KaOS 2015.02 Review: Delivers a Pure KDE Plasma 5.0 Desktop

My previous encounter with ‘KaOS’ was a delightful one. It was a beautiful, fresh (barely nine months old back then), fast and a responsive GNU/Linux distribution. And from an emotional perspective, it also felt ‘focused!’. And it in fact is focused, because it adores the KDE desktop and the Qt toolkit, and carries the objective of strictly being based on them (well, there’s very small number of GTK packages too 😀 ).

Since then, although I did witness a couple of its releases in the past year, because they were all based on the KDE Plasma 4, I eagerly but patiently waited for my hour 😉 , till they finally release a stable, KDE Plsama 5.0 based one, so that I could take it for a spin. And finally, after a transition period of ten months, now it’s here!.

‘KaOS’ supports 64-bit CPU architecture only, and when compared to the previous release, the ISO disc size is actually reduced by around 300MiB and now the total size is around 1.4GiB. Despite the obvious KDE Plasma & Qt 5.0 adaptation, ‘KaOS’ now uses a new installer called ‘Calamares’ which was initially added to ‘KaOS’ in last December.

KaOS 2015-02 KDE desktop

Though independant of the installer, there a few installation based restrictions, one of which might disappoint some users. That is, currently, you cannot install ‘KaOS’ into an LVM (LUKS and RAID included) partition layout. This did not disappoint me because I always install the testing distributions into a single partition that contains the root file system (/). However, my primary operating these days is Fedora 21 and it is on a LVM setup. So right now, I could not have considered using ‘KaOS’ as my primary OS due to this restriction. Hopefully it’ll be resolved in the near future.

So, as usual, before I begin, below is a brief introduction to my 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 Installer…

KaOS 2015-02 Installer in Action

It seems that I have had used ‘Calamares’ before, when I was reviewing Manjaro KDE and XFCE editions plus Netrunner 14, because that’s what they’ve been using all this time apparently, I simply was unaware of it. Except for a slight change in the look-n-feel, the installer looks pretty much the same in ‘KaOS 2015.02’.

It did not give me any errors and carried out the installation, though it failed to recognize the Fedora 21 installation thus its entry was absent in GRUB’s menu. I did manually fix it, but it’s certainly beyond the capability of a non-geek.

Otherwise, it’s a very simple looking, easy to use, beginner friendly, installer.

First Boot-up…

I don’t recall how exactly the ‘KaOS 2014.01’ GRUB used to look like, but I like the new one, except for those big colorful circles. I think it would’ve had looked much better and professional, without them.

GRUB theme in 'KaOS 2015.02'

I also quite praised the previous boot-up logo. Not only it was minimal, but displayed the boot-up progress as well. But there is no boot-logo in ‘KaOS 2015.02’. It only shows you the ugly boot output, not a big issue for me though.

When loading the (KDE) desktop components, ‘KaOS 2015.02’ displays a new ‘ksplash’ screen, middle of which resides a bird. I think replacing the bird with something like a ‘KaOS’ logo is a better option. You can easily replace it with one of the built in ones through KDE’s excellent ‘System Settings’ window anyway.

'KaOS 2015.02' KDE Plasma 5 'ksplash'

The Desktop…

KaOS 2015-02 KDE desktop

As mentioned in the beginning, from the very first day I saw the upcoming KDE Plasma 5.0 user interface refinements, I was so eager to try it out.

It is amazing to look at the kind of changes KDE has gone through during its transition from one major version to the next (compare KDE 3.0 with KDE 4.0 for instance. I don’t know if it used be like that before KDE 3.0 though). With each such transition, it becomes a more polished desktop environment, one that is quite superior to its predecessor.

I used be scared of KDE back in my early days of using GNU/Linux though, because it was filled up with options that I didn’t know what to do with. But little by little, KDE is cleaning & shaping things up, and has found a way to still present the end-users with access to a lot of features without daunting them. In that regard specially, the brand new KDE Plasma 5.0 is outstanding.

I admire the flattish default theme of Plasma 5 (called ‘Breeze’), being primarily flattish, it reflects a sense of robustness, somehow. ‘KaOS 2015.02’ features its own unique wallpaper (shown above) which is more pleasing and possesses an exciting look, compared to the black & white one, it previously had.

