Updated: November 25, 2019
A-B-C-D-Ermine. Now I know my ABC, won't you come and test my Linux? Kubuntu be next on our plate. After exploring Ubuntu MATE of the Eoan family, it's time to focus on the quintessential Plasma desktop distro. As you know, I'm quite pleased with how Plasma has evolved over the years, and as it happens the LTS release of Kubuntu happens [sic] to the daily driver (and passenger) on my Slimbook machine. But we can't take things for granted, and test we must.
Let's see what results we're gonna get on my eight-boot G50 laptop. It already has a bunch of Plasma stuff on it, including an 18.04 instance, neon Developer edition, and then some. One more won't hurt. We're looking for the consistency of experience, too, so compare to Ubuntu MATE we must. Enough nonsense. Let's begin.
Let it boot, let it boot, let it boot
And boot it did. No text noise, a clean sequence all the way into the snowy Plasma 5.16 desktop, which is pretty, elegant and ever so slightly plasticky with its oversized notifications. Some old issues are quick to greet me. For instance, the Show desktop widget, which is included by default, actually scatters windows to the four screen corners, and doesn't really do what you get when you think of Show desktop on other systems. This looks weird, obscures important elements, and doesn't fully reveal the workspace. It ought to be called Show 94% desktop. Promptly changed it to Minimize all windows then.
If you pin icons from the menu, each time you do it, the menu closes. Spectacle still doesn't have a toggle to remove shadows. It will be Gnome screenshot for me after the install. Samba copy still doesn't preserve timestamps. The overall look & feel isn't bad, but it doesn't showcase what Plasma can do in a nice, enthusiastic way. You don't even get a Kubuntu logo, you just get a generic KDE one for the menu. I mean really. Fonts are ever so slightly paler than they ought to be. And so forth.
Not all is bad. Far from it. Lots of little tricks everywhere, and customization aplenty. For example, if you switch to the icons-only task manager, and you right-click the Dolphin icon, you will have the option to view recent documents and even connect to bookmarked network shares (Samba, too). Sweet. Then, there's Plasma integration for your browsers.
All right, with some exceptions. And of course, different results from Ubuntu MATE, because we can't have consistency, now can we. Wireless worked fine. Bluetooth pairing worked without any issues, unlike the first distro we tried. Samba sharing doesn't work without adding a protocol tweak, unlike Eoan MATE. You can print to Wireless but not Samba devices. The Browse button is grayed out. Reading online, it turns out this is an old, outstanding bug, a missing functionality that hasn't been implemented. In 2019! Let's forget that 90% of all desktops and laptops are Windows, and that people might actually have printers connected to these.
Pretty solid. No issues, no video tearing, nice system tray integration and all that.
No issues. Everything worked all right. I tried Android, iPhone and Windows Phone. Interestingly, Aquaris mounts much faster here than in most other distros, where you often wait a little before the phone is displayed in the file manager. More discrepancies, for better or worse.
One bug I noticed, if you open/mount iPhone through the mount popup in the system area, you won't necessarily see the device listed in the sidebar. This isn't consistent, but I noticed it, and it bugs me somewhat.
Then, I tried KDE Connect. Works all right, but some modules seem to be broken, similar to what I reported in my review of the Windows version of this application. I was able to pair my phones without a problem, but then, the music playback didn't work, no player found thingie, for instance. A few odd ends like that.
Not bad. But. Long partition scan, this much is mostly consistent with many other distros I tried on this box. But unlike Ubuntu MATE, it doesn't give you the names of operating systems installed on the disk, so if you don't remember by heart what goes where, you need to manually mount and check. Another difference is, Kubuntu didn't need to format the partition right away - MATE did. After that, things went ok. The slideshow isn't bad, but the font looks/feels too big for the frame.
Distro installed, check. More differences? Check! Clean boot, but slower about 3x than Ubuntu MATE. The Wireless connection was not preserved or retained or whatever. I had to re-do all my little tweaks afresh. Luckily, this wasn't an unpleasant ordeal, but it can get tedious when you do it 200 times a year or so.
Package management & updates
All in all, it worked fine and true. Discover has improved, and it looks nicer than before, but it's still a bit bland, and those thin scrollbars are a menace, especially since they stick out of the frame in odd places. I had a single round of updates, but that didn't really change anything cardinal. Nothing crashed or broke anyway.
The default repertoire is a bit dim for more than 2 GB worth of ISO. You get Firefox, VLC, LibreOffice, a whole bunch of K apps, even the venerable K3b. Not this is a funny one. Because almost no one uses DVD in the modern age, but you get a program for it, whereas everyone uses Windows, and you don't get the right functionality for it. I'm just saying. I installed GIMP and Steam from the repos, Skype and Chrome from the Web. No issues.
Sorting the desktop out
I did have to spend a little bit of time making sure my system was all dandy. I noticed some of the Gnome applications looked somewhat meh, vertically stretched and such. Luckily, you can tweak the look & feel of these programs through the Plasma Settings menu. You can choose separate themes for Gtk2 and Gtk3 software, install additional themes, change fonts. Everything. Very convenient.
Then, I was annoyed to learn that my language preferences had been ignored, again, and localized to the nearest English dialect you can find on the map. When I launched the language sub-menu, it had no preferred language listed, and the title of the module had something to do with translations. What.
I then changed the font color, and noticed the so-called High Contrast Breeze theme is actually dark. Why is this? Another buglet - at minimum allowed height, the Settings window crops the last line in the side bar. In other words, this is 5-6 px worth of visual annoyance that does not contribute to the professional feel of the Plasma desktop.
After some gentle treatment, this is what we get:
Hardware compatibility & stability
No problems. Everything worked just fine. All the Fn buttons, suspend & resume. You name it.
Performance, responsiveness & resource usage
The distro was robust and fast. No problems. Plus, it purrs quite nicely. On idle, the memory is usage is about 500 MB, which is about 20% higher than what we saw in Disco Dingo. Hm, the plot thickens! The CPU was mighty quiet, though, barely ticking above zero when there's little to no desktop activity.
Let's do some math. We have light to lightly moderate activity, 50% brightness, 62% cell capacity, 38% charge, these two numbers are NOT related. This means the 67 minutes of estimated juice translates into 176 minutes for the full (degraded) battery, or about 280 minutes for a full, brand-new battery. So this would mean 4.5 hours, in line with previous Plasma findings, or at the very least more than 4 hours easily. Quite impressive.
Kubuntu 19.10 is exactly what I'd expect from a short-support interim release. And then, slightly better, too, because it was fast, stable and robust, and nothing broke. On the other hand, it's a bit boring. All in all, the Plasma-clad Eoan Ermine did deliver, but in almost every area, it does the nominal thing and stops short of awesome. As if it's being pulled back by invisible strings.
Printing and sharing can be more streamlined, KDE Connects need some polish, the application bundle is bland, there were some rough edges in the UI, and such like. Now, it's pretty, fast and configurable. There's a good sense of intelligent, clever decisions all over the place. But the one ingredient missing is enthusiasm. Kubuntu feels like its coasting, offering a good but never excellent alternative to other distros out there, doing just the right amount to keep the momentum going. I wish it would do more. It doesn't take much. Now, if you're a Plasma fan, and you'd like to taste of the fresh fruit of the geek loom, 'tis a good starting point. The distro warrants something like 8/10, but you have to be in a good mood for that. And we're done.