Updated: November 17, 2017
ABCDEF U Kubun-tu. Yes, it's time to embark upon yet more autumn season distro testing, and we shall continue with the freshly released Aardvark edition wearing the KDE uniform. I was highly unimpressed by the new Ubuntu. It was buggy, underwhelming, just sad really. So it's interesting to see how Plasma will fare, and how much badness shall drift over across the family tree. It's happened before. When 'buntu goes down, they all go down.
This test is going to be even more intriguing because: 1) I was immensely impressed with Kubuntu Zesty, and I even crowned it the perfect distro, and it worked beautifully on my HP Pavilion laptop, equipped with Nvidia graphics 2) Plasma has just been such a stable and elegant delight recently, showing great promise and quality. To wit, we will be testing on an Nvidia-powered laptop, my older LG RD510 machine, which has recently seen a slew of reviews. Let us.
Live test - Dreadful
Booted fine and without any artifacts. A clean splash. Then, in the live session, the very first thing you notice is the double password prompt for Wireless. I've mentioned this in my recent Plasma 5.11 review, and this is also true for the 5.10 version that runs on top of Artful. These kind of bugs are not necessary.
Very bad, I'd say. Samba is super-slow, like in Ubuntu. We have a family regression. Yet another random code change made with zero QA and validation. This is typical Linux. High quality and chaos combined, all because it's not product driven but development driven. It takes like 20 seconds for Samba shares to open, time after time. Pathetic.
The network utility seems to have been ever so slightly redesigned. But that's meaningless in the bigger scope of things. Wireless connection was fine, but then, printing wise, there's no Samba printer - of course, why include a 30K Python script for functionality that only 90% of all desktop users need - but the Wireless one was properly identified. Bluetooth will wait for after the installation.
It was horrible at this stage. HD video (WebM) launched in Firefox and not VLC. When it did launch in VLC, the player video area was all black. Must be some incompatibility with Wayland or such, because fallback to X11 in video preferences works. I've not seen this issue ever before, Nvidia, Wayland, this laptop, anything. Of course Samba playback is not there, let's ignore the 90% world's computers, but you also get no errors to tell you why it's not working. Just sad. We'll talk about this more later.
vdpau_display vout display error: output surface creation failure: A catch-all error, used when no other error code applies.
The desktop was barely usable ...
But all of the above is just a primer. The real issue was, I could hardly use and test the live session. Firefox was flickering like mad. Windows would suddenly lose borders and look all smeared. It was as if refresh and compositing did not work, and someone was manually cranking out display frames. Just awful. Better yet, Awful Aardvark.
And then, to wrap it all in an extra dose of brown, trying to logout, the logout application crashed. When I rebooted manually with sudo reboot from console, the system had a nice and juicy kernel panic. Yup, it's that bad.
Well, it was okay. The partition detection setup took a while, though not as long as Ubuntu Gnome. Keyboard language defaults to the US layout, which is how it should be if you opt for English as your language. The slideshow images are a bit boring, and some have more content than window size, so you end up with sliders, which feels just wrong.
The desktop came up without even having remembered the Wireless credentials. Had to provide them again, and again, I had the double password prompt PLUS Kwallet. This is the first time I see this in the installed session. This is just mad. I was so annoyed I didn't even bother taking a screenshot of the desktop.
Well, good and weird at the same time. You have two GUI managers, including the old Discover, which is still rather useless, and then the old old Muon, which isn't half as pretty, but it's useful. Sort of the Kubuntu version of Synaptic. At least the two programs both agreed on the repo contents and updates, which seem to have worked fine, even though they did not fix even half of my problems. More about that later.
The system did pop up and prompt me to install proprietary drivers, so this is quite commendable at least given all the nonsense I was having. Contrast this with the Ubuntu experience. Remember my war on inconsistency article? Here we go again. And it will happen over and over, as long as we have this rapid-crap release cycle, no standardized QA procedures, no strict and rigorous testing on user experience. As long as it remains the domain of Python junkies, it won't work, and I will be shedding my blood on the keyboard, feeling like an idiot for still wanting to love and use Linux.
Reboot, more panic!
After installing the drivers, I wanted to reboot. Again, I had the logout greeter crash, and when I tried the manual method - because the GUI would no longer respond, there was the kernel crash again. This did not happen again with Nvidia drivers in place, so it might be something to do with Nouveau. But it is also something that did not happen in Zesty, not on the Lenovo G50 machine and not on the likewise Nvidia-powered Pavilion, so we have a bunch of sad, pointless, life-sapping, hope-killing regressions at our hand. For those interested to know, the exact kernel panic RIP exception is: proc_get_inode+109.
After reboot, all is swell, the driver came up fine - and no more logout stupidity:
Kubuntu Aardvark comes with a decent, practical collection of programs. Firefox, Kmail, LibreOffice, VLC, GwenView, Okular, KTorrent, and then some. It's an okay mix. I did add some necessary extras, including GIMP, Clementine, Steam, Skype, and Chrome. Only the last needs extra-repository effort to obtain. One might say, it's unobtanium. Ha ha.
