About a month ago I first installed Kubuntu Dapper Drake (6.06) on one of my home office machines. I really liked it. Last week, I decided to ditch the old version of Mandriva I’ve been running for about 18 months on my primary machine, a Toshiba laptop, and give Kubuntu a try there too. This time using the latest version, 6.10, otherwise known as Edgy Eft.
Unlike others, I’ve found the experience fantastic. It’s not hard to compare a new OS favourably with one from two years ago, so I’m not saying Kubuntu is better than any of the other new distros out there. This is not what I’d call a review, as I haven’t run most of the obvious alternatives, and none to the degree where I’m able to comment on the specific distribution differences. Rather, I’m simply comparing the experience of running Kubuntu Edgy (released a few weeks ago) to running my old version of Mandriva LE 2005, as well as Windows XP to some degree.
I’ve been impressed with so many of the little touches, mostly KDE improvements. Changing settings is just that much more intuitive now, and KDE 3.5 is a huge improvement over 3.3, which I was running before. I’ve already become reliant upon the new close tab button found on each tab (Firefox 2 as opposed to Firefox 1.5), and the Adept Package manager is just great.
Being a new system, I’m exploring a lot more than I have for a while, and have been delving more deeply into the repositories. I’m impressed with some of the software that’s available, much of it for Linux only. It’s all found in one place, and is trivial to install. If Linux as a desktop is looking for a competitive advantage, that should be it. The big names, such as Open Office and Firefox of course work on Windows too, but tools such as Amarok, K3B and Akgregator don’t, so far as I know. There’s just no way a Windows installation can compare. Microsoft does a good job of providing much of the software people commonly use, although they have to spend a good deal of time fighting in the courts for their right to do this, something unlikely in the collaborative model embraced by the Linux community. But to get the same range on a Windows machine as is easily, and freely available on most Linux distributions, one would need to spend a fortune in a shop, or do some serious hunting for free alternatives on various download sites. And of course install them all individually. Why more isn’t made of this key Linux desktop advantage I don’t know. Kubuntu has a huge range of multimedia, development, graphical and office tools, games, including a superb set of educational games, and so on.
So would I recommend it for anyone’s desktop? Except for avid games players, absolutely! There are a few downsides though.
Certain things take a lot more time to set up, and the average user will certainly need help to do things they may have taken for granted on Windows. Here are two examples from my first week.
My home network uses WPA, a fairly common standard to secure wireless networks. On Windows, everything just worked, and all I needed to do was enter a password in the right place. Kubuntu Edgy does not support WPA by default. The bundled application, Wireless Assistant, doesn’t support WPA at all. It sits in the menu by default, but is a dead-end path if you’re trying to get WPA working. It took me a while to stop going down the dead-end path of trying to get Wireless Assistant to work. Instead, I needed to download and install the right application (KNetworkManager) and make some tweaks before everything worked. Thankfully, the (K)Ubuntu community documentation is a fantastic resource, and, being a wiki, I could fine-tune the instructions and add my suggestions, hopefully easing the process for the next person.
Secondly, in a final frenzy of rage with Telkom ADSL, I purchased an Iburst account today. On Windows XP, the process was painless. A simple wizard from the installer on the CD, a nice little app telling me my bandwidth used, signal strength (abysmal), and so on, and I was racing away. Although perhaps that’s not the right word to use with the speed I was getting – my first 9kbps modem gave me faster downloads.
On Kubuntu, the process was more painful, and not one I’d wish on an average user. It required hunting down and installing the correct driver (surely Iburst could include this on the CD), installing a new PPPOE dialer (as neither I nor anyone else I’ve come across could get the default one working), running a few make and make install commands (average users do this all the time, right?) and tweaking a few config files.
I haven’t tried Iburst’s helpdesk, but if they’re as unfamiliar with Linux as most telephone support, I can safely say that not one of the people I’ve recommended Kubuntu to, or installed it for, would be running Iburst with outside help.
I can see both these problems disappearing in the near future. The default inclusion of KNetWorkManager is likely in the next Kubuntu release, and Wireless Assistant has WPA support on its roadmap. And with Linux use expanding, Iburst’s helpdesk will be getting more cries for help, and are likely to make the simple decision to include the necessary software and drivers (at least for the more popular distributions) on their CD.
Linux desktop-users may make up a small fraction of the total at present, but I agree with Mark Shuttleworth’s comment that widespread adoption of Linux on the desktop is just a matter of time.
And with Kubuntu Edgy Eft, it’s one step closer.