Friday, April 26, 2013

Kudos for Kubuntu 13.04

Getting Kubuntu

I've been working on my spiffy new Kubuntu 13.04 system, which replaced the older Linux Mint Nadia KDE. Kubuntu was released April 25th, 2013. I recommend torrenting any large file like the Kubuntu .ISO, because by torrenting, one is assured of receiving a valid file without errors, and there is no need for comparing MD5 checksums. I used Ktorrent to download Kubuntu, and K3b to burn the install DVD. I installed Kubuntu on my desktop, which has an ASUS E35M1-M motherboard with a sluggish AMD/ATI E350 apu and four gigs of RAM installed, the standard ration nowadays, a cool and quiet Western Digital 1.5 tb Green drive, and an awesome Acer X223w widescreen LCD monitor.

I'm old school when it comes to distros. Unlike some reviewers, I don't play around with virtual machines or live CD or a different partition of the drive. I go whole hog--format the drive to ext4 and let Kubuntu have every last byte. Having a couple of drives to play around with helps. At all times, I have one to three floaters that aren't connected to any system. Their mission in life is to serve as backups. I think this is the best way to go about things, especially with drives so cheap these days. There isn't much reason to be cheap on hard drives, when one weighs their trivial cost against the hassle involved in losing a Windows install or a multimedia library.

Kubuntu 13.04 is not any worse than Kubuntu 12.10, and I think the developers have done a few things better. I was pleasantly surprised that Wesnoth was indeed updated in the repositories to the current stable version of 1.10.6, as that was my main motivation for upgrading in the first place, along with the latest Ktorrent, 2.3.1, which I also found. Very good, Kubuntu! New versions of all the apps is reason enough to upgrade. Also, KDE 4.10.2 is certainly better than 4.9.5, although clicking on a petty option or two in the settings menu, like syncing with the internet time server, triggers an error report, an unpleasantness I first observed in Open Suse 12.3, but it is nothing serious in my opinion, because of course one can avoid clicking on these things. An avoidable bug that does not cause hardship is not a big deal. When I say "error report," I mean just that. KDE does not crash--one merely gets a popup with an error message, clicks "OK" and that's that.

April 28, 2013 Update:

The time bug seems more severe, at least on my system, than it at first appeared. For two days now, my system has been displaying a time four hours in advance of real time. Originally, I selected Eastern Time / New York, which usually works for me, but apparently New York time is based in a Universe four hours ahead of my Universe. I spent about an hour playing around with KDE's settings trying to fix this, because correct time is important. After many reboots, I concluded that New York time actually is broken, although whether this issue will impact all Kubuntu users I can't say, because this problem may be fall-out related to the error reports I mentioned above. Once I changed the time zone to Louisville, Kentucky Eastern Time, all was well.

The New York time zone was four hours ahead of New York time. If you live on the East Coast of the U.S. or at any rate in a region that subscribes to Eastern Time, I recommend selecting Louisville, KY as your time zone rather than New York.

April 30, 2013 Update: The Clock is Still Broken

Once again, the time has regressed to being four hours ahead of local time. I thought this problem was fixed, but apparently not. My display has changed, too. Instead of displaying only the date, it now displays the date followed by "Local."

May 2, 2013 Update: Fifoxtasy's Fix

Fifoxtasy left a comment with a working solution to this problem. I confirmed that the time remains fixed even after a power down and cold start. If your system is impacted by this problem, read on. Otherwise, count yourself among the fortunate ones and enjoy an otherwise superb KDE 4.10.2 experience.

Open a terminal and type the following commands:
sudo dpkg-reconfigure tzdata
sudo ntpdate
cat /etc/timezone
The last command merely displays the contents of /etc/timezone. If the time zone noted there isn't right, edit this file via sudo kate /etc/timezone, thus bypassing the buggy GUI. Fifoxtasy also suggests a graphical way of changing the time zone: "KDE's systemsettings didn't let me change anything, but when running as root via kdesu systemsettings, I could at least change the timezone."

I'm pleased that the time is fixed, because I was thinking about replacing Kubuntu with something else. Time is important. I'm sure it's not on the short list of cool things developers want to work on, but to the end user, a computer that can't tell time is a poor old thing. Here is a link to Fifoxtasy's Blog.

