Updated: April 29, 2017
Let us continue with the spring season distro testing. Next on the menu: Kubuntu. After many years of offering bland, emotionless releases, we had a cautiously reasonable Yakkety Yak edition, so me hopes are high for today.
And for today, we will examine the latest Kubuntu, which officially bears the name of Zesty Zapus, but once again, like my recent Ubuntu review, my version of the distro's name is totally better. So allow me to ask thee, what is the answer to Linux, multiverse and constant forking?
Linux Mutant Plasma Hurdles
Booted fine and without any errors. The desktop comes with the classic Plasma looks, a now familiar wallpaper plus the Breeze theme. But look! The widgets button has been moved to the top right corner. And the menu! It has a lot of useful programs in the favorites, not just one or two like in the past. And it can be activated with the Super key. You can add icons to the panel as widgets with a simple, elegant right-click. No more drag and drop. Easy. Blimey, immediate improvements all over the place.
But there's more! The widget button is smarter, and offers more relevant actions right away. You also get copy progress indicator in Dolphin, similar to what Windows gives you, kind of a green-blue fill moving from left to right. Goodness after goodness.
I would like to hope and believe that some of these changes have been instigated, inspired, prompted, and caused by my rather in-depth review of the Plasma desktop, dubbed The State of Plasma - if you like discussions and whatnot, then please check out the comments-rich version of this article on Netrunner Mag, too. But it may just be a happy if awesome coincidence. We shall see as we progress in our testing.
Wireless - very good, smooth and stable. I've written about this in my Ubuntu Zapus review, kernel 4.10 seems to fully and completely resolve the Realtek card problems, and for the first time, I can use my G50 laptop like a human being. Furthermore, Samba sharing works, but you still get the stupid timestamp bug. It's not preserved when you copy files over to the Windows box. Needs to be fixed, because it's annoying. No Samba printing, however my network device (named Bob) was identified, and the system even auto-suggested the right drivers for it. The only thing that remains is to have a tiny Samba package added to the live session so that Kubuntu behaves like a normal thing, and offers people with Windows printers immediate connectivity. I guess it comes down to electrocuting the developers some more.
Bluetooth, sweet tooth!
I've decided to create a whole complete section dedicated to this particular test, because, once again, for the first time evar, I had a 100% seamless Bluetooth sharing experience in Linux. Various distros did this all right, but not to this extent.
I actually used my Nokia Lumia 520, a Windows Phone for this particular test, because my Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Phone does not have a fully developed file management stack, so it cannot actually send or receive files. Nor is this ever going to happen. Oh well.
Back to Bluetooth testing, I was able to pair the Lumia without any problems. Sharing files, again sweet, both ways. I did have to make the phone device trusted on the laptop before this worked, but worked it did.
Better yet, I was able to stream music from the phone, and control the audio volume. We're talking MP3 songs, for which Kubuntu does not have the right codecs in the live session, but it was using the phone for playback, so this is really neat. The connection was also sturdy and stable, and for more than one hour, I had lovely classical music to entertain me while I continued testing. Splendid!
And then, when you think about it, if only the different projects worked together. Some distros do Bluetooth better, some desktop environments do Samba and remote better, others have an exceptional media stack, and so forth. Eliminate the fragmentation, and get the best from Gnome, KDE and Xfce under a single mighty umbrella. If only. That was just a dream, just a dream, dream.
Again, no issues, Well, almost. To begin, Ubuntu Phone and Windows Phone were correctly identified and mounted. The former comes with full read/write, but the latter struggled with this a little. I was not able to copy files onto it - or off it - using MTP, only via Bluetooth. I did eventually resolve this, but it's not a default setting. I also hooked Lumia 950, and it was fine, too.
One thing that bugs me - there's no unmount option in Dolphin. There should be a feature to allow users to safely and gracefully disconnect their phones and/or tablets. So there's still room for improvement. But until recently, KDE wouldn't even see any external devices, let alone mount them.
No MP3 stuff in the live session - except the Bluetooth thingie. HD video was okay. No remote playback - without tricks. If anything, software will cache locally and only then display. In this area, KDE still lags heavily behind Gnome, and this is such a simple and trivial and expected thing.
Again, this whole thing worked fine. The Wireless configuration step was auto-skipped, and the partition detection was faster than stock Ubuntu. The wizard did not lag in getting to the user & locale configuration, but the overall installation process was longer than stock Zesty. All in all, it took about an hour to commit Kubuntu to the disk, but then, the whole multi-boot setup worked without any problems.
I also understood the whole encryption option - it's available with LVM only, but the way Ubuntu presents it is not clear, whereas the Plasma wizard is more straightforward. Or if I may be extra corny, Zaphod plays it safe. Mwuahahahaha.
Kubuntu booted without any issues - and so did all the chained distros, no probs. Well, let us explore some of the deeper facets of this Plasma distro. So far, 17.04 Zapus was behaving like a good sport, and my energy was high.
Package management & updates
Cautious improvements, we discover. Ha! Still not the package manager we need, but the package manager we get, insert cliche Batman reference. You can view software sources but not edit them just yet, my clicks were in vain. It did find Steam, but not Skype as this requires the Partner source, which ain't enabled by default, and you cannot toggle it on through the GUI. But it did execute a round of updates fine. CLI for the win, still, though.
A fine, balanced assortment of Plasma wines, some odd choices and a handful of popular programs, with Firefox, LibreOffice, Dragon, Okular, GwenView, KMail, and alike. Beef this up with Steam, Skype, VLC and GIMP, and you get a new stew. The defaults sure can be more excited, but it ain't bad.
