2017-02-13

Review: KDE neon 5.9.1

It has been a while since I've done a review of a Linux distribution. Lately, I've seen a few reviews of KDE neon (the second word being intentionally written in lowercase), and some of them have praised it as being much better than Kubuntu (the traditionally KDE spin of Ubuntu). That got my attention, so I figured I should check it out.

Main Screen + Kickoff Menu
KDE neon is essentially a showcase of the latest and greatest version of KDE, packaged atop the most recent LTS release of Ubuntu. It specifically does not officially support any other DEs (though of course users can try as they like), and it is meant to provide the stability of the Ubuntu LTS base in conjunction with the newest features from KDE. It has several versions available, depending on how adventurous one feels in using new software; some of the versions claim to be made for "everyday users", which I take to include Linux newbies, so as usual, I will evaluate this distribution from that perspective. In particular, I downloaded the User Edition (not the User LTS Edition, which features the latest LTS version of KDE, though all editions feature the latest Ubuntu LTS base) and wrote it to a USB via UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

After the boot menu, I was greeted by an interesting-looking boot splash featuring curvy yet minimal light-colored moving graphics atop a black background. This quickly transitioned into a similarly-colored KDE splash screen, which then gave way to the desktop. The desktop is intentionally vanilla KDE, and there honestly isn't much more to say about the desktop than that.

Mozilla Firefox + KWrite
Mozilla Firefox is the default web browser. However, very few plugins and codecs are included, and Adobe Flash is not one of them. Moreover, the repositories for non-free and other software are not even included, and I don't think it's fair for a new user to be expected to look up how to include those repositories for software that is [still, unfortunately] so key to web browsing. Beyond that, the software selection is fairly sparse; only a few of the minimal KDE utilities, like Gwenview and KWrite are included. Oddly enough, Vim is included in the Kickoff menu as an optional text editor, but I'm not sure why that should be highlighted for newbies to Linux.

The Discover application is the GUI software manager, but it is fairly limited in scope. I used it to install the Synaptic Package Manager, which I in turn used to install Mupen64Plus; I did not install Google Talk because I would need Adobe Flash to run it (and I didn't have that), and I did not install Skype because the non-free repositories were unavailable. Mupen64Plus did install and run fine though.

Dolphin + Gwenview + Desktop Cube
Dolphin is the default file manager as usual. Given that the emphasis is more on showcasing KDE, I wanted to make sure that it would be capable of dealing with the various situations that I see every day. In particular, I tried to connect my smartphone and use Dolphin to read files. Unfortunately, while Dolphin can recognize the presence of every file, it cannot actually read or copy every file between the smartphone and the laptop, which is a pretty serious limitation; related to this, though Gwenview is great when it works, the latter doesn't really shed much light on the seeming inability to read image files from certain connected devices. Additionally, it's a little annoying that when the default behavior is single-click to open files and folders, the option for changing this behavior is under the settings for input devices in the KDE System Settings application, rather than within Dolphin itself.

KDE neon used 440 MB of RAM at idle, according to the KSysGuard system monitor application, corroborated by the command "free - m"; this is quite lightweight, considerably more so than GNOME nowadays (though still a bit heavier than MATE and Xfce). Additionally, the system was generally quite smooth and responsive, though latency and some artifacts did appear when using the non-KDE application Synaptic Package Manager.

That's where my time with KDE neon 5.9.1 ended. It's certainly a nice way to showcase the latest in KDE, but the smartphone issue as well as the hassle for installing simple stuff like Adobe Flash are dealbreakers that prevent me from using this on a daily basis or recommending it as such. Perhaps "everyday user", as labeled by KDE neon, refers to someone who is experienced with Linux (as opposed to a newbie) and wants to use the latest in KDE for the long term, but isn't necessarily interested in using the bleeding-edge development version that could break/crash easily.
You can get it here; note that it is 64-bit only.

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