Thursday, January 12, 2012

Next KDE Distro

[I see that I'm already getting some Google searches, and I haven't even finished testing out all of the distros that I wanted to. If you have an opinion on which one you think is best, feel free to leave a comment or even head over to my little forum. I'd love to get a discussion going.]

As much as I hate to say it, the KDE spin of Linux Mint is....well, if it's not dead, it's at least a zombie, and I never trust zombies. I realize that GNOME is getting much better as well as its spinoffs or I could go with Enlightenment, but to be honest, I love KDE. I've gotten used to the look and feel and I love the apps. Sure, I could force myself to upheave and try something completely new, but I don't see the point.

Fortunately, there are a few great KDE distros out there right now. Please do keep in mind, and I will gladly admit it to anyone, that I am not a professional Linux reviewer or anything close. These thoughts will be very, very subjective toward my interests, but at the same time, hopefully they overlap with the interests of the everyday Linux user, so they will be useful to others.

  • 64-bit version
  • DEB packaging (though considering moving away because of how much a hassle Apt has been)
  • Btrfs
  • Decent software-center-type software

Netrunner kind of scared me because I had never heard of it before and....well, to be honest, it sounded a bit like "Netscape". But from the screenshots, I was decently impressed, especially since it kind of followed from the (pseudo-)death of Mint KDE.

I really liked how quick Netrunner booted up, especially off a compressed ISO in a virtual machine that is using a fraction of my machine's resources. I am extremely surprised at how little it has installed, but the standard of quality of the apps that the developers chose! (Excluding (Q)Transmission, of course...) They have some of the awesome KDE apps like digiKam, Gwenview, and Kate, but also the very best of the GTK apps as well: Firefox, GIMP, Skype....even VirtualBox [EDIT 1-20-2012] (Oh wait, VirtualBox is Qt isn't it...doh! Even so, glad that they have it.) [/EDIT]! I find the choice of including a "Web Apps" section a little odd, but it's really nothing to get upset over. I do love that WINE comes preinstalled, as well as Flash. Muon -the package manager app- is kind of unimpressive compared to the Ubuntu Software Center or the Mint Software....thing, but it looks very sleek and definitely does what it is meant to do. Overall it's just an outstanding choice of apps, from start to finish.

One thing I noticed immediately that I hated upon opening Dolphin -which I LOVE as a file manager- is the terrible choice of using Windows 7 graphics for the window decorations. I don't know who they are fooling; this is not going to make it any more friendly to Windows converts and it's going to make the Linux users feel betrayed, IMO. Add to the fact that they only ship with two decorations: Windows 7 lookalike and one that looks as though it is from 1995; Even if (for whatever bizzare reason) they decided to ship with the Windows look as default, I wish they would have included one decent, modern alternative as well.

I'm kind of caught off-guard that it also ships with a half dozen Firefox addons preinstalled. Granted, these are some of the most popular and I even use some of them myself, but it just seems weird. Addons are a very, very personal thing; it's the reason most people love Firefox because, let's face it, it's surely not for its performance. Plugins and even themes seem ok but addons seem different. In any case, I would just bring over my entire .firefox folder so I wouldn't keep them anyway, but still.....interesting choice.
Netrunner 4.0

Overall, I just don't really feel like the appearance aspect of Netrunner meshes really well. At some places, they seem to go the more smooth route like Pardus or even openSUSE, but then other places they decide to stick with the traditional KDE look, but then other places still they decide to look like Windows. It has no splash screen. It uses plain white backgrounds for several different things (System Settings, Terminal). I would love Netrunner a lot more if it found it's very own visual style, and sold that hardcore, like Pardus or openSUSE.

But I do very much like it. I think the developers have their heads in the right place, and just using it feels very very right. ATTOTP, it has no 64-bit version, but the Netrunner Twitter and Facebook have both mentioned the beginnings of one, and I can't imagine them taking too long. I do like that it already has Btrfs support, a feature that a very select few amount of distros have yet, from what I've seen. But the fact is, Netrunner is very slick. It just needs a bit more refining in the visuals.

Chakra scared me the most because of its vicinity to Arch. One day, I will install Arch, and I will love it. But not today. However, I was completely wrong in thinking that Chakra would be unpolished or even amaturesque; instead, it is perhaps the best KDE distro out there.

Chakra seems to be a bit more....intricate than some other distros, no doubt from its origins in Arch. It ships with several Qt development tools, XBMC, and even SUSE Studio Imagewriter (what?). Just browsing around, I love that they went with a different music player -Tomahawk- rather than Clementine or Amarok, both of which I do not like. I'll talk about the app choices more in a bit, but for now let's just leave it as....unique.