MP3, no issues this time. Alless Klarr Herr Plasma Star. Not only did I have the right playback, the system area context menu also works just fine both for VLC and Amarok, the play button artifact has been fixed, and Amarok was even able to mount and play songs from the Lumia phone. Blimey O'Timey!
Other important observations
The screenshots still come with a shadow, but at least it's now symmetric right and bottom. Small steps for humanity. Maybe we will get off the cancerous path that software development has embarked on in the past decade and move on into a world of bliss and cooperation and quality. As far as Kubuntu is concerned, I'm already seeing a lot of goodies. And it does not take much to make big progress.
Video playback is very smooth. We're talking media players as well as browsers. I'm comparing to how Fedora 25 handles online HD streaming and such, in both Firefox and Chrome, and the results are staggering. No tearing, no artifacts. Clear, sharp. The best yet of any distro on this box. Hint, check the hardware section below.
Fonts are also better than ever before. This has always been a big issue - and I ranted on this significantly. Whatever the changes are, and they be subtle, I found it easier to run Kubuntu 17.04 without my eyes going wonky. Prolonged use, hours of staring at the screen, and yet, there was no fatigue, no headache. It's all sharper, cleaner, better contrast. Some of the fonts remain unchanged (name wise), but there might have been improvements in how they render on the screen. Either way, I'm mighty pleased.
And in general, good stuff everywhere. Everywhere!
Closing Dolphin with multiple tabs open, you can select not to be asked again, I was asked, twice. Like Michelle from the Resistance in 'Allo 'Allo says: Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once.
One time, while I was fiddling with icon sets, the bottom panel froze, and I had to HUP a few important processes to get back to a responsive desktop. There were NO Kwin crashes or errors per se, though, so apart from this little niggle, it was smooth sailing. Firefox also restored after this so-called incidence without a blink. As if nothing has happened, and all my tabs were there.
Also on the icon front, Plasma did live-update some of the icons, and for others, you need to log out and log back in to see the effect. Choosing new decorations and themes using the built-in tools is still largely a hit-and-miss game. Samba did not work with name resolution initially, only IP addresses, but this got fixed on its own, and it did not come back after system updates.
And the fact there aren't that many issues is why I'm reporting this section first. Because I want you have all the good energy to focus on what comes next, because so far, Kubuntu Zesty was behaving very nicely, and my optimism was growing by the minute.
Stability, performance, resource usage
Rock solid, really cool. I'm surprised. I guess it goes hand in hand with the vast improvements in the Plasma framework, so I should revisit KDE neon as a consumer distro and not just a testbed soon. But it all goes back to my recent tests, and the State of Plasma. Very neat. I just hope we do not get KDE6 any time soon, because then we will have to start from scratch, and it would be a pointless exercise in re-engineering. Gods of the Internet, make my desktop true.
Performance is also great - faster and more responsive than Ubuntu Zapus. The figures also align with only about 500 MB memory usage, less than half of its spiritual brother, and the CPU idles at about 1%. The swap partition has been correctly identified and used.
Hardware support, suspend & resume
Unlike Ubuntu, this Plasma beastling did not use Intel's microcode firmware out of the box, but the driver utility did pop and offer its service. You can configure the drivers without a reboot. Moreover, Zesty Zaphod is slow to sleep, fast to wake. It takes about three or four seconds for the distro to suspend itself, but then it resumes instantly. No problems with Wireless, lock screen, or anything. Fn buttons, no problems. Very intelligent power management. Beautifully precise and sharp.
About 3 hours, with brightness set to max, mind. This is about 30 min more than Ubuntu offers, so if we take into account that the battery has deteriorated to about 80% its max charge, and we set the brightness to about 50%, we can probably match the 4h figure without any great effort. Reasonable. Quite reasonable. Similar to MX-16. Nice.
You deserve some, so here they are:
A message to the world
Completely unrelated to Kubuntu per se, but I do want to give you this shameless plug. Inspired by my recent Zesty testing. Get it? Zesty, testing. Anyway, we can see that Gnome does remote sharing in a superior way to KDE. Plasma offers better performance, Bluetooth and consistency. Fonts, too - except Ubuntu itself. On the other hand, Gnome wins when it comes to printing and customization. And so forth.
Why I'm trying to say - get your sh ... act together. Work together. Collaborate and listen. Because a true cooperation will accentuate the good parts each one of these two major desktop environments has, allowing for a converged and superior desktop product. Now that Ubuntu has delivered its first clout of humility in de-fragmenting the Linux eco-space, perhaps it is time to object-orient the efforts among different projects in a more cooperative way. Utopia rant finished, let us conclude.
Listen very carefully, I will type this only once. There have been some decent Plasma distros recently. Very good ones, in fact. Maui is a great example. But Kubuntu 17.04 is the first KDE system in a LOOOONG time that I actually want to use, day to day! No silly fanboyism. Just simple delights of discovering high-quality software products, a rare thing these days.
Let's see. Better than its predecessors by a long stride, with improvements all over the place, notably performance, stability, video playback, fonts, tons of papercuts, phone and network connectivity, resource usage, battery life. Great hardware support and a semi-pro feel for the first time. Small issue linger, with package management, playback from remote devices and a few visual glitches chief amongst them. All in all, Kubuntu 17.04 Zesty Zaphod, and admit it, it sounds better than Zapus, is a darn good release. I am really surprised. But maybe, just maybe, 2017 could be the Year of, if not Linux, then KDE! Anyway, you should test this. Right now. 9.5/10. Go, go, go!