A while ago, I found a beautiful, cutting-edge Linux distribution called KaOS
My background is computer assisted design technology and music. Above all, I am driven to create and often spend 20-hour days to tweak and finish projects for a local startup. If you haven’t guessed by now, yes, I do almost all of my work with the Linux operating system. My main reasons for using Linux are simple ones. I feel that Linux doesn’t call home like the two major operating systems do and I don’t want to buy another iMac.
What to look for when searching for a cutting-edge Linux distribution
There are hundreds of Linux distributions out there. Some have deep roots because they heave been around since the last century and others are popping up with a new offering. This means that there is a lot of choice. So what does one need to consider when searching for the perfect Linux distribution?
There are three things to consider in order to find the best option.
- What do I do?
- What do I have?
- What do I know?
Let’s look into each of the listed points in more detail.
What do I do
Such a simple question. If my goal is just to jump on the Linux bandwagon and criticize Microsoft then any Linux distro will do. I am not part of that crowd because I use Windows for all audio related tasks and can not imagine not to. The programs which are available for the Windows platform (and OS X) are amazing. This is especially true if one comes from the Atari days as I do. With music out of the way, let’s flip the coin to the other side and talk about creating content.
I am part of a small startup and my job is to create graphic assets for apps, advertising and web design. Is Linux a good match for a graphics designer in 2019? The short answer is yes. I switched to opensource software long before I switched to Linux. Because of that, it was just a matter of time before the operating system would switch too.
Which software do I need for work
Here are the top 10 Linux apps I need and use every day.
- Dolphin (*file browser)
- Thunderbird (email)
- Atom / Visual Studio Code
- GIMP / Krita / Blender
There are a few tasks that took me years to discover and learn and can only be achieved by using the command line. Listing those is beyond this article.
I’ve listed Firefox as number one and did so for a good reason. We are moving towards a new way of working and the future of the internet is probably not an operating system but a very powerful web browser. I work a lot on WordPress or Drupal sites and to do this work, I must use at least one web browser. I am not a fan of Chrome or any of the lesser used Linux web browsers. Firefox is my go-to tool to administer websites.
You probably went “huh??” when you saw that I listed a file browser as the number two tool. Dolphin is the default file browser for the KDE desktop environment and is much more than a file browser. Dolphin allows me to mount remote web servers on my machine which means that I don’t need an FTP program such as Cyberduck or FileZilla. Setting up Dolphin is challenging and beyond the reach of first-time Linux users. There is a lot to know about SSH and web security in general. Regardless of that, Dolphin delivers and helps me to sort my work exactly as I need it to be sorted even on remote web servers strewn all over the world.
I am old-fashioned and not a fan of messaging which I keep to a minimum. All projects I work on were ordered and paid for by email. First and foremost, Thunderbird is 100% reliable. If installed and set up correctly, it is smart enough to deal with spam and thanks to a beautiful dark theme, is easy on my old eyes. Anyone who works needs to organize time and email, if left running wild, can waste a lot of time. Thunderbird is my time keeper. If a Linux distro doesn’t have Thunderbird, then it’s not for me.
Number four on my list are code editors. In the past, my most often used editor was Atom. If one works in web design and needs to hand-code HTML5 and CSS-driven sites then a good code editor is a must. Atom is very configurable has everything and then some that one needs to script content for the web.
Visual Studio Code.
We Linux users are a curious bunch. A while ago, I watched a YouTube tutorial to learn Python programming and the instructor suggested the opensource version of Visual Studio from Microsoft. What can I say? It’s good! I love it.
GIMP, Krita and Blender
Most professional graphics designers will use the Adobe suite as it offers the best tool we currently have. Working on Linux means that Adobe software is not an option. The good news is that one can get by with GIMP which is often praised as the free Photoshop replacement. Indeed, GIMP is a capable image editor.
Krita is similar to GIMP and I use both hoping to eventually cut one out to simplify my setup.
Linux is weak when it comes to working with fonts and font-related tasks but my music background helps me to improvise. Long story short, I get by just fine.