The basic looks of Chakra is kind of simple....almost generic. Really, unimpressive, but not ugly. I'm not extremely fond of the starting widget, though I do like the idea, and the starting wallpaper pales in comparison from what I've seen of past Mint, openSUSE, Pardus, and even Netrunner's starting wallpapers. Besides that, it has the default KDE look almost everywhere, and while that's not my thing, it's fine.

Chakra definitely emphasizes the KDE/Qt desktop; there is no Firefox, GIMP, or any GTK app to be seen, though it includes a "Bundle Manager" that lists many popular non-Qt apps such as Audacity, Chromium, Filezilla, Firefox, GIMP, Pidgin, and Skype. I'm not entirely sure what a "Bundle" is; they attempt to explain it, poorly in my opinion, but from what I can gather:
A Bundle is a tightly-knit metaphorical "bag" that contains all that is needed for a GTK app. You install a Bundle rather than the packages themselves so you don't need all of the GTK dependencies, they instead exist inside of the bag; this way GTK is never installed and thus never 'contaminates' your KDE system, and to remove the GTK app, you just toss the bag. (A definition by me)
If this understanding is true, it is awesome. The fact that they care about the user wanting to be able to easily install a few choice GTK apps impresses me greatly. In terms of the rest of their app choices, they seem very strange (like the ones I mentioned earlier), but oddly refreshing...kind of. I love that they included QupZilla, a Qt-based web browser that I did not know existed until now, but I love compared to Rekonq or Konquerer. I don't exactly understand why they include SpiderOak or a few other apps here and there, but overall, it's just nice to see someone mixing things up.

Chakra's package manager, named AppSet-Qt, is very different, if not confusing. It looks like it has a small learning curve, but could be extremely useful and efficient. I would peg it somewhere around the level of Synaptic, only with a build in web browser for the Homepage of a package, as well as a 'Distribution News' homepage that tells you what is new with Chakra. I have mixed feelings about it so far, but I do know that I love how quickly it opens.

The fact that Tribe -the Chakra installer- is in alpha scares me greatly. In terms of appearance and functionality, I like it very much, but the mere fact that it is one of the biggest unfinished features make me hesitant to install Chakra at all. That is really one feature that I hope they can nail down post-haste.

Chakra 2011.12

Chakra really surprised me in how much new it brings to the table. It really sets itself apart as being a very focused (perhaps the most focused) KDE distro, especially in a world that seems to be obsessed with GNOME. The visuals might not be as exciting as other pretty KDE implementations, but the backbone of this distro seems incredibly solid and that makes me very confident as a potential user. After seeing Mint essentially abandon KDE, it's nice to see a distro so thoroughly dedicated to making an already great Desktop Environment even greater. There is nothing about this distro that I can truly complain about.

I was never ever really a fan of Mandriva and Mandrake was before my time, so I've always been a bit skeptical of Mageia. My opinion hasn't changed much after playing with it.

The boot time seems extremely outrageous. Whereas both Netrunner and Chakra were up and running in a matter of seconds, Mageia seemed to get caught up at several stages, even requiring a reboot at one point. Add on top of that you are greeted with a short wizard before even being able to access the live environment, and I'm already kind of disheartened.

It's really kind of hard to describe Mageia other than using one word: boring. Mageia seems to have very, very little that actually makes it stand out. It has every single steriotypical KDE app plus a few of the normal oddballs (Firefox, GIMP, Libre Office). While the graphic design in Mageia is amazing -such as the logo, the login screen, and the wallpaper- the theming is severely lacking. Maybe I'm just not a fan of blue but.....please, move away from blue, everything from the panel to the window decorations to to everything, and it just looks....boring. Add on top of the the ridiculous menu that it ships with and it just leaves you....unimpressed.

In terms of package management, Mageia uses Rpmdrake, a remnant of Mandriva, and it shows. Rpmdrake looks very dated, although that could be the effect of the skin. Whereas with most others I am quickly installing or at least browsing, I could not figure out how to browse packages that were not installed. I will admit that at this point I am probably just being over-critical, but at the least, I can say that Rpmdrake was one more thing that failed to stir any amount of interest in my brain.

Mageia 1

There's nothing really wrong with Mageia, it just seems like "another distro." I personally found it visually disappointing in most regards and there was nothing really special at all about the implementation of KDE. I cannot see a good reason to use it over one of the other more refined choices. All this being said, it is important to remember that Mageia is still relatively new, only about a year and a half old and still on its first release. I truly and sincerely hope that its developers can find their zen.

I have fallen in love with openSUSE quite a while ago. I think that it does a fantastic job of implementing both GNOME and KDE, especially visually. It was going to be my choice last time, except for one thing.....YaST. I just hope it has improved.