Kmail did complain about not being able to launch the first time and crashed. There's also another media player called Cantata, and it's an odd one. It did play MP3 songs, but it displayed a random picture of an F-111 Aardvark fighter-bomber, which I've downloaded to use as a wallpaper, rather than proper media art. Plus some odd configuration and errors and what. Weird.
Android and Windows Phone both worked fine. I'm also going to be testing with iPhone soon again, as I've laid my hands on a device, but that's not part of this review just yet, more something for you to know.
Multimedia playback, again
Well, this was far from perfect. Even with Nvidia drivers in place, VLC did not display any video content, and I had to change the player preferences. Behold the pointlessness in all its glory. Why oh why oh why.
Then, change the preferences - Video output to X11 video output (XCB), and your naughty playback will go away. The last time I recall having to do this was probably sometime in 2008. This is progress compared to Ubuntu 17.10, because that one has regressed to 2005. Small wins. Take my toes but not my leg.
MP3 playback was okay. I was also able to play songs from external media, including smartphones, plus cover art, but then occasionally I would get a notification telling me that a file has changed. What?
From a smartphone.
I've already talked about Kubuntu pimping. So yes. Tiny changes, but quite necessary ones. However, Plasma is pretty neat by default. Very much so. And the more I'm testing other DE, the more I noticed how far ahead it is in terms of ergonomics and usability. The backend for getting new icons, themes and such is still utterly broken though. Half the stuff won't run on Plasma. Numix is a no-go. Papirus icons do work.
Final looks - Honey Badger don't care:
Decent, and yet, they don't feel as sharp as they did in Zesty. I really don't understand this. And you need to change the font color to black if you really value your eyes and the basics of UI science. Honestly, what's up with the regressions. Why?
This is an interesting one. First, Bluetooth works fine. Good. Second, all the laptop Fn buttons were properly identified and initialized. Screen auto-dim works as it should, reliably and fast. Suspend & resume is still a big issue. We've had this for roughly a decade, but no one cares, and this is why it does not get fixed. It comes down to Exception emask errors on resume, with ATA devices being reset. This can be solved by changing the HDD mode from AHCI to IDE with some small performance penalty and such, but it's something that Linux developers and everyone else should have fixed a long, long time ago. We'll talk about this more in the future.
Despite all the crap, Kubuntu Aardvark is the leanest, quietest player I've had on this machine, outperforming even the rather surprisingly decent Antergos. It's a 2009 machine, so there are no miracles, but the CPU idled at about 3-4%, half as much as the other distro, and several times less than most others. Memory usage was also kind of low, around 750 MB. It's relatively snappy and responsive, within limits of its ability.
So far, two kernel crashes, Kmail error, and then, to top it all off, several more applications going down with segfaults, just like in the good ole days. This is a time jump of several years back into the dark past of lesser quality and functionality. Scientists call this state: regression. It strikes from behind just as I was getting all cozy with Plasma and praising it far and wide. Just dejecting and depressing.
And the worst part is, the issues are still around, even after some healthy updates. I tested the distro more than a week after the initial release. Ubuntu also had some patches, and there, at least, the Samba issue is sort of semi-fixed. Not so here. And nothing to improve the stability either. This wasn't as openSUSE Leap 42.3 bad, but still rather underwhelming in every way.
There's still the incomplete language support thingie - which pops up after the installation. How difficult is it to edit the installer so that it DOES grab one or two more packages, based on the user-selected locale, so the user has a splendid experience right out of the box? The same goes for media as well as graphics drivers and everything else.
This must be one of the worst Kubuntu releases I've tried in a long time. Part of the fault lies with the parent distro, and the heartless switch to Gnome, which just shows that the passion to making Ubuntu an important desktop player is gone. This is just inertia and apathy. Still, there's so much wrong with Kubuntu on its own that I feel like a total fool for investing my time in this effort. And it also proves that there is only one good release for every three, showing that distro teams are overstretched roughly by 300%. The whole fast-release bullshit is just the modern-era agile-crap nonsense. It helps no one. Shitty products serve no purpose. Being fast for the sake of it is like running head first into an industrial blender to have your outstretched arms finely chopped by spinning blades.
Kubuntu 17.10 Artful Aardvark makes me sad. Makes me angry. Zesty was one of the finest distros ever created. This is one of the worst. That makes no sense. How can it be? Where's the modicum of care and diligence to ensure this kind of stuff does not happen? Application crashes, kernel crashes, media bugs, weird artifacts. Horrible.
My suggestion is not to upgrade for now. And even then, the foundation of your sanity is shaken. Come the upgrade, you do not know what will happen. You're hostage to arbitrary code decisions. There's no peace and stability in the Linux desktop. You will always have to dread the update process, not knowing what will break next. That is the essence of amateurism. And I'm right there, advocating Plasma and Kubuntu like the biggest of fools in this universe. Anyway, for the sake of public sacrifice, I'll also check 17.10 in-vivo upgrades on other machines, but my expectations are low. Aardvark gets 4/10. Don't bother for now, give it six months for the bugs to be fixed before a new release erases the slate and the cycle of depression starts again.