Kubuntu 8.04 with KDE4 – the Final Verdict

There are dozens of blogs and websites passionately ranting or raving about KDE (passion is one thing that the open-source community seldom lacks). As I have been using the latest Kubuntu Hardy Heron for almost a week, so I think I am ready to form an opinion about it. Here goes…

My second day with KDE4 was spent playing with plasmoids while installing the essential software in parallel. Plasmoids are to KDE4 what widgets are to the web (these days). Plasmoids are mostly eye-candy, but can also be full of fun features. After developing in Qt for last few years, I can safely say that plasmoid development is going to be a fun activity for the developers – and if KDE4 manages to get the escape velocity required to make it leave the linux environment and land on the MS desktops, a big development market will be built around it.

On day two, I searched Adept for all things plasma / plasmoid, and discovered extragear-plasma, which, as the name implies, has a few more plasmoids to play with. The comic strip plasmoid is fun, though you can only begin from the latest strip and go backwards in time from there (and so, requires more navigation features).
Then there’s KDEtwitter, but it eats up a lot of valuable pixels, and does not hyperlink the urls in tweets, so I had to stop using it after a few hours.

Learning to find my way around it wasn’t so hard. A few useful shortcuts and gotchas:

  • Ctrl+F1 and Ctrl+F2 switch between desktops.
  • Ctrl+F12 shows the desktop, and you can interact with the plasmoids before pressing Esc to go back to the normal view.
  • You can use the plasmoid resize handle with Ctrl to freely scale it, or Shift to maintain the aspect-ratio.
  • You can remove the panel (taskbar in Windows) quite easily by editing a text file. I think having a GUI based desktop editor should be a top priority for the KDE4 developers. Here’s how to completely remove the panel.
  • I didn’t notice this behavior in the earlier versions, but, your Trash can resides in your home folder, so if you delete a huge folder from a removable drive, it is actually MOVED to your ~/ folder – I deleted a 34GB folder and saw my harddisk run out of space due to this behavior. Irritating!
  • Shift+Del skips the Trash can and just deletes the files.
  • Apt urls – like apt:gparted – work, and automatically install the linked package.

I also found a lot of interesting arguments about the evil or revolutionary KDE4, here are a few of them:

While the KDE4 attempt to redefine the desktop may not be evil, it requires getting rid of a LOT of old (but not necessarily bad) habits, and right now, I don’t think the retraining is really worth it. A few examples of what I mean:

  • I can’t drag/drop files plasmoids into one another. I was used to dropping a .txt file on my desktop to the kate shortcut to open it, a divx file to the vlc shortcut, and so on… but now, I can’t drag an html file plasmoid to the kate plasmoid to start editing it right away. Drag/drop into an open application (.txt to kate or .html to firefox) isn’t supported either.
  • The context menu for plasmoids is very limited. I can not right click that same .html file to open it in any other software besides my browser (or atleast I haven’t discovered an easy way to this).
  • I can’t right-click a folder on the desktop and add it to an archive so that I can mail it immediately! This is a feature I have been using for years now, but suddenly, KDE4 has taken it away from me. Now, I need to go to a konsole and zip it manually.
  • There is no quicklaunch plasmoid. I have added a bunch of application shortcuts on my desktop, but I liked those tiny quicklaunch icons better.

So, KDE4 wants you to remember: “A plasmoid is not a file” and “A Desktop is not a folder”. While this new desktop may be semantically accurate, but practically, it has been very inefficient for me so far. Maybe I need to discover some magic tricks hidden inside KDE4 to be more productive… or maybe I am just an old dog who doesn’t want to learn new tricks. I will continue using it though, but mainly because reinstalling everything from scratch is too much effort, and because Yakuake, which is a “quake-style terminal” that I can open by an easy shortcut, is helping me do most of my work on the console.

Finally, if you ask for my recommendation, I will tell you to stick to the KDE3.5 version of HH, unless you are curious to see what the fuss is all about, or unless you intend to be an early-adaptor who wants to be an expert developer for KDE4 when it hits the mainstream.

