May 2, 2006

My desktop OS: Kubuntu Breezy

Author: Jes Hall

I'm an open source developer and a freelance writer, and I rely on my laptop. I've been using Linux for eight years, and I'm pretty comfortable with the command line. I don't shy from compiling a kernel, or rewriting init scripts to get things working properly. I'm a little weary though from the bad old days of having to fight with Linux to get my computer to work properly. I'm developing a growing appreciation for distributions that "just work." I need a stable Linux that allows me to easily install the latest versions of software and that has good support for power management on a laptop. With that in mind I installed Kubuntu Breezy, and Kubuntu blew me away.

Kubuntu uses the Ubuntu installer, which is a simple text-based affair. It has excellent hardware detection, easily the best of any distribution I've seen. I was able to install entirely over the network, booting from my network card off a desktop machine that was running Linux. The instructions for setting up a server to offer the Kubuntu installer as a boot option were clear and easy to follow. The installer detected and configured all of my hardware correctly except for my wireless card, but I already knew I'd need to use ndiswrapper or an experimental driver that wasn't in Kubuntu or Debian repositories to get that working.

I was pleased to log in to my KDE desktop and see it was using the correct resolution for my widescreen display and hear a subdued startup chime, indicating my sound card had been set up correctly. The battery monitor showed what looked like pretty sane values, and the laptop was cool to the touch even after the CPU-intensive task of unpacking Kubuntu packages to install the system.

Kubuntu provides a nicely put-together KDE, customised a little from the "vanilla" KDE configuration. It also includes a nice range of software outside of the normal KDE release, such as the excellent amaroK music player and Gwenview image viewer.

As with most Debian-based distributions, installing software is extremely easy on Kubuntu. The excellent APT package manager has long been an example of software installation done right. With the Kubuntu, Ubuntu, and Debian package repositories at my disposal, I can easily install a huge range of software. Chances are that when I'm asked to write an article about a program I've never heard of before, I can simply apt-get install it, which saves me a lot of time.

As a developer, I found it frustrating that packages like the GNU Compiler Collection and kernel headers weren't installed by Kubuntu by default. Most packages were missing the libraries and header files required to compile applications. However, the APT package management system lets you install the requirements to compile a particular application by using the build-dep argument. So, for instance, I could type apt-get build-dep kdelibs to install all of the libraries and headers files required to compile the KDE libraries.

Kubuntu's documentation is excellent. Since Kubuntu is based on Ubuntu, you can find relevant issues explored on the Ubuntu wiki, which is full of informative task-oriented tutorials. The Kubuntu community is friendly and helpful. Its IRC channel on is generally my first port of call for explanations. The regulars there are polite, friendly, and generous about donating their time to further the project through support.

As a freelance writer I like being able to take advantage of flexible working hours and locations. I take my laptop with me to the library and various caf├ęs around town. I need my operating system to be flexible about battery life and let me suspend my laptop so I don't have to close down everything I'm running when I move. Kubuntu really shines in its support for notebook computers. The battery monitor worked fine out of the box, and the battery itself has always run cool, even when compiling. I enabled suspend to RAM in the relevant configuration file and tested it with some uneasiness, because most notebook computers don't do this very well under Linux. I was pleased when suspend to RAM worked flawlessly. Resume was quick, and my networking came back up automatically. I then configured the KDE laptop tool to let me do CPU frequency scaling from the GUI. It took a bit of tinkering to enable the relevant options in the KLaptop configuration dialog, but now when I'm running on battery, KLaptop automatically sets the CPU usage to conservative, and back to performance again when I plug into power. I can also manually choose from all available CPU scaling governers by right-clicking on the battery icon or choosing "suspend" from the same menu you use to suspend to RAM.

I'm also an enthusiastic amateur photographer. Kubuntu includes great tools for working with digital cameras, such as the dcraw library for working with RAW image formats, and digiKam for managing and simple editing of photographs. Even with a library with hundreds of photographs per folder, digiKam performs well. Kubuntu's excellent hardware support means that my camera is recognised on insert, and I can access my photographs by navigating to camera:/ in the Konqueror file manager.

All of my work assignments are handed out via email, and I use KMail to access my IMAP account. KMail is fast and lightweight, and it has the most configurable interface of any email client I've tried. I use Kopete for instant messaging to keep in touch with my friends and sometimes talk with one of my editors about assignments. The latest beta has support for Adium stylesheets and looks really great.

I use KSpread to keep track of payments, and KWord occasionally to lay out articles. The KOffice suite is amazingly fast, launching in about a quarter of the time it takes to launch. With OpenDocument now being the default format, it's also easy to exchange documents between KOffice on Linux and on Windows. I also can generate PDF files easily with KOffice to share with people who don't need to edit my documents.

Kubuntu really delivered on its promise of a simple Debian desktop. The support for laptop computers is simply amazing, and it comes the closest to "just works" of any distribution I've tried.

What desktop OS do you use every day? Write an article of less than 1,000 words telling us what you use and why. If we publish it, we'll pay you $100. (Send us a query first to be sure we haven't already published a story on your favorite OS or have one in hand.) In recent weeks, we've covered SimplyMEPIS, Xandros, Mac OS X, Fedora Core 3, Ubuntu, White Box Enterprise Linux, Mandriva PowerPack 2006, Slackware, SUSE, GRML, Kanotix, Gentoo, VectorLinux, CentOS, Damn Small Linux, and Frugalware.


  • Linux
Click Here!