Every now and then a particular Linux distribution appears and causes a splash with its stability, usability, support of myriads of pieces of hardware, abundance of features, etc. Although it does not fit exactly in the above description, one of the recent splashes is the Debian-based Ubuntu Linux and its derivatives Kubuntu and Edubuntu.
Ubuntu and Its Derivatives
I am far from thinking that Ubuntu, Kubuntu, and Edubuntu are the stars of today only because they are fashionable. On the contrary, they are really nice distros and in my opinion are suitable for many Linux newbies, who do not require a database server or a development environment on their desktop but rather a minimal distro with an office packet, Web browser, a CD/DVD burner, music and video players and some other small pieces of software for fun and work.
Ubuntu and its derivatives Kubuntu and Edubuntu offer exactly this – a basic system that fits on one CD and that offers an office packet (Open Office), some image viewing and processing programs, a couple of Internet and multimedia packages and of course, some useful utilities like archiving tools and popup notes.
Before we start reviewing Kubuntu and Edubuntu, there is one important clarification that needs to be made. Kubuntu and Edubuntu are not forks of Ubuntu. Actually, they are part of the same project, run on the same kernel, have many common packages. The only difference is that Ubuntu and Edubundu use Gnome as the desktop environment, while Kubuntu is KDE based. If you get Ubuntu and later download and install KDE, you will have the same functionality that is offered by Kubuntu.
Kubuntu – The KDE Variety of Ubuntu
As already mentioned, the main difference between Ubuntu and Kubuntu is the desktop environment. For a newbie, this can be a big issue, because there are significant differences in the assortment of programs that are included in Ubuntu and Kubuntu. Of course, you can always download and install additional packages, so it is hardly a problem that the default installation of Kubuntu does not include Games, for example.
Having seen the previous versions of Ubuntu and Kubuntu (5.10) and the 6.06 Beta of Ubuntu, I presumed more visual differences between Kubuntu 5.10 and its successor. Not that it is necessary to make a total revamp of the GUI but unlike Ubuntu 6.06 Beta, which has a big Ubuntu Dapper Beta bar in the lower right corner of the desktop, there is no visual indication of the version of Kubuntu you are running. Still, this is actually a minor issue (if an issue at all) and what is more, since the build I reviewed was still a beta, this might change for the final version.
My first impressions of Kubuntu 6.06 are certainly positive. As I say, it is a nice minimal distribution, yet at the same time it offers quite a lot of applications. It lacks stability but I presume this will change in the final release. I am eager to see the final release of Kubuntu 6.06 with the final version of the installer. I tried the Live CD (beta 2) and attempted to install the Live CD to my harddrive but the installation would not move beyond the first screen with the warnings that this is not the final version of the installer and that it is not stable yet, so data loss can be expected. Then I got the latest build (Flight 7) and the installer started but when I chose to manually edit the partition table because I have some other partitions on the same harddrive that I would like to keep intact, the installer crashed.
I tried to install both Beta 2 and Flight 7 on my old desktop machine but there the Live CD did not start at all, even in Safe Graphics Mode. I got a message “Unsupported Mode” as many times I attempted to run the Live CD and that was it. The same message appeared with Edubuntu Live CD, which is hardly surprising since in this part the two Ubuntu-derivatives are the same. Until now, I have never had such an issue with a Live CD, so I decided to temporarily give up and wait for the final version to check again. Crashes in the installer and imperfect support for old hardware are known issues for Kubuntu 6.06 and I am not the only one who has experienced them, so I don’t see this as a disaster for a beta version.
Unsuccessful installation attempts were not the only unpleasant surprise. A couple of times, when I restarted or shutdown my laptop, the Live CD made it freeze. I received a message to remove the CD, close the tray and press Enter to continue but pressing Enter had no effect, so finally I had to turn the laptop off from the power switch. Well, while testing and reviewing various beta (and even final) versions of software, I have seen much more disastrous bugs and issues that involve data loss or hardware damage, so this is just one small bug that needs to be fixed.
Inside Kubuntu 6.06
From my First Impressions you might have got the impression that Kubuntu 6.06 is barely usable. Certainly, it is not true. Kubuntu 6.06 is still in beta, which means that there will be no other features added to it in the final version, only bugfixes and performance improvement are to do be done.
When you get inside Kubuntu, you will notice a couple of new things. The most significant change is that Kubuntu 6.06 is running KDE 3.5.2. Also, there is a new menu item (Add/Remove Programs) on the main menu and now Kubuntu 6.06 comes with the official Open Office 2.0. It’s worth mentioning that System Settings has new modules as well. The complete list of new features and changes can be found in the documentation that comes with the distro.
