I am getting SO DISGUSTED with Ubuntu

Asked by Jim (JR) Harris


Ref: My blog post titled "An Open Letter to Canonical and the Ubuntu Team."
(Please read and comment)

Ubuntu's primary Claim to Fame - and what has lifted it to the top of the popularity list for Linux distributions - was it's primary emphasis on usability instead of the Latest and Greatest whizz-bang features.

The Linux community is both broad and vast - there is a distribution for just about every taste imaginable - from the micro-Linux to the monolithic "everything but the kitchen-sink" monster distro's; from the most experimental "bleeding edge" distributions for the most daring Uber Geek to those distributions that focus on usability.

I have tried many different Linux distributions for varying reasons over the years and I settled on Ubuntu for one simple reason: I have a job to do - and it's often difficult enough to do what is needed without having to jump through the roadblocks and hoops imposed by those distributions who don't know better, or just don't care.

Up until recently, Ubuntu has been my favorite distribution because "it just works". Period. In fact, I praised Ubuntu in a previous posting on my blog as the *ONLY* Linux distribution that I would be willing to install on my wife's computer - or even the computer run by my sainted mother of 70+ years.

And why? Like I said before, it just works. You didn't have to be an uber geek to use it. Of course, if you wanted to get your hands dirty and poke around under the hood, that was available too.

Unfortunately, in the latest distributions, Ubuntu has sadly fallen away from this high standard of excellence. In fact, perusing the various blogs and posts, I have noticed an increasing disdain toward "dumbing down" Ubuntu.

There seems to be an increasing emphasis on moving toward a more "edgy" (bad pun !) distribution model, sacrificing the usability that has been Ubuntu's hall-mark for years.

I have a number of beefs with Ubuntu, but I will place at the Ubuntu Community's feet the two that I think are the worst of the bunch: Grub2, and the new GUI interface.

Note that I am referring to my own installed distribution - 10.04 LTS.

Back when Men were Men, and Linux was Linux, we had LILO as the primary boot-loader. It was difficult, annoying, and a pain in the tush, but it was what we had so we sucked-it-up and did the best we could with a bad situation.

Then, in a Stroke of Genius, someone came up with the Grub boot loader. Not only was it a miracle of simplicity compared to the abomination that was LILO, it was a miracle of simplicity in it's own right. Edits and configuration changes were as simple as editing a few lines in the menu.list file.

It's basic simplicity and ease-of-use resulted in virtually Every Distribution Known To Man immediately depreciating LILO and switching /en masse/ to Grub.

In fact, over 99.9999999(. . . . .)99999% of the existing distributions *STILL* use Grub for just that reason. Even the most experimental and Bleeding Edge distro's still use Grub.

Unique among all distributions, Ubuntu and Ubuntu alone, has decided to switch to Grub2 despite the fact that Grub2 is probably one of the most difficult boot-loaders I have ever had the misfortune to come across.

It resurrects everything that was Universally Hated and Despised about LILO, and it does it with a vengeance! Not only does one have to go edit obscure files located in remote parts of the file-system, one has to edit - or pay attention to - several different files located in different places, presumably doing different tasks in different ways. And one cannot edit simple menu lists, one has to create entire shell scripts to add a single boot entry. Even LILO wasn't that gawd-awful.

It is so bizarre that even the foremost author on Grub, Dedoimedo - the author of the definitive Grub tutorial - mentions in his tutorial on Grub2:

Warning! GRUB 2 is still beta software. Although it already ships with Ubuntu flavors, it is not yet production quality per se.

And when discussing the question of migrating to Grub2, he says:

Currently, GRUB legacy is doing fine and will continue for many more years. Given the long-term support by companies like RedHat and Novell for their server distributions, GRUB legacy is going to remain the key player. . . . .

And to put the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake, he says:

Just remember that GRUB 2 is still beta.... so, you must exercise caution. What's more, the contents and relevance of contents in this tutorial might yet change as GRUB 2 makes [it] into. . . production.

(Ref: http://www.dedoimedo.com/computers/grub-2.html )

This is oh, so true! Even the existing Ubuntu tutorials on Grub2 don't match current, shipping configurations - which makes attempts to edit Grub2's boot configuration more difficult - even for seasoned pro's at configuration edits.

Why, oh why, did Ubuntu have such an absolutely asinine brainstorm is totally beyond me.

The new GUI:

The ultimate goal of any Linux distribution - especially Ubuntu - is to encourage cross-over adoption by users of other - proprietary - operating systems. And when we talk about cross-over adoption from other operating systems there are only two others of significance: Windows and Mac.

Mac users don't see their platform as a computer or an operating system; to them it is virtually a religion - with the rest of us being the poor, pitied, un-saved heathen that we are. Expecting them to drop Salvation according to Jobs in favor of Linux is just silly. Especially now that they can crow that they have their own 'nix O/S.

So, the best and most obvious choice for cross-over adoption are those users who use the various flavors of Windows.

Microsoft's licensing and activation paradigms have become so onerous and expensive that *entire national governments* as well as several states here in the US, (ex. Massachusetts for one), have completely abandoned Windows in favor of Open Source solutions.

"It is intuitively obvious. . . .", (as my Calculus professor used to say), that Ubuntu should be in a position to garner the lion's share of these cross-over users, right? And the obvious move to encourage this would be to make the target interface as friendly and familiar as possible. Right?

So - what does Ubuntu do to encourage Windows user cross-over? They have gone to great lengths to make their user interface as Mac-like as they possibly can, short of being sued by Apple! As if Mac-izing the GUI will cause legions of Apple users to abandon The True Faith and jump on the Ubuntu bandwagon. . . . .

Brilliant move Ubuntu! Encourage Windows cross-overs by plopping them into a completely alien user interface!

