Updated: September 9, 2016
The one email title that has featured prominently in my inbox for the past two months contains the words kde and neon. Review, it, why don't you review, please review it, take it for a spin, I will bear your children, etc. All right, I get the hint. KDE neon it is.
But what is it? Well, it's a KDE distribution au naturale, based on Kubuntu 16.04 and blessed with the latest and greatest in the Plasma world. Sounds intriguing but also worrying, because lately, Plasma has lost its early charm and became just another run-of-the-mill bag of bugs and fragmentation. Yet hope is never lost. We test.
Turn on the lights
USB thumb drive, no problem. Quick and nimble. Really. The distro is very fast, very lithe, even when running from less than ideal media. Compared to other KDE players, it feels much more responsive, and this is a good start. Prettiness wise, not bad, either.
The one thing that immediately stands out is the Widget button, wedged in the top left corner, with the Install icon so close to it. Not nice. Why not push it right, where it does not interfere? Makes more sense, actually. This used to be the olden design.
Wireless, first. This is a big one. My G50 laptop, used here, comes with a Realtek card that is not well liked by the vast majority of distributions. This manifests in almost random disconnects, especially under heavy load. I encountered the problem the first time when testing Trusty and resolved it with a nice little hack. Since, the issue has only gotten worse with newer updates and kernels. The only distros that seem to behave reasonably are the workhorse CentOS 7.2 and another Red Hat based system, the recent Fedora 24.
Now, KDE neon (August stable edition) behaved quite well, including 5-6 simultaneous downloads, live streaming and installation updates. The network survived without hiccups until the very last moment, when it gracefully died. Still, better than most.
I did not test Bluetooth, but Samba sharing and printing sure did not impress. The former does not work with name resolution, you have to use the IP address, and this is later resolved after the installation, consistency right, while there's no option to print to Samba. A singular failure. Alas, not the only one.
All dem goodies are there. That includes, but not limited to, MP3, HD video and HTML5 on Youtube, not because it's important, because I always enjoying showing off my eclectic repertoire of world's finest digital cuisine and glam. VLC did not play files directly from remote shares, but this is something we will have resolved in a separate tutorial.
Your input can't be opened:
VLC is unable to open the MRL
Check the log for details.
Historically, KDE and Plasma had the same success with smartphones as the English had with the Vikings. To quote Kevin Kline in Fierce Creatures, NOT A LOT. Even very recently, nothing would work. Just contrast my KDE and Gnome experience in CentOS 7. Neon seems to have finally embraced the future, I mean distant past, and began supporting modern devices.
With the iPhone, you get the camera-mode PTP rather than proper MTP support, but it's a start, dear friends. On the same note, Windows Phone and Ubuntu Phone were detected correctly, but again, you cannot copy files onto the devices, only off. To quote Mike Meyers in The Love Guru, would you help your Uncle Jack off an elephant? Like that. In fact, Dolphin was not able to copy files anywhere but the home partition. Not even Samba shares, and when I resorted to the command line, as root, it worked, but here and there, I lost my precioussss timestamps.
Anyhow, all three phones were identified, albeit iPhone was marked as one version less than it really is, and mounted, and I could play music off the other two. The iPhone still remains an enigma, but this is a massive improvement for KDE, compared to its previous gimping. However, there's a lot more to be done.
When connecting to the Wireless access point, I was double-prompted to provide my password. This is not a new one. Please fix these amateurish errors. Thank you. Spectacle remains annoying. It's just not as good as KSnapshot, as simple as that. More pointless changes for the sake of it, killing off excellent programs and replacing them with would-be modern equivalents that suck monkey balls.
I tried to use a partition tool to refresh my memory of what I have installed on the disk, but the utility vomited some kind of a cryptic error. At this point, it also completely stole the mouse focus, as I could not click on anything in the background. W00t!
All in all, it worked fine. But there were snags. Of course, there must be snags. The first and obvious one is the pointless Wireless step in the wizard that does not take into account you might already be connected. So if you skip, no network during the install.
The Hunt for the Red October, I mean the Search for the Right Distro takes a while, and in the end, the wizard suggested shrinking the largest of partitions, which holds the resident Windows 10. But that's not the safest option, and nothing beats openSUSE when it comes to partition intelligence.
I went for a manual setup and snugly placed neon into the 16-partition setup that hosts my Windows and Linux stuff. After that, the installation completed without any big issues, but it was a little long. Took maybe 40 minutes in total. It finished with the right GRUB setup, and everything was peachy. For now.
Turn on dem strobes. Sort of. Let's see what the distro can do.
Updates & package management
This is one of the least glamorous sides of neon. Or any Plasma. First, why would I need to have any fresh updates if the system just installed and I ticked all the right boxes? Second, the system area applet was showing 154 updates, but Discover was taking its time. Almost a full minute before the two programs synced and showed the same data.
