Achtung: this is one of those bad-mood posts i prefer to avoid writing, but the Ubuntu project needs a bit of a verbal thrashing…
i’ve been a happy, dedicated Ubuntu user since i left Kubuntu when they switched from KDE 3 to KDE 4 (which was, and still is, utterly useless as a work environment). i had been a happy, dedicated Kubuntu user since switching from Suse. i had been a happy, dedicated Suse user since the summer of 1998, shortly after i moved to Germany, and only left them because their package management tools simply got atrociously bad (i’m sure they have since gotten better, but once you’ve used apt-get and friends you can’t ever go back to an RPM-based system). Before Suse i would use various distros and had no real favourite (i started using Linux in 1994). i think i was using Slackware most of the time back then.
When Ubuntu 11.04 came out i diligently upgraded. “Upgrade,” he says! Upgrade!!! Right! It was supposed to be an upgrade! But the Ubuntu project went with some eye-candy desktop environment with the same core properties as KDE4: it looks beautiful but is absolutely useless as a work environment. i need a WORKstation, not a PLAYstation (that’s what my GameBoy is for). So i back-revved (upgraded!) 11.04 to 10.10 and was once a happy, dedicated Ubuntu user.
And then came 11.10, and i felt compelled to try it out. BAD IDEA! Not only does it have that same goddamned Mac-like user interface, they’ve moved the app menu to the top of the screen. Steve Jobs isn’t dead - he went to work for Ubuntu.
I HATE HAVING THE MENU ON THE TOP OF MY SCREEN. After reading several blog posts about how to remove it, nothing worked. So i installed the LXDE desktop on it, which is actually quite nice but has the fatal flaw that it cannot properly do multi-head (or it has no tool for setting it up like Ubuntu and friends have). My netbook (my only PC) gets continually moved between two different external monitors and i need a work environment which can do that. Ubuntu handled that beautifully, without any restarting or other Windows/Firefox-like behaviour. So LXDE is ruled out.
At this very moment i’m running the LiveCD version of Mint Linux, and it’s installing as i’m writing this (try doing that in Windows or Mac!).
GOODBYE, UBUNTU! i once loved you, but this betrayal is too much. i cannot live with a menu stuck at the top of my screen and a desktop with which i cannot work. Even in “Gnome Classic” mode that goddamned menu sits at the top of my screen, continually taunting me. i can’t have my PC taunting me, so off you go, back to the toybox where your Unity desktop belongs.
The installer is finished now, so it’s now time to go get all my packages installed and whatnot. What a waste of time. This type of thing was fun 10 or 12 years ago, but i’m too old for that - i want a system which just works and keeps working. Kinda like Ubuntu did up until version 11.04.
Okay, it’s time to evangelize a bit…
The past few weeks i’ve been considering buying a netbook (sub-notebook). Not because i particularly need one, but because they’re so damned cute and they’re relatively cheap nowadays. In my various train trips i’ve always found a laptop too be more trouble than they’re worth - heavy, battery-hungry, and i only end up getting 1-2 hours of use out of them per trip. i figured with a smaller device i could once again justify taking my computing on the road with me.
This morning i got up and walked about 8 miles around town, visiting just about every computer/electronics shop in central Munich (about 12 shops in total). i found only one shop which had netbooks without Windows preinstalled, and those models had only 4GB of SSD storage. Since my Dropbox has about 14GB of stuff in it, i need at least that much space on my netbook. So i gave up on the idea of buying one which came without Windows, and figured i could use an external CD drive to install Linux on whichever one i ended up getting.
After going through about a dozen stores, i ended up buying an Acer Aspire One (colored dark blue). When i got home i started puting it together and was sorely disappointed to find that it cannot read my external CD drive (which i bought for my oldest laptop, which has a flaky internal drive, and which i use to install Linux on that laptop). After a bit of googling i found a page explaining how to transfer an Ubuntu installation CD to an SD card. Some more googling revealed Ubuntu-specific pages for getting an Acer Aspire One to work, and i was a bit underwhelmed at the amount of manual hackery which was reportedly needed to get it running (or running optimally). Not really interested in spending two days hacking to make it work, i decided to try a vanilla Ubuntu install using the SD card method “just to see what happens.”
An hour later, i was online with Ubuntu 9.04 on my new netbook. i’m writing this post from the netbook, in fact, and the only thing which bugs me so far is that there is no END key (you’ve got to tap Fn-PageDown to simulate the End key).
