12 Oct 2011

Debian KDE: Performance, Comfort and Stability

I won't ask you if you know what Debian is. Surely you do.
Instead, I'll ask you what Desktop Environment does Debian have? The most likely answer here would be GNOME. That is because GNOME comes as default for Debian. But of course such a Universal Operating System like Debian cannot have only one Desktop Environment available. If you look at Download page, you'll find other options there: KDE, LXDE and XFCE. Last two are actually shipped on same CD image. But the KDE one is most interesting for me because it was on the 4th place of users poll for best KDE distro, ahead of such KDE-centric distros like Pardus or Aptosid.
Unfortunately, I could not review Debian Live before. Live images were released later than install ISO images of Debian Squeeze, and by that time I simply forgot about this option for Debian.
Anyway, now it was time for me to come back to Debian Live project and get ISO image of Debian KDE Live. It weights about 1.1 Gb, significantly more that normal install CD.
Debian Live can be downloaded in 2 types of ISO images. ISOs themselves are hybrid images which can be either burnt onto DVD or dd'ed to USB stick. Command dd is a method described in official documentation. Hybrid images require modern BIOS, which is unfortunately not the case for my laptop Fijitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505. Even the latest BIOS with index 1.14 does not support hybrid images. That's why I had to use the second type of images with extension .img. Method of Live USB creation is the same: command dd.
As a result of my investigations, I created both Live USB and DVD-RW. Both of them worked, but just for the sake of convenience, I will stick to DVD-RW option in this review of Debian KDE Live.
So, ISO image was recorded onto DVD-RW.Reboot. Choose to boot from optical drive. Let's go!


Boot screen of Debian KDE Live features several options, including Live, Live safe, Live 686 and Live 686 safe. My laptop (Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505, as I have noted already) has Intel Centrino processor, which made my choice of Live 686 logical.
While booting from DVD, I saw several messages about I/O errors. Most likely they were linked to errors during reading the DVD-RW. But even after those errors, I did not notice any oddities in behaviour of Debian KDE Live.

First glance

Freshly booted Debian KDE Live
uses modest 180Mb of memory
Live KDE version of Debian operating system boots straight into KDE desktop without any additional questions. KDE version is 4.4.5. Freshly booted system takes just above 180 Mb, which is very good result.
Desktop of Debian Live KDE has very similar wallpaper to Debian GNOME: spiral logo in space theme with blue colors. Many other wallpapers available for your taste - they are easily customizable in Desktop Folder options.
Desktop itself has Folder View mode by default in Debian KDE Live. There is window with Desktop folder. The only icon on it is for Debian Installer. No other plasmoids are active on Desktop by default.
Panel is on its usual place at the bottom edge of the screen. Panel itself  is pretty simple: no default shortcuts, even no "show desktop" icon.
Debian KDE Live has 4 virtual desktops by default.
Unfortunately, set  of widgets in Debian KDE Live is less than you can find in other KDE Linux distributions. For example, I did not find the Memory widget, which I usually put on desktop to monitor memory usage.
KMenu has Kickoff style by default. Of course, you can switch to Classic style if you want to.

Network connection

Unfortunately, my WiFi card was not active initially. Debian KDE Live does not have firmware for Intel 3945ABG included in distribution image. Same as in Debian installed version, I should admit.
Of course, if you're running your Live Debian on machine without Linux, you need Internet connection to download firmware. But I was in slightly better position. I have Debian already installed on the hard drive. After few commands in terminal I was able to connect to my network drive:
sudo mkdir /debian
sudo mount -t auto /dev/sda8 /debian
sudo cp /debian/lib/firmware/iwlwifi-3945-* /lib/firmware/
sudo modprobe iwl3945
sudo ifconfig wlan0 up

I am actually not sure about last 2 lines. They did not work immediately, but after some attempts to run them, I got the result.
As you can see here, I mounted my existing Debian partition to newly created directory, copied the firmware files, modprobe'd firmware and then fired up the wireless interface.
Soon after that I could see my wireless network in the list of available. Security code entered, and after few seconds I am connected to network and Internet!

