KaOS (2014) – Fresh, Beautiful, Responsive & Worships KDE

KaOS is a new GNU/Linux distribution that comes with a unique focus. From a software point of view, it is a distribution that is build from scratch which revolves around the KDE desktop and the Qt (user interface builder) toolkit, and comes with a carefully selected set of software applications. Though few GTK (another user interface builder, Qt and GTK share a colorful history) are available through the online software repository, none is included in the downloadable ISO disc images.

The same philosophy is applied to the online software as it contains somewhat a small number of packages when compared with Ubuntu, Debian or other distributions’ repositories, and below is their reasoning …


KaOS will stay limited in size of the repositories, and will work on quality instead of quantity.

The disc image is also bigger in size (around 1.7GB) when compared to most other distributions, and features a set of Qt based software applications that should be able to cover a wide range of end users’ needs (Office applications, Professional Drawing apps, Project planners, Ebook creator, Internet & Multimedia applications etc).

'KaOS' 2014, featuring the KDE 4.12.1 desktop

From a computer hardware perspective, the distribution supports the 64-bit CPU instruction set only. In other words, unless you have 64-bit processor, you will not be able to run it. The memory requirement is also a bit higher (about 1.5GiB, 2GiB or higher is recommended for a refined experience), but most computers that come with 64-bit CPU usually include 2GiB or more RAM, so this should not be a problem.

Another thing that liked about it was the white & greyish mixed theme, although some might find it a bit boring, I think it goes well with the overall philosophy of creating a simple and a lean distribution. I downloaded the latest stable version (released in January 18, 2014) which comes with the latest official KDE release (4.12.1). I prepared a Live USB for the installation. Before I begin, below is a brief information about my computer hardware:

Intel Core i3-2330M CPU, Intel HD 3000 GPU, 4GB RAM (DDR3), Toshiba 7200 RPM (320GB) SATA HDD, Intel N-1030 Wireless adapter, Realtek network adapter ('RTL8168'), LED display with 1366x768 resolution (60Hz/60FPS). It's a Dell Vostro V-131 notebook.

The Installation …

The first time I boot into the Live desktop I was ‘greeted’ with a black background, and except for the window controls, all of the applications windows displayed a black region around the content region. There was a moment of panic (happens to the best of us ;-) ), but I rebooted the Live desktop and at the next login it was gone.

KaOS 2014 blank screen issue

The Installer …

KaOS 2014 Installer

The installer is also build from scratch (if I am not mistaken) and for something of that nature, it was very stable (unlike the ‘mature’ one that comes with Kubuntu that has a tendency of crashing all over the place) and I did not encounter any issues. Again, it too seemed to have been carefully crafted, because the overall simplicity of the distribution was visible in each step and was very user friendly. The installation time was also pretty fast. Excellent.

First Boot-up & the Desktop …

‘KaOS’ features a boot screen that is not only beautiful but is also useful, because it actually displays the current progress of the boot-up process.

KaOS Boot Screen

After that I was greeted with the Desktop, and as mentioned before, I liked the choice of colors and the overall simplicity of the KDE desktop. The desktop configuration is similar to other KDE based distributions (a ‘Folder view widget’ on the desktop containing ‘Home’ and ‘Trash’ and the Panel that consists of various other plasma ‘Widgets’) with which many users are quite familiar, so I will not go into the details.

'KaOS' 2014, featuring the KDE 4.12.1 desktop

I love the default Start-menu (‘Homerun Kcker’). It is simple, occupies less space, and easy to use.

'Homerun kicker' on KaOS 2014

Hardware recognition & ACPI …

1. Linux does not recognize my fingerprint reader. Other than that, all of my hardware were recognized by other GNU/Linux distributions that I have used so far, but ‘KaOS 2014′ somehow failed to recognized my Bluetooth adapter. Not a big deal really, because I never use it. Still …

'KaOS' 2014 failed to detect my Bluetooth adapter

2. Every one in a while, however, the issue that I came across the first time I boot into the Live Desktop session, occurs within the installed desktop session also. The only fix I have is to reboot the system and by the next desktop login it gets ‘fixed’ automatically. It is quite frustrating actually. I do not know if it an issue with the GPU driver, Xorg or KWin (window manager of the KDE plasma desktop) or something else. But it is a major issue.

P.S: I think this might have something to do with the compositing feature (that which enables those cool effects -- transparency, 3D shadows …) of ‘KWin’. I will run the OS without those fancy effects and will give an update as time goes on. (Update: I have been able to fix this issue by disabling all the desktop effects. That however makes the KDE desktop/applications look a bit ugly though).

3. ‘Suspend’ feature works without any issues, it takes around 5-6 seconds to complete which when compared to other distributions (Ubuntu, openSUSE, Linux Mint …) is a bit slow as it only takes around 2-3 seconds on them. But this is certainly not an ‘issue’. I just wanted to mention it.

4. In some recent distributions (such as Manjaro, sometimes in Ubuntu 13.10 too) when turning off, my SATA disk makes this noisy ‘cluck’ sound -- an indication that the HDD was not properly shutdown. But ‘KaOS’ shuts down it perfectly, I can barely hear it!.

