Despite the popularity of lightweight desktop environments, options like KDE have also had their hand in making desktop Linux a real pleasure to use. Recently, I wrote a distro comparison of Ubuntu vs. Debian, explaining that Debian presents you with various desktops from which to choose while Ubuntu provides only Unity. To take this a step further, I'll be exploring Kubuntu today so I can expand on that initial comparison.
Immediately after booting the ISO image, the Kubuntu install experience feels very KDE-centric. The install media offers the same choices as a standard Ubuntu installation, down to the option for installing third-party software and updates.
During the installation itself, you'll feel right at home trying Kubuntu if you happen to be an existing Ubuntu enthusiast. Aside from the cursor and the color scheme, the installer is exactly the same as Ubuntu's. Where you begin to see some small variations, however, is with the welcome text during the install. Instead of an introduction to Ubuntu/Gnome applications, the text is welcoming you to highly advanced KDE applications. Image, music and video applications are all discussed during this process at length.
Once Kubuntu has been installed is where the real differences begin to take shape. Even before jumping into the available applications, the desktop is already substantially different from what you would find on Ubuntu. There's no Unity or a Dash from which to get started. Instead you'll find a clean desktop with a single translucent box from which you can access the desktop icons.
Below that, you'll find the K menu, which allows you to access all of Kubuntu's settings and applications. Also, within the K menu is the option to search for applications or settings, even if you're not entirely sure what they're called. This feature is similar to Unity's own search feature, only it's much faster than what Ubuntu offers.
Without question, Kubuntu is more responsive and generally "feels" faster than Ubuntu. Both Ubuntu and Kubuntu, use dpkg for their package management. But when it comes to the GUI front-end used by each distribution, the differences between the two distros suddenly become quite apparent.
Ubuntu has both its software updater and software center applications. Kubuntu, by contrast, uses Muon exclusively for GUI package management. So when Kubuntu prompts you to update your packages, you're using the same package management tool that you would use for locating and installing new applications. Muon visually looks nothing like you'd find under Ubuntu and feels like it might have gained some of its design insight from other package managers.
Muon will feel very natural to anyone who prefers using Synaptic. The options provided are very similar, even down to features like saving package lists or upgrading/downgrading packages on the fly.
Another important area where Kubuntu sets itself apart from Ubuntu is with its widgets. By default, Kubuntu comes with a number of useful widgets that can be displayed on your desktop. Or if you'd rather, installing new ones is as easy as browsing through the widget menu and clicking install. This is one of things that really stick out about KDE—updates and installing new items never require opening up a browser window.
The two most used applications that come with Ubuntu are generally the browser and email client. For Ubuntu users, this means using Firefox and Thunderbird. Kubuntu takes a slightly different approach. On a new installation, Kubuntu offers a full Personal Information Manager (Kontact) in place of a simple email client like Thunderbird. And unlike Ubuntu, Kubuntu includes the rekonq browser instead of Firefox. I've found rekonq to be very fast, loading pages with speeds comparable to both Firefox and Chrome.