New distributions with the most current KDE versions

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Noble Gases

There are often long delays before the customary distributions deliver new KDE versions. KDE and openSUSE now offer images for enthusiasts that have the most current KDE packages.

KDE fans are frustrated. They can't even find a long ago current KDE plasma version in the package sources for Debian Unstable. This is a bitter pill since KDE Plasma 5.4.3, which is present in the sources, is easy to use but full of inconsistencies that have long been resolved in the newer versions. The KDE neon [1] project has come to the rescue. This project is based on Ubuntu and was founded by KDE developer Jonathan Riddell in order to offer the latest developments in KDE to developers and fans on a stable basis. OpenSUSE quickly jumped on the bandwagon and now offers something similar.

The project was officially introduced at the end of January by Riddell at the FOSDEM event in Brussels. At first, the project met with a lack of understanding [2]. Was it supposed to mean that KDE would need to release its own distribution in order to remain relevant? The project was quick to make clear that neon does not represent a complete end-user distribution and that the project did not originate with KDE but rather with Riddell. After the details were more clearly explained, it was time to start work.

The neon project release can be divided into developer and user branches. The automated system for generating images of current versions, CI (Continuous Integration) [3], operates on the developer side for the latest KDE packages from the Git repositories. On the user side, it builds the most recently released packages. In this way, both branches get a more or less buggy version of KDE. The versions with Git packages are intended primarily for developers and community members who want to help discover errors.

Neon, Krypton, Argon

At about the same time, something similar happened in the RPM universe, meaning at openSUSE [4]. KDE also plays the lead role here. The openSUSE community has been offering two new live CDs with installers since mid-February. Both contain current versions of KDE from Git. The projects are called Argon and Krypton. It is their foundation that distinguishes them from neon (Figure 1). Neon uses various current packages for developer and user versions on an Ubuntu foundation. The openSUSE developers build the most recent Git versions for Argon into each current edition of openSUSE Leap. For Krypton, they build the most recent Git version into Tumbleweed, openSUSE's rolling release version.

Figure 1: The schematics for Argon and Krypton based on openSUSE.

They create the images from the most recent KDE Git sources in Open Build Service (OBS) by applying the three repositories KDE-Unstable-Frameworks , -Applications , and -Extra . In addition to the X11 version, there is also a Krypton image with Wayland as a display server. The results arr ive fresh almost daily on openSUSE's servers, where they can be downloaded [5]. At the same time, openSUSE is pursuing the development of the Gnome project with Gnome:Next. However, Git is not used here. Instead the most recent tarballs are used. Currently, this is Gnome 3.20.x. There are also images available for these [6].

All of the five images tested range from between 850 to 1020MB. Neon still does not have any KDE applications and therefore hardly contains any application programs. These need to installed later as needed. Krypton and Argon, on the other hand, have the typical number of applications for mature distributions. We installed openSUSE Krypton with X11 and Wayland. For the neon project, we installed the end-user versions.

Btrfs Makes Sense

The installation for Krypton works like a standard openSUSE installation. The common openSUSE Btrfs is used for the filesystem. The installer makes it possible even for beginners to handle installation. Modifications to the recommended partition scheme and filesystem have an easily understood logic.

Take care when performing installations with VirtualBox to double the size of the virtual hard drive. This means that 16GB or more should be made available so that there is sufficient space for Btrfs snapshots. Further, you should know that the first system restart with VirtualBox that is offered by the installation leads to an interruption of the installation process. Therefore you should select the restart later option at the relevant part of the setup routine.

Once installed, Krypton boots in kernel 4.5.0-3 and uses Plasma 5.6.90 Git and KDE Frameworks 5.21 and KDE Applications 16.07.70 Git on the basis of Qt 5.6.1 (Figure 2). In testing, this was a "tumbleweed" dated May 1 with the most recent KDE packages from Git. At the time of testing on May 4, there were already 280 updates available. This indicates an agile development cycle, which developers of stable releases do not always appreciate. However, you should consider that an update with packages from Git can either improve or impair the installation.

Figure 2: Krypton offers a daily updated kernel and KDE from the Git repository of the developers.

Krypton is well positioned here because with its Btrfs filesystem, it can create snapshots of the system. If necessary, it can also easily recreate the system state that existed before the update went awry (Figure 3). The Snapper tool does this automatically when it is set up such that it creates a snapshot with each update [7].

Figure 3: Btrfs snapshots back Krypton up, thus making it easy to reset the system.

During the hours Krypton had to work for the purpose of writing this article, the system was surprisingly stable and did not make any large blunders. Even so, you should nonetheless consider the possibility that long periods of operation could result in the appearance of errors and interruptions while using the system for productive work. Viewed from this perspective, this is a system that you might want to keep you eye on, for example, by occasionally looking at the status of early development for each of the five KDE incarnations or by actively participating in the project.

Krypton has a lot of fun in store for KDE fans. Argon builds on the same KDE package, but it is based on the less current foundation for openSUSE Leap. Generally, the system does not appear to be more stable. Therefore, Krypton offers the more interesting playing field. There is also no reason to devote any more review time to the Wayland version. The caveat here is that we found one Wayland image during our testing that was not bootable.

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