Hands-On: New KaOS Linux Release

A new release of this nice, compact KDE distribution - and some notes about installing it on one of my UEFI systems.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

I wrote about KaOS Linux some time ago, when the 2014.06 release came out. I had it installed on a couple of my laptops, and I have been using it occasionally since then. It is a rolling release distribution, so if you already have it installed, you don't need to get these new ISO images and install them, you just have to make sure that you are current with all the latest patches and updates.

If you don't have KaOS installed yet, or you want to make a fresh installation for whatever reason, you can get the new ISO image from their download page. On that page, in addition to the link to the ISO image you will find links to instructions on creating DVD and USB installation media. I like this better than having to go search for another document, search the forums or whatever. The ISO is a hybrid image, so my procedure was the same as always - just dd it to a stick - but having the detailed instructions handy is a good thing.

There is also a link to the release notes on the download page, and there is a release announcement if you like to 'read before you leap'.  Of course, if you think you might be interested in KaOS Linux, the best thing to do is to boot the Live Image and try it out. You not only get a feel for what it is like, you get a look at how it works on your own hardware.

This release is still not UEFI compatible, although the announcement says that the work to complete that is about 90 percent done, so hopefully the next release will have it. That would be really nice, as we seem to have been stuck on just a handful of UEFI-compatible distributions for a while now (notably openSuSE, Fedora, Debian, Ubuntu, and their derivatives) and I would really like to see more (or all). Anyway, because I have a lot more UEFI systems than Legacy MBR systems, I decided that I would go ahead and install this release on a UEFI system and document what it took to do that.

The first step is obvious - you have to enable 'Legacy Boot' in order to boot the ISO image. Then run through the installer, which seems pretty nice, and simple. It is apparently still an 'interim installer' as they work toward UEFI compatibility, so I am not going to spend any time on the installer details this time around.

Normally after installing you would simply boot the installed image, but I still want to use UEFI boot, not legacy boot, on this system, so I have to go through some other UEFI bootloader. There are two simple ways to do this, either use the rEFInd Boot Manager, or use some other UEFI-compatible Linux distribution, and add KaOS to its boot list. I always have multiple Linux distributions installed, and I know from experience that the openSuSE grub-efi bootloader is particularly good in this area, so that is what I decided to use.

The procedure to do this is actually pretty easy. First, select UEFI boot in the BIOS again (disable Legacy Boot), and make sure that UEFI Secure Boot is disabled. Then boot openSuSE, and run grub2-mkconfig to create a new boot configuration file. That file will contain the necessary information for booting KaOS, so you can just reboot again and select it from the new boot menu. Very nice.

The basic components and versions of this KaOS release are:

  • Linux 3.16.7 (3.17 available via linux-next packages)
  • KDE 4.14.2
  • Systemd 216
  • Networkmanager
  • Plasma-nm
  • Xorg-server 1.16.1
  • Mesa 10.3.2
  • Pacman 4.1.2 (package manager)
  • Octopi 0.5.0 (GUI frontend for pacman)
  • Qupzilla 1.8.4 web browser
  • Calligra 2.8.6 (Office Suite)
pacman installer with octopi GUI

The KaOS developers describe it as "a lean KDE distribution", and a couple of things in the list above illustrate that approach.  The 'pacman' package manager with 'octopi' as a GUI front end to it will look strange to a lot of users.  But I can say after about six months of use, it works really well, it is really simple, and I haven't had any trouble with it at all.

qupzilla web browser

The same is true of the 'qupzilla' web browser.  I had never seen it before I installed KaOS the first time, and it looked really strange the first time I used it.  But I have gotten used to it, and I don't have any problems or complaints about it.  If you're not happy, you can always go to pacman and install Firefox, Chrome or Rekonq (odd, I don't see konqueror in the package list).

Calligra Words

Finally, the other obvious difference from most current/popular distributions is 'Calligra' for Office programs.  Again, if you're not happy with any of these alternatives, you can easily install LibreOffice.

One last interesting note about my installation.  I installed this relase on my Acer Aspire E11, which has a rather difficult Broadcom wi-fi adapter.  As with all of the other Linux distributions I have installed on this system, wireless networking initially did not work.  Using knowledge from the previous installations, all I had to do was install the 'broadcom-wl' package (via pacman/octopi), reboot, and wireless networking was fine.

So, there you have it. A nice alternative 'lean' Linux distribution: 64-bit only, KDE desktop only, and tightly focused on a relatively small core of simple packages, rather than some much larger and much more popular alternatives.  I like it.  Installing it was easy, even on one of my UEFI based systems, but I am particularly looking forware to a full UEFI-compatible release of this distribution.

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