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Kubuntu 7.04 A review / my own personal experiences

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Many people have been asking me recently about switching to Linux, and a few people still seem to be unsure what distribution to use. Up until recently I have never hesitated to suggest Kubuntu as the best starting distribution. However, recently this has not been the case, and I wanted to put down a review of everything right and wrong with the current version of Kubuntu.


What is Kubuntu?

For those that don't know, Kubuntu is a free operating system, based on Linux. It is considered, by many, to be one of the best distributions (versions) to use for your first adventure into Linux. It is based on Ubuntu, but with a different look.



Ubuntu, using GNOME, is on the left. Kubuntu uses KDE, and is on the right.


Personally, I prefer Kubuntu, so that is what I will be reviewing today.




Kubuntu has a graphical installer, which guides you through every option with ease. Nothing is a particularly difficult choice, apart from perhaps partitioning. This is the only area where there can be problems. If you are installing on a new PC, or making a complete switch, then this is easy. You simply select to wipe the disk and install Kubuntu on it. However, if, like me, you want to have both Windows and Kubuntu available, you have to spend quite a while setting up partitions. Many people find this tricky, and it is not something to be attempted by someone who doesn't know what they are doing, or doesn't have someone near by to help out. However, even the partitioner contains helpful graphics to guide you through.



Some of the graphical installer screens. Notice its only 6 steps to install!


Once you're over this hurdle, and the actual installation begins, it is relatively quick. Depending on the speed of your computer and hard disk, and how complicated your partitions are, it can easily be up and running in half an hour. Compared to many distributions this is quite fast, however, it is not the fastest I have seen.


Logging In


Some people are still of the impression that Linux-based operating systems still use the command line for everything. This is about as far from the truth as possible. For example, someone I spoke to presumed that you had to log in from a command line. Well, personally I think Kubuntu's login screen looks better than the one Microsoft used on XP. The only problem I have with it is that, unlike the one on XP, you cant select your name from a list of users, but you have to type it in. I know most people have no problem remembering their name, but it would have been a nice touch.



The login screen, complete with clock.


Look & Visuals


Kubuntu, and the KDE interface it uses, is incredibly customisable. I spent roughly an hour getting my desktop and windows looking just like I wanted them to! I am still tweaking it today, months after first installing Kubuntu :) However, for most people, the default look is fine. One very nice feature is SuperKaramba. This is not installed by default, but is easy to download and install (more on installing software later). It adds widgets to the desktop, similar to the Mac Dashboard, while still not really hogging resources in any way, unlike similar alternatives for Windows.



My desktop (currently) on my laptop. I have widgets for the weather and a calculator, and a system monitor on the right. Transparency is also supported, as shown at the bottom of the screen.


People also take this further, by adding all sorts of 3D effects to their desktops. Beryl and Compiz are two of the most popular choices. Searching YouTube for Beryl or for Compiz reveals many videos of these effects. Check them out and compare them to effects offered by Windows and Mac.




This is the major selling point for any Linux based operating system: All of the software is completely free :)

By default Kubuntu includes a free office suite, music player, graphics software, web browsers, IM software, RSS readers, and a couple of games. If you don't like any of the software included, or want some more, then you can install it for free. No CDs to buy, no worrying about whether its worth the cost.


Installing software is also incredibly easy. Kubuntu includes software called Adept. This lists a large amount of software available for download, made by the community. Simply clicking any program and selecting to download it will install it to your PC. It will also periodically inform you of updates available. These update notifications are not just for the operating system, but for every piece of software on your computer! All of them will keep updated through you clicking one button once in a while to download updates. This is a major plus point compared to other operating systems. That, and its all free :(


However, there are some problems. Some software is only available as source code, and this can be daunting to any non-programmers. Downloading source code, and then compiling the application from source can take hours, literally. Also, if the source code you want to use relies on anything else, you have to find it and install it yourself. Adept, however, will find any dependencies for the software listed there. Games are also a major gripe among many people converting from WIndows, and one of the main reasons I keep a Windows partition. There are some games available, and some of them are very good for a free piece of software. However, you won't find a free version of The Sims 2, or your favourite shoot-'em-up. Unfortunately, games creators don't yet feel the Linux market is large enough to market games to.




Just like commercial software, hardware manufacturers don't think the Linux market is large enough to make specific hardware for. Many people have problems getting their video cards to work, along with scanners and printers being the top things. The Linux community are writing their own drivers for most hardware, but some are very hard to get working. Check before you install Kubuntu that your hardware will work. Try emailing the manufacturer and asking if their hardware works with Linux, and you might be pleasantly surprised. However, this shouldn't really be necessary. This is not really the fault of Kubuntu, but of the hardware creators. Some are gradually offering Linux drivers, and if enough people ask then eventually all manufacturers will offer Linux-compatible drivers and hardware.