'Breez', the default theme of KDE Plasma 5 ('Kaos 2015.02')
This is the default Plasma 5 theme, ‘Breeze’. ‘KaOS 2015.02’ uses one of its own called ‘Midna’ (shown in the below image), but it’s based on few of the existing KDE themes…

'Midna' default theme of 'KaOS 2015.02'

Featuring 'Breeze' and 'Midna' themes in 'KaOS 2015.02'

KDE Plasma 5 features a new icon set and a new mouse pointer theme, they all look beautiful and modern.

Default mouse pointer theme in Plasma 5 ('KaOS 2015.02')

The new Plasma 5 desktop notifications popups too are quite beautiful. The notification area in general is better arranged & managed, and has a clean look.

New gorgeous notifications of KDE Plasma 5 (KaOS 2015-02)

Enhanced notifications and status updates in Plasma 5 ('KaOS 2015.02')

You can switch between two styles of start menus. One is the menu based navigator (default in ‘KaOS’) and the other is the more popular icon based ‘Application Launcher’. I happened to prefer the former.

Menu based app launcher of Plsama 5 ('KaOS 2015.02')

Icon based app launcher of Plasma 5 ('KaOS 2015.02')

Overall, I was quite pleased with the default desktop setup in ‘KaOS 2015.02’, except for the “Icon Only Task Manager” feature which forces one to deal with opened application windows using their tiny icons on the task-bar. They were so tiny that I couldn’t see which icon belonged to which app, it was very frustrating.

Small icons of running apps in Plasma 5 ('KaOS 2015.02')
If you have the eyesight of an eagle, then yeah 😉 …

However, the easiest fix is increase the height of the Task-bar, which I did, but I really wanted the Task-bar to display both the icon and its name, because it is easy to pick the app you want to switch into, that way.

Now, if you confronted a similar situation in Gnome, then you’re mostly out of options. You’re basically forced to accept and live with it. Your only hope is to wish that someday Gnome developers might come back to their senses and fix it. But KDE’s idea of putting the end-user in control is quite different from Gnome’s point of view.

Gnome believes to achieve harmony is to be restrictive & impose its point of view upon the end-users. Thus, Gnome follows a carefully chosen set of rules & principles. Emotionally, it’s more of a masculine approach.

On the contrary, KDE carries a strong feminine perspective. Where to her, principles or rules, are not vastly important. She achieves harmony by simply being the medium through which users conceive the idea of control.

In Gnome’s world though, there is no need for a ‘medium’, because Gnome is the all knowing God!, and he thus simply delivers his idea of control to the users, period.

So, in my desperate attempt to ‘control’ the application windows, to my unsurprising delight, I found that KDE gives you not one, but three ways of doing it!. They’re called, quite rightly so, ‘Alternatives’, which you can access by right clicking on the Bottom Task-Bar. I choose the ‘Task Manager’ style and I was back in ‘control!’, a happy end-user.

App switcher styles in Plasma 5 ('KaOS 2015.02')

While trying to get rid of an application icon, I accidentally deleted the bottom Task-bar!, and I thought ‘Oh no!’, but almost immediately KDE Plasma 5 notified me about the deletion and gave me an option to undo it!. You can undo the applet removal in the same manner too. An excellent feature I must say.

Task-bar Panel Undo feature of Plasma 5 ('KaOS 2015.02')

Even though Plasma 5 is still quite new, I did not encounter any major issues. The only application that gave me a hard time was ‘ksysguard’ (KDE’s system monitor). Every time I opened it, the desktop got stuck. My only option was to reboot the laptop using a virtual console. Interestingly, if you had added ‘ksysguard’ to the bottom Task-bar and had executed it from there, then even though the desktop still gets stuck when you open it, you can now at least close ‘ksysguard’ and as soon as you do that, KDE Plasma delivers an error (shown below) and the desktop gets unstuck.

'ksysguard' execution issue in Plasma 5 ('KaOS 2015.02')

Even more interestingly, if you execute ‘ksysguard’ from a terminal emulator window, then it will run without any chaotic behavior and leaves the desktop alone. Again, so far, this is the only issue I found in Plasma 5, impressive.

P.S: Actually, ‘Dolphin’ the file manager of KDE, couple of times failed to copy a folder to a certain location. I got an error saying something like ‘Dolphin’ expected a file, but instead, I was trying to copy a folder (which it was from the very beginning!). I tried it after a reboot, and it worked. ‘Dolphin’ can’t create a ‘tar’ archive either. It says it failed to open the ‘tar’ program. This is not a big deal as I usually use the command-line, it could be an issue for some though.