I don’t think it is necessary to make a comprehensive list of all the packages that are included in Kubuntu 6.06. There are graphic programs and Open Office 2.0, Internet applications (but not FireFox), a program for working on remote desktops, calculator, etc. Probably two of the programs that can be mentioned explicitly are the System Settings panel (because it has a couple of new settings that were not available in 5.10) and Adept (the package manager – one of the differences with Ubuntu, which has Synaptic for this purpose). The starting screens of System Settings and Adept are shown in the next screenshots. System Settings is getter richer and better and it has many modules for fine-tuning one’s system, which in my opinion is very important for any Linux distribution, no matter if it is for beginners or for experts.
When I started Kubuntu, the first thing I noticed was that it did not have as many applications as Ubuntu. I don’t know for sure (I did not count them one by one) but I feel that Kubuntu comes with a more minimal version of KDE than the selection of Gnome packages in Ubuntu and Edubuntu. But it is quality that is more important than quantity and one can always get additional applications, if desired. The Adept package manager offers hundreds of additional packages for those who are eager to turn the minimal distro to a full-fledged KDE desktop. Still, as can be seen from the next screenshots of some of the menus, Kubuntu offers quite a lot.
I know that it is a matter of personal preferences but I miss the GIMP. It is not included in the default installation, while for both Ubuntu and Edubuntu it is. Instead, there is Krita, another graphics program. It is a very nice program, I can’t argue, but still I am so much used to GIMP that I didn’t find Krita to be a substitute. You can have a look at Krita in the next screenshot.
The screenshot on the right shows 3 multimedia applications that are included in Kubuntu. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the pleasure to enjoy any of them. The topmost application is K3b – the CD and DVD recorder. I have used its earlier versions and wanted to see if it is still that good but with only one CD/DVD device on my system, which was occupied by the Live CD, I couldn’t try it in a real situation.
Probably my biggest complaint is about MP3s and movie files – I could not play MP3s at all, and of the two video files (1 .mpg and 1 .avi) one had picture but no audio, while the other had brilliant sound but no picture. It might not be extremely difficult to change a setting or two in order to make music and video files play but since Kubuntu is considered a distro for beginners, I think this is a hurdle for them. In this aspect Kubuntu is not different from Ubuntu and Edubuntu. Still, the second screenshot above pictures the two media players Kaffeine and Amarok.
Edubuntu – Ubuntu For Kids
Although the main accent in this article is on Kubuntu, I think mentioning the third “brother” in the Ubuntu family – Edubuntu – is necessary. Edubuntu is also still in Beta 2 and at the time of writing this article (mid May 2006), its latest flight was 6. I had similar troubles installing it but I hope that for the final version these issues will be solved.
As already mentioned, Edubuntu is Ubuntu for kids. This is obvious, when one looks at the default desktop and at the selection of packages. The default look-and-feel for Ubuntu 6.06 is colorful and joyful, as seen from the next screenshot.
The applications that are included in Edubuntu by default are enough for a youngster and still fit on a single CD. Well, you will not find the latest and greatest games but Edubuntu is not a gamers distro, although it, unlike Kubuntu, has games included by default. A screenshot of three of the applications in the Education menu is provided next and the last two screenshots show some of the menus in Edubuntu.
I did not try all the applications in Edubuntu 6.06 but from what I have tried, I get the impression that a lot has been done but still there is much to do to achieve stability. Some of the applications from the Live CD crashed after I performed a couple of operations in them but there were applications, for instance GIMP, which behaved exactly as they should. I was happy that GIMP is included by default in the program because this is one of my favorite open source programs.
Something that disappointed me in Edubuntu was the lack of default support for MP3s and video files. Since this is an end-user distro that is intended to be easy to use, I think it is reasonable to expect that music and video files will run straight from the start, without having to download and configure additional packages. As with Kubuntu, I tried playing a couple of MP3 files, one .mpg and one .avi and the result was that only the .avi file could start but there was only sound, no picture (the same happened in Kubuntu). I did not make any configuration changes because I wanted to get an authentic feel about the way Edubuntu will handle these. Since most of distros I have tried manage to play music and video files by default, I think this should be the standard, at least for end-user distros.
In conclusion, I can say that all three Ubuntu distros are really nice. If they become stable in their final versions, even if this means to postpone the release of the final version for a month or two, I am certain that they will continue to be among the most loved Linux distros.