15 Nov 2016

Debian 8 KDE: good and evil of FOSS

If you ask old Linux users which system is most trusted, stable, solid and supported, Debian of course will be among the leaders of the list.

Linux notes from DarkDuck reviewed Debian Squeeze back in 2011-2012: Xfce, GNOME, KDE and even LXDE versions. But these were Live versions of Debian 6 Squeeze.

Debian 8 Jessie was released in April 2015, and now Debian 8.6 is the most recent update release of this operating system.

Debian exists in various flavours. Since version 7, the "default" desktop environment for Debian is Xfce, but KDE, Cinnamon, GNOME, LXDE versions are released too. There are Live versions of Debian for each of these desktop environments.

I decided to try the KDE flavour of Debian 8.6 Live 64-bit and downloaded the ISO image from the torrent. It is about 1.3 GB in size. The dd command helped me to "burn" the image onto the USB stick.

USB card is in the port of my Toshiba Satellite L500-19X laptop. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let's go!


Booting up

Once the boot process of Debian 8.6 KDE starts, you see the menu with various options: Live run, Live Safe run, installation, graphical installation and so on.

I chose the default Live run without any additional changes.

The boot process was rather quick. It definitely shows you that Debian 8.6 KDE uses the KDE4, because of the unmistakable splash screen.

First impressions

Once booted, you are presented with a desktop without any icons on it. There is only a "Desktop" tab in the top right corner for KDE desktop configuration.

The default wallpaper is in light-blue tones with a Debian-themed figure in the centre. There are about 20 alternative wallpapers available out of the box in Debian 8.6 KDE.

The bottom part of the screen is taken by the panel, which consists of the menu button, the Activities switch and shortcuts to file manager and browser on the left, and notification area on the right. That notification area has USB, battery, network and volume indicators, clipboard monitor tool and clocks. The panel colour is light-grey while the indicators are white. It means that some elements of the clocks, for example, are badly readable.
Debian 8.6 KDE welcome screen

The freshly booted system took about 550 MB of memory, which is more than I expected. For example, Kubuntu 16.10 only took 390 Mb of memory to load running KDE5/Plasma.
Debian 8.6 KDE resource usage

The KDE version in Debian 8.6 KDE is 4.14.2.

Network connection

My laptop has the Realtek 8191 SEvB wireless network card. Unfortunately, Debian 8.6 KDE Live was not able to properly configure it. This is what dmesg output says:
[ 15.500667] rtl8192se: FW Power Save off (module option)
[ 15.500744] rtl8192se: Driver for Realtek RTL8192SE/RTL8191SE
Loading firmware rtlwifi/rtl8192sefw.bin
[ 15.505730] rtl8192se 0000:14:00.0: firmware: failed to load rtlwifi/rtl8192sefw.bin (-2)
[ 15.505736] rtl8192se 0000:14:00.0: Direct firmware load failed with error -2
[ 15.505738] rtl8192se 0000:14:00.0: Falling back to user helper
The error is very similar to what gNewSense 4.0 gave me some time ago. Both systems use the same "free software only" concept, and both took me to the same point. Pity-pity.

Effectively, the list of available networks in my network monitor tool was empty:
Debian 8.6 KDE network manager

The solution would be to connect my laptop to the LAN network and install the driver for the network card. There is a separate guide for installation of the necessary drivers in Debian Jessie. But I decided not to dig further and leave the system networkless.

Subsequently, the absence of network disallowed my test of remote network drive connection.

Keyboard layout

Debian 8.6 KDE boots with the English US keyboard layout by default.
There is a way to change that layout to the one you need, or to add another layout. It is described in the separate article. I managed to change the English US layout to the combination of English UK and Russian with a Ctrl-Shift switch hotkey.

Multimedia

I was nicely surprised by the fact that Debian 8.6 KDE includes codecs for multimedia playback. I tried various music and video files from my hard drive, and there were no issues in either VLC (which is explainable) or Dragon Player.
Debian 8.6 KDE multimedia

Unfortunately, I could not test the network-based services like YouTube or Vimeo.

Applications

Debian 8.6 KDE comes with a very good set of applications available immediately to the user.

"Native" Firefox ESR, namely version 45.3, replaced the Iceweasel browser that was the Debian re-branded version of Firefox until recently. There is also Konqueror browser that is the KDE-native tool. Apart from these two browsers, the Internet section of the menu includes Sieve Editor, Akgregator, Kmail, Kopete and some other applications.

The productivity tools in Debian 8.6 KDE are LibreOffice 4.3.3.2 with all components including Math and Base, along with KDE-specific Okular and KAddressBook.

The Graphics menu section includes GIMP, GwenView, ImageMagick, LibreOffice Draw, Okular. KSnapShot and so on.

The above mentioned VLC and Dragon Player are in the Multimedia section together with JuK player, K3B burning utility and KMix.

There are various small tools in the Utilities and System menu sections: Kate and KWrite text editors, Ark archiver, KMouth speech synthesizer, Dolphin file manager, Konsole terminal and many, many more.

Apper is the software management tool in Debian 8.6 KDE. I tried to work with it a little, and was impressed with its speed and ease of use even in off-line mode. The repositories' contents is available out of the box, you don't need to load them to start using the Apper. Of course, it is recommended to update them once you get connectivity. Because of the same network issue I could not try the software installation in Apper, so I leave it for you to tell me.

Conclusion

Apart from the issue I faced with the network card driver, Debian 8.6 KDE Live 64-bit left a very positive impression on me.

It was fast, reliable and easy to use. It is highly configurable as you may expect from the KDE desktop environment. It is stable as you may expect of a well-polished KDE on top of the rock-solid Debian operating system.

Of course, KDE4 is slowly giving its position to KDE5/Plasma, but there are still many, many fans of this desktop environment in the world. Given that Debian has a very long support cycle, KDE4 will live on Linux users' computers for many years. Till April 2020 at least, I believe.

If you want to try Debian Live yourself, you can easily order the disk with this distribution on the BuyLinuxCDs.co.uk site.

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