I started in Linux with KDE-based Kubuntu, but moved on to Gnome-based Ubuntu when KDE moved to version 4. I didn’t care for the look or feel of KDE 4 early on. I configured Gnome 2 to work similarly to KDE 3. That kept me pretty happy until Ubuntu went with Unity and Gnome went to version 3. Neither change thrilled me. I’ve been keeping my options open by keeping track of KDE 4’s maturity in virtual machines. Of course, now Canonical is abandoning Kubuntu, adding another wrinkle to the universe. Yes, I know that Kubuntu has a new sponsor, but it was never a particularly pure KDE implementation.
During discussions on Ubuntu’s forums about the new upgrade to 12.04 LTS Precise, I had cause to research a question about a minimal Ubuntu installation. I found this post which discussed a minimal Ubuntu installation. The post offers text-based CDs that downloads a minimal Ubuntu core installation and then add only the packages that the user specifically requests. I thought that if one installed that CD and then installed the kde-full package to get a straight KDE desktop, one could get as close to as pure a KDE installation on top of an Ubuntu core as possible.
As a bonus, the new Technical Preview 2012 of VMWare Workstation includes an OpenGL driver, opening the possibility of full Linux 3D video support in virtual machines. This opened up new possibilities for testing the 3D effects of KDE.
I downloaded the 64-bit MinimalCD iso and then installed it into a new virtual machine in the tech preview. While not Gentoo, the MinimalCD isn’t really for the faint of heart. It requires some knowledge of what you’d like or need to install. I chose not to install any desktops, expecting a text interface from which to install kde-full. The installation worked perfectly, but provided an unexpected result.
Upon restarting and logging into the default system, I was presented with a blank grey desktop screen. Interesting. Undaunted, I hit Ctrl-Alt-F2 to get a text interface. After logging into that screen, I installed the full KDE system with:
sudo apt-get install kde-full
This obviously took a while to run, but it completed without issue. I then restarted the system.
Voila, I arrived at the KDE login screen! Awesome. Just to be sure, I clicked on the small blue arrow icon to the lower left of the password box which allows one to chose the desktop. To my surprise, I saw a number of desktop options listed, including Gnome, xfce4, and ubuntustudio in addition to KDE. I didn’t install either of the first three and none were presented at the original login. I wish I’d taken a screenshot of that login, but didn’t think of it at the time and have no motivation to recreate it.
After logging into the KDE desktop, it blossomed before my eyes. I made a number of changes to it for grins and everything worked fine. I created this with one of the included wallpapers and several widgets:
But, I still didn’t really have what I originally wanted because there were Gnome and xfce4 files lurking below the surface. So, I took a VM snapshot at this point and then fired up the Synaptic chainsaw. I first purged every package with xfce in the name because that was easy. I eventually found the actual xfce4 master desktop file, which caused Synaptic to uninstall all associated packages. So far, so good.
Gnome proved much more difficult. The associated files proved much more numerous, and some were actually GTK support files which were still needed. Simply purging everything with Gnome in the name doesn’t appear to be a viable option. So, I selected and purged all the appropriate packages which had gnome in their names. Then I purged packages that according to their description supported only Gnome. All this took quite a while, but I remained goal-oriented and it was easier than trying to purge Gnome from a full Gnome installation. After I finished all this, I restarted the system and arrived at this KDE login screen:
Success! The system started fine, so I didn’t cut my throat in the process. I went back to Synaptic to ensure that no explicitly kubuntu packages resided on the system, and none did except the debugger support library that KDE also uses. I then installed kubuntu-restricted-extras to get appropriate proprietary sound and image library support, as well as LibreOffice and KRadio (for a later experiment).
Lastly, I configured the KDE window manager for my advanced 3D preferences, including the cube and its rotation. To be sure, I checked Synaptic again to ensure that compiz wasn’t installed and it wasn’t. The KWin cube with reflection and endcaps:
Although KWin does a nice job with compositing, it doesn’t have nearly the flexibility or polish of compiz. Compiz’ cube reflection is much more impressive. Check it out at the end of this post.
In the end, I believe that I achieved a “pure” KDE desktop setup on top of Ubuntu’s core system files yet without Gnome or Unity. I haven’t decided yet on the final direction for my production system, although I’m sorely tempted by KDE 4.8.2. In working through this test, I’ve rediscovered the richness of KDE apps and settings that Gnome 3 and Unity sorely lack now.