Blender is and always was my first choice when it comes to creating 3D related content. I started in 1999 and have been addicted to modeling, texturing and rendering every since. It is my biggest passion. I see in 3D and constantly analyze the environment I move in. The latest version, Blender 2.8 is much easier to use and delivers stunning results for those who are talent and willing to learn and help. Helping means learning twice. Do it!
In the past, I used Camtasia on the iMac for all screen capturing and making video tutorials. Because of bad marketing by Apple who kept the release of their latest Mac Mini a secret, I bought a powerful Dell workstation. I knew that because of that, I have to find a replacement for Camtasia. Luckily, I discovered SimpleScreenRecorder which is anything but simple. Quite the opposite. It’s very powerful and rock solid.
Many of the apps we produce need at least one video tutorial. Linux has a few options but I have never looked beyond SimpleScreenRecorder because it does everything that I need.
Anyone who created video tutorials knows that the devil lies in the details or in other words, it’s all about editing if one wants a decent result. Expensive video editors include sophisticated audio editing tools but the free opensource ones do not. Therefore, the audio needs to be split from the video and worked on separately. This is not a big deal and I actually prefer doing it that way. On mid to high-end workstations, having several programs open is not a big deal and KaOS doubles my two 28″ monitors which means that I have plenty of space to lay our the workflow and keep everything organized.
I have used Audacity for many years and preferred it over loading a DAW (digital audio workstation) if all I had to do was cutting and fixing an audio track. Linux has a few audio options but for modest editing tasks, Audacity is quick and gets the job done nicely.
Kdenlive is a sophisticated video editor. Like Blender, Kdenlive is a masterpiece and my preferred tool to edit and export video for the web. As already mentioned, most of the video I work with are screen recordings. When I have all the video takes, I import them into Kdenlive and arrange them in the timeline. When everything is in the right place, the cutting and joining starts. At that point, I separate the audio form the video to perform custom edits with Audacity.
Kdenlive lets me capture and save a still frame and with a simple mouse click sequence, open that image frame in GIMP for further editing and when done, save it right back to where it came form. This makes for a lightening fast workflow. If time is money, then Kdenlive is a must. Like all of the other software I use, Kdenlive is stable and has all the tools I need. If Kdenlive, SimpleScreenRecorder and Audacity didn’t exist, I would have to buy Camtasia and spend two grand on a new Mac Mini.
Spectacle is a cute as its name and does one job better than any other solution that I know of. Spectacle takes screenshots. If you take screenshots in Windows then you know about the snap tool. If I had to compare the Windows snap tool (or is it called “sniping”?) to Spectacle then I would say that the snap tool is a bicycle and Spectacle is a Lamborghini. No kidding.
I need a lot of screenshots and when I do, I press the print screen key on my computer keyboard to launch Spectacle. A few mouse clicks later, I have exactly what I need and were I need it. Simple, elegant and perfect in every way.
I consider KaOS to be the most beautiful and well put together Linux distro but, as they say, old habits are hard to change. I have come to depend on Timeshift to back up all of my work every day and store those daily backups on an external hard drive. KaOS offers other ways of backing up data but I am not familiar with those (ways). Regardless of what one does, if the work can not be backed up on a regular basis then troubles will surely come fast and hit hard. There is nothing worse than losing data. All of the above software I use is not just because it is capable of performing specific tasks, it also allows me to do what I do very fast. Anyone who is part of a startup knows that we don’t just make the trains run on time, we also have to lay new tracks as we go. Everyone has to wear many hats and time is the most precious commodity.
I closed the list mentioning command line tasks which, unfortunately, make Linux tick. Yes, there is a GUI option for many things but learning the terminal is a huge time saver. The GUI makes things easy but the terminal makes things fly. I often move data around at speeds so fast that someone sitting next to me can not follow. This is especially true for those who have never seen Linux in action.
This closes out the “what do I do” section and I hope that you have a good idea of the tasks that can be done with Linux. Now lets move on the the hardware which is equally important.
What do I have
As already stated, there are tons of Linux distros out there. Generally speaking, they all should perform similar when installed on the same hardware but yet, there is a difference. Think of Linux as if it were a car. Every car performs the same functions. It lets the user enter trough a door, start the engine and go places. If you know how to drive one car, you should be able to switch to another car easily. Still, we drive different cars for different reasons. Even if money wasn’t an object, we still would have a wide variety of cars and know what we like or would like “if” we had that imaginary lottery win.