Despite this initial teething pain, I'm still a fan of KDE and of Kubuntu, for three main reasons: Dolphin, Ktorrent and K3b can't be beat; KDE offers the best desktop experience under the Sun; and KDE is free, so morally I should have to sweat a little to make things work, or else I'd be witness to a violation of Heinlein's TANSTAAFL principle, which states there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Defiance of such a fundamental law of the Universe might result in the disintegration of the bonds that hold molecules together, ending reality as we know it.

Tweaking, Uninstalling and Installing

Do you find that the mouse pointer is far too slow in KDE? I do. First thing I do in KDE is change the pointer acceleration from 2.0 to 12.0 and dial the Drag Start Time down to zero (look under Input Devices | Mouse in System Settings). As with Linux Mint KDE and Open Suse 12.3, I spent the better part of a day darkening the background and replacing default KDE apps such as Kmail, Kwallet, and so on with Thunderbird, Firefox, and VLC, and installing Jedit, which I consider absolutely essential for its macro support. I would never have a system without Jedit, which I find similar to Notepad++ in Windows. Amarok may be the best thing since sliced bread, but I don't think Amarok plays local files as well as VLC, and I don't need Amarok's newfangled features, thank you very much. Rekonq might actually be a faster browser than Firefox for all I know, but I am a Firefox diehard because of Firefox's universe of add-ons. Firefox is the most extensible, the most powerful browser. I chose KDE because of Dolphin, K3b, and Ktorrent, all great programs in the KDE universe and to my knowledge without equal in the Linux world. KDE's settings menu is also great, allowing me to customize just about every aspect of the desktop.

Firefox Sync did not work the way I expected it to do for some as yet undetermined reason, and I can't rule out Ubuntu's little tweaks to Firefox at this stage. I decided not to troubleshoot the problem, but rather to start Firefox afresh, because I've been experiencing a strange problem on Blogger where my text sometimes disappears on me, so I thought a fresh start might not be such a bad thing.

Kubuntu's biggest difference with Linux Mint KDE may be the Muon Package Manager. I find it has a betaish quality at present. Information displayed to the user is not always accurate. For instance, the Install button remains even after an application is installed. Also, I experienced a few error messages with Muon, the precise nature of which I forget now, but I do not think Muon is as reliable as Synaptic Package Manager. However, certainly Muon has more features, and bottomline, it works. I never found a case where Muon did not install (or uninstall) a program as told.

I noticed today that Linux Mint has the firewall icon accessible in System Settings | Network and Connectivity, but Kubuntu doesn't. I prefer Linux Mint's accessible firewall. I don't know why I should have to resort to the command line in Kubuntu in order to configure my firewall. Also present in Linux Mint's System Settings, but not in Kubuntu's, is the Partition Manager, found under the System Administration header. Little touches like that propelled Linux Mint up to #1 in Distro Watch.

KDE 4.10.2's default wallpaper seems pretty good, so I didn't change it, unlike last time. I wouldn't say the wallpaper is better than OpenSuse 12.3's, because it's not. Open Suse 12.3 has the best wallpaper of any Linux distro ever made in all of history, but that's faint praise for a distro.

Kubuntu Introduces More Color Schemes

I love dark backgrounds so much that I coded dark style sheets for my favorite news sites. Color schemes in Kubuntu 13.04 are much improved, especially for the dark side:

Kubuntu 13.04 has six new color schemes, including new dark backgrounds. My choice was Krita - dark.

Comparing my Kubuntu 13.04 desktop side-by-side with my Linux Mint Nadia KDE laptop with backported KDE 4.10.2, I find that Kubuntu 13.04 has six flavors of Krita, a superb scheme with competent dark flavors, whereas Linux Mint doesn't. For dark background fans, Linux Mint offers only Obsidian Coast and Zion (Reversed) schemes, which render some text invisible due to an unresolved black-on-black problem. What I wound up doing in Linux Mint Nadia was spending an hour customizing the Oxygen scheme to be what Krita - dark is out of the box. However, I expect Linux Mint 15 KDE, when released, will also have Krita. The reason Linux Mint Nadia didn't get Krita probably has to do with its KDE 4.9.x origin; backporting KDE 4.10.2 wasn't sufficient to install Krita.

Krita - dark is reason enough to prefer Kubuntu 13.04 above any operating system that does not have it.

