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I Believe The Most Recent One Was Onerous Ocelot

Sad cat is sad.

The title of this post comes courtesy of my friend Larry. He said it in response to my tweet that I was fed up with Ubuntu’s flaky releases and had begun examining alternatives. A couple people also responded wanting to know more about what was prompting the change and what I’ve been considering moving to. I’m currently looking at Fedora and Linux Mint. I was going to look at Debian too, but it mysteriously failed during a test install in a VM, and that’s exactly the kind of baseline crap I’m trying to get away from. So for now, it’s off the list.

What prompted this change is a more complex story.

I’ve been a faithful Ubuntu user since the very beginning. I first installed Warty in November of 2004, not long after it had been released, and I’ve looked forward to every release since. I’ve often described it as “Debian with all the nastier bits filed off.”, and until recently that description held up pretty well. My computing priorities are that I have freedom with pragmatism, and modernity with stability. Ubuntu has given me that. Ubuntu felt like coming home. Ubuntu “got” me.

I think things started getting shaky with the 10.04 “Lucid Lynx” release. I remember noticing at the time that there was an awful lot of upgrade breakage and install issues, especially for an LTS release. But, I worked through them in fairly short order, and things quickly got back to normal. I continued working, happily ignoring the half-baked add-ons they included. Every following release seemed to subtly continue that trend of playing things just a bit fast and loose with quality control and consistency for the sake of getting the internal Ubuntu projects out there, and seemingly, to satisfy the whims of their developers. I won’t list them all here, for anyone who has followed Ubuntu, it will be familiar territory. For anyone else, it won’t be meaningful. For everyone, it will be boring. Suffice it to say that this was a “death of a thousand cuts” situation. Any one, or even a handful, of these things would have been innocuous. All together though, they gave me the distinct sense that all was not well with Ubuntu.

The first real crisis of faith though hit with 11.04, Natty Narwhal. That was the first release that shipped with Unity as the default interface. On my dear God, what a trainwreck that was for me. It was pretty, but utterly useless on a multi-monitor setup. Luckily, it was easy enough to revert to a “classic Gnome” desktop, and things went back to normal. “Ok…”, I said to myself, “They had to push this out at some point to make the transition. They did the smart thing and left it fairly easy to revert, so no real harm done.”. And now, we have Oneric Ocelot.

First, my upgrade mysteriously fails. I got bit by this known bug, which has the solution nicely laid out here. This is the first time I’ve had an upgrade fail with Ubuntu due to something that wasn’t my fault. Finally I can login, and I see the Unity again. Ugh. Still no better with multi-monitor. It seems that in the six months since 11.04, 100% of the dev time on this has been spent on sparkles and woosh. None of the usability improvements I would have expected are there. Ok, so back to Gnome classic for me. Oh wait, there is no Gnome classic. Oh sure, you can install gnome-panel, and get a sketchy approximation of the Gnome you know and love, but it’s badly crippled. So, Gnome 3 for me I guess…

Well, it’s not too bad actually. The default multi-monitor setup actually meshes fairly well with how I work.  And, I also get the joy of dealing with this bug in Nautilus. The bug has apparently been fixed though, so I guess that’s something. But I still have a dbus daemon that consumes 100% of my CPU unless I kill it. AND gnome-shell will randomly spike the CPU and have to be killed. AND about 50% of the time the lockscreen won’t come back so I can unlock my desktop. AND I apparently don’t have a screensaver anymore. AND everything takes more clicks than it used to. AND… I could go on. For the first time since they made the questionable choice of disabling ctrl-alt-backspace, I re-enabled it because things have become so crappy and unstable I actually need it to avoid forcibly powering down my machine to recover from some weird glitch.

Looking back, I think that Ubuntu and I have just been growing apart. I like that Ubuntu is keeping up with new stuff, but when that means taking away stability and features I count on, that just doesn’t work for me. I had thought about doing a clean install to see if enough of my gripes could be a result of a dodgy upgrade to make it worth staying. You know, sort of talk it out. But that’s really just a bandaid for a bigger problem. In looking for how to make Ubuntu work the way it used to behave, the way I want it to behave, I’m having flashbacks to my experiences in trying to force OSX to do what I want. Sure, I could spend a bunch of time and customize it to work in a way that makes sense to me, or I could learn a different way to work. But both of those things take an awful lot of time and effort I’d rather spend on other things.

It just feels like you don’t get me anymore Ubuntu, I think it’s time for us to start seeing other people.

Posted in Tech.


4 Responses

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  1. kbob says

    Quentin, I feel your pain.

    I graded one of my machines to 11.10. (Can’t call it an upgrade.) I put up with Gnome 3 “Classic” for about an hour, but never found the missing Settings menu. I put up with Unity for a whole day. I’ve been running xfce. aka Xubuntu. for the last week, but it grates on me too. I haven’t tried Gnome 3 non-Classic; it was my understanding it’s a lot like Unity. I don’t do one window at a time — I want about 10 visible most of the time.

    Right now, my plan is to wipe that machine and reinstall 11.04. That’ll take half a day, unfortunately, including backing up and restoring my home directory and . I’ll stay at 11.04 until it reaches end of support. At that time, I’ll either move to a different distro, or I’ll buy a Mac.

    • q says

      Gnome 3 is a lot like Unity, but only in fairly superficial ways. It doesn’t have the integrated menu a’la OSX (but I hear that’s coming…. ugh…) so it is more conducive to the many windows approach, which I also use. Anyway, it’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better. If it were more stable on my machine (can’t figure out what the problem is….) I would probably stick with it.

      • kbob says

        I followed through. Yesterday I wiped that laptop and installed Natty Narwhal (11.04). Turned off notification of new releases, too. This morning I made a list of ~180 additional packages I ought to have. I’ll install those today.

        I probably should have given GNOME 3 a chance, but I didn’t.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. And the Ubuntu Replacement is… – Feeding The Machine linked to this post on November 18, 2011

    […] I previously posted, I am unhappy with the direction that Ubuntu is headed in terms of quality control in their recent […]