Equipment is much more than just the computer. To be a successful and efficient graphics designer, a powerful workstation PC is needed. I prefer Dell workstations with at least 16 Gig of Ram and the fastest video card I can afford. I don’t play games and can get away with a special edition of the Nvidia GTX 1070 which has 8 Gigs of RAM. It goes without saying that the main hard dive must be an SSD. Nothing else will do.
The next most important part are the monitors. Graphics design should be done on two monitors but a larger 32″ display would also be good as long as it is 4K or better. KaOS recognizes my dual 4K monitor right away and is the only Linux distro that sees my Wacom Pro tablet without my “help”.
To make a long story short. If you have a computer that is made up of questionable hardware parts, then installing Linux will be time consuming and provide a user experience that might make you give up altogether. Not everyone has access to the perfect hardware so yes, it’s OK to compromise. If you are serious about switching to Linux, then don’t rush in. Plan your hardware and buy only what works.
KaOS pretty much sees everything I have and all I need to do is tweak the font sizes. This is true for all Linux distributions. HiDpi 4K displays are rare and Linux is starting to support them. I find that the KDE desktop is best suited for new hardware. I appreciate stunning visuals and if I was judging a Linux distro just by the look, then KaOS right away tops the list. As someone who works in graphics design, KaOS inspires me to do better and aim for the same perfection as present in the tools I create with.
So, we covered some of the software that KaOS provides, including the one it doesn’t and I also mentioned the importance of getting the right equipment. Why is the equipment so important? Simple. It makes creating content a joy. I don’t play games but typing on a gaming keyboard feels much better then the stock keyboard most computer manufactures include. The same goes for the mouse. Most computers have some sort of loudspeakers included but connecting professional studio monitors is a whole different story. There are many things that I don’t know and to learn, I have to watch YouTube tutorials. Hearing the instructors clearly makes all the difference and I can focus much longer. 4K monitors display incredibly sharp fonts and enable me to work longer without straining my eyes. What’s the take-away? It’s all about the equipment you use. At the end of the day, the right equipment reduces stress and makes me much more productive.
The third and last portion of this blog post is about my computer background. Without it, all of the above would be kind of useless.
What do I know
Back in the 90’s, my life was very different from what it is now. My first computer was an Atari ST which I specifically bought to connect to a Korg synthesizer. In the 90’s MIDI was a big thing and in a way, it still is. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and allowed software to control a physical instrument if it was equipped with at least an MIDI input port.
I consider MIDI my turning point and I was very excited about the technology which, by today’s standards, was actually barbaric. Regardless, connecting a music instrument to a computer made me thing different and laid the foundation for everything I do today. Like many back then, I too upgraded to the latest equipment and with every upgrade, I built up my knowledge. Less than 10 years later, this lead to a sales job with big blue. Imagine that for a moment. From the music stage to mighty IBM and all of that on a self-taught basis. It was then that one of the techs introduced me to RedHat Linux and in a sense, made me discover “MIDI” all over again.
Just like MIDI changed the way I saw music, Linux changed the way I saw computing. Needless to say, I was excited. Since then, almost 30 years went by and I have carved out a living with what I have learned. During all those times, I knew a good thing when I saw one and because of that, I know that KaOS is special and worth while investing my time in.
A Linux distribution is worthless without documentation
I want to finish this article with something that many overlook. Linux is developing at a fast pace and because of that, the documentation that some distros provide is often outdated. A while ago, I posted a network file sharing related question on a support forum and the only useful reply I got was a WIKI link that warned right at the top that the information is outdated. I am happy to say that the makers of KaOS provide quality information that is easy to find and up-to-date.
If you are looking for a polished Linux distro then check out the documentation first. Look at the screenshots and live boot it a few times. The more I look into KaOS, the better I feel about it. KaOS has almost all of the tools that I need and in time, I am sure that I will find a suitable backup solution for my data. Taking all of the above in consideration, I give KaOS a solid 5 out of 5 star rating. If you want a beautiful cutting-edge Linux distribution then check out KaOS. If you find a better distro, then tell me about it by leaving a comment. Thank you for reading. – v