I have a serious love-hate relationship with KDE. Mostly love, though. It is by far my most favorite desktop environment with MATE coming in a close second. The less we say about my hatred for everything GNOME 3 the best, I think.
Since my return to Linux in September of last year, I’ve used every major distribution of Linux, and some not-so-major. Some of them I’ve used several times trying to find the best Linux distro/desktop environment combo for me. I have a very deep-rooted affection for Arch Linux, but I can’t use it. As a rolling release, there are updates there every single day. And as I love change, I install them right away. This breaks things and makes Arch a distro that I can’t use. Sadly. I love the AUR and Pacmac. Sigh.
I used Arch with KDE for some time and fell in love with KDE’s customizability. There is literally nothing you can’t do with this DE. I love it. The problem has always been that the high customizability of the DE often leads to things not working as well as they should out of the box.
Add to that Arch’s rolling release bugs, and I soon left it behind. If only we could have the AUR on every distro, I think we’d all be happy.
One of the problems I have is that my main computer is old. Very old. And has a Nvidia graphics card from like five years ago. It doesn’t like new things.
So I went to try Ubuntu MATE. I was very impressed, and I still have it on one of the partitions I run. But I missed KDE something fierce.
Then I found KDE Neon.
So Long NVIDIA Drivers, Hello Open Source
The screen tearing that seems to be inherent in Linux is something that bothers me, no matter what distro/DE combo I use. It seems to be easier to fix on GTK based DEs, especially MATE, where it’s astonishingly easy to install a new compositor and use it if Marco doesn’t work that well. It doesn’t seem to be that easy on KDE.
For the entire time I was using KDE on Arch, I was able to use the NVIDIA Graphics X Settings Manager to force the screen tearing fix. However, in a recent update of that software, the force toggle for the fix went away and caused the screen tearing to resume. Even uninstalling the drivers on Arch and going Open Source didn’t seem to help. I could minimize the tearing by turning on constant screen refreshes, but on an old machine, that caused quite a few problems.
But because I like KDE so much, I decided to give the Ubuntu-based KDE Neon a try, given that it’s from the makers of KDE.
For one, I have been able to tweak the system enough to eliminate all the screen tearing, and I don’t have to use NVIDIA’s proprietary drivers or software to do it. The second is that this KDE install has been the most stable I’ve ever used. Normally, I see little bugs that bother me to no end, usually forcing me to find another distro. But not this time, at least so far.
Also, because the KDE part of the distro is a rolling type release, new stuff is being fixed all the time. The Ubuntu part of it stays stable, however, which is great. (I’m really looking forward to the 18.04 version which is the next LTS).
Reasons to Love KDE Neon
First off, I hate GNOME. I like GTK a lot, but straight up GNOME sucks, IMHO. In Ubuntu’s latest and greatest, they’ve turned off everything that makes GNOME tolerable, namely extensions. If I go to another distro, those are on, but GNOME always seems slow to me, even on my other, newer, machine.
So that’s one reason why I like KDE.
Another is, as I’ve already mentioned, the customizability of it. From being able to choose different themes for panels, different window decoration themes, widget themes, and so on, to being able to simply create your own slideshow for wallpapers, KDE seems to be all about customizing the look and feel.
Outside of that, you can also control a lot of things that you can’t control in other DEs. For example, you can force newly opened windows to follow the mouse if you have multiple monitors. This is great since otherwise windows can open up anywhere they want, and that’s painful.
Another thing I love about KDE Neon specifically, is that it doesn’t come with a lot of cruft applications that I’ll never use. It doesn’t have all the development stuff that straight Ubuntu installs automatically. It doesn’t have several music and video players installed. Sure this means I had to go install Libre Office, but that isn’t a chore. The lack of that cruft has made this install feel very snappy and light.
Some KDE Neon Gripes
KDE still has some troubles, though, that GTK and GNOME-based systems don’t have. KDE still doesn’t handle sound very well. So plugging in a microphone doesn’t automatically work, you have to go into the sound settings (misleadingly labeled multimedia in the settings panel), and tweak things there. Bluetooth headphones, while they will work, automatically pair as handsfree devices, which make them not so great for listening to media. Again, it can be fixed, but it isn’t automatic.
Finally, there’s Discover. Discover is KDE Neon’s go-to GUI for package management. It’s okay. Could also be described as meh. It works, but it isn’t as good as other GUI package managers like Pacmac or GNOME Software. Even Octopi (the other KDE GUI) is better in that it does more (though it is way more confusing to use). Discover doesn’t have screen shots, reviews, or links really to places where you can find those things. It also, for some stupid reason, forces you to enter your admin password every single time you install something, even if you’ve already entered it during that session. It’s frustrating. I’ve been using the terminal instead, which is okay, but it isn’t for everyone.
KDE Neon is the best way to run KDE if you’re going to do it. You’ll have to suffer through Discover and the stupid sound management system that KDE clings to, but otherwise, it’s great. KDE isn’t for everyone. I think in a lot of ways GTK based DEs are easier to use. If you’re not willing to tinker with settings, KDE isn’t for you as there are easier to use, out of the box solutions out there that are better (Mint with Cinnamon or Ubuntu MATE). But if you like to tinker, and you like to control every little bit of your experience, then KDE and KDE neon are the best distro/DE you can get today.