Returning to Desktop Linux Again

by Sid Steward

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For years I have had an on-again/off-again relationship with desktop linux. My old flame: Debian running fvwm. Over the years, however, we have both changed. Where I used to enjoy tinkering, I am now impatient and want things to 'just work.' Desktop linux has thankfully developed along these lines. Goodbye, stock Debian and fvwm. Hello Ubuntu and KDE (Kubuntu). (Ubuntu is based on Debian.)

My experiment in distributed polling — give it a click or visit

I first downloaded the Kubuntu live CD, burned it, and booted it on my laptop. It looked good. I especially liked that the antialiased fonts still looked good at small sizes. When I am coding, I use small fonts so I can see more code.

While downloading the Kubuntu install CD, I rummaged through my old hardware and assembled a so-so machine: an AMD K-6/2 450MHz CPU with 384MB RAM. Too slow? Well, let's try it.

The install went well, except it inexplicably rebooted five times. Each time something different seemed to trigger the reboot. Bad CD media, perhaps? Bad memory? I especially like that it detected my hardware and spared me from configuring X.

Booting into Kubuntu for the first time felt good. The Mac-like admin layer is nice. The UI seemed choppy sometimes, but then my machine is under-powered.

First problem: I wasn't online. The network configuration window made sense, except I couldn't get my gateway setting to 'stick.' A google search quickly yielded a helpful discussion in an ubuntu forum. Using the console I edited /etc/network/interfaces by hand and restarted the network service -- fixed the old fashioned way. I was glad to see that the ubuntu community had me covered.

I set to work updating and installing packages. The Adept package manager made sense and worked well.

Setting the clock raised the same issue I saw trying to configure the network. The GUI let me change the time zone, but the change didn't stick. Back to the console, man pages and Google. Turns out I was missing a symlink from /etc/localtime into /usr/share/zoneinfo. Fixed.

I hope to try my hand at some Linux desktop development. In particular, I would like to create a PDF manipulation tool based on my pdftk. Ubuntu feels like a good place to begin. I am also looking for a desktop my family can comfortably use -- we'll see.


2006-01-05 03:06:51
why KDE?
Ubuntu is fun, but why overtax your system using KDE instead of Gnome?
Gnome is easier on your system, and even more important uses less screen realestate leaving more room for editor windows and other application screens.
2006-01-05 09:54:28
why KDE?
I was biased against Gnome due to a bad initial experience. Your comment compels me to try it again, especially on this lightweight system.
2006-01-05 21:41:03
why KDE?
For better of for worse, Gnome is also more tinker free. The feeling is much closer to MacOS-X, while KDE is sort of windows on steroids.

The main difference, as I see it, is that Gnome uses a spatial methaphore for its desktop and filemanager. i.e. files stay where you put them, and you never have multiple views to the same file. This is very good when you only manage your own files in not too deep file structures. (Navigational file browsing is still possible, and can be set as default)
Gnome is very good for you Grandma, your accountant or secretary that just want to get work done without any hazzle or perhaps even you.

KDE have a navigational approach just like windows explorer. Good if have deep file structures or often need to see multiple views of your files at the same time. KDE is good for sysadmins, geeks, Linus Torvalds. You can spend hours tweaking almost anything. KDE is also better at communication.

Personally I have a very hard time deciding what I like the best.

The most annoying feature in KDE is the popup menu that appears on drag and drop in konquerer. It contains four choices "Copy here, Move here, Link here, Cancel" where the two last items almost never are used. Less than 1% of the files on my system are symbolic links, and most of them are created by scripts, not the file manager.
Having a "Cancel" button on this menu, but on no other menus gives an inconsistent impression. To make it even worse the only way to make a link is through drag & drop, meaning that this is a hidden behavior meaning that if a new user actually wants to make a link he will probably have a hard time finding it.

The best things about KDE is that it is well integrated, the code is well written and well designed. This makes it easy to make minor changes if you know a little C++. Then there is the kio-slave system that makes you feel like you sit in front of the internet, and not in front of a computer.

The best thing about Gnome is that it is elegant, and doesn't indulge in orgies of bright colors everywhere it sort of leaves room for my files and my contents. I also like the .hidden file functionality that makes it possible to hide files and directories like they were standard dotfiles. That way I can clean up folders so that important stuff is easy to find. You simply put a .hidden file in the directory where you want to hide things containing the names of the files you want to hide. I use it to hide /usr, /root, /lib, /dev
/bin, /sbin, /etc, /boot

The worst thing with Gnome is that it really really sucks if you want to connect to windows based file servers. It takes forever to connect and it seams that you have to open more ports on the firewall to make it work. So far I haven't figured out what port.

2006-01-06 05:17:33
Quite happy with vanilla Ubuntu
I've been running Ubuntu on my laptop for several months now and have been thoroughly satisfied with it. I was running (Black|Flux)Box for a while on RedHat based systems, then switched to KDE on Debian. I planned to run Kubuntu, but through serendipity or divine providence (a Kubuntu CD that was a coaster) I wound up with plain old Ubuntu. I'm thankful for the coaster. I think I'm much happier with Gnome, despite what Mr. Torvalds says. It gets the desktop out of my way and lets me do my work.
2006-01-06 08:58:23
trying Gnome today

Thanks for the detailed feedback... very compelling. I will install (Gnome) Ubuntu today on a similar machine and post my first impressions. True, I could install Gnome on my Kubuntu machine, but I want the fresh-install experience. Besides, what else am I to do with all this old hardware (-:

2006-01-10 12:45:59
I've tried ubuntu, both the gnome and kde version, but somehow I keep returning to debian :)
probably b/c a good friend of mine is willing to do the maintenance!