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My search for the best KDE Linux distribution

March 3rd, 2010 41 comments

As some of you already know, I am a big fan of the KDE desktop environment (or KDE Workspaces or whatever they’re calling it these days). In my search to reach Linux KDE perfection I have tested out a number of different distributions. First there was Fedora, which I happily ran throughout the length of the experiment. Once that was finished I attempted to install and try both Kubuntu and openSUSE. Unfortunately I was unable to do so after openSUSE decided not to play nice. However my search did not stop there, and once the community edition was ready I jumped over to Linux Mint KDE CE. Finally I decided to once again try openSUSE, this time installing from a USB drive. This somehow resolved all of my installation issues.

Now that I have tried out quite a few of the most popular distributions I figured I would write a little bit to tell you fine people my thoughts on each, and why I will be sticking with openSUSE for the near future.

Fedora 11

  • KDE Version: 4.2 – 4.3
  • Pros: very secure, not too many modifications of the KDE source, cutting edge
  • Cons: could have really used some more modifications of the base KDE packages in order to better integrate GTK+, Bluetooth problems, not always stable
  • Thoughts:

    I have written at length about my experiences with Fedora during this experiment. Without re-writing everything again here let me simply say this: Fedora is primarily a GNOME distribution and I could never shake the feeling that KDE got the left-over treatment.

Kubuntu

  • KDE Version: 4.3
  • Pros: very easy to use, nice integration of GTK+ and GNOME notifications, access to Ubuntu support
  • Cons: the hardware drivers application (jockey) simply did not work, very bad sound issues, Firefox could not handle opening file types
  • Thoughts:

    When I first installed Kubuntu I was thrilled. Ah, this must be what it’s like to use a real KDE distribution, I thought. Everything seemed smoother and far more integrated then it did in Fedora. For example: OpenOffice.org had a KDE theme and it’s file browser actually used the native KDE one. Furthermore the notification system was awesome. Now instead of a GNOME application, like Pidgin, generating GNOME notifications, it instead integrated right into the standard KDE equivalent.

    Then the problems started to show up. Oh I’ll just download this torrent file and… hmm Firefox doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. Why can’t I set the file type options inside of Firefox for torrents? Why doesn’t it use the system defaults? Then the sound issues came. YouTube stopped putting out audio all together and all of my attempts to fix it were futile. Maybe it’s just my hardware but Kubuntu just could not handle multimedia at all.

    While Kubuntu is definitely one of the better KDE experiences it is by no means problem free.

Linux Mint KDE CE

  • KDE Version: 4.3
  • Pros: excellent package manager, easy to use
  • Cons: sound issues, WiFi issues, is this actually a KDE desktop? there are so many GTK+ applications in it…
  • Thoughts:

    After hearing much praise for Linux Mint I decided to give the newly released KDE community edition a go. I must say at first I was very impressed. The package manager was far superior to KPackageKit and even included things like user ratings and comments. It also came bundled with many tools and applications designed specifically for Linux Mint. Sadly very few of these were re-written in Qt and so I was forced to deal with GTK+ skinning almost everywhere.

    Sound issues similar to those in Kubuntu (maybe it’s something in the shared source?) started to crop up almost immediately. Again YouTube just did not work no matter how much I tried to fix it. Finally the WiFi connection was very poor, often disconnected on what seemed like a  specific interval.

    While I think this distribution has a lot going for it I can only suggest the GNOME desktop for those who want to give it a try. The KDE version just does not seem polished enough to be recommended for someone looking for the ultimate KDE distribution.

openSUSE

  • KDE Version: 4.3
  • Pros: very responsive, a lot of streamlined tweaks, rock solid WiFi, excellent audio
  • Cons: slower to boot, uses quite a bit of RAM, too much green :P
  • Thoughts:

    Installing openSUSE seemed like an awful idea. After reading all of the complaints that both Phil and Dave had written over the course of the experiment I have to admit I was a little hesitant. However, I am very happy I decided to try it anyway; openSUSE is an excellent KDE distribution.

