Ubuntu 11.04 - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Ubuntu 11.04 - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Summary: I've just been reading the comments to my previous post, concerning Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal.


I've just been reading the comments to my previous post, concerning Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal. It appears that @covariant is right, this is a very polarizing release. But I think it is extremely important that we keep an open mind about it, whichever side we are on. Mark Shuttleworth is a very smart guy, and he has a lot of other very smart people working for him. I don't think they are trying to please experienced Linux users (and so far in most cases it seems they are doing a good job of not pleasing us), but they don't need to please us. We're happy with Linux. We'll find a way to use it, whether it is Ubuntu or some other distribution. I think what they are trying to do is position it to appeal to a much larger audience of computer users, and of computer OEMs. Convincing people to "switch" to Linux from whatever operating system came on their computer, or to buy a computer without an operating system and load Linux, has been proven to be insufficient to gain any kind of market share. The only way forward is to convince some of the major OEMs to offer systems preloaded with Linux. Not one system, or just a few, or special configurations, but to offer it across the entire line. I believe that the changes being made to Ubuntu are primarily aimed in that direction. They might work, I don't know, but they deserve to at least be given a chance because if it does work, we all end up in a much better place but if they don't, we end up in pretty much the same place we are already, so who cares?

In the meantime, we should be taking advantage of the diversity in Linux distributions. We are constantly getting bashed by people about there being "too many" different distributions leading to confusion. Arguments about breakfast cereal, automobiles or pretty much anything else sold on the open market don't seem to stop that criticism. Well, here is the perfect example. If you like Ubuntu 11.04 and the Unity desktop, then use it! That's great! Tell all your friends and relatives, show them how great it is, convert as many as you can. If you happen to like Ubuntu 11.04, but not the Unity desktop, then just sit tight, it won't be long until Linux Mint 11 is released. (To those who say "just use the Ubuntu Classic desktop", I remind you that this is a temporary solution that is likely to disappear with the next release.) If you don't like Ubuntu, you think they are going in the wrong direction with their development, or perhaps you just can't run it because your hardware isn't up to it, take a look around, choose one of the many other Linux distributions available. If you like Debian, and you are up to the task, you can go back to the top of the stream and use the recently released Debian 6.0 release. If you want something that is more fully developed and integrated, along the lines of Ubuntu, there is SimplyMEPIS, who are about to release their version 11 distribution, and that's only one of the many good choices in this category.

Of course, you don't have to stay within the Debian family. Long-established distributions such as Fedora and openSuSE are great options - openSuSE released 11.4 not long ago, and Fedora will be releasing 15 soon. Both are extremely solid distributions, with excellent development teams behind them. If you want to really learn about Linux, installing, configuring and caring for your own computer and operating system, you could try the brand-spanking-new Slackware 13.37 release, which very few people even noticed because they unfortunately released it right before Ubuntu released Natty (I will write about it next week). If you like the idea of Slackware, but you would like for someone else to do a lot of the initial "dirty work" before you get your hands on it, there is Vector Linux, who are getting close to their 7.0 release, or if you have a more relaxed, "Zen-like" approach to computing and Linux, there is Zenwalk Linux, who recently made their 7.0 release.

The list could go on and on, but the point is we have choices. Lots of them. When you go to the store, you choose the breakfast cereal that suits your taste. You (hopefully) don't waste a lot of time denigrating those who choose differently than you. More pertinent in this case, if they change whatever cereal you have been choosing, and you don't like the new product, you make another choice. You might choose something that is similar to what you had before, or you might decide to take the opportunity to change to something completely different.

So, I have talked myself in a complete circle back to where I started. If you like Natty and Unity, use it. If you don't, choose a different distribution and use that. But the really important thing is, the next time you hear someone whineing "there are too many different Linux distributions, it's just too confusing", take up whichever end of this spectrum you are on and enlighten them. You can tell them "because different distributions are developing in different directions, and look how great that has turned out with Ubuntu and the Unity desktop", or you can tell them "because different distributions are developing in different directions, and if one does something I really don't like such as Ubuntu with Unity, then I can just change to another one which is staying on the path that I prefer". Either way, it's the diversity that is working in our favor here, and we need to keep that in mind and remind people of it. Contrast that with what happens when Microsoft does something totally stupid, like Windows Vista; first, you get to pay for the privilege of finding out that it is garbage and doesn't work with your computer or your peripherals. Second, you have no alternative other than stumbling along with Vista as best as you can, or staying with the previous version (XP). Third, when Microsoft finally smears some lipstick on Vista, taking care of some of the most serious problems, and re-releases it as "Windows 7" rather than "Vista Repaired" as it should have been, you get to PAY AGAIN for the privilege of finding out if it works on your computer and with your peripherals. If it still doesn't, or if your hardware is not powerful enough, well, you are once again basically screwed; you can try to stay with XP if that works for you, but Microsoft will immediately start denigrating XP as "old and out of date", because they are determined to force you to "upgrade" to Win7, and they don't care the tiniest bit if that means you also have to buy all new hardware and peripherals.