What's in the box

What does Debian KDE Live give you in terms of software?
There are 2 browsers included in Internet section: Konqueror and IceWeasel. The latter has version 3.5.16 which is pretty old. When I drafted this post in Blogger using IceWeasel, I got warning that this version was no longer supported. I tried to update it from Synaptic, but without much luck. Anyway, it you decide to install the system, you'll be able to pick up different browser or fresher version of IceWeasel.
Other Internet tools are mostly KDE-specific: Kopete, Akgregator, Google widgets (Qt), KMail, KNetAttach. It is not a surprise for KDE-based distribution.
As usual, I tried to mount my external network drive. I did it in two different ways, and results were different:
  • Mounting with KNetAttach went without any issues, and even Russian filenames were shown correctly in Dolphin.
  • Opposite to KNetAttach, mounting from command line (mount -t cifs...) did not work initially. I had to install package smbfs (sudo apt-get install smbfs) in order to make it working. Of course, mounting went OK after this.
I was slightly surprised that Debian KDE Live had no default application assignment for mp3 files, even though JuK and Dragon Player were in the Multimedia section both. I had to make assignments manually. Not a big deal, but still some strange behaviour.
After that Dragon Player opened mp3 files straight away, but JuK copied file to local drive first if mounted from KNetAttach. Classic Samba mount did not require copying even for JuK.
That was a time for me to get even more surprises!
I was expecting that MP3 and WMA files won't play in Debian straight away. It is very puristic distribution, you know... But... They did play! Necessary codecs are  included! Wow!
Another surprise - just around the corner. If MP3s are supported, what is about Flash? Yes, it is included in Debian KDE Live too! You can watch YouTube videos straight out of the box!
WMA files and YouTube
play out of the box
Apart from Juk and Dragon Player, Multimedia section of menu includes K3B burning tool and KMix.
Graphics section of Debian KDE Live menu contains GIMP, OpenOffice.org Draw, Okular, GwenView and KSnapshot. As you can see, more than enough for at least initial needs of average user.
Productivity tool in Debian KDE Live is OpenOffice.org. It is full version, which includes such applications as Math, Draw, Base. KOrganizer also presents here.
Of course, there are usual sections like Settings, System and Tools which include usual set of instrumens. Konsole,  KNetworkManager, Dolphin, System Monitor, Ark, KWrite are just few from the list.
Separate section in KMenu is named Debian. It partially replicates set of KMenu sections, but includes some other applications, like ImageMagick, XCalc, Nano, XEdit etc.
Can you add additional software to Debian KDE Live? That is very interesting question on which I did not find solid answer. Of course, there is aptitude and apt-get. I even managed to install Synaptic using apt-get command. And I even saw Synaptic in main menu after that. But did not manage to install anything else.
First of all, I tried to download and install Google Chrome. After downloading of deb-file, I did not find deb package manager for installation.
Then I tried to install Chromium via Synaptic. Process took some time to download and process the file, but there were no traces of Chromium in the main menu after that. Even Menu Update Tool from Settings did not help. But after some time I managed to run Chromium... What did help me? Akonadi crash which caused whole X to restart. That restart properly refreshed the menu, and I saw Chromium in the list. Just for information... that was Chromium 6! What is the current version? I believe 15. Hmmmmm....
What did make Akonadi to crash? Kopete... I tried to add account there and as a result system froze for few seconds and then showed me black screen followed by KDE splash.
To be fair, I felt some instability in Debian Live when I started to play with installation of additional software in Live version. Some slowness, some moments when you think "It'll crash in a mo", and so on. So, not very Debian-style rock solid feeling. Don't take it too close to your heart, that is just a Live run.

