Sidux: KDE strapped on to the side of Debian's Sid repository
Debian is a distribution that takes a very mature and stable approach to application inclusion. New packages must first prove themselves in an experimental repository known as Sid (a little like Mandriva's Cooker and Fedora's Rawhide). This is where Sidux comes in.
It's a KDE-based distro that uses the Sid repository for packages, created by people who love the melting pot of Sid with the aim of releasing 3–4 snapshots of the Sid repositories each year, complete with the latest version of KDE.
Sidux has taken the brave step of changing the appearance of the default KDE desktop, and the black-and-red plastic appearance that the Sidux art team have come up with works well. It's also based around SVG, so it should look just as good regardless of the screen resolution you're using.
But perhaps the boldest decision is opting to use the original KDE menu system rather than the new one that annoys most people. The custom installer is fantastic, and it took under five minutes to create a permanent installation on our hard drive, which must be something of a record.
After that, the new desktop is identical to the old one. The default web browser is Iceweasel, in line with Debian, but neither this nor the installed OpenOffice.org has any concessions in their themeing to accommodate KDE style icons and file requesters.
Thanks to its use of the Sid repository, upgrading from one version to the other is accomplished through the apt-get dist-upgrade command, but it's a pity that there's no simple GUI to perform the same task. The result is a no-nonsense desktop that's going to appeal to experienced KDE users, but may feel a little austere for new users.
With pervasive desktop search and a constant stream of new packages, Sidux is a good power-user choice. Mandriva is a good choice for those chasing Gnome stability with a little KDE magic.
Mandriva One: One of the oldest distributions still selecting KDE as the default option
Despite the fact that Mandriva One now offers a choice of KDE or Gnome desktop, Mandriva remains largely a KDE shop, as it has been since 1998 and the days of KDE 1.0. But this doesn't mean you always get a trailblazing KDE experience.
Mandriva has always taken the more mature and stable route, and this means it often tries to tame the more wayward of KDE's new ideas. With Mandriva One, this means you get an opaque panel that could have come from KDE 3.5, a Mandriva theme that uses the Ia-Ora widget style to look like Gnome circa 1.5, and a launch menu that could have come from Windows 95.
One feature from a more innocent age is the morphing of KDE's Desktop Folder Plasmoid into a complete desktop. You can now drag files and folders on to the desktop, and the real thing will move to the Desktop directory rather than the Plasmoid link that's the default behaviour in KDE 4.
There's also a good selection of Plasmoids, and Mandriva tries hard by including a working Google Gadget option from the Plasmoid activator window.
Behind the scenes, you still get the excellent graphical system configuration tools, fantastic package management and Mandriva stability if you stay away from Google Gadgets. It would be nice to know you could upgrade to the latest KDE when it's released, but Mandriva would rather you updated your distribution than provide even semi-official packages for an update.
But best of all, Mandriva is the only distro to include the following line in its online documentation: "Our planet is beautiful, please do as much as possible to protect it."
Mandriva is a good choice for those chasing Gnome stability with a little KDE magic.