Networking has vastly improved with Kubuntu 7.04 compared to 6.10. WPA-PSK encryption for wireless networks now works straight away without having to download extra packages. Networking in general has also been made much more reliable and integrated into the operating system than previously. However, as I stated above, hardware vendors are reluctant to write Linux drivers for their hardware. WiFi hardware will either work perfectly or fail miserably for you, depending on the manufacturer. I was lucky and mine works fine, but this may not be the same for you.


What surprised me though was how easy it was to get Linux communicating with a Windows PC. In a couple of clicks I was able to access the shared documents and printer on my Windows desktop from my laptop running Kubuntu. This sort of 'polish' is lacking in the rest of the operating system and would be welcome elsewhere to help people migrate from one OS to another.


To Summarise...

The Good Points:

All software is free, and easy to install

Every aspect is a lot more customisable than in other operating systems

Updates are managed for every piece of software

The community are always willing to help

The Bad Points:

Some hardware still doesn't work at all

Being community driven, not everything is as polished as it could be

Certain points of "Linux life" can still be a bit daunting to new users

Software and file formats are not always compatible with commercial software

Generally I have been happy with my experiences of Kubuntu, apart from a few minor issues. However, Windows and Mac OS also have a few issues that need to be worked around - nothing is ever perfect. What won it for me was the free software and the customisation options compared to other operating systems.


If you have any other questions I haven't covered here, no matter how mundane or silly they may seem, feel free to post them below, or PM me and I will do my best to provide you with an answer.

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The only problem I have with it is that, unlike the one on XP, you cant select your name from a list of users, but you have to type it in. I know most people have no problem remembering their name, but it would have been a nice touch.

On Ubuntu you can change the login screen. Go to main menu->system->administrator->login screen and then you can choose from a list of pre-installed login screens or install your own that you downloaded.

Some have your login names listed just like WindowsXP start screen (but they look better!). :)

I figure they have an equivalent on Kubuntu? You can obtain the login screens from Kubuntu-look.org.

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That free office suite is the KOffice thingy, or Open Office? Oh bother - I am too lazy to look it up :SWell, kde-look.org is a regular haunt for me, although I mostly use FC6, or Debian. (I should make the switch to a command line interface sometime soon, X has grown on me!) As for the "Some hardware still doesn't work at all" point, I have heard that Ubuntu beats most other distros on this front - most stuff evidently works out-of-the-box, and it is quite painless. Not sure of this myself, although I could vouch for the fact that things have come a long way from Slackware :) Apart from having to configure my sound card, my last Linux install (FC6) was very smooth on the h/w front. Say, sorry if I missed something, but you must have used ubuntu as well? Don't mean to start a KDE/Gnome flame war here - but I would love to read a personal, high-level comparision between the two. Is it just the window manager, or is there more to it? Besides, can't I just build KDE on ubuntu? The $time_spent_on_a_given_distro has reached it's threshold, so I might be looking for a change, and would therefore look forward to any comments that anyone has in this context :)

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The free office suite is Open Office 2 at the moment, although I have just looked and it appears you don't get the entire suite by default for some reason. Draw and Math appear to be missing from the menu, but are obviously available for download via Adept. KOffice is also there if that takes your fancy.


On the hardware front, I agree that things have come a long way from what they were a few years ago. However, what really annoys me is that its not the same hardware across all distros that fails to work. For example, I could combine OpenSuse and Kubuntu and all my hardware would work "out of the box". Unfortunately, Kubuntu fails to get the graphics and wireless right, and OpenSuse gets the sound wrong. There must be some way to get the whole lot working on at least one distribution?


I used Ubuntu for about 2 hours at a friends house when I was choosing what distribution to use. I thought it was alright until I saw them using Kubuntu on the other side of the room! Ubuntu uses Gnome and therefore certain software is different. The package managers are different (Adept on Kubuntu, Synaptic on Ubuntu) for example. I just preferred KDE and Kubuntu at that moment - everything on Gnome suddenly seemed too "childish" and "unserious" compared to Kubuntu. Plus I hate Synaptic :)


Other than that they are both pretty much the same. They just have different software to perform the same functions. Oh, and Kubuntu will wear out the 'K' key on your keyboard about 30 times faster than the rest of the buttons :) If I have an Ubuntu disk lying around I'll have a look for you and see what major differences there are.

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