My First Day with KDE4 on Ubuntu Hardy Heron

Back in the 90s, I used to install and reinstall Windows 95 over and over again due to one reason or another (and I am sure it was the same for any Windows user). The last time I did a clean install, though, was 2 years ago, when I bought this laptop and killed the default Dell partitions to make it dual-boot. Installing the shiny new Kubuntu Hardy Heron on the day of its release gave me a geeky high I never knew I missed. Yesterday was my first actual day with Kubuntu 8.04. This post started as text notes for personal reference in the future, but I decided to put it up online instead of letting all that typing go to waste just in case it is useful to somebody. So here it is, my first day with Hardy Heron, full of installations, documented.

NVIDIA Drivers

Installing NVIDIA drivers took a bit longer than Gutsy, as Envy is not compatible with Hardy Heron as of now. There were two choices: go with the 92.something drivers available in Synaptic or download the latest drivers from the NVIDIA website. I (unfortunately for me) chose the second option, and ended up having to download build-essentials, rebuild the driver kernel, and fix /etc/X11/xorg.conf multiple times before my drivers took pity on me and started working.


Both Wireless and Wired network drivers worked out-of-the-box without any special configuration necessary. It seems that the days of madwifi are gone for good.


You have two options: firefox-2 and the firefox-3 beta. I lost my mind and decided to go with firefox-3. After the installation, I logged in to various websites that I use the most, to save my username/passwords, but when I started installing the extensions I can’t live without, not even 10% were enabled with the new version – there’s almost no backwards compatibility in firefox-3 as far as extensions are concerned. At the end, I had to uninstall firefox-3 and reinstall firefox-2, but not before I tried running them both in parallel without success. Maybe it is possible to make them work that way, but I had better things to do.

Firefox extensions

As a result of my previous firefox-3 blunder, the extension installations stopped working. I got an unexpected 203 error whenever I tried to install an extension. Thankfully, the errors went away after I deleted the extensions.rdf file in my ~/.mozilla/firefox folder, and I was able to install everything I needed.

Flash installation from source went without issues.


Nothing has changed for Apache, MySQL and PHP, so AMP installation went smoothly. I did the standard sudo apt-get install blah blah, Addtype in apache.conf, a2enmod to enable mode_rewrite, installed phpmyadmin and was able to restored everything from my USB harddisk.


My Dell Inspiron 9400 has an extra “subwoofer” – in Gutsy, I had to compile ALSA from source in order to make it work, but I didn’t have to do it with Hardy. So I installed amarok and was expecting that the mp3 playback will start after amarok prompts to install mp3 support, but it began with a klauncher error. This thread helped me fix the error using kdeinit, and amarok started properly, though mp3s were still not working. After an hour of installing dozens of gstreamer good, bad and ugly codecs and xine plugins, mp3 playback and shoutcast streaming were still broken. During my tinkering, I enabled ALSA from amarok configuration manually, and everything started working! It took one more hour to build a mySQL playlist database from my 210GB mp3 folder, but that’s not such a bad performance.

Essential Software

With the music working, I had enough energy left in me to install all the essential applications that I could think of (and this post will serve as a reminder the next time I have to install from scratch). They were:

  • Skype – Instead of downloading the .deb package, I added it to the 3rd party repository from the repository manager using deb http://download.skype.com/linux/repos/debian/ stable non-free .
  • Quanta Development Environment – I like its PHP syntax highlighting, fish and ftp support, and the built-in SVN integration.
  • Eclipse – for C++ / cdt
  • The remaining firefox addons and toolbars, google/stumbleupon fireftp etc.
  • VLC Player – For vlc, I added the mediabuntu repository from https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Medibuntu , which also had some upgraded plugins and codecs.
  • ktorrent – since the next Battlestar Galactica episode was going to be available the next day 😀
  • Instead of having a local subdomain based php website structure like before ( site1.localhost , site2.localhost ), I used the clean install opportunity to create some virtual local servers, so now I have http://site1/ , http://site2/ and so on. This page shows how.
  • virtualbox – Since I spend more time on linux than on Windows, and since I still need to do some development on VS.NET and MSSQL, so I installed virtualbox. If I manage to set everything up properly, I will be able to get rid of the windows partition altogether, or atleast abandon it to gather digital dust.
  • msttcorefonts – They make a few software look nicer.
  • Java JDK and JRE – JRE for eclipse and JRE just in case…

And this is how I spent my first day with Hardy Heron before sleepiness made me … go to sleep. Day two was spent exploring and getting used to KDE4, plasmoids and plasma. In the next post, I will try to write about my first impressions of KDE4, plasma and plasmoids, and how and why it wants to change the desktop experience (for better or worse).