The Windows XP installation is still there (Simone insisted that i allow it to live, so that she can use it for some of her work-related activities), and everything’s living in harmony on the spacious 160GB drive.
What surprises me the most is:
- WLAN works as-is with no driver module parameter tweaks needed. i had noticed in the Windows setup that it has a Broadcom chipset, and i’ve heard bad things about them vis-a-vis Linux, so i didn’t expect it to work. Works for me, though perhaps a bit more slowly than i would expect. Update 2 May 2009: i take that back about being slow - my speed problems appear to have been transient in nature, and i’m now getting the speeds i would expect.
- Bluetooth works. i’ve just got to press the little Bluetooth button, the hardware activates, and Ubuntu starts up a bluetooth management tool which allows me to connect to, e.g., my mobile phone. i don’t use bluetooth at all, but i love that it works.
- Even on a tiny 1024×600 screen resolution, it looks damned good. Screen space is somewhat tight, but it looks surprisingly good nonetheless.
- OMG, the builtin webcam even works using Cheese (who’s author is one of the few OSS developers i’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person).
So, chalk another one up to the Ubuntu team. And to Linus. And Daniel (author of Cheese). And the tens of thousands of people who have hacked the OS and Gnome and all these other parts over the years.
Now let’s go read up on what the optional hacks for optimizing the Acer Aspire entail…
Since 1998 i’ve used Suse Linux religiously. It has been, since as long as i can remember, years ahead of other Linux distros in terms of desktop usability, configuration of system hardware and services, and maintaining a running system.
However… in the past several releases the software management tools (the ones which allow you to add/remove software and run system updates) seem to just get worse and worse. Simply starting up the “Software Management” tool from Yast now takes up to 5 minutes, because it re-downloads the lists of software from all registered software repositories on each load. i’ve got a 16mbit connection here and it still takes 5-10 minutes to fetch all of the data. i can’t imagine what the poor bastards who have an ISDN line, or slower, have to deal with. And installing a single package can take an hour or more while the tool “resolves dependencies” for an unpredictable, and seemingly arbitrary, amount of time. My guess is that Suse’s software management tools have code like sleep(rand()*rand()) placed in strategic locations.
The past two releases of Kubuntu (6.10 and 7.04) have convinced me that it is indeed time to abandon Suse. The *buntu family of OSes (Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Edubuntu, etc.) now have a set of tools which are similar to Yast, at least for basic needs, and are otherwise every bit as feature-complete as Suse. And the software management tools… the APT system has RPM beat hands down. Doing a full system update is trivial, and i’ve even seen Kubuntu download and install more than 200 packages (while upgrading from 6.10 to 7.04) in less time than it takes Suse 10.2 to install a single package update.
Is the package management enough of a reason to kick out my long-time mistress for a new one? After two years of fighting with Suse’s latest round of software management tools and waiting for them to get better… yes, it is. The time it takes to run a single update on Suse is atrocious (even in a best case it takes at least 5 minutes to update a single piece of software), and updates are something i like to run very often. With *buntu updates are painless and fast.
i have one PC which still has Suse on it, but it’s only still running Suse because my girlfriend makes heavy use of the system and i don’t want to pull the rug out from underneath her. One of these days soon, though, i’ll get around to moving her data over to the Kubuntu installation. She probably won’t even notice the difference, aside from the different login screen. i’ll certainly notice the difference, though.
Yast is still far ahead of *buntu in terms of configuring system hardware and important system services (e.g. printers, Samba, DHCP server, DNS server, etc.), but *buntu is catching up very quickly. And *buntu has the power of Debian’s apt-based tools behind it, which are so much more advanced than Suse’s that it’s not even fair to compare the two.
Suse is dead. Long live *buntu.
Strangely enough, a couple days after the above post was made, i found this related post:
Suse has announced that they are dropping their software update tools and opening their Yast tool to community development.
Another update: just to show off how easy and fast the Debian/*buntu package management tools can be:
i needed to install gimp… pay attention to how long it took to download everything:
root@owl:~# apt-get install gimp-data-extras gimp-print gimp-svg ... The following extra packages will be installed: gimp gimp-data libaa1 libgimp2.0 libwmf0.2-7 ... Need to get 10.6MB of archives. After unpacking 41.0MB of additional disk space will be used. ... Fetched 10.6MB in 7s (1398kB/s)
The installation took about another 15 or 20 seconds.