The biggest issue I've had with openSUSE has been stability. When I was trying to switch my family's PC over to Linux, openSUSE was my first choice. I couldn't get past the Live CD, though, because it failed to launch the KDE Partition Utility. And again, as I boot openSUSE in my VM, it has frozen and/or crashed three times now, just trying to boot. Now this VM is a little wonky so each distro has frozen about once, but the fact is that I cannot even get openSUSE to successfully boot and let me try it out.

After it finally let me boot, I got pretty much the same impression as I had last time: pretty awesome. It's visually pleasant, very coordinated. The installed app choices are good. The only thing that really makes me hate it is YaST. Not as a control center, but as a Software Manager. It is just so slow and inefficient and....

I would continue, but openSUSE decided to freeze up....again. Given my past experiences with stability issues, I'm just going to have to give it a pass. Maybe next time, openSUSE.

Sabayon is another distro that I am wary of because it stems from Gentoo, something that I am not quite up to tackling on my main box. The last time I tried it out, I had already kind of decided on Mint KDE so Sabayon got pushed to an after thought, and now I'm hoping to give it a fair chance in the runnings.

(Aside from the absolutely bizarre boot music,) Sabayon seems very similar to Chakra, especially in terms of appearance (that is, sticking to the default KDE look), but not so much in the apps. Sabayon tends to be much more conservative with the apps, keeping most of the normal KDE apps such as Amarok and even Konquerer, only really mixing it up by favoring Chromium over Firefox. The main difference, of course, is the package management. Sabayon uses Entropy, a store that is very unique, instead of DEB, RPM, or even Pacman. The idea of a store gets me excited because I am a big fan of paying developers for their hard work.

...but I've had some serious issues with Sabayon's Entropy store in the Virtual Machine. Problems meaning it will not start. I guess I might just have to burn it to a DVD and give it a hardware try. (I can remember having issues with the package manager in Sabayon before, and apparently it is not the most stable program in the world.)

I have never, ever been a fan of Kubuntu and it was what initially turned me off of KDE (that and a few others, like Mandriva), but I figured I should really give it a chance. The reason I think I have not liked Kubuntu is that it goes hardcore KDE and I do not like some of the aspects of KDE, particularly the default skin, web browser, and several other apps. But I've since discovered that I do indeed like KDE, so I'm going to try to look at Kubuntu again.

At this point, the lines are just kind of starting to blur. There's nothing really spectacular about Kubuntu as a KDE distro, which -I'm not going to lie- is kind of disappointing. Maybe it's unfair, but it seems like with it being related to Ubuntu, it should at least bring something new to the table, but it really does not. One thing that surprised me is that the Ubuntu Software Center doesn't even come installed; it ships Muon Software Center, which I mentioned earlier is a perfectly fine app, but I find it odd that Ubuntu is really stressing and pushing the Software Center and Ubuntu One, both of which I am a major fan of, even if I have not had the chance to use them, but neither are included in Kubuntu. I guess it's because neither are built on Qt and they are trying to make Kubuntu a KDE-only experience, but here's the thing: there already are KDE only experiences out there. Mageia is a perfect example: nothing exciting, but a really solid KDE distro. Throwing a few non-Qt apps in there like the Software Center or (heaven forbid) Firefox is going to make it different, which is good.

Kubuntu 11.10

Other than that, there isn't much else to say. It's just kind of like Mageia: boring. It could be different if it was the only KDE distro to ship integrated with the Ubuntu Software Store and Ubuntu One, but it doesn't. It ran very smoothly (different than the last time I tried it) and I saw nothing wrong with it. I just saw nothing new.

Pardus will always have a special place in my heart. It is so wonderfully implemented and is definitely a top contender for the best KDE distro. The only problem that I've had in the past was the fact that it uses its own type of package, causing an issue of limited packages. So it was never really a contender, unfortunately.

I know it's not fair, but I am just distro-ed out to attempt to look at PCLinuxOS.

To me, "reviewing" Linux distros is such a harsh word because -at least maybe to me- there isn't much difference between one and another, especially between ones that share the same DE. It's not really like any of these choices are bad, or even that there is a "best". That's probably where the challenge comes in for me, because -even when I chose Mint KDE- there is no absolute "best' KDE distro. They're all well and good, and you just need to give them a try, pick one, and stick with it. That's what I did with Mint KDE, and that's what I'm doing now, and I choose....


More words after I give it a go installing.



  1. You should give Mepis a try. Should fit all the "wants" you listed at the top of your post.

  2. Hmm, I totally forgot about Mepis. It's not really one that comes up in conversations very often, at least from what I can tell. And it's down at slot 41 on DistroWatch. I wonder why that is?

    Anyway, thanks for the suggestion, Anonymous. I'm probably going to try to switch to Arch this summer, but I'll definitely give Mepis a look as a backup. :)