Updated: November 23, 2012
Kubuntu is almost like Ubuntu, and then not at all. It is amazing how much difference there can be between two operating system releasing sharing so much DNA. As you probably recall, I was utterly disappointed with Quetzal, on two occasions. The first time, on a generic laptop with SSD and Intel graphics, where it blossomed with bugs and glitches. And then, the second time around, when it utterly failed me on my high-end laptop with its Nvidia card.
For this very reason, I will be testing Kubuntu 12.10 Quantal Quetzal on the said laptop first, to see whether the Nvidia issues are strictly related to Ubuntu and its unity desktop and who knows what else, or perhaps a much bigger, more serious phenomenon. So we will begin with a dandy setup, 4GB RAM, Nvidia GT 320M 1GB VRAM card, with two operating systems installed on the internal disk, and booting a handsome new bunch from an external USB disk. Sounds glorious, and as real as it gets.
Honestly, Kubuntu, or rather KDE, at increment 4.9 this time around, has so much potential, and yet none of it is made to bear in any shape or form. The desktop looks extremely dull, and everything is too conservative. I know how slippery the path to glory can be, and exaggeration is so easily achieved, but still, something, just a little more flair and color and spice. Please, for the love of Internet, do it.
It is hard to distinguish this new version of KDE from older ones. This is not a bad thing for most people, especially if they expect stability and familiarity. Some changes are more visible. For example, the Activities view is less cluttered with presets. Instead, you only get your basic desktop, and then you can add new ones as you please.
And while browsing with rekonq, the system offered to enhance the experience by installing Flash, which is quite nice, and presented in a smart manner. However, the message is absolutely horrible. Who cares about licenses or space on the installation media. Just give people Flash so they can watch silly content online!
You may think I'm not in the mood for reviewing Kubuntu, but far, far from it. All of the goodies come after the system is installed, because there's nothing to showcase in the live session, other than checking your hardware works. And it did, so far. But no music, no Flash, no exciting things to trial and play with, just a bunch of gray pixels staring back at you.
So I did the one sensible thing - commit Kubuntu to disk.
An interesting thing is that Kubuntu now offers LVM and encrypted LVM, which it never seemed to offer in the past, if I recalled correctly. What I did was go for a manual setup and used one of the many partitions available on the external disk, leaving the internal one untouched.
The installation was super-quick, none of that lag I saw with Ubuntu 12.10. The external disk currently only boots two operating systems, a Pangolin replacing the botched Quetzal instance, and the newly added Kubuntu, but it all worked fine.
And here we go, a desktop, ta-dam - with a tiny bit of pimping:
This is the most important thing in this review. Before doing anything else, I wanted to see whether Kubuntu can run with the proper Nvidia driver rather than the open-source Nouveau, which, I must add, to developers' credit, has become reasonably good. While it can still benefit from additional tweaks in the memory space, the CPU activity and overall heat generation, leading to increased Carbon emission (LOL) and reduced battery life, Nouveau is rather usable. However, not good enough for me, as I need every ounce of graphics juice for games, soon to be tested Steam thingie, and 3D rendering and whatnot.
Kubuntu Quetzal still uses Jockey, and it offered me a bunch of drivers. Broadcom Wireless was already in use, good, and I could choose between several versions of Nvidia. Reading positive feedback on the latest 310 beta, I selected that one and let the system do its magic. And lo and behold, without any ugly fiddling with sources, headers and all that, the driver was configured most beautifully. So whatever went wrong with Ubuntu is some ugly internal problem with Unity and alike, or maybe the unholy Gnome 3 framework underneath.
Now that I had Nvidia properly setup, I had several new problems to deal with. Namely, the Wireless performance was not good. First, the Network Manager would take about 30-40 seconds to connect to the routers, both of them, until I disabled the IPv6 support in the system, after which, the connection shortened to just a few seconds. KDEWallet did pop up and ask its silly questions, only it was faster, more streamlined this time. However, the Network Manager would ignore it and ask me for a password every time I reconnected to one of the access points.
On top of that, Samba speed was bad. Instead of getting the usual 2MB/sec for a 802.11g standard protocol, I was only getting a small fraction of that. Not sure why, but it felt as if Kubuntu was hogging the line, also resulting in inconsistent, slow downloads and some errors on the Wireless card. Really ugly. Somewhat reminiscent of the Realtek problem. Then, the Network Manager crashed.