Here's a shot of my Kubuntu 13.04 desktop as of now:

Customizing Kubuntu 13.04

There are a couple finishing touches I like to perform on every KDE system I install. One is to adjust the time and date in the lower right hand corner so that it supplies something useful to me. I want military time, none of this PM and AM nonsense. I also want the day of the week, followed by the month, the day of the month, and the year. Right now, all of that is in a tiny font, and I haven't yet found the option to increase the size to something more readable. I do not understand why the KDE developers do not display the date by default, because time has no meaning without a date.

April 29, 2013 Update:

The font parameters, including size, for the taskbar's time and date are found in System Settings | Application Appearance | Fonts, as shown here:

The font used for the time and date is not the taskbar font, but the small font. I think that the time and date is so important that it should have a font that is named "time and date", and that it should be in a class by itself. By increasing the small font from 9 to 12, I produced a legible time and date that can be read at a glance. I increased the taskbar font as well while I was at it. My desktop has 1680 x 1050 resolution, so there is no reason to use tiny fonts.

Adding an Off Button

The other innovation I like to add is an off button, which really is a no-brainer. Every OS should have one. To install an off button in KDE, open Konsole and enter the following command:

sudo chmod u+s /sbin/shutdown
Then create a new link on your desktop called "Off" and copy from the following screenshot:

The "application" being loaded is actually just a command-line program, shutdown.

The Language Barrier

While editing this post in Blogger, I notice that Firefox underlines many words as being misspelled because they deviate from the Commonwealth spelling. I am not sure whether this is related to Kubuntu's installation of language packs. All Ubuntu distros and even Linux Mint install the South African language pack by default, and Kubuntu also installs the GB language pack. I disabled these and installed the U.S. language pack, but the spellchecker remains foreign, underlining common words like "favorite" and "color" because they lack a superfluous vowel.

Unfortunately, adding the U.S. language pack does not fix Firefox's broken spellchecker.

Another KDE Gem: Okular

Unfortunately, for some reason, Krita was the default app in Firefox to print out .pdf files, which cost me about an hour one morning, because whatever its other merits, Krita does not print .pdf documents at the proper scale by default, and I was not in the mood to learn how to use a program I have never used before. Sometimes one simply needs to get things done.

I use my printer for one main purpose, to print out postage either from Ebay or directly from the United States Postal Service's web site. By doing so, one receives a discount of ~ 16%, saves fuel and time, and enjoys the convenience of staying at home. The USPS delivers online postage in .pdf format. In Linux, the application that works best for printing .pdf files is Okular, and it is extremely important that all Linux operating systems default to Okular for .pdf files, because to my knowledge, there is no better app than Okular for viewing and printing .pdf. I have used Okular extensively not just for printing but for searching through long and hairy .pdf files. Okular has proven extremely fast and has a very intuitive interface. Windows does not have a better app for searching .pdf files. Linux has the best app, and it is Okular. People that read .pdf files on a regular basis should erase Windows and install Linux in order to access Okular.

Ensure that Okular is the only app for viewing .pdf files in KDE:

I also advise adjusting the application preference in Firefox itself:

Esoteric Weirdness

Of interest only to fellow geeks, I triggered weird behavior in Kubuntu 13.04, booting up to this screen:

I cannot call this behavior a bug, because intuition led me to suspect my recent changes to fstab were the culprit, as indeed they were. I have gotten into the habit of optimizing every linux distro's fstab in the following manner:

# /etc/fstab: static file system information.
# Use 'blkid' to print the universally unique identifier for a
# device; this may be used with UUID= as a more robust way to name devices
# that works even if disks are added and removed. See fstab(5).
# / was on /dev/sda1 during installation
UUID=blahblah / ext4 errors=remount-ro,noatime 0 1
# swap was on /dev/sda5 during installation
UUID=blahblah none swap sw 0 0
tmpfs /tmp tmpfs nodev,nosuid,size=2G,noatime,mode=1777 0 0
tmpfs /var/lock tmpfs nodev,nosuid,size=384M,noatime,mode=1777 0 0
tmpfs /var/run tmpfs nodev,nosuid,size=1G,noatime,mode=1777 0 0
I feel that Linux systems, by default, access the hard drive for rather insignificant reasons and behave as though we were still living in a world where memory was measured in kilo- rather than giga- bytes. I have four gigs in my system and I expect it to be used. Let's not run the hard drive ragged, because the hard drive is the bottleneck.

