The end is nigh. The end is upon us. We are, of course, talking about the end of the calendar year, and this means voting for the best of the best. In a few days, we will have the grand Dedoimedo best distro contest, but before we do that, let’s do a more specific vote. Namely, let’s elect the finest KDE distro of the current year.
We did this last year, and the winner was Kubuntu Ringtail. It proved out to be a very solid, polished distribution, with good stability and good looks. Now, why would you care? Well, because Linux is in a state of vacuum, and KDE is one of the last remaining veterans of the old guard. However, that should not worry you. In fact, you should be glad, because not only do we have KDE4, there’s also Plasma 5, and that makes this vote as well as the future all the more intriguing. Let us begin then, and yes, for those asking, we will have a similar round of votes for Xfce very soon. Now, to business.
Candidate 1: Netrunner Rolling 2014.04
You will probably think I’ve gone mad, but there, I have listed a distribution that is actually based on Arch and Manjaro, two distributions that normally toll their users in pints of blood rather than CPU percentage. And yet, despite the dreadful heritage, this is a surprisingly well tailored distribution. It shares the DNA with the stock Netrunner, but then, it’s that much different to be its own product.
At the moment, Netrunner Rolling does feel a little like a gamble, though, because the recent 2014.09 release kind of missed the boat and sank the submarine and all its crew with a less than ideal offering, including many bugs and problems, some carried over from the previous edition. That said, I do believe this particular distro has future, and it can be molded into an excellent fire-and-forget formula for new and advanced users alike. Hence its presence on this most hallowed of lists.
Arguably, Netrunner Frontier is a better distribution, in terms of overall packaging, quality and stability. But given the choice between the two, I’ve decided to go with the underdog, simply because the expectations from something based on Arch and something based on Kubuntu are that much different.
Candidate 2: Fedora 20
I’m cheating. But the thing is, I have not included this distro in the last year’s contest, so we will be including it here, right now. And frankly, it deserves to be included. It’s a rare moment when I’m not raging against the machine, I mean Fedora, especially since what happened with the infamous 18th release. But in the 20th Century Fedora, things kind of got real neat.
Indeed, Fedora 20 KDE is a very interesting product. Despite its legacy for being beta, and accordingly, beta quality, Fedora 20 is stable, and with only a small amount of effort, you can easily boost its power, mana, armor, and spells, I mean default looks and software with some stylish and useful extras. Enough to warrant an out-of-queue, the most hideous of all crimes, late entry.
Candidate 3: CentOS 7
When I first tested CentOS 7, I was sorely disappointed, because there was no third-party content available, whatsoever. Several weeks later, additional repositories were created, and I was able to transform this server-cum-accidental-desktop distro from a slimy caterpillar into a majestic butterfly. Not as fluffy as Ubuntu’s unicorns, but good enough.
CentOS 7, when properly groomed, offers a package that is very hard to beat. Stability, long term support, very good looks, a practical approach between raw functionality and modern coolness, and despite a somewhat conservative upbringing, all the bells and whistles that the common user might need. All of this wrapped in familiar KDE goodness to warm the cockles of your heart.
Candidate 4: Kubuntu 14.10 Utopic Unicorn with Plasma 5
We shall be cheating some more. The truth is, the stock release of Kubuntu comes with KDE4, and Plasma 5 is only a Technical Preview before the next year’s spring release. But then, you can hate me and call me subjective and hold this test invalid, I simply could not resist. Like in Tarantino’s movie, Django, when Doctor King Schultz goes, I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. Like that. So yes, we are talking about the future, right now.
Anyhow, Plasma 5 is an extremely handsome, polished, refined, and pleasant desktop environment, and when placed on top of a solid performer like Utopic Unicorn (with a capital K), you get an excellent blend of extreme aesthetics and sensible functionality that is very hard to beat. This particular edition slash spin is probably the most exciting moment of 2014, as it signifies a bright and beautiful future for the Linux desktop.
Candidate 5: OpenSUSE 13.2
Last year, I said the stardom of openSUSE seems to be behind us. Well, not anymore! The autumn release, properly enumerated 13.2 was an excellent spin, and it signals the renaissance of the green lizard. After several years of rather lukewarm performance and unsatisfying results, openSUSE once again offers a viable alternative to the Linux duopoly of Mint and Ubuntu.
To wit, OpenSUSE 13.2 uses the same superb theme we’ve seen in the last two versions, and we even used it to grace Fedora and some other distributions. Furthermore, performance and stability are excellent, you get desktop effects, a rich and varied selection of software, a very easy way of managing the distribution, and overall, an extremely balanced and well-oiled operating system that smacks of quality and finesse. A surprisingly well-executed release.
And the winner is …
As always, my needs and taste revolve around stability, predictability, continuous and consistent track record of performance and accessibility to new and intermediate users, with a safe installation process and an intuitive way of obtaining new software and seeking help to problems. Above this baseline of sanity, there must be a clever and good-looking, even expensive looking presentation layer which we call the desktop, and it has to be shiny and alluring and beautiful, and it must beckon the user to click and explore. So, which one of these five candidates offers the nearest combo to this ideal?
Well, this year, it’s openSUSE! Yes. After so long, it’s come back firing like a whole battery of MLRS. I have to admit that openSUSE really outshone the rest, giving so much without any great tweaking, hacking or begging. One might argue that there has been no reason whatsoever for the previous three releases to perform so badly, but we must judge this operating system across the sweep of an entire decade, and for many years, it has been a pillar of sanity in the Linux community, long before Ubuntu came about. Finally, the familiar sense of that old school logic and quality is back, and we must applaud the SUSE team for stitching a tight like a tiger distro.
There are several things you can take home with you, after reading this article. One, you can disagree with me, and that’s the reason why Internet has comments. Two, there’s a noticeable shift from the Ubuntu family domination in the top of the charts to a more varied, more colorful and less boring plethora of penguiny piniatas. We have two RedHat-based offerings and one SUSE, plus an Arch derivative, which in itself defies logic. Kubuntu is the only proper Ubuntu distro here. I like this shift.
It’s not that I dislike Ubuntu, but monopoly is never a good thing. Fierce competition is needed, because it brings out the best and worst in people, and in the long run, helps create better products for us, end users. Having Fedora and CentOS and openSUSE climb up only makes it more interesting, more valuable for the community, even if there’s no money involved. But prestige plays its part, for sure. All I can say is, Year 2014 might have been a little slow, but the way things are looking now, the next one should be hot and fizzy and full of fanboyish declarations, at least on my side. Enjoy, fellas. And kudos to openSUSE!