    Everything about it, from the desktop to the little helpful wizards, all seem to be designed with one purpose in mind: make openSUSE the easiest, or at the very least most straightforward, distribution possible. YaST, often a major source of hate from my fellow Guinea Pigs, does indeed have some quirks. However I honestly think that it is a very good tool, and something that streamlines many administrative tasks. Want SAMBA network sharing? Just open up YaST and click on the wizard. Want restricted codecs? Just hop on over to openSUSE-Community and download the ymp file (think of it like a Windows exe).

    My time with openSUSE so far has been wonderful. My network card seems to actually get better range then ever before, if that’s even possible. My battery life is good and my sound just plain works without any additional effort. If I had one complaint it would be with the amount of RAM the distribution uses. After a quick reboot it takes up a very small amount, around ~350MB or so. However after a couple of hours of general use the RAM often grows to about 1-1.5GB, which is far more than I have seen with the other distributions. Thankfully I have 4GB of RAM so I’m not too worried. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that I am running the x64 version and not the x86 version. Perhaps it assumes I have at least 4GB of RAM for choosing the newer architecture.

    Whatever the case may be I think I have finally found what I consider to be the very best KDE Linux distribution. Obviously your results may vary but I look forward to hearing what you think.

This piece was cross-posted over at my person website ‘TylerBurton.Ca‘.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.

Using KDE on Windows

February 11th, 2010 2 comments

Since the end of The Linux Experiment I have started dual booting my laptop, switching between Kubuntu 9.10 and Windows 7 as needed. While this solves all of my compatibility issues, it does pose some more annoying issues. For example after setting up one operating system just the way I like it I now need to do the same for the other. Furthermore after becoming used to using particular applications under Linux I now have to find alternatives for Windows. Well no more! The KDE guys and gals have ported the libraries to Windows!

Installing

To install KDE on Windows all you need to do is head over to http://windows.kde.org/download.php and grab a copy of the installer exe. This will more or less walk you through the initial setup and then present you with a list of packages you can choose to install. Most applications are there including things like KTorrent, Konqueror, Konversation and more! Simply select them and watch as they are easily installed.

Image Walkthrough

The first screen you'll see when installing

The package list

kdebase-apps includes things like Konqueror

The installer downloads the source and compiles it locally

After installing the applications show up right in your start menu

The final result. Konqueror and KWrite running on Windows




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: Free Software, KDE, Tyler B Tags: ,

Enabling Video Thumbnail Previews in Dolphin

January 31st, 2010 3 comments

Just a quickie here – if you keep video of any kind on your Kubuntu 9.10 system, you may have noticed that the Dolphin file manager doesn’t show thumbnail previews of video files by default.  Turns out that it’s a very easy (if non-obvious) feature to enable. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Open up kPackageKit
  2. Search for and install the package mplayerthumbs – it has three dependencies, which include mplayer itself (I use VLC, but to each his own)
  3. Back in Dolphin, navigate to Settings > Configure Dolphin > General > Previews Tab
  4. Scroll down in the list, and you should be able to see an option called Video Files (MPlayerThumbs) – Check that box
  5. Drag the Maximum file size slider all the way to the right, and hit apply

Navigate to a folder that contains video files, and watch as they slowly begin to populate. Be patient though, it can take a few minutes if you have a lot of media. You should also note that it doesn’t work with all WMV files.

Thanks to youTube user gotbletu for the following informative video that I ripped these instructions off from:




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Pulse Audio Nonsense

January 4th, 2010 3 comments

Just a heads up: This isn’t the kind of post that contains answers to your problems. It is, unfortunately, the kind of post that contains a lot of the steps that I took to fix a problem, without much information about the order in which I performed them, why I performed them, or what they did. All that I can tell you is that after doing some or all of these things in an arbitrary order, stuff seemed to work better than it did before.

It’s funny how these posts often seem to come about when trying to get hardware related things working. I distinctly remember writing one of these about getting hardware compositing working on Debian. This one is about getting reliable audio on Kubuntu 9.10.

You see, I have recently been experiencing some odd behaviour from my audio stack in Kubuntu. My machine almost always plays the startup/shutdown noises, Banshee usually provides audio by way of GStreamer, videos playing in VLC are sometimes accompanied by audio, and Flash videos almost never have working sound. Generally speaking, restarting the machine will change one or all of these items, and sometimes none. The system is usuable, but frustrating (although I might be forgiven for saying that having no audio in Flash prevents me from wasting so much time watching youtube videos when I ought to be working).