In summary:

Ubuntu's original claim to fame was the attempt to de-mystify Linux and make it increasingly usable by heretofore non-Linux users. Canonical and the move by Ubuntu's leadership away from these ideals is, in my humble opinion, a huge mistake with potentially disastrous consequences for both Ubuntu in particular and Linux as a whole.

What say ye?


p.s. My apologies if this rant is in the wrong place. I was just un-sure where to place it.

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Jim (JR) Harris (jimrh) said :

Here is another shining example of the "choices" that Ubuntu offers:

Ref: Question #149356 (Boot Ubuntu 10.04 without the GUI enabled?)

In an attempt to research the failure modality for yet another question - (#148866 - Memory leak in Nautilus?) - I have been trying to figure out how to get Ubuntu to boot into a clean "Run-level 3" upon request at boot time - without the display resolution being microscopic - and as far as I can tell, that's darn near impossible.

Especially since Ubuntu has - apparently - depreciated the concept of a run-level, and has blithely assumed that anyone using the "desktop" version of Ubuntu will never want to use anything but the GUI.

When I was using other distributions - Fedora for example - I could pass a runlevel parameter as a part of the kernel command-line (. . . . - - 3) to force a generic text-mode startup without the GUI loaded. I could even make multiple kernel startup entries in Grub - some using the GUI, others using runlevel 3.

I have found several postings all over the Internet where people are fuming over the inability to do something as basic and simple as change a run-level.

Now I understand full well that any distribution needs to set some kind of sane and reasonable default behaviors and setting them to conform to the needs of the largest body of users is absolutely correct.

The issue here is when the distribution - instead of letting the user choose a different behavior if needed, makes clearly unwarranted assumptions about what the user wants to have (can you say "Microsoft!" ?), instead of letting him choose freely. Microsoft and Apple already do that, we don't need this from Linux.

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Raymond Trim (raytrim83) said :

So exactly what is your point. If you want to act the Geek then I am sure there are plenty of distros out there for you to work on. In the meantime those of us who just want an operating system to run our perhaps more mundane computing activities are quite happy with Ubuntu and the way it works. After all it is a free choice - you are not forced to use Ubuntu.

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Jim (JR) Harris (jimrh) said :


To a great extent, I absolutely agree - Ubuntu is a great distro, which is why I use it. . . .

I think Ubuntu has enough promise to actually "bitch" about it's shortcomings rather than just tell 'em to bloody 'naff-off and go somewhere else.

The issues I raise represent (IMHO) fundamental issues of usability that should be, and rightly so, on the radar of ANY distribution that's worth it's salt.

Hopefully, if enough people raise these issues, maybe something will happen to ameliorate them.

And no, I'm not playing the geek - I am actually working hard to try to find out what's going on in support of an actual bug that has the potential of affecting everyone.

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Phillip Susi (psusi) said :

This really belongs on the forums rather than in a question.

As for grub2, it is now getting very close to being production release instead of beta. It also is to grub what grub was to lilo. There are a number of problems with grub that could not be solved without a total rewrite, which is why it was abandoned and grub2 was born. It is true that customizing its config is no longer as simple as editing its main config file, but editing the default or custom file isn't much different. In return, grub2 "just works" much better than grub legacy. It auto detects other linux distros and adds them to the menu, it auto detects when you are booting from raid and/or lvm and just works with that, and with Natty it starts up in your monitor's native resolution instead of old vga text mode, which makes it look nicer and eliminates the screen flicker of switching resolutions when the kernel is loaded. Also there are about a dozen configurations that would lead grub legacy to completely break and give you an unbootable system, and there was no good way around it, and these have been fixed with grub2.

As for booting into console mode, simply add the "text" kernel boot parameter. Runlevels work in fedora because they are still using the crappy old sysV init, which is also why it takes much longer to boot up than Ubuntu. Upstart also does recognize the sysV "single" or "s" runlevels.

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Jim (JR) Harris (jimrh) said :

@ Phil

You are, in all likelihood, entirely correct. I just haven't found a forum entry for "Asinine things that Ubuntu/Canonical have done"

And you are also right - I do apologize for the rant - up to a point.

Further research on Upstart has convinced me that it is a step in the right direction - except that (at the present time) it is so abysmally difficult to manage - if at all - that unless you are running a plain-vanilla system, it's more trouble than it's worth.

IMHO - even though Upstart might be (ultimately) a good idea, the complete lack of management infrastructure and system configuration tools for it renders it virtually impossible for even a knowledgeable sysadmin to configure a system as he may need it to be configured.

Re: "Ugly VGA text modes"
Hey! I *LIKED* those "ugly text modes" when running without the GUI. My previous systems were configured to have two different startup configurations: Start with GUI or start without GUI to a full-sized text terminal. The present solution switches the display resolution to my monitor's "native resolution" very early in the boot process, so that any text login I get is so small that I have a great deal of trouble reading it.

Seriously, it's rather difficult for me to use a text screen where I have to use a Bausch & Lomb hand-held magnifier to read the text.

Re: Screen flicker. My screen flickers more NOW, than it did at any time before. I get at least five-or-six screen flashes - jumping horizontal bars - and other artifacts during both the boot process and while my desktop is building.

So, with respect to what I have and what I see, Ubuntu seems to have made great strides backwards with all these "improvements" that appear to do nothing more than make things more difficult than they have to be.

I still like Ubuntu, and I really hesitate to totally bail on it to other distro's. However, frustration reigns supreme - not only with me, but by dozens, if not hundreds of other users, based on the web searches I've done.

It is my sincere wish that the Ubuntu folks take a good hard look at some of this stuff.

What say ye?


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Launchpad Janitor (janitor) said :

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