I was unable to reboot or log off or anything at this point from within the desktop, and I had to use a virtual console to login and restart. After the system came up fine, the issue seemed resolved. All of this on a fully patched system, with all the latest updates and whatnot. And here we have another case where a KDE session did not last without crashing at least once. How graceful.
We can laugh at the Windows people for pumping out a stupidity like Windows 8, but at least the experience is consistent. And I'm having none of these silly, erratic come-and-go problems when booted in the Windows 7 instance on the same laptop. Or anything of that sort when running Lucid or CentOS. That's how it is.
You get your share of fun - Flash and MP3:
The set of software is fairly standard. Firefox is not available by default, so you will have to install it. Other than that, you get LibreOffice but not Calligra, Telepathy, GwenView, Okular, K3b, Amarok as you can evidently see above, and a few more. The set is not really exciting, but it's reasonable overall. Could be better, though.
Worked like a charm, silky smooth:
Behold my hairy knuckles! P.S. Maybe. Maybe it's a different body part, hm?
Muon is decent and works fairly well.
With the Nvidia driver 310 in place, Kubuntu is fast, sleek, elegant, and lean on the resources, taking only about 600MB, which is almost like Unity. The CPU is very quiet, and the system is highly responsive. I had the same results with Pangolin, only on a laptop with a generic Intel card, so this is great.
Putting the computer to and out of sleep worked fine. The system was stable, other than the serious network-related problems, which persisted even after all the needed upgrades, and only calmed down after Network Manager did its ugly trick.
Well, Dragon player would not play videos directly from remote Samba shares located on Windows machines, while VLC, which is not installed by default btw, would do that. The player would ask me to search for SMB protocol source, whatever that means, it could not find it in the repos, and the playback failed.
Beauty wise, after you invest some time making Kubuntu presentable, it really becomes a splendid visual treat, and I fail to see why it cannot ship like this by default. Why can it not be a tad more colorful and exciting. No need to go to the same lengths that I did with my own customization, as I can understand people have different tastes, but still. There's so much room for improvement.
And then finally, there's my general feeling of things not being right. Why do I have to dread upgrading my Linux systems? Why do I always have to worry about something else not quite working? That's not a great experience, that's stress. With Ubuntu, it was total havoc really. I got disillusioned from my silly dream that Linux could perhaps make it big one day. I almost used to believe so, but whenever a release like Quetzal comes, you get sobered up instantly, thrown back six or seven years or so. You must hate the people making these stupid business decisions. Amazon search yes, stability no. Get your shitty priorities sorted out. If I can't use my desktop, everything else is meaningless.
With Kubuntu, it is less dramatic than that. Nvidia works, for example, and the Network Manager sorted itself out eventually, but I can't not feel I was merely being extremely lucky. Which is not how it should be. Software is deterministic. Things that work must always work. But then, the network manager plays its ugly game, and Samba sharing is slow, and then I start fiddling, and restarting my router, and doubting my setup, and that's me, Mr. Splendid Galore. Imagine how normal people would feel, those who know or care three orders of magnitude less than I do. Their answer would be just to toss this crap away and go back to Windows or their overpriced Mac or whatever they might be using.
And this knowledge that I do not really have a viable alternative, even if I never really exercise it, makes me angry. Really angry. Angry with all the Linux developers, who each live in their own separate world. If you think about it, Kubuntu is an amalgamation of a hundred different components, each hailing from its own microcosm. Which is why it's no wonder when things break so badly, so often. Back to my anger, there. Yes. I hate the fact that I cannot really toss Windows away, even though I like it and use it all the time. And it's not like I would do it, for real. But the knowledge, the freedom. Only it is not really there. We are deluding ourselves. And Quetzal is a good example. Although Kubuntu 12.10 is a fairly decent release, the little things that did not work spoiled everything. Who knows what might break with the next upgrade cycle, and I do not want that.
The one big issue I had with Kubuntu Quetzal is the network manager. I will probably dread every next login for several months until I calm down or forget about the problems, if they never reoccur. Other than that, the major issues were boredom, blandness, plus a few small quicks here and there. On the positive side, Nvidia performance is splendid, the distro is fairly polished and smooth, and you can get decent looks after about one hour of tweaking. Not the best release, but surely okay, plus so much better than its brother.
I'd say, Kubuntu 12.10 deserves 8.5/10 or so. If there have been no network issues, it might gave received an extra point. Good, but unpredictable and not really exciting out of the box. This is the cardinal part. I really hope one day Kubuntu offers an instant and seamless experience without crashes. For now, you should try it.