Kubuntu Intrepid: Another failed upgrade

Well, that sucked.

I upgraded my Kubuntu box at work from 8.04 to 8.10 on Monday morning. It did not go well. Not only did the experience waste several hours of my time getting my system back to a state where I could actually do some work, it left me feeling bitter and fed-up.

Not that the upgrade failed or anything - on the contrary. The upgrade process itself was relatiely fast and painless. So, in contrast to some of my previous upgrade experiences - which have left systems completely inoperable - this wasn't that bad. It's just that, once the upgrade was done, nearly every customization I'd made to my desktop was broken.

Broken Stuff

As for the breakages, they were legion - at least it felt that way. The 2 most annoying were the scrolling on my Logitech Marble Mouse trackball and KHotKeys. It turns out the mouse scrolling was fixable by adding a line to my xorg.conf to disable some new half-working auto-configuration feature.

KHotKeys, on the other hand, was a lost cause. From what I've read, it just plain doesn't work right in KDE 4. So, since key bindings are an absolute must-have feature for me, I worked around it by installing xbindkeys. This works well enough, but it's a huge pain in the neck. Now, not only do I have to recreate all my key bindings, but I have to look up the DBUS commands for all those built-in KDE functions rather than just picking them from a list.

Another annoying one was that the upgrade somehow broke the init scripts for my MySQL server. I don't know how the heck that happened. I tried uninstalling it, wiping the broken init scripts, and reinstalling, but they weren't recreated, which seemed odd to me. I eventually ended up just doing a dpgk --extract on the MySQL package and manually copying the scripts into place.

On another weird note, KDE and/or X11 has been randomly killing the buttons on my mouse. I'll be working along fine and suddenly clicking a mouse button will no longer do anything. It still moves, and the keyboard still responds, but clicking does nothing. Restarting the X server resolves the problem, but that's cold comfort. It seems to happen randomly - except for when I try to run Virtual Box, in which case it happens every time the VM loses focus. Fortunately I'm more of a VMware person, so that's not a big deal, but it's still disquieting.

KDE4 In General

The other big pain-point is KDE 4. To be perfectly blunt, I don't like it. It has a few neat new features, but so far it doesn't seem worth the effort to upgrade.

The good parts that I've noticed so far seem to be small. For instance, Dolphin has a couple of nice enhancements. The one that sticks out is the graphical item-by-item highlighting. It allows you to click a little plus/minus icon to select/deselect an item, so that you no longer need to hold the control key to do arbitrary muliple selects. The media manager panel applet is nice too. It pops up a list of inserted storage devices and allows you to mount and eject them. I have to admit that I also really like the new "run" dialog. It does program searching much like Katapult, but makes it easier to run arbitrary commands and select commands with similar names. While it doesn't have some of the cool features supplied by Katapult's plugins, it's still quite good.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things I don't like (not counting the breakage). For one, I think the new version of Konsole is a huge step backward. I can't access the menus with keyboard shortcuts, the "new tab from bookmark" feature is MIA, the session close buttons are gone, and generally everything I had gotten used to is missing.

And then there's the new "kickoff" application menu. I'm getting slightly more used to it, but I still don't like it. It just feels a lot slower to access items using it. This is only made worse by the "back" button for browsing sub-menus, which is extremely hard to click when you're in a hurry (hint: Fitt's law doesn't apply on multi-monitor setups).

As for the "cool" new look of KDE 4...I'm not a fan. Maybe it's just because I don't have any of the fancy desktop effects turned on on my system (a side-effect of the crappy integrated video card that's part of my tri-monitor setup), but I just don't think it looks good. Yeah, the bare desktop itself is kind of nice looking, but the window theme is ugly as sin. It's one of those "brushed metal" sort of looks, which I find even more depressing than Windows 95 gray. It's too dark for my taste and far too monochromatic. I also find the active window highlighting to be way too subtle to be helpful. The icons also leave something to be desired. They look nice, but they don't look distinct - even after a week, it takes me a second to figure out what some of them are supposed to represent. It kind of defeats the entire point of icons.

As for the much touted Plasma, I'll grant them this - it is pretty. The panel and desktop plasmoids do pretty much all look nice. Not that it matters to me, though, because I never see my desktop - it's always covered with work. And while the various applets and widgets may look pretty, approximately 90% of them are completely useless. That's the problem with all desktop widgets for any platform. I find that if a desktop widget actually provides enough valuable functionality to justify leaving a space open for it on the desktop, it's job is probably better served by a full-fledged applicaiton. And if it's not important enough to make constantly visible, then why bother to put it on the desktop at all? I'm never going to see it, so I might as well save the RAM and CPU cycles.


Overall, I guess Kubuntu 8.10 and KDE 4 aren't bad systems. But to be honest, I'm not impressed. For the first time, I think that the new Kubuntu is not an improvement. In fact, I have no plans to upgrade the 3 Kubuntu boxes I have at home any time in the forseeable future.

The thing that's most disappointing to me about the upgrade to KDE 4 is that it totally defeats my purpose in switching to KDE in the first place. When I switched from the ROX desktop to KDE back in 2005, my main reason was that I was tired of having to build my own desktop. ROX was great, but it was a small community and just didn't have the range of applications and degree of integration that KDE had. You see, I always had this crazy idea that I could just use all KDE applications and everything would be tightly integrated and work well together and there would be harmony throughout my desktop.

