Distro here, Distro there, but a nary good KDE 4 distro anywhere?


I've been investigating switching my desktop distribution from Kubuntu to something more...seriously maintained. I love debian, and consider it one of the best distros out there, but Ubuntu's KDE variant is downright pathetic.

When I first started using Kubuntu, it was back in version 7.10 on Rei. After more than a year enduring Gentoo's progressively more disruptive effect on day to day use, I gave up and switched. At first, I was thrilled. The system worked with little problem, wireless configuration was dead-simple. I felt I finally found the desktop OS for me.

Then KDE 4 happened.

First of all, let me clear the air. KDE 4 does have problems, it also has a lot of potential. Plasma is a much more modern and versatile base on which to build the future of the platform. Changing that fundemental base, however, is not without it's problems. The 4.0 release wasn't even feature complete. I personally did not switch from 3.5 until 4.3 came out; call me shallow, but I couldn't live until the panel could auto-hide. As a programmer, and a IT professional, I knew that what KDE was attempting was ambitious. It wouldn't happen overnight and certainly not without user feedback. They couldn't sit on the code until it was "perfect", they needed to turn it out to users just so they could debug the thing properly. 

In short, KDE 4.0 = Plasma 1.0. Can anyone say "Early adopters beware?"

So how does this bare on my current dilemma? Distros have been slow on the uptake for KDE 4.0 for good reason (see above). Many remained on 3.5 offering the option to use Plasma as the standard desktop. Today, OpenSUSE is a shining example of what a proper KDE 4.x distro can look like. 

So why am I not using OpenSUSE? My reasons aren't terribly logical. One of my first Linux desktops ran Mandrake (now Mandriva), and package management was a damn nightmare. I didn't want to scour the internet like a Windows user looking for wayward pieces of software. It's not even a sensible strategy for a Linux system as the available applications are fewer, and installation is more complex due to library dependencies. When I was introduced to Debian, I was in package management heaven. Just login as root, type apt-get and it downloads and updates everything you need.  I've tried RPM based distros several times since 2000, but the situation hasn't improved as much as I had hoped. To date, Red Hat, SuSE, Mandriva just feel wrong to me.

If not OpenSuSE or Kubuntu, then what? I wanted to stick within the Debian ecosphere if at all possible, but I quickly found that impossible. There just doesn't seem to be a solid KDE 4.x, Debian-based distribution. Maybe a year from now Project Timelord will bear fruit and I can come back to my beloved Debian. For now, it looks like I have to go elsewhere.

But where? After some research online and a few helpful suggestions online, I've been pointed to Arch. The way they frame their Raison d'être is certainly enticing. Their installation method isn't as intimidating as Gentoo was in 2005, but it certainly isn't for the faint of heart. If the forum chatter is to believed, however, it's KDE credentials are best-of-breed.

Not having the time this weekend to do a full install, I decided to cheat a little and give The Chakra Project a spin. Chakra is an Arch-based LiveCD focusing on easy of use and considerable polish. Booting into it on my Dell Studio XPS 13, I felt I had come home. The system feels responsive, stable, and a far sight better than Kubuntu ever hoped to attain. 

Not everything is perfect, however. Even when booting with the non-free drivers enabled, my Wifi and sound failed to initialize. This unfortunately, stopped me from going any further than a LiveCD excursion today. Given my only other option is Windows Vista on my present system, I did not want to trash my current Linux installation no matter how flaky it is. Later when I have the wherewithal, I'll bother to slice off 20gb of space on my partition table and triple-boot the system. 

Until then, I won't know for sure if there even is the perfect KDE 4.x distro.