Hardy Heron – First Impressions

I just finished a clean install of Kubuntu Hardy Heron + KDE4 on my dual-boot laptop (Dell Inspiron 9400). My initial plan was to upgrade my Gutsy installation, but my harddisk was almost out of space, and upon research, I found out that resizing an ext3 Linux partition that is after an NTFS partition physically isn’t the easiest task in the world.

My partitions before installation were:
So I backed up my Linux files, shed a few tears over losing all those custom installations, and deleted the last 3 partitions after booting from the LiveCD.
My new disk looks like
NTFS/FAT32/FAT32/EXT3 / / EXT3 /home/ / SWP
with plenty of space (24GB) for linux to use.

The installation went very smoothly – I was expecting that I would have to recompile ALSA to get my subwoofer back, but I can see the LFE controls in the default installation. My son was watching the installation, and after playing with the online wallpaper browser, he now wants Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Windows on his system.

I don’t like the new Panel – as of now, it is very restrictive. There aren’t enough applets (now called widgets) in the default installation – maybe I need to search Adept for addons. I was used to tweaking each element on the Panel manually, but that power has been taken away by KDE4 AFAIK. A right-click did not let me move any of the icons around, and after I added a few widgets that I didn’t like, removing them messed up the panel layout totally.

The only workaround to rearranging the items on the KDE4 panel that I could figure out was:

  • Remove ALL widgets from the Panel.
  • Add the widgets you want one by one, from left to right

So I added Application Launcher Menu, Task Manager, Application Launcher, Pager, System Tray and Digital Clock, in that order, and the panel became a bit acceptable.

Another small nuisance of KDE4… I have not used any wallpapers on my operating systems for a few years now, and prefer to keep my desktop black as it is easier on the eye (I didn’t know it was the “green” thing to do until this year). I was unable to find the option to NOT use a wallpaper so far (though I have used HH for about 20 minutes now) – maybe I will find it, or maybe I will need to use a 100% black image as a wallpaper, but the option should have been easier to reach.
The high of a new and clean operating system installation is wearing off now, so I will go install the applications I really need – and perhaps write a bit more about it later.

Installing Microsoft Reader on Linux (and why Microsoft Reader rules)

As I suddenly found myself using Linux as my primary OS last year, I had to do something about my bookworm’ey itch, and tried a few solutions to the lack of Microsoft Reader on Linux.

  • I tried using a second computer as my “book computer” – 50 minutes of work, one chapter of a book is what works for me. Too much fan noise (my PCs, like me, are pretty old by now) and sheer waste of electricity.
  • I tried a virtualbox XP installation – the problem with a virtual OS is, if I run it fullscreen, I can’t use the linux software, and if I run it windowed, the Microsoft Reader window is too small. I can dedicate my second monitor to the XP virtual installation, but that is plain inefficient.
  • I tried keeping my pocket pc with me while working, but what is the use of a large LCD when you end up reading on a 3.5 inch screen.

This weekend, I finally managed to make Microsoft Reader work on Linux with Wine. I had to waste use a couple of hours doing so, but at the end, it was worth it. So here is the fast and clean way of installing Microsoft Reader on Linux, what you need is:

  • Have a Linux installation (obviously) – I’m on Kubuntu, this should work with *buntu.
  • The following software installed: wine, msttcorefonts, cabextract – You can install it with the usual: sudo aptitude install wine msttcorefonts cabextract
  • IE for Linux – for some reason, this is a pre-requisite of Microsoft Reader on Wine.
    • Instructions on how to install IE6 for Linux can be found here: http://howtoforge.com/ubuntu_internet_explorer_p2
    • You might need mfc42.cab – in which case, just follow the link on the page, and copy the cab to the folder used by ies4linux, which was /home/rv/.ies4linux/downloads
      for me.
  • Now you need to visit the Microsoft Reader download page in IE6, and when prompted, “Open” the file from its current location. If everything goes well, you should end up with Microsoft Reader installed – now you just need to run it.
  • To run the program, you can either tinker with the Wine configuration settings to export the required wine prefix or you can create a shell script containing:
    • #!/usr/bin/env bash
      # Script to run MS Reader
      export WINEPREFIX=”/home/rv/.ies4linux/ie6″
      wine “/home/rv/.ies4linux/ie6/drive_c/Program Files/Microsoft Reader/msreader.exe”
    • Save it as something like msreader.sh, modify the /rv/ part (which is my username), set the file rights to a+x via: chmod a+x msreader.sh and perhaps, create a shortcut to the file on your desktop.
  • Running the msreader.sh should run MS Reader now!
  • There is the small problem of actually opening .lit files in it – you have two options. You can either:
    • Modify the script above so that the filename/complete path is passed to the shell script and used in the wine… line. This can also be set up with the ubuntu file associations so that you can open .lit files directly by clicking them. Or, you can
    • Copy the .lit files you have in your “My Library” folder (which is what I did).
    • I ended up with a library folder at: /home/rv/.ies4linux/ie6/drive_c/windows/profiles/rv/My Documents/My Library
  • Start the reader, and the new .lit files should be automatically detected and populated inside your library!