Tonight, after some time on the #kubuntu IRC channel and the #pulseaudio channel on freenode, I managed to fix all of that, and my system now supports full 5.1 surround audio, at all times, and from all applications. Cool, no? Basically, the fix was to install some PulseAudio apps:

sudo apt-get install pulseaudio pavucontrol padevchooser

Next, go to System Settings > Multimedia, and set PulseAudio as the preferred audio device in each of the categories on the left. Finally, restart the machine a couple of times. If you’re lucky, once you restart and run pavucontrol from the terminal, you’ll see a dialog box called Volume Control. Head over to the Configuration tab, and start choosing different profiles until you can hear some audio from your system. Also, I found that most of these profiles were muted by default – you can change that on the Output Devices tab. If one of the profiles works for  you, congratulations! If not, well, I guess you’re no worse off than you were before. I warned you that this was that kind of post.

Also, while attempting to fix my audio problems, I found some neat sites:

  • Colin Guthrie – I spoke to this guy on IRC, and he was really helpful. He also seems to write a lot of stuff for the PulseAudio/Phonon stack in KDE. His site is a wealth of information about the stack that I really don’t understand, but makes for good reading.
  • Musings on Maintaining Ubuntu – Some guy named Dan who seems to be a lead audio developer for the Ubuntu project. Also a very interesting read, and full of interesting information about audio support in Karmic.
  • A Script that Profiles your Audio Setup – This bash script compiles a readout of what your machine thinks is going on with your audio hardware, and automatically hosts it on the web so that you can share it with people trying to help you out.
  • A Handy Diagram of the Linux Audio Stack – This really explains a lot about what the hell is going on when an application tries to play audio in the Linux.
  • What the Linux Audio Stack Seems Like – This diagram reflects my level of understanding of Linux audio. It also reminds me of XKCD.
  • Ardour – The Digital Audio Workstation – In the classic tradition of running before walking, I just have to try this app out.



On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Kubuntu 9.10 (Part II)

January 4th, 2010 No comments

Well I managed to fix my compositing problem but I honestly don’t know why it worked. Basically I went into the System Settings > Desktop > Desktop Effects menu and manually turned off all desktop effects. Next I used jockey-text to disable the ATI driver. After a quick restart I re-enabled the ATI driver and restarted again. Once I logged in I went back into the System Settings > Desktop > Desktop Effects menu and enabled desktop effects. This magically worked… but only until I restarted. In order to actually get it to start enabled I had to go back into System Settings > Desktop > Desktop Effects and then click on the Advanced tab and then disable functionality checks. I am sure this is dangerous or something but its the only way I can get my computer to restart with the effects enabled by default.

I’m really starting to hate this graphics card…




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.

Kubuntu 9.10 (Part I)

January 4th, 2010 No comments

After giving up on installing openSUSE 11.2 (the installer insisted on failing during the partition stage) I am now successfully dual booting Windows 7 and Kubuntu 9.10. On the Kubuntu side of things I must say that overall I am impressed. It is a much sleeker and more refined KDE experience than I was treated to on Fedora and I am enjoying it thus far.

That’s not to say it is without it’s own set of problems though ;) Once again my graphics card does not play nice, although this time I place the blame firmly on Kubuntu. The KDE front end for jockey, otherwise known as Hardware Drivers to the *buntu folk, completely failed at activating my ATI driver. I was finally able to enable the driver by using the text version of jockey, “jockey-text” in the terminal, but that still didn’t solve all of my problems. Now the system uses the correct driver but refuses to enable compositing for some reason. -sigh-

Looks like I have a long afternoon of IRC ahead of me…




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.

Finally Synching my Blackberry on Linux

January 2nd, 2010 18 comments

Some readers may recall all of the attempts that I’ve made in the past to synchronize my Blackberry with Mozilla’s Thunderbird email and calendar client. During each of these tries, I had relied on the OpenSync framework, along with the Barry project for communication with my phone, and a number of different solutions to link into Thunderbird. At various times, these included the opensync-plugin-iceowl, opensync-plugin-sunbird, and bluezync packages, none of which yielded success.

