Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage

Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage

Summary: Mr. Shuttleworth, Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.


Jason Perlow, ZDNet Sr. Technology Editor, searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all Linux operating systems have. Then an accidental overdose of half-baked user interface interferes with his unique mental state. And now, when Jason Perlow grows angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis occurs.


Ah, Ubuntu. You're my favorite Linux-based operating system.

When you work. When you don't raise my blood pressure to explosive levels and I don't want to smash everything around me.

Don't get me wrong. I love Linux. I need Linux. It's an essential part of my geek toolset that I cannot do without. Among other things, I use it to act as the base OS for my main virtualization workstation which I use to test and run other OSes on (including other Linux flavors) as well as to do business critical work with.

Over the years, I have chosen Ubuntu as the building block for my personal systems because I happen to prefer the Debian-based technology stack to that of Red Hat and SuSE's. And Canonical seemed to have a very good grasp of what end-users wanted in a desktop OS.

Ubuntu was easy to get up and running and to configure, and to get right down to business with.

Well, at least until I started using Natty Narwhal, version 11.04, the previous release.

Now, I knew that it was going to take some time to get used to the new Unity UI. It's a major departure from what most GNOME-based Linux distributions use, and unless you've used Mac OS X, you're going to find yourself extremely disoriented.

Look, I've been using Unity for the last six months, which is almost as long as I have been using Mac OS X, and I'm still completely disoriented.

I understand fully what Canonical is trying to do with the user interface, which is to make it palatable to Joe Average End User. I dig that, really. But there's no way to really customize your desktop and make it optimized for the way you work.

My main point of contention? The stupid, un-movable Unity Bar.

Now, the Unity Bar is a lot like the Dock in Mac OS X. Actually, it's more like the Dock in 1987-era NeXTStep, except that being configured by default with the launcher icons on the right of the screen, it's on the left. Progress!

Oh wait, not so much progress. You could actually dock the icons along the edge of the screen anywhere on NeXTStep.

I'm not sure what Canonical rocket scientist or half-assed billionaire space tourist decided that the Unity bar would not be able to move and that it needs to be permanently affixed to the left hand side. I don't know what focus groups they held or whatever other kind of justifying research they did to make the Unity bar a static UI element.

I maintain that whatever gathering of brilliant minds they picked out to come up with this stupid, unmovable interface element they all had to be smoking mind-stupefying drugs.

That, or someone figured out how the most expedient way of pissing off their entire user base would be so they could throw all of us under the bus in exchange for neophytes that would rather own Macs anyway. If that was the goal, it was pure genius.

It sounds like I am focusing way too much on the Unity bar. But if you use Ubuntu 11.10 every single day like I do, to do actual work, then you'd understand why I've doubled my dosage of Xanax.

I'm right handed, so the natural instinct is to pull my mouse or my trackball down and to the lower right or lower left into a "home" position and then scroll along the bottom where my "Start Menu" or main groupings of icons are.

This is by default how Mac OS X works, and it's also how Windows 7 works.

In Unity-enabled Ubuntu versions, however, it doesn't work like that. You have to scroll all the way over to the left and then roll up and down to launch the program you want.

It sounds like I'm nitpicking, but if you have to use this interface all the time, you'll start to really hate this way of doing things, particularly if you are using a desktop sharing program like Synergy2 and have the Ubuntu screen to the left of say, a Mac OS X display or a Windows 7 display.

How hard would it really be to add some code to move the damn Unity bar around? I mean jeez, even Apple's Mac OS X lets you move their Dock around. So does Microsoft Windows 7.

It feels like I am going backwards from what the vanilla GNOME 2.X UI had before, which was much more user configurable, and it has forced me to throw launcher icons on the desktop itself along the bottom of the screen so I can get to them easier.

I probably shouldn't go into the fact that to find any programs on your system, you have to hit the Windows key to get a search interface, and you just can't easily get to a master "All My Programs" list without going into the Search, to Filter Results, and select "All".

But you can't put an "All Programs" button on the Unity bar either. You can only drag them there one at a time. And you can't have any other folders on the Unity bar other than the Home Folder, which is hardcoded.

