KaOS is as distribution that has, for whatever reason, not been top of mind at all during my time with Linux. I think it is unfortunate that this has been the case because I really like what is going on here with this project. The developers and maintainers have done a lot to ensue that you have the latest and greatest Plasma and KDE Gear packages to use and enjoy. The theme applied to KaOS is their own and not just another near-vanilla experience.
Bottom Line Up Front: KaOS is a highly focused distribution that keeps a well curated set of applications that do indeed work and work well. This is a tightly focused distribution with vision that aims to bring its users the best Plasma experience possible. After a little reflection, I am not focused enough to use this constrained set of packages. As much as I like the idea of being incredibly focused, it doesn’t personally suit me. As much as I like this distribution, it doesn’t hit enough of the marks necessary to really pull me from the warm comforts of openSUSE. It also doesn’t help that I have an almost unhealthy obsession with the openSUSE project and rather biased as such. I also think this is a distribution worth visiting. The installation is easy, the applications hit all the basics.
After downloading the KaOS iso, I ran this in a VM for testing, so any little rough edges with this, was likely caused by this, specifically the default display size (I’ll fix that at some point). From the initial boot of the iso, you will be greeted with a typical Grub boot screen. I chose the top option of “Start KaOS Live”. On the Welcome, there is an option to Install KaOS immediately so that is the route I chose. I didn’t explore the Live session at all. What did strike me as different is the panel on the right side of the desktop. Interesting…
KaOS uses the Calamares installer which is always a good experience. The initial page asks for your language preference then your location. This location tool is actually pretty cool. Rather than a drop down and selection of the nearest city, you drag the pin to the approximate area that you live. I thought this was quite clever.
Next, select your keyboard model. I have, honestly, never selected anything but the generic in all my time using Linux, I need to, someday do more research on this subject. Things have always just worked in Linux and I haven’t ever required something specific. If you have any feedback on this subject, please let me know.
Since I am using an empty drive and I wanted KaOS to use the whole thing, I had it set to erase the entire disk. I left the default of XFS but I am kind of disappointed that XFS is the default. I was hoping for some method of BTRFS implementation.
After those first six pages of steps, you are given a summary and a final sanity check before beginning the installation process. I do totally appreciate that point of no return dialog box to ensure you are checking yourself before you commit.
The installation is a typical experience, though I didn’t find a way to watch the under the hood, technical information, but I may have missed it. I do prefer just the torrent of text zipping through the screen where I can pretend like I really know what is going on as I watch it.
That is the end of it. It is truly that simple but keep in mind, I am not doing any form of dual booting or funny boot loader configurations. I am doing the simple method for setting up KaOS nothing complicated. This is essentially how I do all my installations, even on physical hardware, so this is how I would use KaOS.
First Run and Impressions
The boot screen for an installed system is a bit different than from the live ISO. it has a different look about it. The bar along the bottom of the screen to indicate the passage of time before the highlighted entry is automatically booted is a nice touch.
The login screen is certainly not something I am used to seeing in Plasma which further underscores the fact that this is not a vanilla-Plasma experience. This is going to be something unique. I do like the styling of the wall paper very much here.
The welcome screen, called Croeso is a fine tool for getting yourself all set up with how you want your desktop experience to look. The buttons are quite clear as to what you are going to accomplish for each task.
I was very excited to see that there were some dark theme choices available to me. Though, I do wish, perhaps, that there were a bit fewer choices. As I ended up with a mismatch in Plasma Style with the color scheme. I was able to fix that by going into the Global theme. In retrospect, I think it may be better to only have a button to the “Global Theme” options in Plasma and not separate Style and Colors. Just a thought.
I wanted to try some of the curated applications and go through the installation process as one would be expected. I like the toggle switch idea but I feel like it doesn’t scale well. There is not much room for new applications and such but I also think, that might be the idea as to keep the set very limited.
The installation was successful but the issue I had was that the terminal window didn’t close or report that the installation was a success. The last line is:
(5/5) Updating the MIME type database...
but there is no confirmation that it this step was successful. I waited some 10 minutes and eventually just closed the window. Thankfully, the installation was, indeed, a success. I would recommend some kind of statement be added on the end to just let users know. Now that I know, it isn’t a problem for future packages but first time through could case any user confusion.
I do have to admit that I was a bit confused to see GIMP on the line up of software but I suppose this is sort of expected on all distributions at this point. Even though it is not Qt based, it seems to fit in nicely so whatever KaOS sauce they drizzled on it, it is working well.