While running GNOME on my Debian laptop, I had managed to successfully synchronize my phone with the Evolution mail client. Even so, I continued to work at Thunderbird synchronization because I disliked Evolution, seeing it as a Microsoft Outlook clone, which is a platform that I have had considerable problems with in the past.

With my recent installation of Kubuntu 9.10 on my PC, I have been exposed to the Kontact PIM suite, and have thus far been impressed. Kmail is a solid email client, although the way that it handles the setup of multiple email accounts is confusing to say the least, forcing the user to create a sending, receiving, and identity object for each account, and then to link them together. Likewise, Kontact is a decent application, but is sorely lacking basic GUI configuration options, something I never thought that I would say about a KDE app. Finally, Kalendar does everything that one would expect, and allows the user to display appointments in a number of useful ways. All have excellent integration, and live in a tray widget that uses the native KDE notifications system to let me know when something important has happened.

Most importantly however, I managed to get the entire Kontact suite to sync with my Blackberry after about five minutes of playing around in the terminal. Unlike during previous installation attempts, I found the latest stable Barry packages available in my repositories, so installation was a snap. I simply added the following packages to my system:

  • libopensync0 v0.22-2
  • multisync-tools v0.92
  • libbarry0 v0.14-2.1
  • opensync-plugin-kdepim v0.22-4
  • opensync-plugin-barry v0.14-2.1

From a terminal, I then used the msynctool application and the following steps to do a little bit of configuration:

  1. msynctool –listplugins if the install went well, this command should list both kdepim-sync and barry-sync as available plugins
  2. msynctool –addgroup BB create an OpenSync sync profile for my Blackberry called BB
  3. msynctool –addmember BB barry-sync add the barry-sync plugin to the BB sync group
  4. msynctool –addmember BB kdepim-sync add the kdepim-sync plugin to the BB sync group
  5. msynctool –showgroup BB this lists each of the plugins that we just added to the BB sync group, along with their member numbers. In my case, barry-sync was member number 1, and kdepim-sync was member number 2. The output also showed that while barry-sync still needed to be configured, kdepim-sync had no configuration options to be set.
  6. msynctool –configure BB 1 configures member number 1 of the sync group BB. In my case, this was barry-sync, and simply popped a config file in the nano text editor. All that had to be changed in the file was the PIN of the Blackberry that the plugin would attempt to sync with.
  7. msynctool –sync BB actually performed the synchronization process. For safety’s sake, I made sure that Kontact was fully closed before running this command.

And that’s it! In the future, I simply have to run the msynctool –sync BB command to synchronize my Blackberry with Kontact. That’s one more reason to stick with Linux – Blackberry synchronization that isn’t tied to Microsoft Outlook!




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

The end of the long road

January 1st, 2010 3 comments

Well it’s official, the year is now 2010 and we still don’t have flying cars.

The End

2010 also marks the end of The Linux Experiment. I can honestly say that the last four solid months of Linux use has taught me a lot. In reflection of this I decided to look back at what I had originally wrote about my goals of this experiment and see just how many of them I had accomplished.

  • I will have learned enough of the ins and outs to be as comfortable within a Linux environment as I current am within a Windows one.
    • This one is a bit tricky to answer. I am far more familiar and comfortable with Linux now than I have ever been before. However I still do not understand a number of things. For example the Linux file system confuses me to no end. What is the difference between /bin/ and /sbin/? Or why do some things end up in /etc/ and others in /var/ or even /opt/? Clearly I have some room to improve here.
  • My bonus goal is to have a fully functional, self-created, program that runs native to Linux.
    • This one I was actually able to realize. Not only did I have a native OpenGL program running, but in recent weeks I have even created cross-platform .NET/Mono based applications. In addition Linux has proven time and again that it is the platform for web development. I can definitely see myself utilizing it as such in the future.

Fedora

Fedora has been both a terrible nightmare and an absolute pleasure. I have had more problems getting things to just work on this distribution that I care to even remember. Yet time and time again there was something about Fedora that just kept pulling me back in. Perhaps it was the challenge of trying to master a power user’s distribution of choice. Or maybe it was just pure stubbornness. The fact remains that with the exception of Fedora 12 being incompatible with my graphics hardware there was nothing I haven’t overcome.

