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And the Ubuntu Replacement is…

As I previously posted, I am unhappy with the direction that Ubuntu is headed in terms of quality control in their recent releases, nor do I like Unity. It seems like a poor choice for a desktop UI, and in its current state it’s essentially useless to me. The lack of reasonable support for multi-monitor setups makes it a non-starter. Add to that the fact that my upgrade to 11.10 on my work machine went fairly poorly, and I had had enough. So, I looked at Mint and Fedora as possible replacements. This is what I found.

Mint: A Thinking Man’s (green) Ubuntu

That heading pretty much sums it up. The version of Mint I tested (11, AKA Katya) is essentially a re-skinned Ubuntu, with a few custom apps thrown on top for flavor. I rather liked it. I found their “super menu” particularly nice to use. It’s like a bizarro-universe Ubuntu, where design choices were made that much more closely match the ones I would have made. I only ever used it in a VM, so I can’t speak to questions of performance and whatnot on bare metal, but I doubt there will be any surprises. Rather than repeat what has been said before, and very likely better than I would have said it, I would direct you over to Dedoimedo’s review of Katya. His opinion and conclusions closely mirror my own.

Fedora is still Redhat

Perhaps some perspective on where I’m coming from vis-à-vis Fedora is in order. I’ve never liked Redhat. RPMs just seem like a really poor packaging system. I know a lot of people use it, and some even claim to like it, but I’ve never seen the appeal. All the various tools that have been created to make dealing with them easier always just end up coming across as attempts at polishing a turd. So, after abandoning Redhat 7.3 (which I used despite my RPM aversion) for Gentoo, I pretty much ignored everything Redhat/Fedora until now. I went into this experiment hoping that things would be better, and you know what? They aren’t. Yum is still slow, still moves tons of data over the wire needlessly every time you do something rather than relying on local caching, still gets caught in weird lock states, and generally just sucks a lot more than APT. I somehow managed to get the system into some sort of a deadlock just by going into their update manager to see what updates were available after the initial installation. I managed to get it unwedged relatively easily, but it still required a few prayers to Google, stopping and restarting some Fedora-specific service I’m not familiar with (I assume it’s part of the update management system, but I didn’t check. I was looking a solution, not nuts and bolts!), and some ministrations with obscure Yum switches on the command line.

That said, the Gnome 3 desktop on Fedora 15 is awful pretty, and things generally have a nice fit and finish. If they could just make their package manager better, they’d have a contender. I also have to say I have a lot of respect for people in the Fedora community. They are really doing a lot of good work that is pushing the state of the art in Linux forward in meaningful ways. One of my favorites is Máirín Duffy. She is doing great stuff in the realm of design and usability that is far too often ignored in OSS. I really want to like Fedora, but every time I have to touch an RPM, I break out in hives. It’s not pretty.

Seems Obvious

So after those mini-reviews it should seem obvious, I’m going with Mint, right? Well, no. Not yet, anyway. While doing this research, I also kept futzing with Ubuntu, and I managed to fix the stability problems I was having. The two things that seemed to help the most was enabling the Gnome 3 Team PPA to get newer versions of Gnome 3 packages, and using the patched Upstart package available from the PPA listed in this comment on Launchpad. Those changes fixed the “showstopper” problems I had, and I’ve started to get used to Gnome 3. It’s not perfect, I still feel somewhat hamstrung, but unless I switch to KDE it seems Gnome 3 is the official Way Forward for the Linux desktop aside from Unity. It definitely has potential though, and historically speaking, the Gnome folks have done a good job of making decisions that meshed well with my computing priorities.

So, for now, I’m sticking with the Onerous Ocelot. I’m not real happy about it, but there you have it. Should something come up that would prompt me to do a bare-metal reload of this machine I’m totally putting Mint on instead, but barring that, I’m sticking where I am. Maybe 12.04 will start turning things around. I feel like I’m rationalizing the behavior of my abuser, but it’s not bad enough right this second to justify the amount of effort it would take to make the switch.

Posted in Tech.