Sure, you can drag folders and programs and files onto the desktop, but that sort of makes the Unity bar pointless.

The Unity bar isn't the only thing that turns me into a raging lunatic. The Mac-style context menus also infuriate the living hell out of me.

However, they wouldn't drive me so batty if they actually worked like Mac context menus.

See, in Ubuntu Unity, they only appear if you actually move your mouse up to the top of the screen when the foreground application is running. Otherwise, they're invisible and all you see at the top of the screen is a blank bar, with the name of the foreground application on the left.

On a Mac, they always show, so you know where to get to a particular application function at any time. It's a nice mnemonic interface device that PEOPLE HAVE BEEN USING SINCE WE HAD GUIs.

Okay, so you've probably gotten the suggestion that I think the Ubuntu 11.x UI sucks gophers out rusty tailpipes. And you could make the point that I could stop my bitching and complaining use some other alternate version of Ubuntu or go back to the "Classic" mode or use some Ubuntu-like distro like Mint.

But I don't want to have to use an alternative re-spin of Ubuntu, because I want to learn how to use what the "mainstream" end-user for Ubuntu is supposed to be using. As a tech journalist that actually covers Linux as part of the regular cornucopia of subjects I look at regularly, I believe I am actually obligated to do this.

However, the User Interface in Ubuntu Oneiric Ocelot (or shall I say Obnoxious Orangutan?) is not my only problem.

My other problem is that since 11.04, I haven't been able to do a distribution upgrade cleanly. Indeed, when 11.10 came out two weeks ago, the nice little upgrade reminder popped up in the package manager, and it downloaded all the files when I told it to update to the new version. And it installed all the packages.

And then when I tried to reboot all hell broke loose. The console started spitting out all kinds of errors about missing files.

Apparently, after some research, I found out that people who had recently upgraded to VMWare Workstation 8.0 and attempted the 11.10 upgrade on Ubuntu 11.04 systems were hosed, because a bunch of numbnutzes at the Fedora Project (and thus the rest of Linux distrodom) thought it would be a good idea to move /var/run and /var/lock to /run and /run/lock respectively, which screwed up important symbolic links and caused the system to end up in a hung state.

I ended up spending the afternoon using a rescue disk trying to figure out how to fix the symbolic links and the locked files, to no avail. The only thing I could do is copy out all my data to my nfs NAS drive, format my workstation with a virgin Ubuntu 11.10, and copy my data back, with my VMs and all.

And of course I had to re-install VMWare and my other 3rd-party programs, which sucked.

This may sound like VMWare-specific weirdness, which I thought it might have been. But even my wife's Ubuntu 11.04 laptop, pretty much a straight up regular Ubuntu install with Chrome stable added also failed to upgrade properly and I had to do a complete re-install. And boy was my wife pissed.

So in summary, I am still a Linux user. I am still an Ubuntu user. But I am filled with rage. Mr Shuttleworth, Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

Topics: Hardware, Open Source, Operating Systems


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage

    I downloaded and installed 11.x a few months ago onto an old desktop that I wanted to use. It worked fine and I was happy with it. I was so happy with it that I then decided to upgrade my dear mum's pc with the same. What a disaster. First ti told me Unity wouldn't work, which was fine, but then I couldn't see large parts of the gui. I tried to reinstall but to no avail. After a Saturday of grumbling and swearing at the computer, I went down the road and purchased a family pack Windows 7 HP and installed that - perfect. Seeing as I had this family pack, I then installed it on the working Ubuntu desktop. Ahhh...so easy, and it works. 3 hours to do both computers including updates. Free isn't always free, if you include a sunny Saturday spent inside.
    • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage


      Interesting. I got so sick and tired of the performance of my Windows Vista notebook that I installed Ubuntu 11.04. Unity would not work, but the machine was a dream to install and use compared to Windows.

