Saturday, February 20, 2010

Kubuntu Lucid Review

I am an early adopter of KDE 4 and I welcome the radical changes it has made from earlier versions. I have been using KDE 4 from 4.0 release and has been following its growth from simple & buggy to feature-rich and mature. The fifth installment of KDE 4, KDE SC 4.4, released on February 9th caused a lot of excitement among KDE fans like me. I could not wait for the shiny new packages arrive in a distro near me.

Kubuntu seemed to be the winning choice because I have seen early KDE 4.4 reviews state that Kubuntu was the easiest and less buggy path to 4.4. In this article, I will be reviewing both Kubuntu Lucid Lynx the new KDE SC 4.4. I chose the 32 bit version of Kubuntu Lucid Lynx alpha 2. The test machine was Compaq Presario V3000 series (V3624AU) with AMD Turion 64 X2 @1.8GHz cpu, 3 GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce Go 7150 integrated display card and Broadcom wifi card.


The install was a routine Kubuntu ubiquity based install, but very polished (inspite being an alpha release). Soon after the install, I upgraded to the latest packages. The inclusion of open source Nvidia Nouveau drivers in the mainline kernel 2.6.32 has led to crisp fonts and perfect detection of screen resolution in comparision to earlier Kubuntu versions. As with other Kubuntus, I had to connect wired internet to allow Jockey download and install Broadcom wifi driver. After installing the Broadcom STA wireless driver I could easily go online wirelessly. There was a minimal glitch that the Nepomuk strigi indexer complained about missing virtuoso server which was solved by installing Openlink Virtuoso open source edition. Hopefully this problem would be solved in the final release.

Boot-up time

After the final install/upgrade the bootup time was noticeably faster as promised for Lucid Lynx by Ubuntu developers. The bootup time was as follows: grub to login, 20 secs; Kdm login to fully loaded desktop, 19 secs; Total: 39 secs. I feel this speed is pretty impressive.

The default Oxygen theme and the default wall paper (Ethais) by Nuno Pinheiro was elegantly stunning and in my view truly rivaling Mac OSX.


As soon as I logged in, I installed Firefox (FF 3.6) with the firefox installer (yes, you can notice, Yahoo is the default search). As soon as I fired up Amarok (ver. 2.3 beta 1), it prompted to install all the necessary codecs, which was also done smoothly. Amarok 2.3 shows a lot of cosmetic changes. I could play youtube videos, but in Full HD 1080 P or HD 720 P videos were extremely choppy. So again I fired up Jockey to install the latest (as recommended by Jockey) Nvidia driver and restarted X. I tweaked the settings in Nvidia control center and the fonts, graphics and youtube videos were pixel perfect. Openoffice installed was version 3.2 RC 4. Chromium browser is in the repos, so I could easily apt-get install it and it worked perfectly. (Chromium will be my browser of choice because of its better looks). Skype ( beta) from the official site worked flawlessly.

KDE 4.4

KDE 4.4 shows lot of improvement in terms of speed, robustness and maturity. There are lots of subtle changes which a seasoned KDE 4 user will notice. Oxygen theme seems even more polished. A few of the new features are tabs within windows, the destop widgets shown as a strip above the task bar, hovering the mouse over a minimised window in taskbar showing motion in youtube videos (just like Win 7). Folders show the content within, the system tray can be expanded or collapsed, the USB device manager has moved to the system tray. As a result of the "semantic desktop", searching the KMenu also shows the files related to the search term (again as in Win 7 or Mac). There are lots of features which remind of Windows 7 like double clicking the window title bar expands it to full length. Composting and window transparency is done wonderfully well (provided there is a decent graphics card). Overall I am very much satisfied and happy with KDE 4.4 release and it could easily make Gnome and other DE fans jealous, let alone Windows 7 and Mac OSX users. I would not agree to anyone claiming that KDE 4 is still buggy and sluggish.


Though in early stages of development, Kubuntu Lucid Lynx, proved to be robust and efficient in showcasing the newest KDE. I did not encounter any major problems so far except that I could not mount the NTFS partion from Dolphin and access the files (I got an error: org.freedesktop.Hal.Device.Volume.PermissionDenied: Refusing to mount device /dev/sda3 for uid=1000.).

This level of perfection reflects on how good the final release version is going to be. I would recommend Kubuntu Lucid to any serious KDE user instead of the current stable Karmic. I would rate 4/5 stars to Kubuntu Lucid Lynx at this stage. Take the plunge and enjoy KDE 4.4 with Kubuntu Lucid. Here's a link to more screenshots from my Picasaweb album.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Simply Mepis 8.5 beta4 review

Despite being a self-confessed distro-hopper, I have dwelled for a long time with Sidux. As a hardcore KDE fan, the obvious choice was to test Simply Mepis 8.5 beta 4. I carry a high opinion about Simply Mepis since I have used it some 5 years ago. It was a perfect desktop and the reason for my liking towards KDE. Later I have hopped to Kubuntu, Debian testing and finally to Sidux.

Sidux, though a wonderful distro, has its own minor irks. Firstly, the font rendering is very bad in Iceweasel. Secondly, though they claim that Iceweasel is just a renamed Firefox, I don't like its ugly looks in terms of the skin, progress bar etc. (probably a problem of Debian's tendency of having attractive looks). I am using a 64 bit install and I can't find a suitable 64 bit Firefox binary in Mozilla's website. Since the browser is inevitably the most important program in an OS, I ventured to lookout for solutions.

Mepis was particularly attractive because it has Firefox inspite of being very Debian underneath. I tested out the 32 bit version of Simply Mepis 8.5 beta 4 on a virtual machine giving it a mere 512 MB of RAM.

After upgrading all the packages to the latest ones, Mepis proved to be a real winner. KDE was at version 4.3.4 and Firefox, the default browser in Mepis was at 3.5.6. As expected with Mepis, flash worked out of the box but it was not the latest version available in Adobe's site. After tweaking the fontconfig-config and enabling antialiasing from the KDE control centre, fonts were rendered beautifully well. I installed Skype from the repos, and Google Chrome from Google's website. Both worked flawlessly. OpenOffice was at version 3.1.1, packaged by Debian developers. Okular was missing so I could not open PDFs in the default install.

Support for Google gadgets was installed by default and I could easily add my favourite feeds and read the full articles in Firefox. Even Konqueror worked fine and had the best font rendering as expected of a browser well integrated into KDE. When I set the brower identification to Firefox 2 for, Gmail also worked well.

Overall Simply Mepis 8.5 is a joy to use. The choice of fonts, window decorations and wallpaper, though not jazzy, is professional and elegant. The maturity and stabilty of the OS is contradictory to the beta tag. Anyway, I wish to see the latest KDE SC 4.4 and Firefox 3.6 enter into the isos before the final release. Simply Mepis is feature-rich distro that can be totally trusted to accomplish to your day to day computing tasks with pleasure.

Though I would love to install Simply Mepis on my work desktop, I wish to try out another contender Mandriva 2010 before I come to any conclusion. Here's a couple of screenshots of my Simply Mepis experience.