UPDATE: June 2009 One year later, things are a lot simpler with Jaunty Jackalope and Wine 1.0.1! Here are the rough steps to follow:

  • Make sure you have wine 1.0.1 – 1.1.x has issues that I was too busy to debug. If you have a later version or have the wine repository added to your sources.list. You might want to “Force Version” for that.
  • Install ie4linux using the instructions here. Ignore the wine version warning. You may have to run the script multiple times if it crashes, but you’ll get ie6 installed eventually. I had to uncheck the Flash plugin installation option.
  • Make sure you have the wine-gecko package installed (this may be a redundant step)
  • Download the MSReaderSetup.exe file from the Microsoft site using your regular browser and save it somewhere.
  • Run the installer .exe via double-clicking, or right clicking, or via command-line
  • The reader should install. The first time, try running it via command-line after going to ~/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/Microsoft Reader and typing ./msreader.exe
  • If you get an msvcirt.dll error, download the dll from here and extract the dll to your ~/.wine/drive_c/windows/system32 folder.
  • Now running the .exe again should work, and you should also be able to run it after searching for it by ALT+F2.
  • To be able to open .lit files by double-clicking, you need to set up the file associations. To do so
    • Right-click any .lit file in Dolphin and select ‘Properties’.
    • Click the settings icon besides the line Type: Unknown
    • Press the Add button to add the associated application (msreader) and use the file dialog to browse to the msreader.exe file. You will need to enclose the path in double-quotes or escape the spaces. For me it was:  “/home/rv/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/Microsoft Reader/msreader.exe”
    • Unwind the open dialogs’ stack
  • At this point, you should be able to open a .lit file by double-clicking it. If you encouter any issues or had to follow a different path, do share in the comments to help out others.

I was experimenting with tellico this weekend (which deserves its own post), and realized that in the last 20 years, I have read a lot more ebooks than paper books (which makes me happy when I think of all the trees I have saved). At this point in time, I can safely say that Microsoft Reader is the best ebook software around. Of course, you can read books in other formats, plain text, html, pdf or even doc, and there are lots of other readers (like Mobipocket) to choose from, but nothing beats Microsoft Reader so far. A few reasons why…

  • the Microsoft proprietary ClearType technology is simply the best option for long reading sessions on LCD/TFT screens. Once you get used to the lack of paper texture and the smell of an old book (one does miss it the first few months), you will probably find yourself reading more and more books on MS Reader.
  • The Microsoft .lit format works on Pocket PCs transparently, and the PPC version of Microsoft Reader comes pre-installed with most of the Windows Mobile versions. So, like an ipod, you can keep your library synchronized, and pick up on your PPC where you left off on your laptop/desktop. I can’t part with my ancient XDA II (now 5 years old), and iphone is a little bit less attractive due to Microsoft Reader – strange but true.
  • You can use the “Read in Microsoft Reader” plugin for Microsoft Word to convert most of the standard text formats that Word can open – to .lit format, and have a single interface for most of your digital library.
  • If you are comfortable with IRC and DCC, channels like #bookz, #ebooks etc. on Undernet is all you need to download and read sample hundreds of thousands of legal (and otherwise) books that are already converted to the .lit format.

It took me a couple of hours of search and experimentation (mixed with answering a few emails) to get all the steps right, so I hope this post saves somebody a few minutes of their lives.