‘KaOS’ also comes with non-free Nvidia drivers, though I had no such GPU to test it out.

Included Software Applications …

Given the size of the disc image one should expect a reasonably larger number of software applications to be included. Well, you may not be disappointed as ‘KaOS’ does come with a reasonable number of applications.

Software Management …

‘KaOS’ gives you two utilities for managing applications (installing, removing, updating). The graphical application is called ‘Octopi’ and the command-line one is the ‘pacman’ (the gem of Arch Linux ;-) ) to which I believe no one needs an introduction.

'Octopi' running on KaOS 2014

I was however quite impressed by ‘Octopi’ because not only it loads extremely fast, easy to use and search queries are ‘answered’ in an instant, but it uses very little memory (around 10-12MiB, which is about 10 times lower than what ‘Ubuntu Software Center’ uses!). Wow!.

Office Suite …

Office applications that come with 'KaOS' 2014

The office suite is ‘Caligra’ (2.7.5 the latest stable release) which gives you a Word processor, Spreadsheet tool, Presentation creator, Project management tool, Krita -- a sketching and painting app, Kexi -- visual database creator, Karbon -- a vector drawing tool, Flow -- diagramming app and a Braindump utility).

Internet …

Internet applications - KaOS 2014

Default web browser is QuiZilla (1.6.0). It is a WebKit based nice looking browser that loads fast, but it has its flaws. For instance, it did not display the content once I logged into this blog, so I had to install Firefox.

You also get KGet (2.12.1) -- the default download accelerator of KDE, KDE Telepathy (0.7.1) -- an IM messenger, Bluedevil (Bluetooth connection manager) and a few other apps.

Multimedia …

‘KaOS’ comes with proprietary multimedia codecs installed. ‘Clementine’ (1.2.1) is the audio manager and ‘Dragon Player’ (2.0) is the default multimedia player. You also get ‘Plasma Media Center’, K3b 4.12.1 (optical disc manager), Kdenlive 4.12.1 (non-liner video editor), a YouTube viewer, a tool to test any attached video capturing devices (WebCam, TV Card …), Kmix volume mixer and FFmpeg mainly.

Multimedia-players-included-in-KaOS-2014

Adobe Flash plugin is not included by default, but you can install it using ‘Octopi’ (by searching for ‘flashplugin’) or can simply enter the below command and ‘pacman’ will handle that for you.

sudo pacman -S flashplugin

Installing-Adobe-Flash-player-using-pacman-on-KaOS-2014

Playing-a-flash-video-on-YouTube-under-KaOS-2014

‘Gwenview’ (4.12.1) is the default image manager, ‘Okular’ (0.8.1) is the document viewer and a Qt based Flickr viewer is also included. There are other apps (games and educational) and but I will not go into all that here. But one thing that I wanted to mention was the fast loading times of KDE apps.

Whether its something complicated as ‘Kdenlive’, Caligre office suite, or System monitor to something as simple as the ‘Dragon Player … they all opened extremely fast. It is quite impressive.

Performance …

Now let me focus on the performance related information. Please remember that, measuring these were the first thing I did as wanted to keep the system in a state of ‘purity’ so that the measurements get affects very little by external/internal factors. I also took 5 samples of each test for calculating an average value.

All that I had for a ‘latest’ KDE distribution was the data from my openSUSE 12.3 review, so I decided to also use data from Ubuntu 13.10 for the comparison as well.

Now I know that some people are against the idea of comparing GTK desktops with Qt/KDE saying it is not ‘fair’. But the heart of the matter is, both these desktops (or the distributions that ship them) compete against each other, so why is it unfair to test them in such contexts ?

Boot-Up Time …

Boot-up times graph - Ubuntu 13.10, openSUSE 12.3 and KaOS 2014

As you can see, ‘KaOS’ was actually the slowest to boot (about 23% when compared to openSUSE 12.3 and 61% compared to Ubuntu 13.10).

Memory Usage at Desktop Login …

Although not always true, a long boot-up time sometimes means the OS had to load more program data to RAM which is why it was slow to boot in the first place. It seems to be the case with ‘KaOS’ as you can see below, it consumed more RAM at desktop login than the other two (about 7% compared to openSUSE 12.3 and 14% compared to Ubuntu 13.10).

Memory Usage - Ubuntu 13.10, openSUSE 12.3 and KaOS 2014

CPU usage at idle …

At idle, KDE 4.12.1 was able to keep the CPU usage readings near zero, although the ‘kysysguard’ (system monitor of KDE) process kept using about 1% most of the time. It is pretty good, but older versions of KDE 4x used to show longer durations of zero CPU usage. That said, this is nowhere near being an ‘issue’ and is still pretty good.

CPU-usage-readings-when-the-computer-was-idle-KaOS-2014

Power usage at idle …

I had no data regarding power usage concerning Ubuntu 13.10 as my battery had died back then and I did not have a replacement until recently. So I decided to use the data from Ubuntu 13.04, just this once (sorry about that).