However, more and more I've been finding that that just isn't true. Part of the problem is that lots of KDE applications just aren't that good - many of them are missing functionality and have stability problems. I find myself using fewer KDE applications all the time. I dropped Quanta+ for Komodo Edit; I tried to like Konqueror, but it just doesn't hold a candle to Firefox or Opera; I recently tried to become a KPilot user, but was almost immediately forced to switch to JPilot; I finally got fed-up with Akregator and am just using the RSS reader in Opera's M2 mail client; I still use KMail, but not because I particularly like it - I just dislike it less than M2 or Thunderbird. In fact, I think the only KDE app I would actually miss is Amarok. (K3B is very good too, but I don't burn enough disks to care what program I use, just so long as it works.)

So now I'm starting to wonder: What's the point of using KDE? If I'm not using many KDE applications, and most of the ones I am using could be easily swapped out, it seems like there's nothing keeping me with it. Maybe I should just switch to GNOME. Or maybe Windows. I have been wanting to get more into .NET development, and my tollerance for things not working has been falling over the years, so Windows is sounding better all the time.

I think next weeek I'm going to have to reinstall my work machine. Maybe a fresh install and a fresh KDE profile will give me a better experience. Or perhaps I'll ditch Kubuntu and go for straight Ubuntu with GNOME. Or perhaps I could take another look at ROX. I don't know. And while I'm at it, I think I might reinstall that old Windows partition I still have on that machine. Maybe some time playing with a nice clean install of XP, or even Vista, if we have a spare copy, will give me a little perspective.

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Comments #

    No Subject

    it's a rare thing to read a blog post and to agree with just about every word. having had a very nice kde 3.5 system running for a year or so, i am now in a kde 4 hell.

    my network upgrade failed. i did a new installation. no network. (wicd fixed that.) i hate kde 4. my keyboard shortcuts are all bust. my firewall won't start properly... the kde task buttons go weird when i run Wine... and other problems..

    i do not like special effects. i try to turn them all off. i run my applications mostly full-screen, so i don't care about desktops. i'm not getting much that's good from kde 4.


    • Comment posted on Monday 29 Dec 2008 at 12:40pm
    • By jack

    Agreement :)

    the same here.
    I have been using Debian stable for 4 years before the upgrade. I had enough with the outdated softwares in Debian and the constant rc'file editing so I installed Kubuntu.
    first impression: everything is autodetected and configured and working.
    second impression: using KDE4 is a pain in the ass.
    my old Ati video card is not supported (for opengl) and with it KDE is slow like hell. But I can do suspend2ram and hybernation.
    I obtained an nvidia (FX5200) for faster display and the desktop speed was much better. But power management, hybernation does not work anymore. It seems, they are not supported using nvidia driver. GREAT.
    due to localisation (every error message is in hungarian) googling for troubleshooting is a horror too.
    sometimes a KDE app just crashes and disappears... and for the worst: KDE3 will not be in Kubuntu Intrepid.

    Sorry I'm late

    I really hate KDE 4.

    Version 3.5.8 through 3.5.10 did everything right.

    Icons on the desktop, files cluttering up the desktop, it was paradise.

    My frist time in KDE 4 I was lost. They're getting restrictive. Where is the soul in their work.

    It reminded me of being in GNOME.

    Not being able to put files on the desktop was a feature of countless older windows managers. Plasma is interesting as it hogs resources more than it ....

    You guys already know all this stuff.

    If QT4 is the new license then just recompile all the applications with QT4 and fix the resulting bugs.

    Armarok is my favorite music player. It's a disgrace.

    Adelph err the thing that is like synaptic in ubuntu. 10 second wait between selections is 9.95 seconds too long. Sarcasm aside, the whole suite needs work.

    If I had the choice between Vista and KDE 4, I'll resolve myself to using Vista with every free utility I can find.

    Windows 7 looks like Kde 2 hah.


    Never! upgrade anything.

    Running Ubuntu with the red flag sitting in my icon bar is fine with me. OH look there are 259 updates available...
    No I won't be updating or upgrading. My wireless always dies after updating to the latest kernel.

    • Comment posted on Saturday 21 Feb 2009 at 2:17pm
    • By staticsoda

    Agree :(

    The desktop seems to be getting much worse very quickly. I can no longer reliably install an installation because on half the hardware I have tried, I cannot get a working X display. I would love to just go and tell it what is there, like it used to be, but that was taken away. Windows, anyone? Grub has continuing problems, go through a whole install only to find at the last moment that grub can't install and the installation is dead in the water. I don't understand why the kubuntu team released a broken distribution with 8.10. Maybe it is supposed to be broken, it is the fall release. And maybe KDE 4.2 will be usable. I sure hope so. After a lot of work, I was able to get a working desktop with 4.1, but it was very painful.

    Just did an upgrade, now my wireless is broken in kubuntu 8.10. Wireless working out of the box was the only reason I stayed with 8.10.

    So here I am, back in Gnome & Ubuntu. At least it works mostly, if you can get past the installation, and make the Xorg work.

    • Comment posted on Wednesday 15 Apr 2009 at 12:48am
    • By Dave M.

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