From Fedora to Kubuntu

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When KDE 4.0 was released, I quickly realized that it would be better to wait for a "stable" release. I don't have a lot of spare time to deal with my computer, so KDE 4.0 would be a problem to handle in my situation. I'm a long-time RedHat/Fedora user, since the old RedHat 5.2 back in 1998, and I was somewhat satisfied with it.

So, I had to stay with Fedora 8 for some time, since Fedora 9 and further were pushing for the newer "unstable" versions of KDE... until Fedora 8 stopped being supported and KDE 4.2 was released. So, I decided to try Fedora 11.

I always had painful memories from my system upgrades. If you reinstall a newer version over an older one, some packages are not properly updated, conflicts are ignored and so on. Upgrading using Yum is also very difficult. I have some software that is not available from Fedora, so I have to resort to alternative repositories (like freshrpms.net) or compile on my own. So, the best course is to do a clean install, using a different hard-disk, prepare it, and then copy my user files. I also have to try matching the Fedora upgrade with my computer upgrade, so I can setup the new computer and the new version of the operating system at the same time, relieving some of the pain and having my old system ready if something goes wrong. This is a task for a whole weekend or more.

I prepared myself to upgrade to Fedora 11 in my new computer. It was a few weeks before the official Fedora 11 relase, so I was trying a release candidate. Fedora 10 still had the unstable KDE 4.1 and installing it would mean that it would become obsolete in a few weeks. So I decided to install a release candidate, and then upgrade it via Yum when the final version is released.

Everything went well during the installation... until it was time to install the Nvidia video drivers. I downloaded the latest Nvidia drivers from their site, ran the installation and... it didn't work. Looking for the cause of the problem, I discovered that that release was shipping a just-released bleeding-edge 2.6.29 kernel that had some backwards-incompatible changes that the nVidia drivers didn't support yet. There were some patches to address these problems in the nvnews.net forums.

I sighed, shook my head and just realized how much pain I was inflicting upon myself. That was the very last bit of my patience with Fedora. I took a deep breath, and decided to consider other alternatives. I'll suppress my thoughts about the alternatives, or how they evidence the lack of alternatives when you are talking about Linux distributions. In the end, I decided to try Kubuntu 9.04, the KDE-variant of Ubuntu.

I already knew Ubuntu and its derivatives very well from a long time: it is the distribution that I suggest to newcomers, since I recognize that Fedora is not the most pleasant experience for someone that is just landing into the Linux community. I didn't consider it for my own use until now mostly because I was too used to Fedora and other RPM-based distributions (to the point I build my own RPMs for my software). Knowing that the installation of the nVidia drivers on Ubuntu-derivatives is a non-issue is probably what weighted the most in my decision.

As I expected, Kubuntu installed itself really smoothly, detected the video card right after the first boot and installed the appropriate proprietary drivers without presenting me a single command-line or a configuration file. That was nice, but I missed some options to setup LVM volumes during installation. Later, I found that LVM volumes can be created using the "alternative" text-based installation, which requires a separate download.

My experience so far using Kubuntu as my primary desktop is very positive! I'm still getting used to the differences, at the same time I adapt myself to KDE 4.2. So far, KDE is requiring much more attention than Kubuntu itself.

Some positive aspects of (K)Ubuntu, so far:

  • Easy installation, everything "just works".
  • Automatic detection of my nVidia video card and installation of its drivers.
  • Package management is fast and smooth, unlike Fedora's yum and its other utilities.
  • Software repositories have much more applications than Fedora. I really liked to see multiple versions of Firefox (3.0, 3.5) and KDevelop (3.5, 4.0).
  • More user-oriented: non-free software is available and installs automatically.

Some negative aspects of (K)Ubuntu, so far:

  • Lack of LVM configuration options in the desktop edition installer. Also, the lack of LVM support during installation made my secondary user partitions completely invisible until post-installation, when I could install LVM. It was already too late when I found that I had to download and burn the "alternate" edition in order to have LVM during installation.
  • Firefox 3.5 "recommends" the installation of Firefox 3.0 and half of GNOME desktop. No, thanks. I use KDE for a reason. Fortunately there is a --no-install-recommends option to apt-get.

Some minor things:

  • NFS4 and Kerberos don't work out-of-box. I had to enable two options in /etc/default/nfs-common. I wonder why they are not enabled by default, perhaps to avoid memory consumption?
  • I can't seem to find the correct output playback devices for my Creative Audigy2 ZS [SB0350] sound card. By default, if you don't configure anything, 2.0 Stereo PCM is played only to the two front speakers; if you configure to play to the "Audigy2" device, it distributes the sound to all the speakers.

My experience with KDE 4.2, so far, is good. I had to drop some workflows that were already imprinted into my muscular memory, and now I have to create new ones. Some minor annoyances:

  • Removal of all but the most essential (?) toolbar buttons: At first, toolbars lost a lot of their primary utility. After some time working with them, and not finding the functions I wanted at hand, I started using keyboard shortcuts, for everything. Now I rarely look for things in the toolbars, they have became completely useless.
  • Xinerama issues:
    • With Plasma: You can't have a wallpaper across multiple monitors anymore. I had to divide the wallpaper in two using The GIMP and them assign each half to a desktop plasmoid.
    • With KWin: New windows were being placed on the division between the monitors; windows were maximized across all monitors. It took me almost 4 hours trying to figure what was wrong, looking to no avail for the setting that would fix that behavior. Only after downloading kwin source code and looking at it I found that the problem was a few Xinerama*Enabled=false settings in ~/.kde/share/config/kwinrc.
  • Amarok 2: Great performance! But the user interface design suffered a major regression. That sort of plasmoids in the middle of the main window... I have no words to describe at how that is ugly. It seems that the Amarok developers just lost the sight of what a music player should be. A music player is the kind of software that the average user won't want to deal with it for too long: it should stay minimized or hidden most of the time, doing its primary jobs, which is to play music. It has to be functional, and that is what Amarok 1.x was. I don't want to play with different "plasmoids" inside my music player window.

That is it for now.

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