Speaking of Discover, it's not as radically pointless as it used to be, but it still suffers from a cluttered, unfriendly design, with a messy image slideshow, non-intuitive workflow and no appeal. Software source management is very tricky if not practically impossible, because I found no way to add Skype to the list by enabling a new repo.
All in all, it needs a complete redesign, but then, Discover IS a complete redesign, which just speak of how pointless cosmetic changes really are, if they cannot meet the basic functionality. Muon wasn't much better, but it sort of worked. Each new iteration of KDE package managers is progressively worse, even since Ubuntu Dapper Drake. It used to be sort of all right, but then it just went downhill. But then, USC was also much better than the new Software. Which is also pointless. Just silly GUI with no purpose. Or the necessary aesthetics to lure people in. Or the needed integration with payware stores, Google, Amazon or anything of that sort. Sad.
KDE neon is very light on software. Too light. There's one of each in the listed categories. You don't get any image editing programs, no office suite, no webcam tool, no mail client, no torrent client, and the list goes on. Or rather, it does not. Firefox, VLC, KWrite, that's about it. Not joking. GwenView. And ... sounds of silence.
Wow. This has to be one of the leanest distros when it comes to memory usage, only about 380 MB on idle, a phenomenal figure for Plasma. The CPU is also fairly quiet unless you power any one GUI app, and then it goes berserk. Normally, it ticks around 2-3%, but it can easily spike if you do stuff with your desktop. This ain't necessarily bad, and the responsiveness is decent, but not quite Xfce fast.
Not the worst, but definitely not the best. About 3 hours and change, with about 7% loss of battery cell performance over the last year and a half, this amount to roughly 3.5 hours of fun. This is okay, but I would expect and hope for more.
Stability & problems
Surprisingly, KDE neon is proper stable. No crashes of any sort, no segfaults, the staple food of the Plasma realm. Good. But alongside stability, you do get unpredictable behavior and glitches. The screen flickers when you try to log out. Eventually, updates sorted this one out. The logout process takes about 2-3 minutes, the slowest I've ever witnessed in the Linux world. No idea why. Actually, I know why. Systemd, that's why.
Hardware compatibility, suspend & resume
The network did drop a few times, and this is still an issue. It will most likely remain unresolved until the day I replace my laptop, and then it will be forgotten. Other than that, the hardware seems to be supported fairly well. All the Fn buttons worked fine. The laptop slept and woke like a majestic princess.
I thought about making neon prettier - and failed. Lots of bugs, here. At first, I thought, there's a lot of goodies, but no. Most themes and icons cannot be downloaded. Dead links. This rubbish needs to be cleaned up, as it spreads a huge stink all over KDE. Those that did work offered weird artifacts, including missing icons and buttons.
The default set of icons includes square and round styles, which makes my OCD chakras go livid. If you add shortcuts to the panel as launchers, they will disappear from their rightful place once you open the programs, and jump into the taskbar center. You need to drag & drop them manually to get classic icons. Then, there were lots of visual glitches here, too. Eventually, it took a full logout and login back to sort the mess. Horrible. The system menu also comes with duplicate categories. Fail. The menu icon also disappeared and would not come back even when switching to the default theme. Fail some more.
In the end, this is the final result - nothing too special, nothing too fancy. The one desktop environment that prides itself on behind customizable failed me miserably. I only added a wallpaper, and stared at the mismatched icons lined on the left side of the panel, wondering about their non-uniform shape and the fact half of them were installed by me. Plus, the Show desktop widget and the Spectacle icons are too similar.
KDE neon is an interesting project. If we ignore the world, it does bring some fresh new changes into the Plasma universe, with significant improvements but also a handful of bugs and glitches. If we expand our view to include all other distributions, the scintillating allure of neon begins to fade. It does not have any killer features that make it a worthy rival to other, well-established home players.
The visual distinction from Kubuntu is a small one, the smartphone support is lacking, the media support can be slightly polished, the package manager is awful, the app layer thin, and you can't really pimp the distro because the beauty framework is utterly broken. I did like that more stuff works than before, but it's like priding yourself on getting the highest fail grade in the classroom. Overall hardware support, network excluded and resource utilizations are probably the only redeeming features, but even then, by a tiny margin. Which gets quickly drowned in the sea of bugs, errors, problems, and glitches. Samba is another sore point.
At the end of the day, this distro is a cool test bed for what Plasma has in store, but it does not have the critical mass of goodies needed for any serious use. The recent wave of distros was pretty much awful, so you might be tempted to look at them, but no. Any old Ubuntu based on 14.04 is way better, and so is the new Fedora. CentOS 7, too. In the end, neon needs a lot more work before I can phrase the word recommended in association with its behavior. Overall, 5/10. But, compare it to the K-flavored Xerus, and there's still hope. To be continued.