Patience is a Virtue
Upon reboot, the screen froze at the brightening-and-darkening Kubuntu logo. I suspected user error immediately. After all, Kubuntu is a class act. There's no way they would release an install that would not boot, at least on my mainstream hardware--an AMD E-350 apu with ATI Radeon 6310 graphics, 4 gigs of Ram, and a 1.5tb Western Digital Green Drive. I remember popping the dvd out at or near the end of the install when I thought that it was done accessing the dvd. But was the install really finished? Maybe not! I decided to perform the installation one more time to be sure. Kubuntu is always worth a second chance and the benefit of the doubt. This time, I let Kubuntu eject the dvd on its own, without my help, and only when it had done so did I take the disk out. Another change I decided to make was to wait patiently until I saw text on the screen that said "shutting down all processes," or something to that effect. Then I rebooted, and Kubuntu was fine. I've been working with computers long enough to know that user error is the first thing to examine whenever there is trouble. Of course, dear Mr. Kubuntu Developer, to make the install easier, perhaps there should be an instruction on the screen asking the user to keep the disk in the drive until it is no longer needed.
Customizing KDE the Igor Way
After install, the first thing I like to do to any Linux distro is uninstall those prepackaged apps I don't use and install those apps that I do use that the developers did not include. By uninstalling unneeded apps, the frequency and length of future updates can be minimized. In any KDE distro, there is going to be a bias for KDE-specific apps, such as Rekonq for web browsing and Kmail for email. I like many of the KDE choices, such as K3b for cd/dvd burning, Dolphin for file manager, Ktorrent for torrents, and Okular for PDFs, but not all. I can't survive without my Firefox and its universe of add-ons, and I prefer VLC to handle video files, Thunderbird for email, Jedit for coding, and Filezilla for FTP. I decided to keep Kubuntu's default web browser, Rekonq, because even though I prefer Firefox for daily use, Rekonq has its niche. I have found it to be a very lean and agile browser that can handle big, hairy web sites like blogspot, where I compose my posts. Blogspot's "Compose" window can actually crash Firefox on low-spec machines. In cases like that, Rekonq can be a savior. It is a good idea to have a primary and a secondary application for an important purpose like web browsing. Thankfully, Kubuntu has LibreOffice, my choice for office software, already installed.
Kubuntu's solution for package management is Muon Package Manager. Here's a snapshot of Muon (the name, by the way, refers to a subatomic particle):
Muon has really matured since Kubuntu 13.04 and is looking and feeling better than ever.
Muon Package Manager can also update the system and serves as an alternative to the Muon Update Manager, which may not be quite ready yet for prime time, from what I have observed. To use the upgrade option in Muon Package Manager, simply click its "Check for Updates" icon. I expect the Muon Update Manager will be fixed later, but until it is fixed, users should make a note to run Muon Package Manager on a weekly basis to check for and install available updates. Let us give Kubuntu some slack here, because apparently, Canonical sets the release date for all the Ubuntu distros, ready or not, and the problem is after all relatively minor, as there is a workaround. Also, 13.10 is not a long-term support release, but intended for enthusiasts like myself, and it is expected that our enthusiasm will paper over little rough edges in the development snapshot that 13.10 represents. I hope to see Muon Update Manager working soon, but I think I can hang on until it is.
Muon Discover offers more elaborate, user-friendly categorization and presentation of the programs available in the repository. I have not yet determined all of the differences between it and Muon Package Manager. Perhaps Muon Discover intends to offer new features not found in Muon Package Manager. Out of curiosity, I used Muon Discover to install GUFW, a GUI tool for configuring the system firewall. Muon Discover installed GUFW, although I had to search for the little installation progress bar at the lower-left of the screen. After Muon informed me the installation was complete, I noticed that the "Install" button was still enabled beside GUFW, which was confusing. Certainly a user would not wish to install an application twice. Also, when I tried to exit Muon Discover, I received a notice that the application was not responding. I opted to wait for Discover to close on its own, because I did not want to imperil GUFW's installation. After a moment, it closed by itself.
With GUFW, one can configure the firewall with a few clicks and then forget about it. GUFW does not need to autostart every time, but is a run-once utility, although one occasionally may refer to it to open up ports to play online games or torrent. One of the peculiarities of Kubuntu is that it does not include any graphical firewall configuration utility by default. Linux Mint does, and if memory serves me correctly, so does PCLinuxOS. I think that GUFW's absence from Kubuntu may have something to do with GUFW not being a KDE-specific solution and thus posing a bit of an embarrassment, but I'm not sure. For my part, I think it is a no-brainer to include a graphical firewall configuration tool in any modern operating system, and in my opinion, PCLinuxOS and Linux Mint are both correct to do so. I like KDE, but I don't think one has to be a purist about it.
