October 26, 2009 by openbytes
Ive never been a fan of KDE. Maybe its because for me it reminds me too much of Vista and a part of my PC experiences I would rather forget, however I cannot stay with Gnome forever and since many new distro’s don’t come with XFCE it was only time before I gave KDE a run for its money.
I’d heard some good things about Chakra and since it comes packaged with KDE 4.3.1 I regarded it as the best way to test a new distro and give KDE another crack of the whip. Chakra Alpha 3 is a distro based off Arch which has a legion of fans and is highly regarded as a Linux distro.
The word Chakra has many meanings, you can read them here. If anyone can tell me which one is meant by the creators of the distro, I’d be very interested.
Its worth noting first of all that Chakra Alpha 3 is still in major development so its an opportunity for users to help contribute to a project whilst using the distro. For a new user or a user wanting a complete, stable distro, at this time its probably best looking elsewhere. As good as Chakra is, if you are wanting an out-of-the-box ready to rock and rock KDE experience then I’d suggest Mandriva or similar.
From the LiveCD installation was via a gfx front end accessed from the desktop (pretty par for the course of most distro’s) what struck me immediately was that despite it was easy to use and appealing to look at, there was no option for a default install. Not a problem for those used to setting up swap partitions et al, but if Chakra is going to be aimed at newer users in future releases, then I’d say a default installation option is a requirement. Installation seemed to take rather a long time, strange because the Alpha 3 is a particularly minimalist install maybe it was just me but Im sure a “package rich” Ubuntu install took alot less time than this. I opted for ext4 for this review.
PACKAGES/ HARDWARE COMPATIBILITY
As stated earlier this is a pretty minimalist install. They say “be careful what you wish for” and since Ive always complained about duplication of software/packages within distro’s, now Ive got my minimalist install, I find it lacking. IRC is handled by Konversation and I must admit, having given the package a miss for a while in favor of X-Chat, its a very good piece of client software. Internet browsing is handled by Arora and Konqueror which would not be my choice having now become an advocate of the excellent Chromium. That being said, its a reasonable browsing experience, so no complaints there.
Media is an important feature, which is handled by Kaffeine v1.0-svn2 / Dragon player (within the DE) and as I say the basic install will not flood you with packages so I won’t dwell on any more of its pre-installed software (of which even office software is absent)
This brings me nicely onto hardware detection and Chakra, where Chakra gets kudos. Distro’s like Ubuntu are renowned for easy installation and out of the box compat, however Chakra may just have beaten Ubuntu in the most important feature for me (and thats for any distro) that being my beloved proprietary Nvidia drivers which were automatically detected/downloaded and installed without any input from me. For most Linux users, we have done our time with fiddling around with Gfx drivers, but its a testament to Chakra and the state of Linux today that now this is more or less a non-issue. I would add by saying that Chakra was so complete in the identification of my system, that I was left suspiciously uneasy by the fact I had nothing to configure (accept a few user account creations)
Pacman handles package management and since I havent spent alot of time with it in the past I was taken aback by how great it really is. Simple to use, clear and quick. I will cover this package further when I review later releases of Chakra.
MY KDE 4.3.1 EXPERIENCE
Ive always prefered the minimalist DE. XFCE was always a favorite of mine and whilst my hardware is more than modern enough to run the latest DE, Ive always been of the opinion that no matter what your specs, you shouldn’t needlessly throw CPU cycles away on “bling features” that apart from being visually appealing serve little purpose. Having said that I cannot live in the past forever so “onwards and upwards” with KDE 4.3.1!
I think the problem Ive had with KDE over say Gnome or XFCE is the fact that I feel it provides too much of a “soft and fluffy” buffer between the DE and your systems core, in that I mean its very pretty, very smooth but tries to hide you from the “ugly” side of your OS. Thats my feeling and may stem from Vista having more than a passing resemblance to KDE.
For the first time in my Linux life, I had a play with some of the KDE widgets and have to ask the question, why? Theres a lovely analogue clock up on offer for example, but why would this be of any use when its rare that your desktop is empty (and in my case I have a plethora of Windows open usually maximized) and you have a perfectly informative clock ALREADY on your taskbar at the bottom right. You then have widgets such as RT pictures of the sun. Why? I would consider my desktop pretty standard and I already have all the packages I need running (browser, mail client, etc) so why on earth would I want a widget to do exactly the same thing, hidden on my desktop behind all the other windows I may have open. To me these widgets are simply giving away CPU cycles and offer little. For me this “bling” is a reason why Windows requires pretty high specs to achieve what Linux can already do on old tech and maybe if Microsoft had concentrated more on functionality and less on “bling” they wouldn’t be coming under so much criticism.
It would not be fair to be critical of Chakra on the basis of it being incomplete in terms of default packages, if this is an example of later versions I can see Chakra being VERY popular. Its fast, functional & compatible. In regards to KDE I found it smooth, fast and puts Windows 7 to shame since I was running a very GFX appealing distro on only 512mb of ram and an old rig.
Am I converted to KDE? If XFCE hadn’t been the DE on my distro of choice then probably yes. I am not happy with the direction Gnome is taking (this has been covered far too many times before so I won’t dwell on it) as it stands KDE will be having a home on some of my secondary rigs which don’t distro-hop. I think it will take alot more than KDE 4.3.1 to convince me to give away CPU cycles on aesthetics.
You can visit the Chakra homepage here.