Keyboard layout

Russian keyboard layout configuration was slightly complicated in Debian KDE Live. I used to see Input Devices item in Settings menu of KDE. There is nothing like this in this Debian version. Of course, there is Keyboard & Mouse icon, but it does not contain configuration of layouts. Instead, layouts can be edited in Regional & Language section of Setting panel. Other steps of layouts configuration are standard. Of course, Ctrl-Shift switch between different layouts works fine.
What did surprise me here a little? Icons! Flags for different language layouts are in KDE3 style, not those which I used to see in KDE4 distributions.

Additional hardware support

How did Debian KDE Live do with strange semi-hardware controls on my laptop? Unfortunately, not very good.
Volume controls did not work. Actually, they tried to work first, but as usual took volume level to zero immediately after I used Fn-F6 key combination. After manual adjustment via master level, Fn-F5 and Fn-F6 stopped working at all.
Brightness controls on Fn-F7 and Fn-F8 worked fine though.
Surprisingly, touchpad scrolling did not work for me in Debian Live KDE. It works in installed Debian GNOME, so I don't know the reason of Debian KDE failure.

General impression

Debian KDE Live left very good impression on me. This Operating System is very responsive and quick, even when DVD operations are involved. Running from USB, it was a flash.
Debian KDE Live is very well suited system for user who wants to have powerful OS ready-to-use on any computer. It is well equipped with most instruments for everyday use which average user may need.
The only issue which you can face is lack of firmware for Wireless devices.
Of course, as it is usual for Debian, system looks and feels very solid. I could not see any performance or instability issue, apart for one I mentioned above.

Do you want to learn more about Debian? You would probably need to read about it. Some books can be found here.


  1. I beg to differ. KDE 4.4.x on Squeeze may be stable, but it has serious performance issues. Just to give an example, starting a new graphical session after the system has been booted takes around 30" even on quite decent hardware (which is way more than the time required to boot the operating system).

    This problem isn't a Debian-specific thing, but is a known problem in the KDE 4.4.x series (which has been documented, and was addressed during SoK 2010).

    The KDE version included in Squeeze has also several broken components (for example, if you ever tried to use a Bluetooth dongle, you probably know what I mean -- by the time Squeeze shipped, bluedevil was so buggy that should've never been released).

    Please don't get me wrong. I love Debian and I've been using it as my only OS for the last 5 years. But the KDE environment shipped with Squeeze doesn't live up to the Debian reputation with regard to quality.

    Best regards,

  2. 'KDE environment shipped with Squeeze doesn't live up to the Debian reputation with regard to quality'.

    @Alex, as a fellow Debian+KDE only user I must state that's sadly true.

  3. Well, if I am going to use KDE, it is going to be in the safety and comfort of Debian.

  4. "sudo cp /debian/lib/firmware/iwlwifi-3945-* /lib/firmware/

    sudo modprobe iwl3945
    sudo ifconfig wlan0 up
    I am actually not sure about last 2 lines. They did not work immediately, but after some attempts to run them, I got the result."

    Of course there could be many reasons the wireles drivers didn't take hold instantly. Who nows what dance the wireles card itself goes through when it is firs woken up?

    But from things you can control it could be as simple as doing a 'sudo sync' after the 'cp' and before the 'modprobe'. You told linux to copy the file, but did it commit the copy or was it still in cache? This is probably not the most likely reason, but still possible.

    Great review,


  5. @Alex:
    Thanks for pointing to the weak points of both review and Debian KDE.
    I don't have dongle and I only ran Debian KDE in Live version from DVD. I also don't have bluetooth.
    That's why I have not noticed the issues you mentioned.
    I believe fresher version of KDE is in sid now. Hopefully it'll make its way to Stable some day...

  6. @Debianero:
    Sad but true... Let's hope situation will improve. Something we can help it with?

  7. @Nathan Smith:
    Sorry, did not get your question.
    Debian is stable. KDE is comfortable. Both perform pretty well. What else do you need?

  8. @Sean Lynch:
    Thanks for advise. I think cp was well finished and committed, because it took me some time to figure out what would be modprobe'd.
    Anyway, I'll take your advice for next time.