After my visit with Muon, next I like to click on System Settings and begin customizing right away, because I know my preferences. A new user might prefer to get used to the system for a couple of days before they begin customizing. The first thing I do is remove unnecessary services that get loaded at startup. The "Startup and Shutdown" options are found in "System Settings" under the header "System Administration." After loading the "Startup and Shutdown" menu, click on the "Services Manager." Do you use Bluetooth? If not, then you can certainly do without that service loading every time. The same logic applies for such things as the Wacom Tablet and KDE Touchpad Enabler Daemon. If unnecessary services are disabled, slightly more memory is available to programs and, in theory, there is less that can go wrong with the system. I would not classify this as essential for a user like me with four gigs of RAM to play with, but it helps a little bit and satisfies my geeky nature. Here is a snapshot of the "Services Manager" options:
As you can see, I have unchecked some options above.
The "Autostart" sub-menu is rather more useful for the average user and another wonderful aspect of KDE, because I can easily add programs to execute immediately upon boot, thus saving me time. In the morning, I like to hit the power button, then leave for the kitchen and get myself a cup of tea. When I come back, my system is loaded with Thunderbird having checked for new mail, Firefox ready to roll, and Dolphin ready to open any documents I might want to read. Setting these programs to autostart is a true no-brainer. The defaults work fine and no typing is needed. One of the things I like about KDE is that I can get the computer to do what I want it to do without that much effort. Those who remember Windows XP may recall the awful anti-intuitive procedure needed to add a program to startup. I always had to search the internet to jog my memory on how to do it. Not so with KDE, which honors the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Adding Programs to Startup is Easy
I disapprove of using AM and PM for time, when military time seems more logical from every point of view. It is surprising the number of people who confuse 12AM with 12PM and vice versa, but this human tendency toward error can be avoided and our daily discourse simplified if we all convert to using military time. Right click on the clock, choose "Digital Clock Settings," and under the "Appearance" option, click on the wrench beside "Date Format," which will open up another menu, the "Locale" menu that can also be found under "System Settings." In KDE, sometimes there is more than one route to an options menu, but that is for the sake of user convenience. In the "Locale" menu, of course we want to modify Date & Time, even though military time has nothing to do with either locale or date.
Use the above settings to convert to military time
I also like for the desktop clock to display the day of the week, followed by the alphabetic month, the day, and the year. That is a setting found, intuitively enough, in "Digital Clock Settings," accessible by a right-click on the clock. Under "Appearance," choose the "Long Date" under "Date Format." This will produce a rather unsatisfactory appearance, because the font of the long date is, by default, rather small. The secret to increasing the font size, and it is indeed not intuitive at all, is to look in "System Settings" under "Application Appearance" (not Fonts). Only after you have clicked on "Application Appearance" should you choose the "Fonts" option found there. The font that controls the size of the date is not called anything obvious like "Date" or "Time" but instead is named "Small." Alright, you have found the worst problem in KDE! That's not really so bad, now, is it? Really, it's not. A very minor detail, and now that you know, it is no longer a problem. Hopefully, a KDE developer will read this review one day and tweak the Settings menu just a wee bit!
To change the size of the date in your desktop clock, increase the size of the "Small" font
Desktop Effects deserve attention. I am not sure of the reasons why Open GL 2.0 is set as the default instead of Open GL 3.1, but I suspect the reason has to do with keeping things as compatible as possible. I have reasonably modern video hardware that I think can cope with Open GL 3.1, so I enable it. I also feel it is wise to suspend desktop effects for a fullscreen window, because if I am fullscreen in any application, then obviously I am not going to be appreciating any desktop effects.
Why not use Open GL 3.1?
You may have noticed from the above screenshot that my background colors are dark. I suffer from eyestrain if I stare at a bright screen all day long. I have had mixed experiences with dark backgrounds in both Windows and Linux. They tend to work great for some applications, but not so great for others. In my last review of Kubuntu, I praised "Krita - dark," but I later discovered I could not read text on the screen in some applications. If a dark background is to be used, then the foreground text certainly must be brightened, not left dark. To change the background color, choose "Application Appearance" under "System Settings" and look under "Colors." My preference for this release is "Wonton Soup," which seems to be the most sensible setting I've tried so far, although I notice many text foregrounds are still distressingly dark. I have not yet found the killer dark background that slays all competitors, but when I do there will be a coronation in the form of a blog post dedicated to that style.
Wonton Soup provides a nice dark background
Why Do I Love KDE?
I honestly don't know why Ubuntu went their own way with Unity and why Linux Mint defaults to Gnome-derivatives Cinnamon or Mate, but I suppose the wise developers had their own reasons, and that these must be popular options for the desktop. For my part, I see no reason to bother with any other alternative to KDE except to conserve system resources for a low-spec machine, in which case XFCE to me seems like a good choice. KDE is beautiful, sophisticated, powerful and I love that I can customize every aspect about it. At first, the power to customize is double-edged. With great power comes great responsibility. The panel, in particular, remains vulnerable to getting messed up if a user is not careful. I messed up my panel in PCLinuxOS, but was able to restore to default by copying /etc/skel/.kde to my home directory. There is probably a similar failsafe in Kubuntu. At any rate, I will share the present state of my desktop after an afternoon's tinkering:
My desktop uses the tasteful default KDE wallpaper, because it is easy on the eyes
Note the application icons on the left-hand side of my panel. They are, from left to right, "Show Desktop," which simply minimizes the active window, "Dolphin," the default KDE file manager, "Thunderbird," the Mozilla email reader, "Firefox," the Mozilla web browser, "Filezilla," which I use to ftp files to and from the web sites I maintain, and "Jedit," a programmer's text editor, which I love because it has very good support of macros, a terminal icon which simply opens a terminal for command-line input, and of course, where would we be without System Settings, which is used for tweaking everything in KDE.
