With Ubuntu 12.04 released in late April 2012, there's no shortage of reviews of the open source operating system floating around the Web. But Ubuntu's less phonetically ambiguous cousin, Kubuntu, doesn't tend to get as much love. So in the interests of fairness, and of thinking outside the box, I decided to give Kubuntu 12.04 a whirl. Here's what I found.

Kubuntu differs little from Ubuntu on the back end, of course. Technically speaking, the two OS variants are pretty much the same thing. But since Kubuntu is based on the KDE desktop environment, it shares little in common with its more popular cousin in the looks department -- especially these days, when Ubuntu has gone in a radically new direction interface-wise with the adoption of the Unity desktop shell and HUD.

But while Ubuntu has been pursuing its own path, Kubuntu developers have been busy, too, incorporating innovations to KDE tailored to the worlds of the tablet and mobile computing. The 12.04 release is the first to feature Kubuntu Active, a remix of the KDE environment designed for devices with small screens which was first introduced to the *buntu world in March 2012. Meanwhile, other updates to KDE make the desktop experience in Kubuntu 12.04 better than ever, at least in my humble experience.

What's New in Kubuntu 12.04

Granted, beyond Kubuntu Active, there's not much that's radically new in the latest Kubuntu release. Many of the changes, which are listed in full here, are behind-the-scenes enhancements that don't alter the interface in any way or add new overt features, but which do increase performance and stability.

But those updates that will be more readily noticed by users include:
  • Interface updates to the Muon Package Manager, Kubuntu's version of the Ubuntu Software Center.
  • Amarok, the default audio player, now sports integration with the Amazon MP3 Store. This adds competition to the music features built into Canonical's Ubuntu One service, but it provides more choices to users, which is never a bad thing.
  • Although LibreOffice remains the default office suite in Kubuntu, Calligra, a KOffice fork that was born out of political disagreements, adds depth to the KDE office-productivity scene. Calligra is an application to watch, especially because its developers have been devoting special attention to mobile devices, which positions it to pair well with Kubuntu Active.
  • Last but not least, Gwenview, Kubuntu's default image-viewing application, has gained some nice new features in version 2.8.2. I hadn't used Gwenview much in the past, but since installing Kubuntu 12.04 I've been liking it a lot. It manages to be light and fast but also feature-rich.
More generally, Kubuntu 12.04 is a very solid release overall. The changes it introduces are not quite as ambitious as those of Ubuntu itself, where version 12.04 ushers in more substantial updates to the interface and application stack. But for an longterm support (LTS) release, Kubuntu 12.04 certainly seems solid.

And with a strong footing in the traditional desktop metaphor -- a trait that will likely appeal to many users unhappy with the changes foisted upon them by GNOME Shell and Unity -- yet with its sights also set on the world of highly mobile computing, Kubuntu is in a great position to adapt to the future without spitting in the face of the past. It may not enjoy nearly as much press as Ubuntu at the moment, but that could well change.