Given those two scenarios, I will opt for choice every time. That's why I get a bit irritated when people bemoan the variety of Linux distributions.

jw 30/4/2011

Topic: Linux

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • I couldn't agree more. I think people don't appreciate how lucky we all are, as Linux users, to have an OS with so many distributions. Our disunity is not great from a marketing perspective - but that's why I'm glad there are distributions like Ubuntu, that are focussing on popularising the Linux desktop. I've not used Ubuntu as a main OS since 9.04, when I moved to Debian, then Slackware; and now I'm using Fedora 15 beta because I really like the Gnome 3 shell. Choice rocks.
  • What do users think about Unity, Ubuntu new interface? Here is a poll: http://www.proprofs.com/polls/result/?title=what-do-you-think-about-unity-4
  • Eventually, I will be dumping MS Windows. We have three computers, two of them are secondary computers. Both run Ubuntu. I have been very impressed with Ubuntu. Nevertheless, I find the upgrade cycle brutal. While I have been able to solve these issues, the constant change in format and program availability has been a detriment. For those reason, I may just skip upgrading for now. But then ............
    Steve R.
  • agreed, ubuntu always breaks when you upgrade
  • I like the Ubuntu application stack. I gave up on Suse 11.4 while trying to install gnucash. Suse only has an outdated version for gnucash. After down loading the latest version of gnucash to install by hand; and about 10 library updates I hit a brick wall on the ./configure requirements. Installed Ubuntu and the latest version of gnucash without a problem.

    I am wondering why Ubuntu (11.04) thinks putting the menu bar in a fixed spot is an improvement. I don't think they have ever used two monitors. Always having to move the cursor to the top of a monitor to use the menu bar is very annoying. Not having pull down menus to organize applications is very annoying. In fact, 11.04 is just annoying.
  • amen brother.. the number of choices are fantastic.. though i think by the time gnome 2 disappears, most everyone will either have hacks for unity or gnome 3 to feel comfortable enough to move on. heck a week before release im finding tuts on making custom quick lists. i love linux. personally i like unity. i tripple boot ubu 10.10, puppy quirky and unity for different moods im in. hows that for diversity.. sometimes a change in wallpaper is enough, sometimes a flavor of linux..

    the point is i can choose. that is what linus gave us.

    remember win95? then 98? no big complaints then xp.. all i heard was how they shouldnt have changed bla bla.. people are resistant to change.. and that is fine if you are isolated from the world but progress comes from change, even the slightest different way of looking at something can make major strides elsewhere..

    i have no time for whiners, life is too short to cater to the few.. if evolution followed the "minority rules" thinking we tend to see when dealing with the public, the human race would be fossils inside other fossils stomachs
  • Agree with you completely. Risk-taking MUST occur in order to allow a chance at improving Linux adoption. We might very well be annoyed at some of the decisions that the Ubuntu team makes, but we must understand that nothing is accomplished without embracing risk. Hard-core Linux geeks generally have no idea what will click with "normal" users, and users don't know either, until they see it. This is similar to the logic that makes Apple work so well. They don't really CARE what their users say they want...they don't know. So concentrate on making something wonderful. That's the only way to success. I'm testing out Unity today. Kind of reminds me of Steve Jobs' "neXT" GUI. I will likely end up running my Enlightenment E17, but really...Unity is going to be fine for most users, and besides all of this code is better than anything dreamed up in Redmond.
  • Umm! not quite true. I have upgraded Ubuntu 5 times in a row online, without any problems, and i run a run of the mill compaq celeron laptop without graphics chip.
  • One rule: adapt or die. Ubuntu has done it before and will do it again. It may be great or terrible but it is forward progress. If you don't like it, I have a TRS-80 in my closet that might be a little more your speed. [no thats a lie... I just wish I did :( I miss my TRS-80 CC ]
  • I was using 10.4 and got a prompt to upgrade to Natty. Unthinkingly I agreed. WHAT A MISTAKE.

    The unity interface is completely unusuable - far worse than Windows. All flash and no usefulness.

    I learned later that one CAN replace it with gnome...but panicked when I couldn't connect to my wireless, couldn't resize my application windows, couldn't find anything, and after 40 years programming and using a bazillion operating systems, was helpless.

    So I wiped it and went back to 10.4.