Now I know that there exists a wast number of other changes (technical aspects included) in KDE Plasma 5, but it’s not my duty or not that I posses the knowledge nor I am a vastly experienced KDE user, to expose all that. So I’ll stop here and will move on to talk a little about the kind of applications that ‘KaOS 2015.02’ ships with.

Included Apps…

‘QupZilla’ (1.9.0) is the default web browser. Although not quite equal, it looks a bit similar to Google Chrome and is fast too (well, they’re both based on the ‘WebKit’ engine). It comes pre-build with a flash player, but I’ve had some issues while playing some video files on YouTube. Some would play just fine, others sometimes give flashes and when I pause a video the colors get changed. And despite all that, I could not view them in full-screen, it just didn’t work. There is however an easy way to fix it & that is to manually install the Adobe Flash plugin using the ‘Octopi’ package manager GUI (more below).

'QupZilla' playing a Flash video fine after installing the Adobe Flash Plugin ('KaOS 2015.02')

‘Konqueror’ is one of the oldest core KDE applications that has survived to this day. I think its ‘survival’ is a deliberate one, because ‘Konqueror’ adds a sense of continuum to KDE, it is an iconic figure, and so that even after going through a vast numbers of such radical changes, one can always point at ‘Konqueror’ and say, ‘Ahh, it’s KDE!’ 🙂 . ‘KaOS 2015.02’ includes the version 5.7.0.

'Knoqueror 5.7.0' running on 'KaOS 2015.02'

Default office suite is ‘Caligra’ (2.9 beta3) but it’s still based on the KDE 4+ platform. It also includes ‘Krita’ as well.

‘Okular’ (1.0.0) is the default document viewer & ‘Gwenview’ (5.0.0) is the default image and video viewer. Both have been migrated to Plsama 5.

‘KaOS’ includes playback support for popular proprietary multimedia codecs and ships with couple of video players (SMPlayer 14.9.0 including the YouTube Browser, MPLayer 4.9.2, mpv 0.8.0), a screen recorder (‘simplescreenrecorder’ 0.3.3) and ‘Clementine’ (1.2.3) is the audio manager (it too is still based on Qt 4+). I’m not a big fan of its user interface to tell you the truth.

'SMPlayer' running on 'KaOS 2015.02'

‘Octopi’ is the default package manager. It is a very simple and a fast package manager. However, when I tried to install Google Chrome, Firefox and Adobe Flash, in each of those instances, it gave me an error and failed to install them. This was because first you have to update its database, manually. One would presume an intelligent package manager would do it by itself, not ‘Octopi’ though. But it is very simple. From its main menu go to ‘File’ -> ‘Sync database’ and once it finishes updating the cache, you can continue with your software installations.

Updating the package cache in 'Octopi' ('KaOS 2015.02')

‘KaOS’ includes few other useful tools such as ‘Yakuke’ (drop down terminal emulator) 2.9.9.3, a GUI tool for creating a bootable USB disk (‘SUSE Studio Imagewriter 1.10) and Seafile (its cloud storage GUI for the desktop users) 4.10. There are many others that comes with KDE (KGet, IM Contacts, K3b, partition manager..) as well.

Performance Comparison…

Now allow me to share the performance related data that I gathered, with you.

For the comparison, I’ve used the data from ‘KaOS 2014.01’ and Netrunner 14 KDE edition. As always, to keep the accuracy at a higher level, it was these performance aspects of the operating system that I measured first, before touching any of the applications or their settings. I took five samples of Boot-up times, Memory usage upon desktop loading, and Shutdown delay, for calculating the average readings. And before running these tests, I boot into the OS a couple of times for letting things to settle down.

Boot-up Delay…

When I say boot-up delay, I mean the time it takes for the OS to fully load the desktop (I always enable the user auto-login feature), from the moment you hit Enter at GRUB menu.

KaOS 2015.02 vs KaOS 2014.01 vs Netrunner 14 KDE - Bootup Delay

Compared to ‘KaOS 2014.01’, ‘KaOS 2015.02’ is roughly 4% slower to boot (it’s really nothing actually) and and 4.1% faster compared to ‘Netrunner 14 KDE’ edition.

