I've got the new Kubuntu 8.04 KDE4 Remix running now on my laptop and it is looking really good. I really like the new visual design and it is great that the Kubuntu project team made a release featuring KDE4 available on top of everything else they have had to do to get the main release of Kubuntu out. Up to now I have been running KDE3 and experimenting a bit with KDE4 on a virtual machine, but now I'm making the move full time. I don't know yet if that will prove a good decision while KDE4 is so young, it was only released in January 2008, but it is easy enough to swap desktop system on an Ubuntu distribution so I thought it was worth gaining that "bit of an edge" and going with the latest desktop experience that is available on Linux. The Ubuntu distributions always show very significant progress on every new release, and 8.04 has followed this trend and I'm finding it very pleasant to use.
My laptop is a Zepto Znote 6324W, which is a fairly recent machine, and as it has a 64 bit Intel processor I got the 64 bit version of Kubuntu to get the maximum performance from the machine. One bit of advice I would give though is to always check the MD5 sum of a downloaded CD image, this can save you a lot of problems when installing, the first time I downloaded the CD image it got corrupted (not sure why, but this can happen with any download on any platform) but second time was fine. When I installed the last release of Kubuntu (7.10 or Gutsy) I did have a couple of problems. Firstly, the sound would not work straight away and I had to perform some manual changes to get it to work. The second was that the splash screen (usplash) didn't work when the computer was booting up, instead I got a blank screen. I decided to do a completely fresh installation of Kubuntu to remove any fixes I had applied in the past completely. I was delighted to find that both of these problems have been fixed, I now get a splash screen and the sound works straight away! The installation process itself was very smooth, I booted into the "live mode" and clicked on the "Install" icon to use the graphical installer. When it came to partitioning the hard disc, I choose to do this manually and set up a partitions for for root ("/"), swap, and /home. My only gripe with the installer is that the partitioner works in megabytes and not gigabytes, which is a bit annoying and it would be great if this could be changed in future, otherwise it was excellent and very user friendly. This partitioning scheme means that if I needed to I could reinstall the operating system without wiping my personal files on the system (although you should always back them up anyway) if needed. I haven't got any version of Windows on this machine, so didn't need to do any steps to keep those partitions. One of my reasons for buying a system from Zepto was that they would sell me a laptop without an operating system on it, which saves money if you don't need Windows. Sadly, not many hardware manufacturers offer this option. The actual installation was very fast, it took only about 10-15 minutes, not even enough time to make and consume a cup of tea!
The new version of Kubuntu seems much quicker at booting. I wish I had timed the boot up process before I updated as it would have been good to compare. KDE4 I think does deliver in terms of being a very modern computing experience. The Zepto has an NVidia graphics chip on board and the NVidia driver can be easily installed by going to "K" -> "Applications" -> "System" -> "Hardware Devices" and ticking the box for the driver and rebooting. The look and feel is all new of course with improved graphics and visual animations which can be enabled by going to "K" -> "Computer" -> "System Settings" -> "Desktop" -> "Desktop Effects". I notice too that in Dolphin, the file manager, it is possible to attach tags to files and directories, as well as a rating and comment.
The KDE4 Remix is a slightly more cutting edge experience though, which means that not everything is smooth at times (if you need a lot of stability then you should still run KDE3), so there are a few rough edges. Strangely, there doesn't seem to be an easy way to add a printer. You can get round this by accessing the underlying printer system by going to http://localhost:631, there you will see web configuration screens to set up a printer. If you have an HP printer you can also set it up by going to "K" -> "System" -> "Printer Toolbox". I'm sure this will get sorted out very soon. Another problem is that applications that use GTK+ don't look very good and don't blend in with the KDE applications. This can be fixed by installing the gtk-qt-engine-kde4 package and then going to "K" -> "Computer" -> "System Settings" -> "Appearance" -> "GTK Styles and Fonts" then clicking on "Use my KDE style in GTK applications". It would better if this was installed by default.
Some web pages might look a bit strange too. This is a problem not restricted to Kubuntu and is caused by producers of websites selecting Microsoft True Type(tm) fonts for their websites. When these fonts aren't available the browser will pick the nearest match, which might not look quite right. These fonts are proprietary, so cannot be distributed with Kubuntu, but can be downloaded legally as far as I know. To install them on your system install the msttcorefonts package
and this will download and install them for you. It is also worth installing the flashplayer-nonfree package as well so that you can use sites with Adobe Flash(tm) content. I notice that full screen mode works in Flash now, handy for the BBC iPlayer, now you don't have to watch Bargain Hunt through a little window!
I'll still have a few things to do, such as setting up the program shortcut keys, and maybe getting the internal modem and infrared to work (though I have never used these). Then I'll be exploring KDE4 fully and the new features of Kubuntu 8.04, and of course blogging what I find.
*** UPDATE - 14th May 2008 ***
I've updated my earlier post Flock and Flash on Kubuntu 7.10 (64 bit) to include details on how to get this next generation browser working in this environment. Flock does seem to blend into KDE4 quite well.