Power Usage (when idle) of 'KaOS' 2014

Power usage - Ubuntu 13.04, openSUSE 12.3 and KaOS 2014

As you can see, the power usage at idle was a bit higher in ‘KaOS’ (about 1.1 Watts higher than openSUSE 12.3 and .6 Watts higher than Ubuntu 13.04). I do not know whether the unrecognized Bluetooth adapter played a part in that though since there is no way for the OS to turn it off (perhaps it was kept turned on the whole time ?).

Update: ‘demm’ (main developers) was kind enough to let me know that Bluetooth has been known not to work until the release of the latest stable ISO (which is what I used for the review), and users who need Bluetooth have to manually enable the Bluetooth services.

System Responsiveness …

From my experience, in terms of keeping the system in a reasonable state of responsiveness when the disk drive is busy (say while copying a large file), all the recent KDE desktops (starting with openSUSE 12.2) were extremely disappointing. From mouse movements to trying to open a program, it was basically a nightmare under KDE.

So with a fast beating heart I carried out my usual system responsiveness test ;-) . So while copying a file that was about 1.4GB in size, I clicked on the Startmenu and opened Caligra Word & Sheet, QupZilla, Gwenview. Then while they were being loaded, I used the search box to search and open few applications (Krita, Konsole, K3b) as well. Then I also tried to open the file manager and play a video file using ‘Dragon Player’. While all this was going on, I right clicked on the desktop and opened the desktop configuration window as well.

System Responsiveness test - KaOS 2014

An illustration …

So how did that all go ?

What can I say, it was extremely satisfying!. First I could not actually believe it. Sure there were few glitches (very small) but they were more than forgivable when considered the pressure under which I put the KDE desktop. Video playback was carried out without any glitches whatsoever, searching and opening programs was smooth, excellent mouse pointer responses … well done KDE, Kudos to you guys!.

Shutdown Delay …

Shutdown Delay - Ubuntu 13.10, openSUSE 12.3 and KaOS 2014

As you can see, the shutdown speed of ‘KaOS’ was very impressive, especially when compared to openSUSE 12.3 (227% faster!), although Ubuntu 13.10 was ahead of it by a fraction of a second, from all the KDE desktops I have used, it was the fastest to shutdown.

Wrap up …

‘KaOS’ is not the fastest to boot, but it comes with a carefully selected set of applications that revolve around Qt and an up-to-date KDE desktop and its applications. It also features a nice theme, extremely responsive under stress (cannot emphasize that enough, though some overlook it), shutsdown fast, and although I came across a one major issue (the ‘screen blank’, which again could be fixed by disabling ‘desktop effects’), for a distribution that is built from scratch and is barely 9 months old, the experience was more than satisfying.

If you are a KDE fan, then by all means, try it out!. Get it from here. Good luck.

Credits: Gracias ‘Tannhäuser’ over at ‘lamiradadelreplicante.com’ for the news :) .

9 thoughts on “KaOS (2014) – Fresh, Beautiful, Responsive & Worships KDE

  1. demm

    Thanks for the very thorough and great review. And of course for pointing out what really needs improving.
    The “blur” desktop effect has given more users issue since KDE 4.12, does disabling that effect alone fix your (imo major, major bug)?

    1. Gayan Post author

      Thank you for dropping by ‘demm’, it means a lot to me :) . I’m having some serious issues with the site (after updating to the latest WordPress release, yikes). The reason I mentioned this was because, if the site looks exceptionally ugly, then it’s totally unintentional ;-) . Excellent distribution by the way.

      P.S:
      I just disabled the ‘Blur’ effect, and will also disable all the effects if it doesn’t fix it. I’ll give an update in a couple of days.

      1. demm

        Really appreciated your willingness to find issues, so I’ll mention bluetooth too. It was known not to work right, but no tester was available with the needed hardware. Luckily that changed (though after the last ISO release), and bluetooth should be fixed after you do a full system update. It is not enabled by default, bluetooth service needs to be started/enabled by users who need it once the system is installed.

        1. Gayan Post author

          Thank you demm, I updated the post.

          P.S: demm, when you said ‘Blur’ desktop effect, were you referring to the smooth Fade-in effect that comes into action when logging into the desktop ? Because I tried disabling it but the problem still exists.

          I also tried disabling the ‘Blur’ (Blurs the background behind semi-transparent windows) effect without any success.

          Then I tried completely disabling all the effects and it has fixed it permanently, that however in effect, makes the whole desktop look ugly :/ .

  2. demm

    I meant the second, “blur”, but that seems not your issue.
    To figure what the issue is, I’ll need to see some systemd and xorg logs, but not the place for it on a review :).
    So it is better to leave the post as is, show there is a major bug for some hardware.

  3. Peter Craig

    I have used KaOS in live mode, and found it to be really really good. Was so impressed that I may install it. I thought I would try out its Bluetooth capabillites as I have Bluetooth enabled Speakers and after a bit of config in System settings it was all go loud and clear. Thanks to all involved for a great Os. PunC

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