Jan 3, 2009

Kubuntu 8.10: First impressions

My laptop has been "upgraded" since Feisty, I think. Feisty Beta actually. It's gone from Feisty -> Gutsy -> Hardy. And while it's sweet that one can upgrade the operating system without having to reinstall everything, cruft has built up. Suspend quit working after the Gutsy -> Hardy upgrade. The way stuff like X works has completely changed: my old /etc/X11/xorg.conf was full of options I'd discovered by trial and error in order to get KDE4's desktop effects to work. There were lines that I'd carefully commented out in a failed attempt to keep X from spewing errors about imaginary Wacom tablets. Imagine my surprise when I learned that nowadays, xorg.conf is practically blank - all the monitors, input devices, etc. are hotplugged. English translation: All that confusing stuff I had to do to get stuff working in the past? That's done by magic now. I don't need that stuff. (And more than likely, keeping those config files makes things worse, because those options might override the ones chosen by the magic.)

At some point I might have to learn where the new magical X settings come from, if for some reason the magical settings it chooses don't suit me. But frankly, I have less patience for that stuff than I used to. I just want it to work by default.

But the point is: "upgrading" wasn't giving me all the benefits of a fresh new install. So for Intrepid, I said screw this, I'm reinstalling. I want a brand new, out-of-the-box system. Luckily, I had been clever enough in the past to put my /home directory on a separate partition, so it wasn't a big issue. I just made a full backup, and then reinstalled over the partition that had root. I actually went through and hand picked what config files in my home dir to keep, and which to toss out in favor of whatever new default config files are provided nowadays. I kept .mozilla and .opera, so I wouldn't lose my bookmarks and history. I kept .mozilla-thunderbird so I'd keep my email settings. I merged my old .bash_rc with the new .bash_rc, and so on. Finally, I deleted the home dir in the root partition, added a line to the new /etc/fstab to mount my home partition in /home, rebooted, and lived happily ever after.

Haha, yeah right like anything computer-related is "happily ever after". But it was pretty close. Here are some of my comments and feedback on Kubuntu Intrepid.

Sound works out-of-the-box. Yeah! However, I had to change the Master Channel in KMix from PCM to Front. On PCM, the multimedia buttons brought up the on-screen volume display, but didn't actually change the volume.

I went to change the wallpaper - only one wallpaper is installed by default? Come on. That's just lame. And then to confuse things worse, there are TWO packages of wallpapers: kdewallpapers and kdebase-workspace-wallpapers. The ones in kdewallpapers were aweful (Repeating tile patterns? That's so Windows 95.) so I just kept kdebase-workspace-wallpapers. Next time, install that package by default please!

I like that I can just install kubuntu-restriced-extras and get .mp3 playback and friends. Kubuntu might have even prompted that when I tried to play an .mp3 the first time, I forget. Still have to add medibuntu for some stuff, but that's really easy.

But no, I have a list of quibbles and complaints. Some are due to specific KDE4->KDE3 functionality losses, some are stupid defaults, but most are just because of laziness or lack of time on the developers' part probably. Here we go:
  • The installer. When I hit "Forward", the focus isn't set to the first text box on that page - I must move the mouse and select the first text box myself. An anoyance that got in the way of my type-type-tab-type-type hit "Forward" type-type-tab-type-type mentality. Seriously, it's probably just one line of code to set the focus; I expected more from the Kubuntu devs who put so much emphasis on usability.
  • When I created a Google Talk account in Kopete, it set the default server to gmail.com. I was baffeled as to why it didn't work until I went to the Google Talk page and saw it says clearly to use the server talk.google.com. Also, "Use SSL" was unchecked by default when for Google Talk it should be checked by default. Seriously, if they're going to add a separate item for Google Talk instead of including it as a Jabber account, put in the right defaults for goodness sake!
  • The knetworkmanager UI has regressed. I use to love clicking the knetworkmanager icon, seeing the available wireless networks and their signal strength in the dropdown, and clicking one to switch to that network immediately. I now have to click multiple times to even see what wireless networks are available! That's worse than in XP. I know Celeste did a usability report on it, so maybe the "good" knetworkmanager was a version modified specifically for Kubuntu and now Kubuntu 8.10 has the vanilla KDE version. I must say, I hope the vanilla KDE knetworkmanager people accept Celeste's advice and implement the usability changes.
  • Searching in krunner. No offense, I LOVE THE NEW KRUNNER! I use it all the time. But seriously, some keywords need to be added to apps or smarter indexing used. Typing the word "Internet" returns no hits. Searching for "printer" brings up the HPLIP Toolbox but not system-config-printer-kde. On a general note, how are users going to know to hit F2? Should that be mentioned in the K-menu perhaps?
  • The clock was in 24hr mode be default, and no menu option for the clock widget takes you to the time/date settings. Don't be a lazy developer; add a link to the date and time settings from all clock widgets. It's little things like that that need polishing. Maybe that's fixed in 4.2 already, I guess I'll find out later this month.
  • There's no printer settings in System Settings. This is a KDE4->KDE3 regression, so I'll give Kubuntu some slack. There is a printer setup utility K-menu > Applications > System, so it's not a total loss. It's not as nice as the old utility, but hopefully that'll be worked out soon. However, I wonder how hard it would have been to put a link in System Settings to the printer utility, or re-use the KDE3 printer module in System Settings. Same applies to the User Manager - it's in the K-menu but not in System Settings which makes it harder to find.
  • I have a sneaking suspicion that parts of Special Window Settings may not work. Rules for Keep Above and Show on All Desktops seems to work, but I'm having trouble getting geometry rules to be applied to FF windows based on the window title. Might just be me though... and I hadn't tried that in KDE3 before so I have nothing to compare it with.
  • Another Kwin questions: Why is "Desktop navigation wraps around" under Focus, and "Active Desktop Borders" under "Advanced"? They seem tightly related to me. Well, all the Kwin settings need to be organized and explained a little better - I submitted the idea of being able to move your mouse across virtual desktops as a KDE4 feature request, only to later learn it's been in KDE3 for ages, if I had only guessed that's what Active Desktop Borders meant.
  • The MythTV frontend package tried to call kdesu to add the user to the mythtv group, but Kubuntu apparently now uses kdesudo. That needs to be fixed. Hm, I may actually file a bug report for that one. (Aw, it's already been fixed.) You really got to be on top of things to file a virgin bug report for KDE these days. I made that mistake just the other day.
  • I haven't figured out how to take advantage of strigi. In my old install, I could type "strigi:/" in the addressbar of Konqueror, but that protocol appears to be unsupported now. I installed strigi-client, but in addition to being terribly slow, it has only served to inform me that Strigi has indexed 0 files, despite being enabled in System Settings. Hmph.
  • Dolphin is mysteriously slow. Like... I don't know it behaves like it's running on Windows sometimes. Three second delays between when I right click and a menu pops up, that sort of thing. Konqueror seems fine. I'm throwing the Dolphin devs the benefit of the doubt here guessing the speed thing is due to something beyond their control, or that they have implemented large speed improvements in time for KDE 4.2.
Overall, I'm fairly happy with Kubuntu 8.10. It's no panacea, but compared to 2 years ago, it's amazing progress, particularly given the switch to KDE 4. Almost all my complaints at this point are polish - things that could be fixed with one or two - ok maybe 5 or 6 - lines of code here and there. It still kicks ass compared to Windows. Although on a personal note, I'm starting to tire of tech - I think I may need to get outside and start canoeing and camping again.

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