2011-10-24

Ubuntu 11.10: A mistake

So, yesterday I took a chance and gave in to my laptop's repeated requests to upgrade to the newly released Ubuntu 11.10.

This was a mistake.

Bjarni vs. Ubuntu Upgrades

The upgrade procedure went smoothly at first. I even paused it a couple of times (using killall -STOP oneiric dpkg and killall -CONT to restart) while I changed networks, and it just kept chugging. Nice.

However, near the end when I wasn't even doing anything funny, it had a proxy-related problem downloading the (non-free) Flash-player plugin. At that point, the upgrade tool just bailed out, leaving my laptop in an unknown state.

Uh oh...

I tried to restart the upgrade tool, but it claimed my laptop was already up to date. So I rebooted it and was greeted by the new Unity user interface.

I felt a moment of hope. I mean surely Ubuntu wouldn't have left my computer in an unusable state just because a proprietary 3rd party installer failed? This is Linux, it's reliable! Right?

Bjarni vs. Unity

Unity is pretty and it does some clever things, making very good use of my netbook's precious screen real-estate. It has improved dramatically since I last saw it.

But... it also introduces some bone-headed retarded things, which seem to be taken straight from the Mac OS X world (Mac fans may think the Mac is the pinnacle of usability, but I left that world for good reasons). So very soon after going "ooh pretty", I found myself swearing at my laptop and looking for a way to reconfigure it so it would stop getting in my way. Except, like on the Mac, most of the UI settings had been hidden or omitted.

I finally found and installed ccsm, the Compiz Config Settings Manager, which after another brief moment of elation, proved so buggy that I had to resort to the ctrl-alt-backspace kill switch to regain control of my laptop. Not nice.

So I did what every geek does in moments like this: I complained on Twitter. Moments later Gwibber, Ubuntu's social networking bloatware, happily echoed my complaints back at me. My desktop was mocking me.

Dammit! I uninstalled you last time, Gwibber, what are you doing back again?? apt-get remove!!

When apt-get warned me it was also going to remove ubuntu-desktop, I assumed the Ubuntu engineers weren't idiots and that was just a meta-package used to pull in all the programs needed by their default desktop configuration. And hell, if it was important I'd just re-install it.

Oops.

Once again, my faith was misplaced and that command killed Unity completely. Reinstalling the package didn't fix it either, the desktop was just gone. Wow.

I tried a bunch of other window managers, including Gnome 3 and the awesome window manager (which I quite liked) and slowly came to the conclusion that my laptop was just hosed. The Network Manager was borked. Some random app would sometimes steal all the mouse clicks. On one of dozens of reboots, I got a kernel panic so bad I had to remove the battery to get my computer to restart.

I gave up and went to sleep.

Bjarni vs. Ubuntu

For me, this was the last straw.

Linux is supposed to just work and respect my wishes as the user. Foisting half-baked updates on me that break my laptop and ruin my productivity is not what I want from a distribution.

Remember, this wasn't my idea: every day my laptop popped up a dialog, begging me to upgrade. I gave in, said yes, and it broke my computer.

Ubuntu seems to have lost its way and I cannot honestly recommend it anymore, to anyone - which is profoundly disappointing as Ubuntu has been the poster-child for Linux on the desktop.

The last Long Term Support release, Ubuntu 10.04, was really quite good. Some spit and polish, upgrading a few apps to modern releases and we'd have had a winner. But instead Ubuntu threw out the stuff that worked and replaced it with shiny garbage. And no, they don't get to blame Gnome 3 or Compiz or anyone else. If those packages are not ready for prime-time, a quality distro will stick with something that is. Putting together an OS that works is the distro's job, and Ubuntu failed at that. Again. They have only 6 months to get in shape for their next LTS release, 12.04, and I see little reason to expect good things.

I wonder what desktop distro I should recommend instead? Mint?

I've left a spare partition free on my computer for testing other distributions, but for now I just want to get back to work...

Bjarni <3 Debian

Having finally given up on Ubuntu, I backed up my home directory and installed Debian 6, using the LXDE Live CD.

LXDE was nice and fast, but I ended up removing it and going back to awesome, NetworkManager and some familiar Gnome 2.x tools which I have become comfortable with. I combined them together using the following .xinitrc file (symlinked to .Xsession):

gnome-settings-daemon & 
gnome-screensaver &
gnome-volume-control-applet &
gnome-power-manager &
gnome-volume-manager &
nm-applet --sm-disable &
pidgin & 

exec awesome

Note that awesome doesn't even pretend to be user friendly. It is a true geek's window manager that makes you edit a lua program just to configure it. But it is fast, lets me organize my work environment and then just gets the hell out of my way. Good software.

I also added the following to /etc/apt/sources.list to get access to the Mozilla Firefox Aurora channel, which currently gets me a nice Firefox 9 pre-release:

# This should be one line:
deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/ubuntu-mozilla-daily/
    firefox-aurora/ubuntu/ lucid main

To install I ran:

sudo apt-key adv --keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com \
                 --recv-keys EF4186FE247510BE
apt-get update
apt-get install firefox

And now my computer is awesome again!

I am running two instances of Firefox 9 (each with a bunch of tabs, including 2 GMails and Twitter), Pidgin for chat, multiple terminals and I still have 0.5G of RAM free, out of 1G total. WiFi works. Suspend/resume works. Icelandic and Polish keyboard layouts work. Sound works. It's fast and snappy - like a real computer!

So that's it. Good-bye, Ubuntu.

Hello Debian!


Update: I'll be listing other packages which make a difference here:

  • xfonts-terminus - a readable font that lets me fit two 80 column terminals side-by-side on my 1024px wide laptop screen.
Tags: tech


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