Thursday, 3 March 2016

Kubuntu 16.04 Pre-Release Review

I was getting a bit tired of Mint KDE 17.3 on my main HP Z400 workstation (Quad core 2.5Ghz Xeon, 6GB RAM) like the way it holds back updates, plus for some reason it has been feeling rather sluggish and the final straw was Mint's user forum and main site getting hacked. If I cannot get help through their forum without them exposing my personal details then I will look elsewhere. The question was which distro should I try?

Well I wanted to stick with KDE and switch pretty quickly. I did consider Kaos Linux which is an interesting ground-up built distro that uses the package system and rolling release method from Arch. However having tried it in a VM, I would have had to spend a lot of time researching how to get all my favourite apps to install, and I needed to switch quicker than that. I'd also probably have to backup and format my Home partition. Plus 'bleeding-edge' distros are not really my cup of tea, I prefer stability over the latest apps. I know my way round apt-get and dpkg commands so well, I decided to go for Kubuntu 16.04. However since the final release is not due until the mid-April, I took a risk and installed a Daily build. This also made things easier because I could keep my old Home partition, so all my settings (bar the KDE ones) would stay, and I won't have to reinstall when 16.04 is finally released.

Installing took no time at all, as per previous releases, and the install went without a hitch. Upon rebooting I logged into the new KDE Plasma 5 desktop. By default on Nvidia cards 'buntu releases run using the open source Nouveau drivers, which are surprisingly good, apart from slightly fuzzy font rendering, but I could use it on my dual monitors fine while I sorted out getting the proprietary drivers installed. I tried installing the latest drivers manually using the PPA, but ended up with blank screens, until I remembered that my card is an old passive-cooled Geforce 210! Since Kubuntu's Driver Management Module doesn't see the old Legacy cards, I checked on NVidia's site which ones I needed, installed Synaptic, and looked for the nvidia-340 drivers. Once I installed them and rebooted all was well again. I then installed all my usual apps such as Gimp, Gmusicbrowser, Clementine, VLC etc. I also installed a couple of meta-packages, kubuntu-restricted-extras (for extra non-free codecs etc) and build-essential (for compiling apps).

The only remnants of my old settings I had to fix was some of the Places in Dolphin file manager were orphaned (since I changed the mount point of one of my drives) so it was just a case of editing those in the sidebar. Incidentally, I like the cleaned up look of Dolphin now, just remember that a lot of settings are now under the "Control" button.

My only slight problems are with virtual machines. Virtualbox won't install as it has dependency issues and (my admittedly old version of) VMWare Workstation needs patching again due to a newer kernel than it expects.I am sure these will be sorted at some point but it's not too much of a problem since I can always try VMs on my server (which has much more RAM anyway) and remote into them. Also I had to re-enable bash auto-completion which is not on by default for some reason.

I have changed the hideous Kubuntu default wallpaper for a couple of my favourites. It would be nice if KDE could span one wallpaper between two desktops, but KDE treats each workspace as separate. I have also tweaked the desktop/panel layout, switched the Desktop Theme from the default Breeze Light to Breeze Dark and installed Conky, so this is how my desktop looks now:

One thing I really love in Plasma 5 is the new Media Player widget, which now even recognises Gmusicbrowser, which it never did before, oh and the keyboard media buttons now actually work with Gmusicbrowser! Hovering over the widget on the panel shows artist/song info and album cover, clicking on the widget opens up the media controls. It might not seem like much but it's little things like this make things easier. Incidentally, Clementine player still uses a lot of resources - it is the top item in CPU and Memory usage in System Monitor, above Chrome!

The main thing I love about Kubuntu 16.04 is it's speed, it feels lightning fast compared to my old Mint KDE installation, even on a mechanical hard drive. Chrome feels really snappy, even with quite a few tabs open. Being a Daily build, there's a whole bunch of updates to install every day, when I login and even though it's still in beta, it is really stable, I've not had any application crashes yet, so hopefully it should be rock solid when it is finally released.

Update 6th March 2016
There's been a few little crashes, including once with Plasma desktop crashing and another with mouse settings, but nothing that a quick logout/login or reboot hasn't cured. Being a pre-release there are bound to be a few little bugs so I wouldn't recommend putting on mission critical situations until the final release, but at least there's not too long to wait.

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