A good week ago, I decided to install Kubuntu Linux at home, replacing my previous Gentoo Linux installation.

Overall I was very happy with Gentoo, and it still ranks high among my favorite Linux distributions. But while it was cool to have a system that was built from source and therefore (at least in theory) optimized for my particular needs as well as very up to date, I seemed to be spending a disproportionate amount of time doing upgrades. Another problem was that I had selected to install the 64-bit Gentoo version, as I have an AMD64 processor. While Gentoo’s AMD64 support is very strong, 64-bit Linux in general nevertheless still lags behind the 32-bit version, and certain closed source drivers or plugins (such as Macromedia Flash) simply aren’t available in 64-bit versions. There are ways around this, but they are inconvenient and require too much effort. Again, not a Gentoo problem, but something that bothered me enough to increase my inclination to reinstall my system. The final trigger was KDE. I had mostly been using Gentoo for the past few years, with a little bit of more minimal solutions like XFCE or Fluxbox sprinkled in, but after seeing the recent improvements in KDE I felt like switching to this desktop. Unfortunately I was unable to get KDE to run stable on my Gentoo system, and it always crashed after a few minutes, usually when I used the “K” menu. Up- and downgrading the ATI driver, upgrading to the latest Linux kernel, and experimenting with Kernel settings didn’t have any effect, so I was finally ready to reinstall and switch to a different distribution.

The Kubuntu distribution is derived from Ubuntu, which is gaining a lot of popularity these days (it is in fact by far the top ranking Linux distro on DistroWatch in terms of hits per day). Kubuntu is essentially exactly the same as Ubuntu, except that the Gnome desktop has been swapped out for KDE. Ubuntu in turn is derived from Debian. It inherits Debian’s excellent package management system and solves its greatest problem: Debian’s stable distibution is very stable, but also very outdated and therefore not an ideal choice for a desktop system if you want to keep up with the latest software releases. Debian releases are very infrequent. Debian’s unstable distribution is cutting edge, but lacks stability. Ubuntu strikes a perfect middle ground, with releases every 6 months, and of course important updates (such as security updates) in between. The official Ubuntu repositories contain a subset of packages that are officially supported, as well as a wider set of packages that come without warranty. It is also possible to add generic Debian repositories, although this is discouraged. So far, I have not had to resort to generic Debian packages for anything.

(K)ubuntu’s installation is very straightforward, without a whole lot of interaction. You make some basic choices and the system goes ahead and installs the OS and a basic set of packages, including KDE (in case of Kubuntu) or Gnome (in case of Ubuntu), as well as OpenOffice and other productivity software. Pretty much everything else (including things that come as standard on many Linux distros, such as the GCC compiler, the Apache webserver, etc.) need to be manually installed afterwards. But with the powerful Apt package manager as well as convenient GUI wrappers (by default Adept for Kubuntu, Synaptic for Ubuntu), this step is trivial. Simply select the package you want, and all necessary dependencies will be marked for installation automatically. Upgrading or uninstalling packages is just as easy. The result is a very clean system, without a lot of the cruft that you get with other Linux distributions.

The user management is well thought out. By default, there is no access to the root user. Instead, a single user is created with sudo privileges, and sudo is used for all system administration purposes. The root user can be manually enabled later, but this is discouraged and generally unnecessary.

Kubuntu’s KDE (version 3.4.3) desktop is very clean and highly usable. Out of the box it includes many great tools such as the Konqueror browser and filemanager, the K3B CD / DVD burning tool, the amaroK audio player, etc. There is an abundance of productivity software for KDE, ranging from office software to graphics software, IDEs, and more. Of course, Gnome and other X applications can be run as well.

So far I am extremely happy with Kubuntu, and I warmly recommend this distribution to anybody who’s in the market for a new Linux distro.