Kubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat Review

On October 10, Canonical released its latest installment of Ubuntu, codenamed “Maverick Meerkat”. Like previous iterations, Maverick also includes variations from the standard Ubuntu Gnome interface. Kubuntu is the KDE variation of Ubuntu, and last week, I decided to upgrade from 10.04 and give 10.10 a try.

Eye Candy is Yummy

Maverick ships with KDE SC 4.5 installed, the most stable and attractive version of the KDE 4 series to date.

The Kubuntu developers do not modify the KDE interface at all. There is no Kubuntu theme for KDE. For those who like the default Plasma theme, this is ideal. For those who do not, they always have the option of changing it.

One tool that has improved is the Ubiquity installer. It is more aesthetically appealing and easier to use than ever, and it gives users the ability to install restricted media features (like MP3 playback support) during initial installation. This is probably as close as they will ever get to including that support within the OS itself.

Ubiquity installer

Maverick Features

There are not a ton of new features with this latest version of Kubuntu, but there are a few significant ones worth mentioning.

1. New Message Indicator – The system tray message indicator now engulfs messaging icons like Kopete’s within its envelope. When new messages are received, the new indicator handles them and changes color to inform the user. The two problems I have experienced with it are that I can no longer exit Kopete with a quick right click and quit, and sometimes the Kopete window will not restore from the tray at all.

Message Indicator

2. Rekonq – As was expected, Rekonq is now the default web browser for KDE. Rekonq adds many features that Konqueror users have long requested, and it mimics many Google Chrome design aspects. However, I have found their navigation/search bar to be a little slow compared to Konqueror. Otherwise, its features are very appealing.

3. New KPackagekit - I have never been much of a fan of KPackagekit, but this new version does have some nice additions. The biggest addition is the ability to browse through installable applications.

Kpackagekit new interface

4. Introducing Pulseaudio – The word Pulseaudio all by itself makes some Ubuntu users cringe, while others would never part from it. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it is now the default sound server for Kubuntu. For the most part, I like it. With it, I was able to get the microphone working on my laptop that I could not get working with plain Alsa.

Unfortunately, the positive features of pulseaudio are overshadowed by its apparent incompatibility with KMix. Sometimes changing the volume with function keys causes it to spike all the way up or down, and muting does not seem to work with function keys at all. Kubuntu developers have been delaying adding Pulseaudio to KDE until the compatibility was there, but it still appears to be lacking in KMix.

5. Netbook Edition - Kubuntu’s netbook interface comes installed with the regular desktop system, and it is easier than ever to switch from one to the other using System Settings. If you like it, the KDE netbook workspace is easy to use and versatile. I, however, do not like it and found its effects to be slow, even on my dual core Atom netbook with an Nvidia Ion processor. Still, it does look nice and functions reasonably well, especially with the addition of the new global menu.

6. Ubuntu font - The Ubuntu font is fun and cute, and it now comes installed by default.

Ubuntu Font

7. Kubuntu Mobile Tech Preview – Another new variation to the workspace, at this time, it is not clear if there are actual intentions to package this interface and use it. Ubuntu Mobile, after all, died quietly. Therefore, this may just be a proof of concept, but it is an interesting one.

Kubuntu 10.10 appears to be more stable and ready for production than 10.04. The upgrade process was one of the smoothest I have experienced. But the few features that it added were not very compelling, and some may even turn off a few loyal users. Nevertheless, any upgrade has its technical benefits: a newer kernel, latest hardware support, and newer packages and updates. For those who waited until Maverick to upgrade to KDE 4.5, it will be a pleasant surprise. For others, it will just be a routine software upgrade.