      You can say that Win 7 is better than Vista, and it is. But, free works well for me on two machines. Win 7 works pretty well on another. We can all have a bad experience with any OS installation, even Mac, but I would not generalise from there.
      • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage


        I set up a dual boot of Ubuntu Notebook on a P4 laptop with 1GB RAM. I figured it would run reasonably fast as a browser box. No joy, it runs about the same as Win 7 32 Ultimate/ IE 9 and takes longer to boot up and shut down
      • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage

        @jorjitop Try LXDE or XFCE. It's a lighter DE so will free more resources for your apps. It will also allow your CPU to run slower so uses less power = longer battery life on a laptop
      • Use Mint or Mandriva and you wont look back at Ubuntu

        Unity is wasted effort.
    • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage

      Next time consider Mint Linux.... should not be a problem one to install or use.
    • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage


      You mentioned downloading and installing 11.x on an old desktop. What if I want to do this on my laptop, and yet double-boot it with Windows 7? It seems risky, as it puts my data under the guillotine, but otherwise, how do I do so?
      • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage

        @shashwat1e4 Try a good backup first? You DO have backups don't you?
    • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage

      @TKR1 With me , MS always be number one <a title="magento themes" href="http://galathemes.com/">magento themes</a>
    • Problem Solved.

      @TKR1 <br>I was not terribly thrilled with Unity till one person suggested AWN & another suggested Cairo Dock (through this comments section). I installed Cairo & am also very pleased with AWN. With the Cairo Dock I am am very happy.<br>Now the GOOD old Ubuntu is back.<br><br>Its time a Google Ubuntu Remix is introduced. Goobuntu
      • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage

        @IndianArt Google does indeed have it's own Ubuntu Remix. The funny thing is that the internal name of it is Goobuntu:

        It's not mainstream though, and it's only used inside Google.
    • Another solution from Jo-Erlend Schinstad


      Another solution from Jo-Erlend Schinstad: ???However, if you just want a window switcher at the bottom of the screen, then you can easily get that with Unity. We have several panels to choose from, like xfce4-panel, which you can install by following this link: http://apt.ubuntu.com/p/xfce4-panel. When it is installed, you can run it by pressing alt+f2 and typing xfce4-panel. If you want to keep using it, then you???ll want to add that command to your startup applications. If you want to see a screenshot, here you go:http://ubuntuone.com/0X1JuF6HRTwEb5U1JyIk1D
      . As you can see, it???s perfectly possible and easy to have both.???
  • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage

    That's one scary photo! Happy Halloween, Jason.

    But getting back to Linux (specifically, Ubuntu) Ok, so they "goofed" big time with the dock. And, they "goofed" big time with the update. So, you spent many pleasant fall hours restoring your past systems and not getting any real work or play done.

    So? What's your point. Now you have become a true Linux Ubuntu Geek "Wise Man". You have become the envy of all who still use a CLI to interface with a computing device. Welcome back to the days of MS-DOS and local tech gurus able to help solve any and all IT issues. You will be much in demand.

    Unfortunately, the rest of humanity (except for the few who still use a desktop Linux distro) have moved on to other, more useful, OS and GUI platforms and we will not be able to share in your Linux successes and triumphs except vicariously thru your blog posts.
    • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage

      @kenosha7777 dude, I can't write about apple stuff all the time. Sometimes the pure geek articles are necessary for me to keep my street creds with the other neckbeards.
      • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage

        Ever try Ubuntu Ultimate? They believe in the Gnome interface which I believe is most suitable next to KDE. It comes loaded with a bunch of stuff but that can always be removed if wanted. I've been a Ultimate user for years now and have been very happy. When Ubuntu announced that they were ditching Gnome I was very pleased to still be running ultimate. It may be worth checking out... ultimateedition.info
      • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage


        More cred if the only thing on your silly bar is terminal. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the new GUI, but that's not why you get Linux. It's stable and it works. Our VMs have updated distro to distro without issue, though. So, if it's a VMware issue, it's only a VMware issue if you're running Ubuntu on the host. For that matter, if you're running virtualized, why not load the LTS as your host and play with the newer releases as virtual machines?
      • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage

        Did you also mention about their dawn upon decision to restrict, exactly as Apple has, the customization, font resizing etc, of you desktop. All one can do is, like on Macs, to change the resolution to a lower one to appear it bigger. This was still possible in Natty.... but now... Common... don't be just a lame copycat... that too a feature that serves primarily to a company, not to an end user. Trying to keep the job of keeping a desktop being aesthetically appealing/inviting to especially those who are already in the fold (Apple users) by exerting the same hated "control" that drives people away from the same fold is, to my mind, is not a good decision. I don't think that business compulsions shall bring in such a change that the basic principle and philosophy is compromised.

