Gradual Epiphany

Kubuntu vs. Gentoo (Round 1)

I’ve been using Gentoo for my desktop machine for the past 3 years, and have grown to love the distribution. Source-based distros make it easy to patch/customize your applications and get exactly the functionality you need. Over years, I’ve had to patch X11 (missing PCI ID for my video card), Gaim (I don’t like the 2.0 tabs) and a few other apps. It’s generally pretty straightforward (if you are familiar with creating diffs/patches) and you’re guaranteed to get a nice “fit” to your system. Unfortunately, that ability to get a custom fit is a double-edge sword. Installing new software takes a while, due to compilation times. Getting everything configured on a new machine can be challenging, since you have to find just the right mix of packages, USE flags (ugh) and kernel options.

So, when I recently traded my work desktop for a Dell D620 laptop, I decided to give Kubuntu a try. Getting Gentoo working on desktop hardware is one thing — a laptop is a whole different class of esoteric hardware. Kubuntu has a reputation for being easy to install, particularly on laptops, so I grabbed the latest version (Edgy Eft) and started the process. The install went quickly and required no interaction after providing the initial information.

Initial impressions:

  • With the exception of my external monitor, everything just works. Bluetooth, WiFi, sound, hibernate — they all function as expected. No custom kernel needed.
  • Setting up an external monitor (at least, for my laptop) involves editing xorg.conf. As a veteran Linux user, this isn’t too much of a hardship, but I was hoping to avoid it.
  • Installing new apps is fast and easy with the provided GUI (Adept). Unfortunately, Adept is a little buggy and crashes more often than I’d like. It also has some interesting usability “challenges”.
  • Ironically, it’s harder to install some applications, such as djbdns and VMWare Workstation. If an application is non-free, or licensed in a such a way that Debian and/or Ubuntu don’t package it by default, you have to install it manually. This is one area where source-based distributions are handy — they don’t have to worry as much about licenses, since they don’t redistribute compiled code.
  • Being so removed from the packaging/installation process leaves me with a case of vertigo. When something gets installed on a Gentoo box, it comes with a warm fuzzy that you know exactly what was installed. It’s less clear what goes on when you install apps on Kubuntu. This isn’t a bad thing — just different.

My experience to this point with Kubuntu has been generally positive. It’s going to take a while before I’m used to the idea of having less control of what’s going on in my Linux box. We’ll have to see how it goes.