The Novelty of KDE Neon

The good folks at KDE managed to engage a market of Linux desktop users underserved by other distribution models. Or, maybe it’s just me.

KDE has a long history in the desktop ecosystem. It was the first Linux desktop I was exposed to back in 2006. Back then, it was on OpenSUSE and it was clean and functional. For some reason after that, installing KDE had never really appealed to me. I’ve tested it out briefly when poking around at what the OpenSUSE guys were doing and I’ve run Kubuntu for brief snippets. For years, I’ve been trying to find out what type of desktop user I am and which distro fits my needs.

I’ll admit that I’m a moving target. What I like changes depending on workflow expectations and machine capabilities. I’ve started to notice that I expect a desktop to have modern features while still maintaining a familiarity that doesn’t cost me days to adjust to the new environment. In this space, there are a lot of really neat contenders. Gnome has got a great desktop, but it renders slow on X. Budgie on Solus is a cool project with a lot of momentum, but isn’t ready for what I’d like to do (yet). Ubuntu MATE got me back to running Linux full time and it’s so familiar it’s hard to not use it. In addition, the software boutique and MATE tweak features gave me some really great access to modern features and software. Why the software boutique isn’t installed by default on every distro is just beyond my comprehension. That thing is just amazing!

MATE failed me when I got a new Hi-DPI machine with a backlit keyboard. In some cases, there were solutions I could apply to the issues arising from this new machine, but over time it became too cumbersome to keep searching to find them. I had to get work done. I knew the team was working to fix them, but the gap between the team fixing the issues and me needing to be functional was too long for my patience. The sour onion in my sandwich was when I had trouble grabbing the edge of a window to resize it and realizing how many attempts it took to perform this simple task. Sure, I scaled up my fonts, but that didn’t scale up the window edges.

I poked around at other distros and eventually landed on KDE Neon.

I know that to gongoozle is a verb that means to stare idly at a canal or watercourse. It’s an oddly specific verb and it’s even more odd that I know what it means. That being said, I’ve never bothered to learn how the community labels some things as distributions and some things as not distributions.

Here’s what I can gather:

  • Neon is not a distribution. It’s a desktop that sits on top of Ubuntu LTS (currently 16.04).
  • It’s not Kubuntu. Kubuntu is a Ubuntu flavor.
  • The word flavor reminds me of ice cream. So I guess when you’re trying a flavor you’re licking it?

So I guess the way to look at this is that Neon is an open-faced sandwich where the bread was made by the Ubuntu bakery. It’s good bread.

What I get on Neon is a desktop that’s updating and becoming more refined while still maintaining the underpinnings of what makes Ubuntu so marketable. This is exactly what’s missing from the Ubuntu ecosystem. In that ecosystem, you can run dated a dated desktop for several years and watch its wrinkles become more frustrating over time. Or you can run the nightlies as your OS and watch things break and get fixed. You’ll have the latest desktop the good folks have selected, but it may not work the way you’d expect. I did this for several months and it was unpolished but quite enjoyable.

So then there’s Neon. The desktop updates as needed and with the underpinnings of 16.04 still get you SNAPs, ZFS, and a great repository of software. Since I’m human, I interface with the machine through the desktop (and the occasional command line). I don’t directly interface with the code underneath. I want clean lines and elegant functional design. I want to be able to resize my windows on the first try. In Neon, scaling for Hi-DPI is easy, font management is excellent, alt+space launcher is awesome, super key search is flawless (even works when I misspell things), and not only are there elegant lines there’s an amazing amount of design thought into the way everything works and works together. I get that, and all the familiarity of the Ubuntu stack underneath.

You might pick on me for touting font management, but it’s a serious indicator of a polished desktop. If the font management is good, it’s likely because the design team had people on it who understand fonts. So you’re only likely to see this on a more polished desktops. Font management is also never the priority. So if the developers got around to getting it done, then it means they’ve worked through quite a large stack of issues to get fonts going. So yeah, for me you can tell the quality of the desktop by the way it manages fonts.

It might just be me, but I believe these KDE guys are on to something. They’ve been able to federate the effort of one of the most popular Linux distros (Ubuntu) and marry that to their effort on the desktop. They’ve created a wonderful balance for a symbiotic relationship that benefits both parties. Canonical should be advertising this solution while their users are waiting for Unity 8.

Groke is another old fashioned word with Scottish origins. It’s a verb that means to gaze at someone while they’re eating in the hopes that they will share their food with you. Folks who have been working with Ubuntu’s deployment scheduled releases have certainly benefited from their professionalism over the years, but I’ve heard of many who’ve been groking at those with rolling release desktops. Now finally it seems they can have both. KDE Neon is where the rolling release desktop meets a stable foundation and it’s where a great team hit the moving target of what I want in a distro. Thank you! Now I have more time to gongoozle.

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Jacob Roecker
Jacob Roecker is an addictive hobbyist and Linux user, father of four, veteran, college student who self published three books and dabbles with media production, management, photography, videography, and long distance running.  Jacob's love for Linux comes from its versatility as a tinkering operating system.  Jacob has often found the only elegant solutions to some of his tinkering problems have come from the community behind the penguin.  

Jacob's practical about what he uses and when.  He often composes on his MacBook Pro because if he was using his Linux desktop machine full time he'd probably never get any work done because he'd be trying out one of the many cool new projects someone just published and shared with the community.  Sometimes it's good to use an OS that doesn't have as much freedom. LinkedIn

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1 Comment on "The Novelty of KDE Neon"

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Carl Draper
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I think technically Neon is a distro, and there’s two versions, one based on the Ubuntu LTS, currently with KDE 5.8 and one based on the latest Ubuntu using KDE 5.9. i prefer the LTS and it had been the best KDE experience I’ve had in years.

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