Memory Usage Upon Desktop Loading…

KaOS 2015.02 vs KaOS 2014.01 vs Netrunner 14 KDE - Memory Usage Graph‘KaOS 2015.02’ used 15.3% more memory than ‘KaOS 2014.01’. ‘Netrunner 14 KDE’ used a lot more (42.6% more), but that is mostly due to one of its features called ‘Firefox Instant Start-up’ which basically loads Firefox into RAM (which occupies about 190MiB) with the desktop and gives user the impression of an instant start-up.

CPU Usage at Idle…

CPU Usage at idle ('KaOS 2015.02')

At idle, only the KDE’s system monitor process kept consuming about 1-2% of the CPU time, but all the other applications left it alone. Nice.

Power Usage at Idle…

‘powerstat’ is my favorite utility for measuring power usage in GNU/Linux distributions, and there is no need to take five samples here, because it collects a lot (each sample contains data for 10 seconds) and runs for a couple of minutes. When measuring power, I’ve always keep all operating systems under the same conditions (screen brightness set to maximum, and kept it from dimming, being turned off and screensavers disabled. Bluetooth is OFF but Wi-Fi is turned ON, connected to my router) and let it idle.

'powerstat' displaying power usage in 'KaOS 2015.02'
Actual output of ‘powerstat’ first…

KaOS 2015.02 vs KaOS 2014.01 vs Netrunner 14 KDE - Power Usage GraphCompared to ‘KaOS 2014.01’, ‘KaOS 2015.02’ used about 8.7% more power (which is a reasonable amount concerning power consumption) and 3.8% more compared to ‘Netrunner 14 KDE’. However, excellent tools such as ‘TLP’ are there in ‘KaOS’ repository. You can search and install it on ‘Octopi’ package manager (try it, it’s worth it).

Hardware Recognition and ACPI…

My fingerprint reader is not supported by GNU/Linux. Except for that, I’m extremely satisfied because everything else worked seamlessly. Unlike in many other distributions, KDE had no issues while restoring my manually set screen brightness while loading the desktop either. I manually tested Bluetooth too, since under some distributions KDE has struggled to configure my adapter properly, but it worked perfectly under ‘KaOS 2015.02’.

Being said all that, I did notice a slight odd behavior while ‘safely removing’ my Western Digital 1TB USB hard drive. Now, when I safely remove it in Gnome 3 in Fedora 21, it not only unmounts the partition (it only has one) and then actually power-off the drive. WD indicates this by slowly blinking/flashing the LED, which means, according to its manual, that the device is put to standby mode, with its read-arm safely parked.

But when doing the same thing in KDE Plasma 5, although the desktop says now it can be safely removed, the LED is not blinking. It stays ON. According to the manual this means, idle. It acts the same (understandably) when its file system is mounted, provided that nothing is read or written to it, because that too is a state of idleness.

Portable USB hard disk issue in Plasma 5 ('KaOS 2015
Please ignore the dusty nature of the screen 😉 …

Here, I’m not worried about data corruption since the file system is unmounted. However, when I detach the drive, then I hear a small ‘clack’ sound, which means the drive arm was forcefully parked by the magnet, due to a sudden power failure. And this is what worries me. I’m no hard disk expert, but on the long run, if I attach & detach it excessively, could this damage the drive physically? Who knows, maybe.

Now I can manually turn it OFF using the ‘udisksctl’ command (both Gnome and KDE use a tool called ‘UDisks’ for handling such drive related events) and put it to the more safer standby mode and detach it without worries. But why KDE fails to do it while Gnome doesn’t?

This does not surprise me at all, to tell you the truth, and my answer is simple. From my experience, Gnome in its approach when implementing technologies, is quite technically correct, as mentioned earlier. Yes it is a bit arrogant, but you know what? Sometimes I would prefer to hand over my car to a technically accurate, though a bit arrogant, mechanic, than giving it to a more nicer one who doesn’t really know what he’s doing.

So anyhow, if you too come across such issues, then try using ‘udiskctl’. Use the below command to read its manual:

man udisksctl

But remember that if you have a drive that is not a native USB drive (say that you’re using a converter to connect it to a USB port), then I don’t think the standby function is going to work.

System Responsiveness…

Responsiveness test illustration ('KaOS 2015
An illustration only…

This is one of my favorite tests, one that is overlooked by many, though.

What I do is simple. I just put my hard disk drive under a certain amount of stress (by copying a somewhat large file within the current user’s ‘/Home’ folder) and then immediately while it takes place, I try to open a few programs, play with the start menu a bit and move the mouse cursor here & there. And in recent times, I try to play a multimedia file from the background as well. The point is to see how well the OS responds when the hard disk is under stress.