Kubuntu 13.04 does not like the last two lines above, the ones that change /var/lock and /var/run to tmpfs. Commenting out those lines eliminated the weird startup problem. I'm not alone in tmpfs'ing /var/lock and /var/run--I read about this in the ArchLinux wiki--but it is far from mainstream practice. I will never do so again, now that the potential for problems is clear. I discovered through further experimentation that the tmpfs for /tmp causes no problem, I think because it is closer to being mainstream practice now, what with Fedora having adopted the practice a version ago or so.

Conclusion: Kubuntu 13.04 is for Keeps

I am sticking with Kubuntu 13.04 for the foreseeable future on my desktop. It is better than Open Suse 12.3 because I know, with any Debian derivative, that printing will be a no-brainer, as printing should be in 2013, for all love. Kubuntu works out of the box with my wired network, requiring zero adjustments. And Kubuntu does not enroll the install dvd into the library of repositories like Open Suse does. Although I picked at a few things with Muon's package management, Muon seems better than Open Suse's package management, which gives really hairy and I think frequent error messages. Open Suse's biggest problem is that it does not have Debian behind it. Its second biggest problem is that they are preaching to the choir, to users that have used Suse since back in the day, and don't seem very interested in recruiting new users by making the system easier to use.

Comparing Kubuntu 13.04 with Linux Mint 12.10 KDE doesn't seem quite fair, because Linux Mint only has an older version available at present, but I will say that I didn't notice the lack of Mint. I don't miss the Mint menu, and I feel like I can work with Muon Package Manager. Mint always messes around with the Firefox search box, too, so using Kubuntu saved me about five or ten minutes not having to jump through hurdles to revert the search box to Google. I like the right-click options that Linux Mint adds to the file manager, the "Root Actions," which are missing in Kubuntu. Another way that Mint saves the end user time is that the devs are kind enough to install Firefox, VLC and the firewall by default, but like Kubuntu, Linux Mint KDE still has the Kmail and Kwallet monsters lurking in the shadows. In the past, I did not have a good experience with Kwallet. For some odd reason, it forced me to enter my email password each and every time that I loaded Kmail. The reason that I use a mail reader in the first place is that I do not want to enter my password. Tweaking Kwallet's or Kmail's settings didn't help. My solution was to permanently uninstall Kmail and Kwallet, and that is the first thing I do every time I install any KDE distro. Overall, I would say that Kubuntu 13.04 is comparable to Linux Mint KDE, and given a choice between the two, I'd probably choose Kubuntu, because it is released sooner and does not mess around with the Firefox search box. But the final verdict remains to be seen, because Linux Mint 15 KDE should be released later in 2013.


Mahmood said...

very good and detailed review. I am of the opinion that all reviewers should install the system and use it for a few days before posting a review.

F1L0 said...

Other screenshots of Kubuntu 13.04 here:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your review. I do agree with you, that the Ubuntu family of distros have a certain ease of use, missing in many other linux branches. However, I have been forced to use OpenSuse 12.2 & 12.3, since for some reason my Lenovo Z580 doesn't seem to like Mint nor Ubuntu at all. OpenSuse's printing issue you mentioned troubled me too, until I found the foomatic printing package in the OpenSuse software-centre website. Printing now works as I am used to in Mint.

Unknown said...

On older versions Kwallet had the option of not requiring a password for its configuration. That main password is the one asked by all apps that use it.

igor said...

Thanks for the tip, which may help Open Suse users. It seems to me, if the Open Suse devs want new folks to use their distro, they should have printing ready to roll from the get-go. I know printing seems old-fashioned to some people. I asked a reviewer of Open Suse whether he had tried to print, and he told me that he didn't even own a printer, which is probably a fairly common scenario nowadays. For Ebay sellers however printing is a must, and for anyone who prints postage it's a must, and for a lot of other users, printing is one of the main things they need the computer to do.

igor said...

I continue to update the review as new observations occur to me. I added something today about the time zone and may add more material later.

Anonymous said...

what color theme are you using?

igor said...

Krita-darker. I updated my review with a paragraph or two discussing that.

Anonymous said...

Interesting review, and thinks for the info about color themes. I had to move away from dark themes because of the issue you mentioned. I've got the Krita themes in my copy of PCLOS KDE & will try it out.

igor said...

Looks to me like Linux distros are getting the memo about dark backgrounds, which are so easy on the eyes. I'm pleased with "Krita - dark" and have not found any reason to change or even to customize any of the colors - yet.