        I sit far from my 28" monitor and need fonts and icon bigger. But can't do in this without changing resolution. For me to make it comfortable to read, the resolution needs to be brought down considerably, which would result in the real estate loss depending upon application I use. This alone is good enough reason for me to get back to GNOME. For experiencing something new and usable are the reasons I have been on Unity despite of vertical sync issues etc. But if get similar experiences that drove me crazy before and compelled to look at the world of Linux for the solutions, it would be a sad day for me. The only solace is, there are many more options. Let us see how many more get crazy about.

        Your complain with the static (foolish) bar is just... Other than that, similar to the inflexible resolution, desktop bar, because Canonical can manage things easier ways, now I have to be contend with the keyboard layout they provide in the system settings.... and feel annoyed why I had to spend more money on a better keyboard with more functionality. They simply don't work.

        To be fair, I find some of the behaviors of Unity quite likable e.g., its minimal design and intuitive appearance/disappearance depending on ones' needs. That is what desktop are for. One of the main requirement is that it shall appear when the user "thinks/needs" and disappears in the background when a user is "busy".

        Anyways, enough rants.... but I feel these rants are one of the symptoms a good Doctor shall be able to observe and diagnose correctly to get rid of the disease. Otherwise, only those would survive who are "fittest" or more adaptable.
    • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage - agree!!!

      Ubuntu to me is as far removed from the real modern day Linux experience as Andriod. Only difference is that Andriod is actually improving!
      Move on. There are many other non Ubuntu type distros out there that will put you back in touch with the real Linux experience. O, and please stop feeding the M$ and iFake trolls! ;-)
      Johan Safari
    • Courses for Horses

      Courses for Horses in the operating system (OS) world. Use the different computer OS???s for the right uses.

      I???ve come to the conclusion that Windoze will always be the preferred office and home desktop for 90 % of companies and home users. That will not change in the foreseeable future. Those who need professional systems for audio and media design will use Macs. Servers will become mostly Linux. The distros will merge more and more to mainly CLI only and used in the server rooms.

      I stopped using Windoze 7 years ago for obvious reasons - as I have to actually be productive when I work; no time to be oppressed and mishandled by an OS! I use MacBookPro for a desktop and RH/OS/Debian/Ubuntu for servers on hardware and virtual machines without any UI. Linux Desktops are a waste of time for average office users, home users and gamers in a MS world. MackBooks are excellent hardware and OSX Lion (with Xcode installed) with MacPorts is as useful as any Linux CLI for admins to ssh with Linux Servers. Why bother with the continual chaos of the different UI wars and distro preferences for them?

      I stopped recommending a laptop/PC to people who ask me; my answer is ???because I do not know M$ anymore??? (actually I am fed up with sorting out Windows disasters as MCP since Win95), and most HW have their driver problems as before. I only use Ubuntu for Windoze converts to MacBooks in the phase where they save up a bit more money to buy a MacBook in stead of a plain Win-locked laptop. Ubuntu 11.10 with MacBuntu or Mac4Lin as themes work well enough for a changeover to a Mac environment (goggle for ???ubuntu mac theme??? - there are plenty of how-to???s).

      Use the systems what they are best for. MS for non-critical and non-professional use like office and home users. Macs for professional uses, and anyone interested in a working world where you do not have to be OS knowledgeable. Linux of any flavour for Servers. End.

  • RE: Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage

    It is seriously UGLY as well as inconvenient and I am amazed that we didn't have to put up with some animal animation jumping out to ask us what we wanted to do today!