Updated: May 17, 2021
In the forest, flowers bud. In the distroland, new Tuxies are born into the spring season of testing. We shall commence with a fresh round of Linux escapades. But, unlike many a year before, my focus will be somewhat different. Reduced, more minimal, hopefully less emotional. With disenchantment gripping me soul, I will commence fast 'n' furious reviews unless they merit proper, prolonged usage.
My scapegoat no.1 shall be Kubuntu 21.04. Overall, Kubuntu is my chosen Linux distro for serious, productivity use. LTS, of course. This interim version is more of a soft primer of what we might expect to see in a year or two. But like most distro releases, it's primarily powered by inertia. After all, six months is barely enough time to do proper QA (right?), let alone churn out complete distros. Well, my test box shall be an IdeaPad 3, with Ryzen and Vega innards, triple-booting Linux and Windows stuff. Let us begin.
I won't spend too much time on the basics here. I booted the distro. Wireless connection, ok. Fonts, not the best as they ain't pure black, plus the IdeaPad's screen isn't top-notch either. We shall see if and how fractional HD scaling helps improve things after the installation.
Indeed, let's talk about the installer for a moment, ignoring the unnecessary, pointless alpha borders in screenshots, which completely ruin the presentation, but hey. The partitions are shown "semi-real-size-like" in the horizontal graph thingie, except you can't scroll and see what else is there. The graphics offer titles, the table does not. But because there's no slider, the "visual" layout is useless. Notice the misalignment between the window title and "Prepare partitions" block.
Then, once you start the installation, the slides. Meh. Also, notice the 1px white border around the slides, and the fact this create a misalignment between the slide contents and the sidebar. And then, funnily, the slide talking about Accessibility shows a window with the same color as the background, so it looks like some floating magic and not a screenshot of a system settings menu. Paradox, innit? It's these little things that ruin everything.
The installation was fast - about 7-8 minutes total. Not bad. All the operating systems were correctly added to the boot menu. Starting up, the splash screen is consistent, but then it changes to the Plasma desktop loading splash halfway through. The first session took 14 seconds loading, the slowest I've seen on this box yet - this is the magical parallelism of systemd + NVMe, giving us results identical or worse to 2012 5,400rpm HDD stuff. Such progress, so much wow. The second session onwards, the time dropped to about 10 seconds, but some other distros do better.
The annoying things first
All right. Let's start with all the different depressing, soul-wrenching bits and bobs. We're talking silly things, regressions, inexplicable breakages, and whatnot. Basically, stuff that should never have made its way into any sort of release, and the kind of thing that amateurizes Linux.
- No Wireless was ported from the live session.
- KDEWallet asks about the "encryption" method, and it's technobabble for normies.
- The desktop language is localized based on the timezone. I hate this. If I set my keyboard language to US, then I don't want ZA, SG, UK, or any other regional format/spelling on my desktop. A waste of time fixing this nonsense.
- Samba responsiveness, good. Samba throughput, not good - only 5 MB/s. This is the kind of thing that makes me want to catapult myself into orbit. Just months ago, we've seen Kubuntu 20.04 do 11-12 MB/s on this very same box, with the exact same network/hardware configuration. In fact, the other distro on this machine still does its nice numbers, and so does Windows. Samba = the most abused, neglected component of Linux, and yet, a critical piece for any communication with Windows machines, the "poor" majority of 85-90% desktops out there. Horrible.
- Samba also does not work with names, only IP addresses. Yay. We had this in 2010, and we don't have it in 2021. This is how you win hearts and minds and users. Not.
- Media playback from Samba, with VLC. In 2021, you still need to MANUALLY input Samba credentials, and VLC only allows one such configuration. And you still need the prefetch tweak for perfect playback. This is a KDE-only problem, and it's been around forever. I wrote about this problem years ago, and it still remains. I just recently wrote a really nice article praising the Plasma desktop, but the Samba game is still bad, bad, bad, and it needs to be solved fast.
Your input can't be opened:
VLC is unable to open the MRL 'smb://Dedo@192.168.4.105/Screenshots/Seat.webm'. Check the log for details.
- Elisa doesn't look good. I mentioned how this media players has improved, and now ... problems. One, horizontal scrollbars that never go away. Nor is there any need or reason for them. Worse, they also show when the browser is fully resized. Then, open the main interface, click on Files in the sidebar, select any which folder, then Ctrl + mouse to change size of the displayed icons in the main interface, and Elisa will crash. Time and time again.
- Trying to check dmesg without sudo - used to work fine:
dmesg: read kernel buffer failed: Operation not permitted
- The indexing service gimps, predictably:
Apr 29 15:49:37 ideapad systemd: plasma-baloorunner.service: Main process
exited, code=exited, status=255/EXCEPTION
Apr 29 15:49:37 ideapad systemd: plasma-baloorunner.service: Failed with result 'exit-code'.
- The new System Monitor, the one that "replaces" KSysGuard, nope. Here are the two fellas, side by side. Of course, the old application looks better, cleaner, more useful. And more accurate, too. Notice the memory usage discrepancy between the two. Oops. How can you trust tools that report nonsense? Checking on the command line with free, the numbers (excluding buffers and caches, of course) align with what KSysGuard shows. So unless the new application also incorporates slabinfo, which I doubt, then we might have a problem.
And now, the rest of it
Not bad. Music playback, nice and elegant. The problem with the audio configuration that I noticed when testing Focal on this box? Gone. Now, there's a correct profile that lets you use the speakers and the mic at the same time. Browser integration, yup.
HD scaling? Wunderbar. Verinajs. I changed the default scale to 137.5%, and this improved the viewability by a great deal, although I still needed to blacken the fonts to full hex #000000, because that's how things should be. Discover also does the job. Looks the part, too.
The performance is decent. On idle, after reboot, the distro ate about 700 MB worth of RAM, while the CPU was low, and responsiveness good. This is slightly more than what I saw when I tried Kubuntu on this box a few months back - the previous release that is.
Battery life, also. With light usage and 50% brightness, you can expect roughly 6 hours. With brightness set to 100%, the number changes to about 5 hours. I also tested with full HD movie playback, in full screen, and here, Kubuntu 21.04 estimated about 2.5 hours worth of juice. Comparing this to my early test, with Kubuntu Focal, this is more or less the same.
So what can I say? Kubuntu 21.04 Hirsute Hippo is a meh distro. There isn't any glamor or novelty, or in fact, any reason for it to exist. Interim releases don't make sense, with any distro family out there. It'd be so much better if we had one release every 18-24 months, but then get a nice, polished product. All in all, it's nothing spectacular. There were bugs, there were regressions, there were glitches. Compare to the previous release, and then scratch your head.
If you like Plasma, then Kubuntu does a good job, but you should stay with an LTS. I can't say there is anything majorly useful or exciting here, and I feel totally dejected by the random scattershot of new problems. But until distros invest huge effort and resources in proper QA, nothing will change. So there we go. I went through the motions, I ticked a box, and I don't feel any wiser or happier because of it. Until the next time.