I am glad KaOS included Dolphin as the file manager and not slip in something less capable. Due to this well made decision, getting around on my network and even accessing my host system from the KaOS VM was a breeze. Dolphin really does have all the right buttons, switches and levers to knock out all sorts of file management.
I have but one gripe with the Firefox package on KaOS. The file dialog box is not the Qt dialog box that I was expecting from a Qt focused distribution. I think the only distribution that actually properly patches Firefox to use the Plasma File Dialog box is openSUSE. Not even Kubuntu has this right either. I just don’t understand why more distros don’t fix Firefox.
One real fantastic touch is the inclusion of Stacer in KaOS. This is a great system monitoring tool that does so much more. Stacer exposes a lot of system administration tools that should be talked about a lot more than it is. Stacer really requires a whole blathering on its own so, suffice to say, this is a great application and you should see if it is available on your distribution of choice.
What I like
I really like the focus of this project. I think this has the potential to be the focused Qt based, Plasma desktop environment in the same way that elementary OS is the focused, well curated GTK based desktop environment. KaOS has a lot of thought to design and visual appeal baked into it. I don’t think it is at the same level as elementary OS, at all, but it is certainly significant. I am also not crazy about some of their design choices but I like what they are doing, very much. Since it is Plasma, it is just as easy to go through and adjust the way the desktop is laid out to your liking. The focus of this project is undeniable. I will be watching this distro to see what they do.
The Welcome application, Croeso, is a great tool and a fantastic “ice breaker” for new users. I, personally, appreciated the time and care that went into the feature set. The tabs along the bottom makes it very easy to get to the various bits: Customizing the visuals to maximize your experience, installation of the curated packages, change your wall paper, documentation, control center like functions in the advanced tab and more. This isn’t a quite a YaST like experience but this is far, far better than what you get on many Linux distributions.
Giving the option of choosing your office application at installation time is a nice touch. It allows you, the user, to make a decision on your office application preference before you even get into your system up and running. I think this is important because if you are one that needs the local application, one toggle switch will bring it to you. Many people use web based services for their office requirements, so it would potentially be redundant to have LibreOffice or you may prefer another suite. Regardless, it is nice to have the option.
What I don’t like
I have to admit, the limited selection of packages is a bit of a problem, of sorts. There are a few solutions to getting more software on your computer the easy one is Flatpak. This is great because they are already prebuilt and have much of any required bits bundled within it or as part of a core package. The downside is it does take up more room on your system and also Flatpak is often not good at following your system themes. You of course have AppImages that you can use as well. The other option is the KCP or the KaOS Community Packages. In much the spirit of the AUR (Arch User Repository), you can download and build the packages with these scripts. This will exercise your CPU quite a bit and they are in no way as fast of a process as prebuilt packages. One can argue that this may be a better form of delivery but I find this these methods less attractive than having proper packages built against your system.
As much as I praised the uniqueness of the Plasma theme in KaOS, it doesn’t fit the way I like to work, by default. If I stayed in KaOS for an extended period of time, I would have to make a lot of modifications, more than I do with a vanilla Plasma. Maybe it is because I am entrenched in my old-school desktop paradigm but having everything along the bottom, like the dash display in my vehicle, is how I like to do my interface. I am used to looking down for “system” information, not up or to the side, down.
I am just not a fan of the underlying pacman packaging system. I find the terminal syntax to be awful and going through the Arch documentation and discussing it with long time Arch users, you get different answers from different people on the right way to perform certain tasks. For all I know, they could all be right but until I am convinced otherwise, pacman terminal syntax is frustratingly difficult to understand. Can I get by with it? Sure, but the commands are not memorable and therefore, I don’t think it is any good. Sorry if that offends but that is just what I think of it.
KaOS is a very unique rolling release distribution that is highly focused on providing an enduring Plasma Desktop experience. There has been a lot of work on the little details of getting acquainted with your system, and how to give it your own personal touch. KaOS doesn’t try to be all things to all people, it strives to be the best Plasma Desktop experience by curating a limited set of Qt based applications. The minimal system leaves you with a lean and very responsive system that will run on systems with minimal amounts of RAM.
Though I find KaOS a very interesting distribution, I don’t see me switching from openSUSE to use KaOS. The focus of KaOS leaves some of the more esoteric activities I do with openSUSE out of scope and that is totally understandable. I enjoy KaOS for what it is and I highly recommend any user that is the least bit curious to try it out.