J. Cain said...

Great review! BTW I'm having the same issue with time zone as well on this machine, which is an old laptop running 12.04. Apparently some update borked the time settings. I tried changing to Kentucky (I'm in Ohio) but now both UTC and Kentucky time are shown as one and the same which in my case is 4 hours ahead of actual time.

Otherwise Kubuntu with KDE 4.10.2 is pretty impressive.

igor said...

Thanks for the heads up. One can never be sure whether there's something amiss in the operating system in general or just something on a specific install, but with your confirmation, I feel more confident of my assertion. I wondered whether my motherboard had gone bad--such a rare thing to happen--good to know, in a way, that it's just Kubuntu 13.04. Must be either Kubuntu or a recent KDE update, because my laptop with Linux Mint Nadia KDE was fine over the weekend.

Unfortunately Kentucky's no cure! Maybe the devs will sort things out.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I've just gone back to an oxygen color scheme. Both the DJL game manager & KSysGuard displayed black on black font errors. I supose it only happens in KSysGuard when I right click a process & go to 'Detailed Memory Information', but it's still a bit off. I love the customization in Linux, & especially KDE, but I guess it encourages little errors when you can pick so many color schemes.

Fifoxtasy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fifoxtasy said...

Concerning the time bug:
"sudo dpkg-reconfigure tzdata" fixed things for me
i also ran "sudo ntpdate" to update the time from ntp servers and you can change the timezone in "/etc/timezone" if the gui doesn't work. KDE's systemsettings didn't let me change anything, but when running it as root "kdesu systemsettings" I could at least change the timezone.

I already had problems with this in 12.10 and 12.04, a shame it's still not fixed.

igor said...

Thanks for the input. I don't use DJL game manager or KsysGuard, so perhaps that explains why my experience with Krita has been better. Perhaps KDE developers need more beta tester volunteers? Testing color schemes must be a difficult task due to the many apps.

igor said...

I executed your commands, and the time seems right at the moment. I will reboot and see whether it regresses. The bug isn't fixed unless the time is okay after a reboot. But if this works, I will update my post and give you credit for the solution.

Naude said...

Thanks Igor
The time bug fix worked a treat.
I agree your boots and all approach is best - upgrading 12 to 13 (i tried that) did not work so good, power management failed, nvidia drivers failed, network settings bombed out due to kwallet flaking.
best practice to backup everything - format the drive and restore your work after that.
As a developer adding tasksel and then installing LAMP makes Kubuntu a neat desktop coding developing environment. komodo as editor or geany, gimp for graphics, zurb or bootstrap for responsive css and i prefer thunderbird for mail over the kmail pim kde complicated mess things up approach.

igor said...

Thanks for the recommendations of programs to use for various tasks. Having only used Linux for a year or so, I was not aware of some of these titles.

Dárvini Aranes Fook said...

Should I install it?

igor said...

The situation has altered. In the past few days, Linux Mint has released a release candidate (RC) of Linux Mint 15 KDE, which means their official release is imminent. I am willing to wager the Linux Mint team will release a polished product. The added quality control they apply is of some value.

The main reason I installed Kubuntu 13.04 a few months ago was because it was released sooner. Linux Mint historically has offered a better user experience than any of the *buntu flavors, and the problems I encountered with Kubuntu (clock off by three hours, blank windows popping up at startup) do not lead me to suppose that that scenario has altered in any significant way.

However, I plan to stay with Kubuntu, because I think I've worked out the little problems I encountered. A lot of work is involved upgrading, and when Kubuntu is working right, there is not much difference between it and Linux Mint. They have the same base after all.

Ultimately, you'd probably be happy with either Kubuntu or Linux Mint KDE, but I think I'd try the latter, at this point in time. The main criticism I have heard against Linux Mint is they mess around with the search bar in Firefox, but that is easily remedied.

Shashi Warrier said...

When I tried out Kubuntu, it didn't permit me to format in ext4, so I used ext2 instead. Wonder how you managed ext4.

Opera is missing from the Kubuntu repository. Serious gap.

igor said...

I did a complete new install on a blank hard drive. If you already have formatted partitions, then there may be restrictions. There is no problem with ext4, I am using it now.

I don't know anything about Opera, but would agree that it should be made available to users as a legitimate alternative browser.

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