As any other freedom-loving geek, I was rather excited when I heard about the first beta release of Ubuntu 11.10, the next release of Ubuntu. This also meant that Kubuntu would have their first beta out as well. I figured that the 3 of you who read my blog would probably like to see a review of Ubuntu's less well known sibling.
I initially only installed Kubuntu in a VirtualBox virtual machine, but realised that without actually using it, this review wouldn't be worth it. So, not being averse to shiny new software, I decided to upgrade my desktop to Kubuntu 11.10 as well.
I won't lie to you, I am a HUGE KDE fan, and I was pleased to see that this release comes with the next big version of KDE, version 4.7. This also includes the upgraded KDE PIM suite, A.K.A. kontact, containing KMail2 (which brought me a lot of grief, as you can read later), and upgraded versions of all the other KDE software.
The default browser that comes with Kubuntu is Rekonq 0.7. While I don't mind using it for casual browsing, I am a web developer by trade, and I depend on the tools available in Firefox, so Rekonq doesn't work for me. Fortunately Kubuntu has included a nice little installer for Firefox in the Internet menu. About 3 clicks later you have Firefox 7.0 beta installed.
One of the other cool features that comes with Kubuntu is a little notification message that pops up when you run Rekonq to tell you that you don't have Flash installed. 2 clicks and a browser restart later, Flash is installed. Nice.
LibreOffice comes pre-installed as usual, with the recent 3.4.2 release. Kubuntu also installs the libreoffice-kde package, which includes KDE support for LibreOffice. The only problem with this integration is that I have a dark colour scheme, and the integration package makes the page background in Writer a dark grey, while the text remains white. This is not only stupid as the page should remain white no matter the colours of the desktop environment, but it also makes documents completely illegible. That said, I haven't logged a bug for it so I guess I can't complain too loudly. Uninstalling this package resolves the issue by leaving you with the default LibreOffice look, which is meant for Windows, but I'm happier with an ugly yet readable app.
Once again Kubuntu comes with the Quassel IRC monolithic client, currently at version 0.7.2 (soon to be upgraded to 0.7.3).
While taking screenshots for this review, I needed to fiddle with the files, and so I opened the default file manager, Dolphin. I have noticed the trend in browsers to hide the menu, and I see Dolphin has adopted that too. I am not a fan. Fortunately you can switch that off.
The default video player is Dragon Player and the default media player is Amarok. Dragon Player is OK but I far prefer VLC, though on the other hand Amarok is my favourite media player anyway, so I was perfectly happy that. Most new users probably would be none-the-wiser, and those who like VLC will be savvy enough to install it themselves. As with Rekonq, Dragon Player and Amarok don't have everything they need to play all audio and video formats, and so the notification popped up again asking me if I wanted to install the extra bits necessary.
A funny thing happened with Dragon Player though, when it asked to install gstreamer-plugins-ugly. Once I'd done that, and restarted Dragon Player as per instruction, I could play MP4 files just fine. But then another notification popped up, saying that I needed to install another package. I said OK, but was then momentarily horrified when I saw it uninstalling gstreamer-plugins-ugly. My fears were soon put to rest when I saw it installing a similar package, gstreamer-plugins-ugly-multiverse. Exactly why it needed to do that is beyond me, and it is needlessly confusing. Hopefully the final release won't do that.
One of the last few things I wanted to do on a fresh installation was to install OpenLP from the Development PPA, so I used the good old add-apt-repository command. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it now contains a little warning message about PPA's and safety, asking me if I was sure I wanted to add the PPA. VERY COOL!
My last problem with a new installation is that I wish they shipped an image editor... not even KDE's own Krita is installed. GwenView has some image editing capabilities, but nothing beyond the real basics.
I see Kubuntu has, yet again, changed their package manager. We've gone from Adept, to KPackageKit (which was a real step backwards at the time, and it has only just gotten on par with Adept from 3 years ago), and now to Muon/QApt. Muon is nice, and has feature-parity with the latest version KPackageKit, but I really wish Kubuntu would decide on a package manager and stick to it!
Overall KDE 4.7 is awesome, and I'm quite impressed with the beta. Sadly, I can't say I'm ever wowed by Kubuntu. They are almost all volunteers, and so they don't have the time to write new and amazing applications like Ubuntu does. The one application I do wish Kubuntu had is a software centre, like Ubuntu's. They do fortunately have something similar, but it doesn't have the same wow factor.
As I mentioned earlier, I've been having some issues with KMail, but before I can talk about my issues, I need to explain a few things.
There is an indexing server called Nepomuk. Nepomuk is a metadata store, for storing information associated with various items on your computer, like files and e-mail. This metadata can then be used to perform searches on the actual data.
