do not tell you is that you will also need to decide what display manager to use. You have the choice between lightdm and sddm. I went for the second, and my online searches revealed it ought to be the right choice for Plasma 5. It turned out I was right. But why is it so hard to add all the needed information to your online guide, so that people can actually perform a seamless and question free upgrade?
There you go. It's Windows 8 slash Windows 10 like in looks, which is good. I've always claimed good flat looks for the more recent Windows versions, even if the functionality was kind of missing. The layout is beautiful, the fonts are crisp. This is a really neat and stylish desktop. I don't want to use the word exciting, because that's what marketing people do, but it looks neat and you can't feel not enthused about it. The best the Linux has to offer right now, and it can proudly stand in the posh crowd, among its expensive payware rivals.
You have a lot of freedom playing with the desktop and changing it to suit your needs, but then, not really. At the moment, the available repertoire of new themes, decorations, borders, and other fine details is limited to a single offering. Furthermore, when I played with icons, trying to drag & drop them from the menu to the would-be quicklaunch area near the distro icon, the Plasma Shell crashed a few times. Fully repeatable.
If you do not want to drag & drop, you can pin applications, but the pinned launchers are smaller and less beautiful than the icons, for some reason. I prefer the old fashioned way of arranging your desktop.
Then, the good stuff happens:
And here's my desktop, after some small modifications. Not bad. Similar to the KDE4 version, and yet more polished, more modern, better looking. That's how you do it. Booyakasha.
You get all the options and configurations in a single menu. This is now a trivial setup for most distributions, but it's worth noting. Useful, elegant and work in progress.
The default application set is whatever Kubuntu packs. But you can improve the system quite easily. In my case, Steam, Skype, VLC, and GIMP as the basic mandatory additions. They all worked fine, even though the integration with the shell is missing.
If you want to print, you won't find a utility for that. It's not that the search function is broken, it's simply not there. The KDE team and Kubuntu devs will have to sort this one out before the spring release.
The flatness of Plasma 5 has its price. A good price! A discount. The less need for fancy desktop effects and transitions, the more computation to give the user with a sensible and beautiful work environment. Compared to KDE4, there's even less CPU noise, while the memory usage is pretty much identical. Good news.
In fact, this is the quietest KDE I have ever seen, if we can call it KDE. But let's call it Plasma. And it works wonderfully. The responsiveness is almost that of Xfce. Amazing. Great news! Fanboy news!
It's really a pleasure using this system. Every menu, every action dialog or popup reveals new beauty, new charm, new style. And it's all fast. Really cool. Amazing.
This is no random virtual machine test. This is a live, running Plasma 5 setup on a laptop with SSD and a total of four distros running side by side. And in this environment, Kubuntu Unicorn with the Plasma 5 Tech Preview worked beautifully. Sure, there were some small issues with the upgrade, a few crashes, and some of the options are still not full ready. But for a beta, this was an excellent demonstration.
I am extremely pleased. Finally, I can say I'm absolutely, totally, unreservedly excited about this new desktop. It's even more stylish than what openSUSE gave us with their latest theme. Of course, everything hinges on the applications and day to day usability for normal people, so there's still a lot of work awaiting in the murky yet rainbowy future. But for now, the KDE has nailed it like a nail gun pinning down marshmallows. Or something. And with Kubuntu 14.10 running Plasma, it's quite awesome. 9/10, and this is just a beginning.