Posted by: reformedmusings | January 4, 2009

KDE 4.1 across Linux distributions

I  saw some comments on a Linux board recently about KDE 4.1. They said that Kubuntu did a poor job of integrating KDE because Ubuntu with Gnome is the Canonical flagship and that’s where most of the effort goes. That peaked my curiosity. On the one hand, Kubuntu 8.04 Hardy with KDE 3.5.10 was great. Then again, Kubuntu 8.10 Intrepid with KDE 4.1.2 leaves much to be desired. I contrast Kubuntu Intrepid with Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid and their excellent Gnome 2.24 implementation, and think that maybe the commenters had a point. I decided to investigate.

I must start with a word of caution. As humans, we all tend to like that with which we’re most familiar. In the Linux world, I think this takes on a particular dimension. The difference between individual distributions within the same family is far less than the difference between distribution families. For example, Debian-based distributions tend to have a lot in common, but tend to differ significantly from Red Hat-based distributions in their underlying systems and utilities. This makes an “objective” look somewhat difficult.

There are three major Linux families: Debian, Red Hat/Fedora, and SuSE/OpenSuSE. There’s a great family tree here. Red Hat (by Red Hat) and SuSE (by Novell) are non-free distributions aimed at enterprises. Fedora and OpenSuSE are their free, open source offerings. Debian is a free open source distribution. Most other Linux offerings are derivatives of these three families at some level. There are exceptions, of course, like Gentoo, but I’m not building a catalog here. My point is simply that if you stay within a major family, you’ll find more similarities than differences. Wander outside a family, the learning curve grows significantly.

So, this will not be a review of the mentioned distributions. I didn’t try to get into their guts, but only to look at their KDE 4.1 implementations. I did, however, encounter a few things worth noting along the way. As a starting point, here’s Kubuntu 8.10 Intrepid’s default desktop:

Default Kubuntu 8.10 desktop

Default Kubuntu 8.10 desktop

First I tried the new OpenSuSE 11.1 from Novell. Installation was straight-forward. The overall system seemed nicely done. I had no major complaints, other than I’m not fond of green:

opensuse-11_1-install-023

However, I didn’t find their KDE 4.1 implementation any better than Kubuntu. I played with the RPM package management as well as the underlying system and wasn’t overly impressed. Probably that unfamiliarity thing that I mentioned above. I think that the Debian package system works better, although RPM has improved its handling of dependencies. I didn’t find anything in OpenSuSE worth writing home about either way.

Mandriva was next. Although Mandriva comes in KDE and Gnome flavors, KDE seems to be the primary emphasis. It comes in three package sets: Free, One, and PowerPack. “Free” is pure FOSS, so don’t expect to play proprietary CDs or music, nor have 3D video with it. “One” includes the common proprietary drivers, including for 3D video cards. “Powerpack” is not free and contains “added exclusive software.” Okey, dokey. So, I downloaded and installed the Mandriva One 2009 iso image.

I didn’t find Mandriva’s KDE 4.1 implementation any better than Kubuntu, but I did find a number of other issues. First, Internet access to the live CD and the software repositories was incredibly slow – dramatically slower than all the others. I basically went out to the store while it processed.

Mandriva apparently gives non-standard names to some critical directories and files, especially the kernel sources. Worse, even after typing in the non-standard directories for the compiler, the repositories that Mandriva set up on installation don’t hold the correct sources for the installed kernel, even after running their equivalent to build-essential (including kernel-desktop-devel-latest). Therefore, anything that needs to compile to install, like VMWare Tools in the virtual machine or VMWorkstation on a host, won’t install. I found this issue discussed in their forums, where I discovered a number of tedious work-arounds, as well as a suggestion to compile your own kernel to match the latest sources that ARE in the repository. Excuse me? Is this Gentoo? This nonsense makes Mandriva a non-starter.

On the good side, Mandriva had excellent installation routines for your hardware. Also, their custom Mandriva Control Center is superb, offering easy access to a host of settings to customize your install. This is the best I’ve seen of its kind:

mandriva-control-center

I had tried PCLinuOS when learning Sun VirtualBox. According to the family tree, it’s an offshoot of Mandriva. It is touted as the easiest Linux distribution from which to migrate from Windows. That may be true on the surface, as they make it look a lot like Windows:

pclinuxos1

However, this doesn’t necessarily make a great KDE 4.1 implementation. I left it unconvinced. Although Ubuntu may look different than Windows, I think that it’s easier to use than PCLinuxOS when coming straight from Windows. That’s just my opinion (having done it myself), of course. YMMV. Also, if it shares the same kernel source and other issues as its Mandriva parent, then this is also a problem. I didn’t check before I deleted the VM, so I don’t know.

Another dog in the fight is Fedora 10. Like Ubuntu, Fedora’s “home” desktop is Gnome, although they do offer a KDE version:

fedora10

The installation went smoothly. But if anything, Fedora was the most sparse of all the KDE 4.1 installations that I tried. Nothing more to say here, other than the default wallpaper is very cool.

So, after a quick survey of various popular KDE 4.1 distributions, I didn’t find any that stood out in their KDE 4.1 implementation. Mandriva 2009 had an outstanding control center that others would do well to incorporate. Unfortunately, they also had the most issues unrelated to the desktop itself. Most of the installations wouldn’t allow passwords of less than six characters and critiqued dictionary passwords – that’s commendable. Also commendable is that OpenSuSE 11.1 and Mandriva 2009 come with OpenOffice.org 3.0, whereas Kubuntu 8.10 only comes with OOo 2.4. Fedora 10 doesn’t include OpenOffice.org at all in the default installation.

In the end, I think that KDE 4.1 is simply too imature to allow distribution creators to do much with it. It still lacks the basic configurability and flexibility of KDE 3.5.10 and even Gnome 2.24. Perhaps as KDE 4.x matures, distributions will be able to better differentiate their KDE implementations. In the meantime, I translate statements about the superiority of particular KDE 4.1 implementations as really being declarations of personal preferences for the underlying distribution family. Fair enough.

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Responses

  1. […] KDE 4.1 across Linux distributions There are three major Linux families: Debian, Red Hat/Fedora, and SuSE/OpenSuSE. There’s a great family tree here. Red Hat (by Red Hat) and SuSE (by Novell) are non-free distributions aimed at enterprises. Fedora and OpenSuSE are their free, open source offerings. Debian is a free open source distribution. Most other Linux offerings are derivatives of these three families at some level. There are exceptions, of course, like Gentoo, but I’m not building a catalog here. My point is simply that if you stay within a major family, you’ll find more similarities than differences. Wander outside a family, the learning curve grows significantly. […]


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