Posted by: reformedmusings | December 14, 2011

Kubuntu 11.10 Oneiric and KDE 4.7 in the wild

In my previous post, I compared Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Unity, Mint 12, and generic GNOME 3. When I rank ordered them at the end, I included KDE in the mix based on an earlier version. However, I did not get a chance to test drive KDE 4.7 as implemented in Kubuntu 11.10 Oneiric.

So, I cranked up VMWare Workstation 8.01 (recent upgrade) and installed Kubuntu Oneiric with 2 CPUs and 1MB of RAM. Workstation provides a “Smart Install” when it recognizes the operating system, so I don’t have any screenshots of the actual installation.

Upon restarting, KDE presents a clean desktop:

That’s pretty blue! It ran well in the VM as I set it up. VMWare improved the 3D acceleration and virtualization support in Workstation 8, which seemed apparent in the responsiveness of Kubuntu in the VM.

Plasmoids provide one noticeable new feature of KDE 4.x. The are basically applets that sit on the desktop and perform useful functions. They can be present on all workspaces or different workspaces may have different plasmoids. I’m a fan of the weather and hardware monitoring, so I added those. I used yaWP for weather which I had to download as it wasn’t in the default list. The default weather plasmoid uses a German weather service that didn’t include local information here.

By default, Kubuntu loads with a Desktop folder plasmoid. I never found it particularly useful, but for purposes of demonstration I set it to display my home folder. I also added a QuickLaunch plasmoid to access some most-used applications. The net result:

This provided a useful desktop for daily tasks. Not as neat as GNOME and Unity’s indicators, but not bad. If you don’t find a plasmoid to fulfill a particular purpose, just search the Net. There are a lot out there.

Activities provide the biggest story in KDE 4.x. While GNOME 3 uses the term ‘activities’, it doesn’t use it in quite the same way as KDE. I took some time to research KDE activities and what they bring to the table. I left pretty impressed.

Activities in KDE are alternate desktops that include their own user-defined plasmoids. There aren’t just different workspaces, but full desktops that include their own workspaces. One can swap to or create new activities by clicking on the three colored dots on the left of the bottom panel or on the “cashew” in the upper right of the screen and selecting Activities:

This panel appears across the bottom of the screen. Simply click on an activity icon to switch to it. Or, you can create a new activity or add widgets to an existing one with the buttons on the right side. KDE 4.7 comes with a few pre-defined activities to get you started, including a Photo setup.

One quick hint. On the bottom right of each activity’s icon is a tiny wrench. This allows you to change the activity’s settings, especially its name. A new activity inherits the inventive name “New Activity” by default when created.

I elected to create an activity for writing with custom widgets and QuickLaunch programs:

One other feature that feeds activities. Right-clicking on an app’s title bar produces some interesting options:

One can dedicate particular apps to specific activities. So, say if one dedicates LibreOffice Writer to the writing activity, opening Writer will send it directly to the writing activity. Nifty approach.

One can easily see the power of this approach. Activities enable you to tailor your work environment to the tasks at hand. You can have different custom at your fingertips. You can stop and start activities from their panel as well, saving memory if so desired. Very cool.

I’m not so thrilled about other features of KDE 4.x. The menu requires too much work, although the KDE folks have improved it a little since early versions. Click on the ‘K’ on the left side of the bottom panel for the menu:

The Favorites show up first. The screenshot shows the default favorites except for Krusader which I added simply by right-clicking on Krusader’s icon in the application list and selecting “Add to favorites”. You can remove apps from the favorite list similarly. The bottom row of icons offer to switch to the applications list, places on your computer, recently used apps and documents, or leave KDE.

I never liked the KDE 4.x menu system:

One must click on each category to change into it. I’d much rather have the next level display upon mousing over the category. The menu path appears in the upper right of the menu. To go back a level, you have to click on the path location in that corner as best that I can tell. It beats Windows 7 kludgey setup, but not by a lot. You can go back to the much easier KDE 3.5.x menu if desired using a different widget on the panel.

One of KDE’s strengths has always been the control it offers to users. The setup application remains strong:

One can control about every aspect of the KDE system from here. Of particular note are the Desktop Effects:

KDE uses KWin, its own compositing manager, rather than CompizFusion. I found it solidly stable. As you can see from the screenshot, it supports a lot of eye candy, including the sacred cube. However, Workstation doesn’t go that far. Bummer.

Overall, I enjoyed playing with KDE again. I’m still not thrilled with the new menu or the plasmoid widget approach to the desktops. Two words: no dock. On the other hand, the activity implementation is very powerful. System stability has arrived, as has its customizability.

I’m not ready to switch to KDE, but I think that Kubuntu Oneiric with KDE 4.7 rates pretty close to Mint 12, maybe even surpasses it. Tough call. But Ubuntu Oneiric Unity still rates on top for me with the customizations I’ve implemented, especially moving the dock to the bottom.

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