Over the weekend, I tested out a couple of new operating systems on my laptop. These were FreeBSD 8.0 RC1, openSUSE 11.2 Milestone 8, Kubuntu 9.04, and the beta for both Kubuntu and Ubuntu 9.10.
Sadly, only one of these distributions really worked for me, and it was Ubuntu. FreeBSD could not even boot, being unable to mount some elements of the system. OpenSUSE started out well, with a lovely installation splash-screen, but once the actual operating system had loaded, the backlight to my screen failed to come on and so I could only make out very faint impressions of images on the screen.
Kubuntu 9.04 started out with more promise, and I was impressed with the visual appeal of KDE when compared with the more staid GNOME. When I attempted to upgrade it to Kubuntu 9.10, things seemed to fall apart quickly, especially on issues with widget stability. Also, I found that the style changes made from 9.04 to 9.10 was actually less attractive. Given the stability and less visually appealing theme, I reinstalled 9.04. I used this for a couple of days, but ultimately found it lacking on two important points. First, I never could get skim, the input method editor interface for KDE, to work properly, and for a household that is regularly typing in three or more languages, this really is a deal breaking failure. The other issue was that while Kubuntu’s widgets were attractive, it seemed like there were still stability issues in that there were frequent losses of configuration settings.
The final straw on the back of Kubuntu 9.04 was my attempt to install some repositories that broke a number of packages. Given the work that would be required to fix this, and my other issues with it, I decided to give up on it and install Ubuntu 9.10 beta. Anyone familiar with Jaunty will find Karmic to be largely the same, as one could gather from even the technical overview. There are new features, like GRUB 2, a new software installation program, and ext4 file system, but none of these real distinguish themselves visually from what preceded them. One thing I am trying to do that is new is to install Conky on my system in an attempt to gain something of the visual interest and technical utility of KDE’s widgets on GNOME. I had initially tried gdesklets and found them underwhelming when they did work.
The one feature that I do like that is new is the new IME, IBus, which has replaced the sometimes troublesome scim. So far, I have been very impressed with both its ease of installation and use as well as its stability. It integrates what had been two separate functions on previous installations of Ubuntu (Greek required a change in keyboard layout, while Korean used scim for hangul input). So far, it is a very pleasant and usable distribution, if a bit disappointing in the new look and feel category. It is debatable whether someone running Jaunty will see the value in taking the effort and risk of upgrading to this latest version.
This was disappointing for me, as I really had become interested in branching out from Ubuntu, particularly to freeBSD and/or KDE 4.3.2. Sadly, none of my attempts proved very successful, and so I am stuck for the time being with the proven, if now increasingly boring, distribution of GNOME and Ubuntu.