Akonadi is a central data store for storing Personal Information Management (PIM) data. Kontact is the PIM suite, and it stores your address book, calendar, etc, in Akonadi. Up until recently, however, KMail dd not use Akonadi, and stored e-mails on the file system in maildir or mbox format.
KMail version 2 was released as part of KDE PIM 4.7, and with that KMail moved to using Akonadi as well.
I don't know whose idea it was to move to Akonadi, but it was the most stupid decision they have ever made. No one seems to have actually tested it out with a significant amount of e-mail in KMail. And when I say significant, I'm talking 3+ gigs of e-mail.
When I opened Kontact for the first time, it asked me if I wanted to migrate my e-mail, to which I said yes. This seemed to be a fairly quick and painless process, as it took just a few seconds. Then Kontact opened, and my troubles started.
The first thing I noticed was that my 30-odd filters didn't seem to be working. All of my e-mail was being dumped into the global inbox, as opposed to my own inbox folder I had created (I have a number of aliases to my main e-mail address, which I filter each into their own inbox folders). Then, when I clicked on the inbox folder, Kontact "froze", and I noticed my whole PC starting to grind to a halt.
It should take a lot of effort for a program to do that on any modern machine. For instance, my PC is a triple-core, 64 bit processor, with 4 gigs of RAM, it is anything but weak, and yet here Kontact was absolutely killing my poor machine.
Eventually Kontact recovered, and I was able to "use" it again. So then I decided to apply my filters to the global inbox. Surprisingly this was fairly quick, but I could see why... the stupid filters were not working! Great, so I'll have to do it manually.
Kontact seemed to be intent on completely destroying my PC. Every time I tried to do anything, it would lock up my entire PC, and I'd have to wait anthing from 10 seconds to 10 minutes for my PC to become responsive again. Eventually I got fed up with it, and closed Kontact.
You would think that would have solved the problem, but to my utter surprise, my PC was still so bogged down and slow it felt like an 8086. I ran top to see if I could see what process was taking so long and saw one process that was taking up 1 gig of RAM and completely occupying one of my three cores. Thank goodness I have more than just one! It was also chewing my hard drive nicely, which is probably why it was making my PC unusable.
Surprise, surprise, the offending process was called "akonadi_nepomuk" something or other (the full name was cut off in the terminal). At that stage I was so fed up, I just left my PC as-is and went to bed.
I woke up a few hours later, and decided to check on progress. Nothing had changed. Even though Kontact was not running, that akonadi_nepomuk process was still trying to murder my PC.
So I took my awesome smartphone, a Nokia N900, and did some Googling to see if I could find a solution. I found a number of people decrying KMail's decision to use Akonadi, with most of them moving to alternate e-mail clients despite having used KMail for as long as 8 years. In any case, one person mentioned that he installed a development application called Akonadi Console, and removed all agents that referenced Nepomuk.
I went back to bed, and then the next day, armed with that information, I too installed Akonadi Console and got rid of everything that referenced Nepomuk. Then I started up Kontact, and lo and behold nothing seemed to be intent on killing my PC.
Then I clicked on a folder, and Kontact hung again. I went back to the other things I was doing, and checked on Kontact every now and then. Eventually, about 10 minutes later, Kontact was responsive again. I decided to do some manual filtering, since my filters were evidently not working, and once again Kontact took a hike. This time I checked top again, and noticed a "akonadi_mixedmail" process taking its time.
From what I have read on the net, and from what I can see on my own PC, it looks like KMail can't decide whether it wants to use Akonadi or the old maildir directories for my mail. I saw two entries in the "Accounts" section of the KMail configuration, one for my POP3 connection, and one for KMail folders!? What the heck is going on there?
KMail team, I have no idea what you were thinking, but it was a stupid idea, and now I'm stuck with your stupid decision. Every time I click on a folder in KMail, I have to wait 10 seconds to 10 minutes for KMail to finish doing whatever its doing and become responsive again. That is a huge waste of my time.
I'm glad to say that after a couple of updates, my filters are at least working again. Apparently some other folk also had the same problem with their filters, filed a bug, and it got fixed fairly quickly.
I also noticed, however, when updating, that Akonadi Console was removed. I can't imagine the pain new users are going to go through when they start using Kubuntu. They will find that their e-mail application, one of the most important applications today, is completely unusable, and they can't even do anything about it. I know this is not the Kubuntu teams's fault, but they get left with the blame for the bad decisions the KMail team has made.
I said it when Nepomuk and Akonadi first came out, and I will say it again. Nepomuk and Akonadi are the most stupid ideas ever, and look like they were hatched out of a Microsoft think tank. Seriously guys, didn't anybody learn from Microsoft's PST files? Since when have we disregarded the Unix philosophy of doing only one thing, but doing it well?