Saturday, May 02, 2009

Kubuntu Jaunty Jackalope and the reluctant upgrader

Finally got up the nerve to upgrade my Kubuntu version of Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) to 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope).

When 8.04/Hardy Heron launched, you could install it with either KDE 4 or KDE 3.5. At the time 8.04 was released, KDE 4 was (in the opinion of some) not quite ready for PrimeTime. I did an install of KDE 4 and decided to go back to 3.5. Since then, I've put off doing any upgrades.

When Jaunty Jackalope was released, I read the reviews and didn't see anything that made it an extremely compelling upgrade: faster booting (I never thought it was all that slow), a new packages manager (I liked Adept), and other improvements that didn't seem all that compelling.

Still, my curiosity got the best of me. At last I mustered my courage.

If you are using Ubuntu or one of its derivatives you know this: you pretty much need to have broadband to take advantage of the myriad package management features. Now that that fact is out of the way...

Upgrading is fairly simply, albeit slightly time consuming, since everything comes down your internet connection. Depending on the number of packages you have installed and need to upgrade, this can take a while. And there will the occasional dialog you need to hit "Y" or "N" to. It took me about an hour and a half.

To start, open Adept (package manager) and hit the "Fetch Updates" button, then the "Version Upgrade" button, which should now be visible. You'll be informed "A new distribution version is available. Do you want to upgrade now?" You'll also see this after updating files. More instructions are visible on the Kubuntu site - this also has instruction on upgrading from CD and instructions for different distributions.

After that, wait a while. Once everything is download and installed you'll be asked if you want to keep any modified configuration files (generally, you'll want to). This is where you need to say Yes or No a lot.

When completed, you'll be prompted to reboot.

Warning: the first boot will most assuredly not be faster.

My first impression was not all that positive. Some stuff initially didn't work (such as my network - yikes!). KDE 4 is significantly different than KDE 3.5 out of the box, although you can tweak it somewhat to make it more familiar. A couple of my favorite apps were not installed. I confess - I'm sometimes rather hidebound about little things and I was not a happy camper.

My opinion has since mellowed somewhat over the last couple of days (as I get used to where things are) but I'm not ready to give an unqualified rave.

The default desktop view is built around widgets. My first reaction was that I f**king hate widgets, but I'm coming to grips with them. For the uninitiated, they are as confusing as hell.

I turned the widget view off initially, which took little time to find. To change the view, right-click on the desktop and choose "Appearance Settings." Confusingly, the "Desktop View" shows widgets, while the "Folder View" is the old-style presentation.

The Application Launcher has changed (and is, ahem, yet another f**king widget). Navigating this took me some time to figure out--beginning to see a pattern? Specifically, once I moved down one level of the menu structure, how do I get back? It was an hour before I noticed the left side of the group has a highlighted bar with a discreet triangle: a back arrow. Just shoot me.

The good news here is you can right click on the launcher and choose "Switch to classic menu style." Plus, since this is a widget, you can have one copy with the "classic style," and another with the new style.

Other whiny complaints: Adept package manager does not appear to be installed by default. The new manager is buried in the "Settings" menu. Not an odd place, but it's not listed up front anywhere that I could find. Once I installed Adept, I discovered it had been significantly redesigned. There's greater reliance on iconic representations rather than text, which means starting out I didn't have a clue as to what was going on in the interface.

It was a this point I was thinking, "What I have I done to myself?" Oh how I longed for some comforting familiarity.

Then I went to rip some CDs.


A little googling revealed it was no longer part of the KDE package. Attempting to install an older release gave me the dreaded "broken packages," message.

It was at this point I seriously considered switching from the KDE window manager to Gnome. For a Linux user, this is a move almost as monumental as Arlen Specter rejoining the Democrats.

Fortunately, my day job interceded. I couldn't get into that obsessive-compulsive mode known to many computer users as I will make this work, or totally hose it trying!).

A little research on-line revealed a new ripping tool, Audex, has been included in the KDE 4 distro, but is not installed by default. Installing it revealed a worthy successor to kaudiocreator-- though not as mature, it seems to work well and has a clean attractive interface.

Heartened by this (it takes so little to make me happy), I delved into the world of widgets. While these can be placed directly on the desktop, in many cases, placing them on an additional panel (I use a right-side panel for all my Linux and Windows configurations) is better than putting them straight on the desktop. The "Folder view" widget gives you a resizable IFRAME type view of either your home or desktop folder, complete with a scrollbar.

So, after my initial horror, I'm slowly coming around to the joys of KDE 4. On to my remaining complaints -- and these are intended as constructive criticism.

Over all, the user interface is confusing -- especially to upgrading users. While it is commendable that the environment can be configured to emulate KDE 3.5, out of the box, it is not -- and there is no initial welcoming screen that steps one through important interface choices. Trial and error is a pretty terrible way to configure your environment.

I've yet to have any success in changing backgrounds or icon sets, and I've used Ubuntu for a couple of years now as my primary OS. This sort of experience does not inspire confidence.

My network didn't work out of the box. Not a good thing when trying to research why the hell something doesn't work. Thank god I have a Windows computer sitting next to my Linux box. Not the sort of thing I want to admit to my geek pals.

It may be my imagination, but this distro seems ever-so-slightly laggier than the one I upgraded from. Maybe I just have to think more before doing stuff.

Which brings me to my final point. Usability is still somewhat a challenge in many Linux distros. This one is no different. Looking pretty and being easy to use are two entirely different things. It pains me to say it, but usability in Linux often seems like an afterthought, rather than being considered right at the start. You shouldn't have to feel smug about figuring out how to use your computer.

There is a great book on website usability which can be applied here: Don't Make Me Think, by Steve Krug. The basic premise (wonderfully expanded on by the author) is this: if your user has to think about what he or she is doing, the interface designer has not done his or her job properly. Every choice should be absolutely obvious, and the user shouldn't wonder if they are doing things the correct way.

I guess when it comes right down to it, I shouldn't be bitching all that much about the GUI.

Real men use the command line.

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