When I began the process of upgrading my base Linux installation to Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, I made an active decision to try something new in my own personal computing environment: I would switch over to a KDE-based distribution. I have been using GNU/Linux-based operating systems for about 10 years now, having experimented with them throughout high school, then making permanent switches on some of my machines in university, and now working completey in the ecosystem while serving in Peace Corps, as well as actively converting others to its use as well. But in all my time with Linux, never did I use KDE. From a principles standpoint, there was that messiness regarding licensing in the nineties and early aughts; from a visuals standpoint, GNOME just always looked better (I prefer simple and elegant), and from a user-base standpoint, I just never felt, “power user,” enough to use it.
With my upgrade, I thought it best to try something new. KDE 4, promised to revolutionize the desktop experience, was maturing, and I was looking to spend some time dabbling with the, “future of computing.” I was also enamored by the efforts of the KDE team to craft a unique netbook experience, and though the Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) for 9.04 was highly-usable, it wasn’t without its flaws. The decision was made: I would keep Ubuntu on all other machines I use, including my, “personal,” machine in the lab, but I would switch to Kubuntu Netbook Remix (KNR) 10.04 for my personal computer.
Ditched That Real Quick
KNR makes a lot of promises. First off, instead of building an application to provide a unique interface, the path UNR takes, it utilizes the foundational building blocks of KDE 4 itself, Plasma, to craft the interface. Using a netbook, I am constantly concerned with unnecessary processing and memory overhead, and sticking apps on top of desktop environments, which already have their own interfaces, just to craft an experience, seems like a wasteful decision on UNR’s part. Thus, hearing that the KNR interface would be crafted in the same way as the traditional KDE 4 desktop experience, I felt that I would better be able to manage resource use.
KNR does a lot of things right, as does UNR. There is an argument about the necessity for having such large icons and whatnot on a netbook when they seem more in-tune with touch interfaces and not pointer-based systems, but what I do like is that each environment allows you to create internally-managed favorites-lists of launchers (however big the icons may be). Sure, in a traditional desktop environment you can put icons on the desktop, but there are nit-picky differences including position and size that make the internally-managed favorites lists easier. Both KNR and UNR also handle window maximization and de-decoration well, and though each is a tad different, I found myself comfortable with both distro’s default choices for the most part. Whether you appreciate automatic-maximization and de-decoration on a netbook seems to be the latest flame-war in nerddom, but I do appreciate it and think both are handling it well. KNR has the added benefit that it utilizes built-in KDE 4 features to implement this, making managing it a bit easier to discover and learn as opposed to hacking gconf in UNR.
Though each distro does some things well, KNR fails in enough ways to have made me switch. Believe it or not, one of the biggest gripes I have with with KNR is the top-bar. People praise its intuitive behavior, but I couldn’t consider the top bar less-intuitive enough! It’s random auto-hide feature would obnoxiously move my maximized windows around, and there’s nothing more obnoxious than a, “jumping screen,” where your primary focus of attention keeps shifting just because you want to check the time. I couldn’t ever find a way to turn off auto-hide, and I think only one time was I able to find the settings for the bar in the first place, when I hit the plasma-workspace settings button. This button was always in place, but only once did it give me the option to modify the panel. The behavior of this settings button seems very glitchy.
I also did not have as fine-grain keyboard control that I would like to have over the KNR interface. I greatly dislike using my touchpad, and having keyboard control is very nice, but I found myself using KRunner much more than the Search and Launch (S&L) of the netbook interface. This was compounded by the fact that everything on the Search and Launch just seemed slow. Bringing up the Plasma settings was slow and, draggy and transitions between screens on S&L was slow and draggy. Sure, the Atom isn’t the fastest pony on the track, but with a gig and a half of RAM, it should at least be able to create smooth interface transitions in an interface designed specifically for its use.
So about two and a half weeks in, I switched to the traditional desktop environment, with my panel at the top, just like the netbook interface, but with the default Plasma Desktop Workspace as the engine. getting rid of Search and Launch.