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I am about to start a big project for work, and I wanted to get the latest tools on my machine because I know I won’t have the opportunity for a while. Unfortunately, my install of Kubuntu Hardy 8.04 is starting to feel behind-the-times and the latest versions of my applications are getting increasingly hard to install as they depend on newer libraries. However, I have been very nervous to upgrade. I love KDE 3.5; it is a nearly perfect mix of stability, configurability, and usability; perhaps I’ve just grown very used to it. I avoided upgrading to the unfinished KDE 4.0, and have been following KDE4 closely while waiting for it to get complete enough not to drive me crazy. It looks almost there. So last week, when the project start got delayed yet again, I tackled upgrading to the freshly released Alpha 6 of Kubuntu Karmic.

Now I understand that alpha-quality software is not for production use. I also understand that the jump from KDE3 to KDE4 is a big one. However, Karmic is coming along nicely, and Alpha 6 looks almost there. My logic went like this: get the reinstall out of the way, upgrade to ext4, get used to KDE4, get the configuration file merging headache out of the way, and get everything working in the KDE4 version of my most important apps. Then it should be easy to aptitude dist-upgrade through the betas to the release even in the middle of a firestorm.

I expected this project would take a day or two, and it went more or less according to plan, but the experience was more painful than I expected. Perhaps my notes might help out others.

Before upgrading I did some due diligence. I checked the bug database, and didn’t see anything that would obviously effect me. I reviewed the development mailing list logs. Finally, I hung out on IRC for a couple of days and got opinions on the stability of the development branch. At that point I had collected enough courage to jump in.

Impressions of Karmic

For me the big change from Hardy to Karmic is KDE4. However, I did notice:

  • The installer is really fast and easy to use.
  • The system boots far faster.
  • There is no more grub screen by default.
  • I have a bunch of new folders in my home directory that I don’t need and don’t want: Documents, Pictures, Videos, Templates. The Desktop folder is being deprecated. And now they make me use a Download folder (instead of sticking it in Desktop). I’m sure this can all be configured away.

Impressions of KDE4


It is usable, but not yet as good as 3.5.


My first impression of plasma was overwhelmingly negative. I could appreciate the configurability, but found it exceptionally painful to get things organized in a way that supported my preferred workflow. I find plasma’s interaction between panels, activities, dashboards, and virtual desktops to be too complex—especially on my dual monitor setup. It’s a lot simpler with the “one activity per virtual desktop” setting introduced in KDE 4.3, but it still isn’t intuitive. Riddle-me this: 3 virtual desktops across 2 monitors with 1 separate dashboard equals 8 activity panes. It also isn’t obvious what will happen when I disconnect a display. I suspect some of the confusion is related to inconsistent behavior as a result of bugginess.

I also find plasma to be slower than KDE 3.5. Again, it is mostly the effect of zooming out to configure my activities and desktops (the slowness contributes to the feeling of bugginess). It doesn’t seem as snappy and responsive. On the other hand, there are lots of nice effects and they run a lot faster than equivalent effects under the compiz setup I played with previously (and then turned off). The effects are well integrated into system settings and much easier to navigate and tweak than under compiz.

Perhaps the problem with plasma is just having non-intuitive defaults. Things got easier once I deciphered the nomenclature (the weirdest is how they call the “edit plasmoid bubble” a “cashew”; while figuring out the desktop I started feeling an overwhelming urge to get a snack). I started over by deleting all my activities and I let the “one activity per virtual desktop” button set everything up for me. I think I had gotten myself into a bad state while playing around. Now that I’m actually able to use the setup, plasma is really growing on me. It does make it easy to do things that were previously hard to conceive.

I think the paradigm can be just as useful and a lot simpler by merging the idea of activities and virtual desktops. There should then be an option for “virtual desktop per monitor” or “virtual desktop across all monitors”.


Problems with Clean Solutions

  • Kopete fails to connect to Google Talk. Workaround: aptitude install qca-tls.
  • KNetworkManager doesn’t like WPA on my access point. Workaround: use wicd. Bug#: 434342
  • Default weather widgets won’t search for my city. Workaround: use plasma-widget-weatherforecast. Bug#: 434254
  • The change monitor button (Fn-F7, a.k.a. the video button) didn’t work on my ThinkPad T61. This is the same as previous version of Ubuntu (but the monitor naming changed a little bit). Thinkwiki has a solution. Essentially, drop the script into /usr/local/bin, and create a file in /etc/acpi/events/ibmvideobtn that says:
    event=ibm/hotkey HKEY 00000080 00001007
    A copy of the script is here.

Problems with Ugly Workarounds

  • Logging out crashes X and takes the keyboard with it. Workaround: reboot. Bug#: 428662
  • Can’t unlock screen. Workaround: run killall kscreenlocker from a virtual terminal. Bug#: 434276
  • Spaces break bash tab completion. Workaround: prepend command with a slash (). Bug#: 419509
  • Kopete won’t connect to jabber through a CNAME. Workaround: Use the A record or IP address. Bug#: 434214
  • Kmail can’t pass options to GVim. Workaround: use gvim -f %f as the command and lose the options. Bug#: 434180
  • Weird cups problems where cupsctl wants a password on bootup, and then reports “unathorized”. This is easy to ignore, but I got another authorization error while trying to install one of my printers—it reported my password as incorrect. It turns out that temporarily disabling apparmor with /etc/init.d/apparmor stop allowed me to get the task done. Debian Bug#: 543468.
  • Corner actions in SystemSettings→Desktop→Screen Edges conflicts with the ones in SystemSettings→Desktop→Screen Saver→Advanced Options. I didn’t log this one.

Annoying Missing Features

  • Severity 1: It does not appear to be possible to get the Application Launcher to display under the mouse pointer through a click on the background. I use this all the time, and it drives me crazy to have to move my mouse all the way to the panel on the edge of my dual-monitor widescreen display. Typing it makes it sound petty, but it drives me nuts.
  • Severity 4: Konsole doesn’t save a default window size anymore. Whatever size my last closed window has is the size the next one will open with. It’s annoying because I like my terminals to be exactly half of my screen, but sometimes I will adjust it for a specific task. Now every time I adjust it I have to fiddle it back.


The good news is that in my judgment KDE 4.3 has only one really annoying missing feature. That means that KDE 4.3 is pretty feature complete in comparison to KDE 3.5. Now that I’ve got a usable system, I’m really happy with it. Though this is definitely a usable alpha, I am anxiously looking forward to the final release of Karmic Koala. Hopefully it will include fixes to some of these problems.

Getting Back to Work

Of course the moment I pass the no-turning-back point of the upgrade, I got notified of the start of my project. That means that messing with the alpha has put me behind schedule. I’d better stop submitting bug reports and buckle-down to put my shiny new tools to work.


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  1. Bish

    Bish on #

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  2. Richard

    Richard on #

    From Google Translate:

    > Site is excellent. We ought to give you a reward for him or the Order of Honor. :)

    Bish: Thank you for the positive words; they are very motivating!

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