If it plays the video file without any big lags (because after all, we’re putting the system under a lot of stress thus I take it all into consideration with a certain sense of sympathy), and if at least, few of the programs get opened, and if the mouse pointer sensitivity is not extravagantly lost, then I consider it to be a good OS. Due to various reasons, I’ve witnessed some GNU/Linux distributions struggling at it, though. There are little gems in GNU/Linux that can vastly improve things, but as in most cases, they’re simply overlooked.

‘KaOS 2014.01’ too was very impressive, though KDE has not been that impressive compared to Gnome, Cinnamon or XFCE based distributions, as far as my experiences are concerned. So how well did it go in ‘KaOS 2015.02’?

Well, it wasn’t certainly better, but not bad either. The video playback was intercepted once (for a short while). Most of the programs got opened up before the file was copied. Mouse sensitivity was completely lost a couple of times (it mostly lasted about a second, on each instance), but all in all, not bad.

Shutdown Delay…

KaOS 2015.02 vs KaOS 2014.01 vs Netrunner 14 KDE - Shutdown Delay GraphAs you can see, ‘KaOS 2014.01’ is the clear winner and ‘KaOS 2015.02’ is about 26.7% slower, though it’s merely a 0.8 seconds delay. Compared to ‘Netrunner’, it’s still 15.6% faster.

Final Words…

Except for the slight degradation of responsiveness and the increase in power usage (installing ‘TLP’ should fix it), performance wise, I am not worried about this ‘KaOS’ release at all. The KDE Plasma 5 desktop was too, very stable, except for a minor issue or two. Installer’s inability to install the system into an LVM might concern some though. Otherwise, if you want to experience a gorgeous looking, pure KDE Plasma 5 based distribution, then ‘KaOS 2015.02’ is as pure as it gets!. You can download it from here. Good luck.

Note: Please remember that I tested this only on my laptop, and that’s in no way enough to evaluate a system’s hardware compatibility, though there is nothing that I can do about it either, hence my ‘conclusion’ is ultimately flawed. Keep that in mind. If you have suggestions for my reviews, send them in!. Thank you for reading.

11 thoughts on “KaOS 2015.02 Review: Delivers a Pure KDE Plasma 5.0 Desktop

  1. I suppose that KaOS packed TLP with it, so no need to install TLP.
    The sound volumn keeps restoring to max every boot. It needs fixing.

  2. WARNING – Don’t use this distro unless you can do your own fixing. NOT NEWBIE FRIENDLY. Don’t ask about things that go wrong because, obviously, it’s your own stupid fault. Use what we give you and shut up. And don’t piss them off – you’ll be banned for life.

  3. I can understand Kevin’s frustration. I have tested all desktops but never KDE because my NVidia card will not handle kde with Nouveau drivers . Here Kaos really shines. You can boot with NVidia drivers in live mode and then the install runs smoothly. I am trying the latest version 2015.08. The problems start after installation. Visually it is stunning at first glance but with most themes I found it difficult to navigate. Windows do not have any borders and dialogs load on top of their parent form and merge into them. When trying to setup a printer I had 3 windows each with “cancel” and “ok” buttons and I couldn’t decide which button belonged to which window. This forces you to use athe only theme which puts borders on a window. Also when a password dialog is required it loaded under the existing windows.
    The printer setup could never find my Epson Xp310 but there was an alternative setup method using cups which worked fine, but not for newbies.
    Sound was another problem. I disabled my sound card leaving my headset as the only output. This would not work until I made it the default output. This had to be done for video, sound, music, communication over and over. Finally it worked in VLC but not in the system “mov” player.
    How about scanning. Octpopi lists “Sane” as being installed but it does not appear in any menus.
    I don’t know what “Karbon” is meant to do but when I selected “Open File” it locked up the whole system. I rebooted into reliable Debian8 to write this rant. Kaos is chaos for newbies, which I am not!

    • Hmm, interesting observations, thank you Mike. You know, since it’s usually the GPU that gives users the most trouble these days, I’d love to test each distribution in different hardware configurations, such under AMD/ATI card & an Nvidia one so that I can evaluate them much better, but I just only have a single laptop… thank you again for the input.

  4. Installed KaOS in virtualbox 5, had problems installing guest additions but finally got there. Love plasma 5 with all the bling.

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