Review: Kubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron)

It's been a few years since I tried out a new version of my favorite Linux Distribution (ubuntu), so I downloaded the 64-bit ISO and put it on my 3GHz AMD64 Dell box here at work.

The short version? It's sick. Good sick. SIIIIICK, yo!

In prior lives (back when I ran Redhat 6 on my 866Mhz PIII in college), I was a KDE fan, so I grabbed Kubuntu (KDE + Ubuntu, get it?) instead of the Gnome-based Ubuntu this time. It's flashy and fast, and includes the new KDE 4 GUI. Nice *enough*, I suppose. Having programmed in Qt once upon a time, I have lots of respect for the GUI paradigm that Qt & KDE enforces.

Visually, the KDE desktop isn't as nice as Windows XP or Vista, and it's leagues short of Mac OS X. Font rendering stinks. It's just plain hard-to-read compared to TrueType and ClearType. The softness of Aqua or Mac OS is missing. This is just the sort of boring, nebulous, hard-to-define stuff that nerds hate, hence it's probably never getting better. Nerd-o-rific is what we've got.

Still, there's a tremendous amount to like. The apt-get system (and its GUI facade, KDE's Adept package manager) continues to impress with its "It just works" ease and comprehensiveness. Installing the apache webserver was as simple as typing 'sudo apt-get install apache2'. All dependencies came down with the package, and it started right up. There's a whole universe (and multiverse) of packages at your fingertips. Apt-get is really packaging done right, IMHO.

So, why am I sick? Well, we bought a stylish iMac last year, getting a fast computer with a rock-stable OS that's incompatible with Windows apps. We could've bought an inexpensive clone, put Kubuntu on it and had a rock-stable OS that's incompatible with windows apps (though with Wine, maybe some would've run, anyway). Most of our 'killer' apps are web-based now (Gmail, Google Docs, Blogger, Ebay, etc.) and those run in Firefox + Kubuntu just as well (better?) than on our Mac.

So, in the end, is Kubuntu a serious competitor for Windows or Mac OS? *If* you're an geek or enthusiast, sure. If you prefer your cars and computers to be appliances, certainly not--still too much to care about, starting with the choice of KDE or GNOME. I realize that's a Holy War topic with the *nix community, but it bears repeating: MOST PEOPLE DO NOT CARE. The community must accede to one or the other before Desktop Linux has any chance, IMHO. Beyond that, rough edges remain--if something goes wrong you'd better be willing to fire-up the terminal and edit some files manually to recover. That's the UNIX way--no registry (Thank God!), just files, for better or worse.

Talking with my old team yesterday, it sounds like Chuck's convinced them all to install Ubuntu (if only in VMWare) to give it a shot. Given our current expense/capital situation, seems like a better ROI than either windows or Mac OS!

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