So you’ve read about the amazingness that is Ubuntu. You know all about its killer features, and how easy it is to try out and install on your PC or Mac. Maybe you even got one of their free CDs mailed to you! Now you’re running it alongside (or instead) of Windows or Mac OS X, and you’ve gotten it to do everything that you want it to. Life is good, isn’t it?
So what’s this KUbuntu thing you keep hearing about? And how do you pronounce it, anyway? KAY-oo-boon-too? Koo-BOON-too? Either way, it’s got that special K in it, and you’re probably not sure what it is.
Let’s take a look at KUbuntu, and find out!
The K Desktop Environment
A lot of people, including some people who use Ubuntu, say that they use “Linux” as their operating system. This is actually a misnomer. “Linux” is a kernel, which is the core part of the OS that makes everything tick. What Ubuntu is, is a complete operating system based on the Linux kernel. It takes the Linux kernel, which is mostly just this abstract set of instructions that makes your hardware work, and adds on top of that the things that you actually use. So while the Linux kernel is running in the background making your hardware work, you’re interacting with Ubuntu’s “desktop environment,” which is called Gnome.
The Gnome “desktop environment” is what you use whenever you click-and-drag windows around, open a new menu, or do pretty much anything in Ubuntu. In fact, it’s not too far-fetched to say that in many ways, Ubuntu is a customized version of Gnome; and if you look at another operating system that uses Gnome, like Fedora, it’s going to look and work a lot like Ubuntu. Or at least, it’ll appear that way on the surface, and it might take you awhile to figure out what the differences are.
Switching from Ubuntu to KUbuntu, then, might be an even bigger shock than switching from Ubuntu to another Linux-based operating system altogether. Why? Because KUbuntu doesn’t use Gnome. It uses KDE, which stands for the “K Desktop Environment” (the K doesn’t stand for anything). And KDE is very different from Gnome.
What are the differences?
In case you don’t have an Ubuntu PC in front of you right now, here are some screenshots of Ubuntu. Note the menu bar at the top, sort of like Mac OS X, and the clean and simple dialogue boxes; again, like Mac OS X.
Now here are some KDE screenshots. The first thing you’ll notice is the taskbar at the bottom of the screen, and the “start menu” button right where it is on Windows. You may also note that it’s shinier than normal Ubuntu, or even prettier if you prefer.
The differences aren’t just skin-deep, though. Gnome and KDE are very different, in fundamental ways.
Getting back to the basics
Gnome’s design philosophy is that everything should be simple and easy to use. You may not be able to customize everything in Gnome, but you shouldn’t have to, either. Everything should “just work” out of the box, and you shouldn’t have to play with the settings to get it to stop doing something annoying.
The people who make KDE see things differently. They want it to give you more options than Gnome does, and to let you change just about everything about it. Just as an example, the KDE apps that I’ve seen all let you assign keyboard shortcuts to everything that they do, and even let you change around the menu bars to show things in any order. Row upon row of customizations let you specify where an app will appear when you launch it, how large its window will be, and about a half-million other things that you never knew you wanted to change.
KDE’s native apps reflect this philosophy. Tomboy, the Gnome note-taking program, is a simplistic — almost spartan — sticky-note app that lets you link to other notes that you’ve written and search through the ones that you have. Meanwhile, BasKet, the KDE note-taking app, is closer to Microsoft OneNote. It’s loaded with features, including screen-capture and attractive background and icon choices. But in order to create a new note, you first have to wade through a dialogue box of over a half-dozen ways to decide what that note will look like.
Why this matters
Even if you never use KUbuntu, you might still use KDE apps. In fact, you might install more than you meant to!
As an example, if you go into Add/Remove Programs and install BasKet on a normal Ubuntu system, it’ll drag a few other KDE apps like KMail along with it. This is because those other KDE apps are “dependencies” of BasKet, meaning it needs all those apps in order to run. And you can hide them by right-clicking the Applications menu, selecting Edit Menus and unchecking the boxes next to them, but if you try to use Add/Remove Programs to get rid of them it’ll tell you you need to uninstall BasKet.
KDE apps have a number of other dependencies, called KDE “libraries,” that aren’t separate programs but need to be loaded to run any KDE app. And if you boot into KUbuntu it loads all these libraries for you, but when you boot into regular Ubuntu it loads Gnome instead of KDE libraries. That’s why KDE apps take longer to load in regular Ubuntu … and why Gnome apps take longer to load in KUbuntu.
Finally, you may notice that KDE apps look different from other Ubuntu programs … in fact, this is probably the first thing you noticed. This is because they use an entirely different graphical backend than Gnome apps do; KDE has something called QT, while Gnome uses GTK. The upshot of all these confusing acronyms is basically that if you change how your Ubuntu desktop looks, using Preferences -> Appearance or even the Art Manager, it won’t affect your KDE apps. You’ll need to theme them separately, using QT.
So what should you do?
If none of the above bothers you, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using KDE apps. I personally like having a consistent user interface on my desktop, but I’m given to understand that most people don’t mind!
If you want to try out KDE for yourself, and you already have normal Ubuntu installed, then there’s no need to burn or request a CD. Just follow the instructions on this website: http://psychocats.net/ubuntu/kde They will explain how to turn your Ubuntu to KUbuntu. And if you have trouble switching back — like, say, changing the loading screen back to the normal Ubuntu version — check out this thread on the Ubuntu forums.
Above all, have fun! One of the greatest things about Ubuntu is the opportunity it gives you to try out new software … including the K Desktop Environment.