So would I recommend Fedora to someone? Well… yes and no. Fedora has a rock solid community and lives right on the cutting edge (what? I’m already running KDE 4.3.4??) but it does not make things easy. Now that most distributions have moved up to the 2.6.31 kernel there is really less of a reason for me to recommend the cutting edge simply as a way to get decent hardware support. Obviously if your machine is even newer than mine than perhaps Fedora is still your only stable ticket to that support, but for most users I think there are far better alternatives. Don’t get me wrong, I really do enjoy Fedora and from what I have read it has come a long way in recent years, I just don’t think I will be using it again anytime soon.

The Future

Today will bring some changes to my computing setup as I plan on removing Fedora and trying out two new KDE distributions, OpenSUSE and Kubuntu, just to see which one I prefer. In addition I will be dual booting with Windows 7 for the first time. I will be sure to keep everyone up to date with my experiences as I do so.

As we here at The Linux Experiment debate where to take the experiment moving forward, be sure to check back for updates on our new experiences!




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.

Going Linux, Once and for All

December 23rd, 2009 7 comments

With the linux experiment coming to an end, and my Vista PC requiring a reinstall, I decided to take the leap and go all linux all the time. To that end, I’ve installed Kubuntu on my desktop PC.

I would like to be able to report that the Kubuntu install experience was better than the Debian one, or even on par with a Windows install. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.

My machine contains three 500GB hard drives. One is used as the system drive, while an integrated hardware RAID controller binds the other two together as a RAID1 array. Under Windows, this setup worked perfectly. Under Kubuntu, it crashed the graphical installer, and threw the text-based installer into fits of rage.

With plenty of help from the #kubuntu IRC channel on freenode, I managed to complete the Kubuntu install by running it with the two RAID drives disconnected from the motherboard. After finishing the install, I shut down, reconnected the RAID drives, and booted back up. At this point, the RAID drives were visible from Dolphin, but appeared as two discrete drives.

It was explained to me via this article that the hardware RAID support that I had always enjoyed under windows was in fact a ‘fake RAID,’ and is not supported on Linux. Instead, I need to reformat the two drives, and then link them together with a software RAID. More on that process in a later post, once I figure out how to actually do it.

At this point, I have my desktop back up and running, reasonably customized, and looking good. After trying KDE’s default Amarok media player and failing to figure out how to properly import an m3u playlist, I opted to use Gnome’s Banshee player for the time being instead. It is a predictable yet stable iTunes clone that has proved more than capable of handling my library for the time being. I will probably look into Amarok and a few other media players in the future. On that note, if you’re having trouble playing your MP3 files on Linux, check out this post on the ubuntu forums for information about a few of the necessary GStreamer plugins.

For now, my main tasks include setting up my RAID array, getting my ergonomic bluetooth wireless mouse working, and working out folder and printer sharing on our local Windows network. In addition, I would like to set up a Windows XP image inside of Sun’s Virtual Box so that I can continue to use Microsoft Visual Studio, the only Windows application that I’ve yet to find a Linux replacement for.

This is just the beginning of the next chapter of my own personal Linux experiment; stay tuned for more excitement.

This post first appeared at Index out of Bounds.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Why Linux is great for web development

November 27th, 2009 1 comment

Linux is great for web development, but not necessarily for the obvious reasons. The reason I find developing websites and server programs much better on a Linux machine than on a Windows machine is as simple as the following three letters SSH.

SSH stands for Secure SHell and is a way to remotely log into a server over a secure connection. While you can connect to SSH shares in Windows, connecting to one under Linux is a far more integrated experience. For example in KDE’s Dolphin you can connect to the SSH share right within the file browser itself. Then, as you do work, changes can be reflected instantly to the remote server. This saves you a lot of time instead of having to use (S)FTP to transfer files to and from the server. GNOME also has a similar ability through its Connect to Server menu.

Again there are Windows programs that will mirror changes in a local directory to a remote server through SSH but as far as I know Windows Explorer itself does not have this ability (FTP but no SSH?). So next time you are in the mood for web dev, give Linux a shot!




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.