My clock, as you can see, displays military time, and beneath it we have the day of the week, followed by the month, and then the day, and the four-digit year. The desktop I keep empty, because I've decided I don't want my desktop cluttered anymore. I prefer to launch apps from the panel nowadays, because the panel remains visible more often than the desktop.
Networking in Kubuntu
After customizing the desktop and the installed applications, next on the agenda is introducing Kubuntu to my already existing home network, so that I can print using the network printer and share files between computers.
I do not use wireless and am not that keen on the idea for desktop users, but those users who do may share their experiences in the comments section below.
After a single file copy from my handy-dandy 2GB flash drive, Kubuntu now communicates with my wired, networked Windows and Linux boxes without any problems. New users, please understand one thing about networking in Linux. There is really only one secret that you have to know. Whenever a Linux distro is installed for the first time, there is a file called /etc/samba/smb.conf that needs to be either edited or replaced. The default is not set up to communicate with your network. It can't, because it has no way of knowing what your workgroup is called, although I think it might be a nice touch for a distro to ask, during or after installation, and maybe offer to setup some directories with network sharing. If you already have a network in place and just want to enable networking on your Linux machine and don't care too much about security, you can edit /etc/samba/smb.conf in the following way:
- Change the workgroup to reflect your actual workgroup name.
- If your workgroup already exists, then set wins support = no.
- Set name resolve order = hosts wins bcast lmhosts
- To make a directory on your Linux home directory visible and modifiable on the network, all you need is something like:
path = /home/igor/Downloads
force user = igor
force group = igor
read only = no
guest ok = yes
available = yes
browsable = yes
public = yes
writable = yes
Printing in Kubuntu
A lot of reviewers don't cover the printing angle, because I guess they never sell anything on Ebay or Amazon, but I do. The only way I can explain positive reviews of Open Suse is that the reviewers didn't use their printers. Kubuntu played nice with my network printer, as always. That is a huge reason for me to use Kubuntu. There is something to be said for ease of installation and configuration, particularly when there is no downside to those shining virtues. To configure the printer, I simply clicked on the Printer icon in "System Settings" and clicked on "Add a new Printer." It found the network printer on its own. I did not have to enter the IP address. Kubuntu detected the correct printer driver, too. How's that for service?
I did not experience any problems in Kubuntu until I went to purchase postage on Amazon for something I sold. There the packing list printed without a hitch, but the postage refused to print to my network printer, because the web site's Java application was unable to detect my printer and refused to let me select the printer myself, which I think is the product of very poor programming practice. This is not the fault of Kubuntu but rather seems to me due to a design failure on stamps.com, which I suspect is not performing any testing on Linux machines. I have printed out postage on Ebay many a time, so I do not know what the problem is with Amazon, but maybe they can ask Ebay for help in sorting out all of their program errors. I printed the postage out on my Windows machine instead. I sold a used book for $8, Amazon took a hefty $3 cut, the media mail postage cost $3, and I spent an hour trying unsuccessfully to get the label to print in Linux. After an hour's work tinkering with the printer settings, I was left with a net of $2 and a firm resolution not to sell anything on Amazon ever again, because they don't support Linux and are greedy with the fees. But Kubuntu comes out of this all right in my opinion.
Kubuntu's Long-Term Prospects
Perhaps differences in philosophy are at the root of the MIR/Wayland controversy. I like technology, but believe philosophy is more important. In reality, however much one might like to cast the issue in philosophical terms, the problem has a very practical impact. We observe the classical Linux case of reinventing the wheel. Instead of one display server to suit all distros, now a new wheel must be invented twice, by different teams of developers working presumably in isolation from one another. That is unnecessary diversion of development resources. In addition, it is by no means certain that an application developed for the Wayland environment will also work well in the MIR environment. Thus, there could very well be in the future two classes of Linux applications, those that work in Wayland and those that work in Mir. Of course, I have only touched on two outstanding and obvious points on the controversy. There are others.
Anyone reading my blog can detect dismay over the choice by Canonical to go alone with Mir rather than Wayland in the future. I don't really care about Ubuntu and their Unity, but there is a pertinent question as to how this might impact Kubuntu or for that matter Linux Mint, both of which are based on Ubuntu. I am pleased that Kubuntu's developers have declared on their web site that they will use Wayland in accordance with the same decision by KDE developers and all of the other Linux distros and desktops in the Linux community. I think if Kubuntu ever starts experiencing a lot of friction due to future changes made in the Ubuntu MIR-centric codebase, then they will simply fork from the last stable (stable from the Kubuntu/KDE point of view) and continue as they always have been, perhaps even stronger than before. I think, as they are now employed by Blue Systems, that their long-term prospects are excellent.