    Like I say, perhaps if I had realized I could replace this abomination (unity) with gnome, I might have stuck with it, but I hear gnome will be gone in the next release so I guess I'll just never upgrade again.

    I am EXTREMELY disappointed that the Ubuntu development is going in this direction of flash without usefulness...this is why I quit using Windows.
  • Well said!

    Can I point out another choice? Ubuntu 10.04 is still available, supported, and great.

    duncan j murray
  • Yes - I reverted to 10.4. It's a long-term release and I hope by long term they mean until I get too old to use a computer! :-)
  • I still haven't used Unity enough to form a coherent opinion - so far, it's different... But it's not Unity as such that causes me some concern... more in a moment.
    It strikes me that Canonical are looking at revenue streams, which is fine. With Ubuntu, they have crafted a Linux distribution that so far has brought desktop usability and a tight focus on getting the basics right for the average user, which is great.
    The thing that worries me slightly is that in pursuing their business model, instead of building on the efforts of the wider community, with contribution thereto, they are increasingly going it alone. Unity appears to borrow heavily from Gnome 3 in some areas, but Gnome 3 / Gnome Shell is still far from feature complete, so Canonical have decided to do their own 'respin'..
    I will keep an open mind for now, but if I determine that Canonical are steering Ubuntu in a direction to suit only their ends, I will change distribution..
  • I have to say,, the new Ubuntu installed into my Dell Touchscreen Netbook like a virus! I mean that as an awesome compliment. It just installed, and it installed everything everywhere. Bluetooth, Wireless, Touch screen, Video, camera, speakers, microphone; it got them all. If I were to install Windows, it would take hours to get the drivers and get them installed. Now its just an awesome, touch screen netbook that is my newest favourite. Not since Windows virus has software just went and took complete control with no need for me. I love it for that alone.
  • I agree with a lot in this article. Personally I think that Canonical saw the futility in trying to create a distribution geared towards business users (for example). Trying to get all of the developers (which have nothing to do with Canonical) to focus on the same effort was and is impossible.

    For me the issue with Ubuntu and Linux in general is that you have to have a unified effort on the same goal with a very similar approach. You just will never find that in the Linux world. There are simply too many conflicting ways of doing things. What you end up with is some applications *are* aligned and others are not. This leads to the impression (of a distribution) that it's not quite ready.

    Oh, and I have to say it. I do hate Unity. There I said it. I feel better now :)
  • I just wanted to say that i love Unity and the whole interface overhaul of ubuntu....though it really is still very much buggy.Just look at all those lenses in development..they`re just amazing and yes i agree totally with the fact that the overhaul was made to increase the market share of Ubuntu and that this is not for power users but for people from other OS to switch.I think it is the right direction to go with the Wayland graphic system coming soon.Gnome 3 will be a failure ultimately.As for
    Fedora,I don`t see any casual users opting for it.
    At the end of the day,the preliminary aim should be to stop the Windows monopoly and this is from someone who has used
    crappy Windows for a very long time.Ubuntu roxx!!!!!!!
  • I could not agree more.

    Although my initial reaction was confusion, I soon recognised the principle behind unity. It more or less builds on combining features from the Android UI and Windows 7.

    I'm going to give unity a go simply because they say a change is as good as a rest.

    What concerns me most though is the loss of the hierarchical menu interface of GNOME which makes locating the application of your choice only a few clicks away, because of the simple grouping of applications by category; i.e. Accessories, Graphics, internet, etc., drawing from the very basics of Software Engineering which works on the principle of divide and rule.

    Unity though groups all icons on the one page. As there are so many icons to choose from it does not fit on one page so you have to scroll, search, and find the application of your choice.

    At least Windows 7 gives you an option similar to GNOME, where you have a hierarchical categorised menu (and easily tailored) should you wish to use it.

    I can also understand why Android does not provide you with such a menu out of the box, especially on smart-phones, because to make a menu readable it would cover too much of the screen, but if it remained in the same proportions as that of a 14inch + screen, it would be unreadable (on a smart phone).

    I have only played around unity for about 30 minutes, so I hope I can apply a hierarchical categorisation of applications for easy and intuitive access. If not then I will be looking elsewhere...

  • ...I spoke too soon.

    Just found out how applications can be categorised.

    Not bad I have to say....
  • Am I the only person who loves the 10.04 Netbook GUI? I just wish it was an option in newer releases. Not sure what I will do when the LTS on 10.04 runs out. I hope someone makes this GUI available for 11.04 one day. It is much cleaner and easier than gnome or unity...
  • @aralk - You certainly aren't the only one, I think 10.04 was the best of the Ubuntu Netbook editions.