Why I don't recommend Ubuntu, for now

Why I don't recommend Ubuntu, for now

Summary: "For the times, they are a-changing"Oh yes sirree Bob, that they are indeed. A few years ago, I dabbled with the SuSE Linux distro, and then a chap from Bristol introduced me to the Hoary Hedgehog.


"For the times, they are a-changing"

Oh yes sirree Bob, that they are indeed. A few years ago, I dabbled with the SuSE Linux distro, and then a chap from Bristol introduced me to the Hoary Hedgehog. What, no advanced disk partitioning?! I was hooked and have been reeled in ever since.

Until now. Until 10.10.

This was when I installed Ubuntu Netbook Edition onto my ageing yet trusty Acer Aspire One netbook. And this was the first time that I have ever uninstalled Ubuntu. And the first time I won't recommend Ubuntu.

As I've said before, UNE is cramped, slow and unconfigurable, and I don't think it should have been released in that state. There has been a vast amount of talk about Unity, the new desktop for Ubuntu, and the fact that it is due to be shipped with 11.04 gNarly Narwhal.

According to the venerable Jack Wallen, this shift from GNOME to Unity (and from X Windows to Wayland) is "Business, first and foremost." It's about providing one Ubuntu (hence Unity), as "Shuttleworth wants Ubuntu to be easy for companies to support".

The potential problem is, will this move obscure the cadence, design and quality which Shuttleworth is so passionate about? I hope not.

In the meantime, us 1% Linux Users are very lucky indeed. In an apparently counter-intuitive fashion, Free Software provides far more competition than traditional proprietary business models. Just pop along to DistroWatch and marvel at the smorgasbord of Linux flavours.

So now, I am mostly recommending Linux Mint, a very user-friendly distro based on Ubuntu. I'm not the only either; when Linux Mint 10 "Julia" was released, their servers were overloaded.

What is interesting is that there is a version of Mint founded on Debian, which means that there is an alternative path if Ubuntu takes the high road alone.

As for the future, que sera, sera but I may well be recommending Ubuntu again.

Topic: Software Development

Jake Rayson

About Jake Rayson

A web designer since the 20th century, I am a pragmatic advocate of Free Software and I use proprietary software when appropriate. I made the full-time switch to Linux back in 2007, and my desktop tools of choice are Linux Mint, Inkscape, GIMP and Sublime Text.

As a Front End Developer, my core skills are HTML5, CSS3 and jQuery, and my working life reflects my commitment to open standards and accessible websites (ie accessible by everyone, regardless of browser, platform, ability or technology).

For web publishing platforms, I use WordPress for ease of use and Drupal for more complex solutions.

I am also learning about Ruby, Rails, Sinatra and CoffeeScript. I like the minimalist Ruby Way. To this end, my personal portfolio website is built with NestaCMS.

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  • You make a fair point, although if you recommend Mint, the layout of which is not strictly speaking for netbooks, then by the same token you could try Ubuntu 10.10 Desktop edition.

    For me personally, and for Clockwork PC (www.clockworkpc.com.au), Ubuntu's development path is tremendously exciting. When you're in the business of taking Linux beyond the comfortable 1% you quickly learn that a community-based distro for tinkerers simply doesn't enable you to deliver value to your customers. For that reason my customers have Ubuntu or a dual boot of Windows and Ubuntu -- DESKTOP -- edition.

    When Natty Narwhal (Ubuntu 11.04) comes out with its new Unity interface that's what I'll use, but I'll probably keep the standard GNOME environment for my customers. As Shuttleworth said at the recent Ubuntu Developers' Summit (great talk, everyone should watch it), the desktop metaphor is broken.

    So both at home and with Clockwork PC, I'm happy to follow Ubuntu's high road: I believe that in many respects most distros will lag behind it.

    [Final note: after all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about Ubuntu's plans to leave Xorg for Wayland, Fedora announced it was doing the same.]
  • Jake, I agree with you and I have stopped installing Ubuntu, either Netbook or Standard desktop, on laptops and netbooks that I prepare for friends and family. What I install now depends on what they want to use if for; sometimes it is Linux Mint, and sometimes it is PCLinuxOS.

    I haven't seen many people say this very clearly so far, so I will say it now. Not only do I not like the Ubuntu Unity desktop, I do NOT find it at all easy or intuitive to use. I think the bar on the left side of the screen is confusing, I never know where a new icon is going to appear when I start an application, and I can't figure out how to work with it when I have multiple copies of the same application running. I don't like having to give up screen space both across the top and down the side of the display, and I don't like the way the icons fold up like an "accordion" when there are more than can be displayed in the very limited amount of space available to them.

    Perhaps some or all of these things are because Unity in 10.10 is an early release, and they will be fixed, changed or otherwise "better" in 11.04. I hope so.

  • Or you could just start with Debian? set up someone and they'll be set for life.
  • I'm on your side Jake. I have Ubunto, KDE version on one desktop, and it has done some strange things. Icons have disappeared from my task bar, can't locate my wireless router, and when I minimize a page, to the task bar, it disappears. I have Mint 10 on another desktop and so far it has been outstanding. I still run PCLinuxOS on my netbook, because it to has had no problems.
  • I still install Ubuntu, but NEVER the netbook versions -- even on netbooks. It is easily possible to clean up the Gnome distribution; one menu bar at the bottom (where it belongs), small menu bar icons, minimal basic menu bar icons (Firefox, Thunderbird, OOo), one desktop, trash can and file system on the desktop, auto-hide, etc. to where it works nicely on a small display. I have a simple written script (paper) I follow on new installs to make sure I get things right. I have never understood why anyone would try to use the netbook versions. They have always been screwed up.
  • I still recommend Ubuntu - for now.

    I tried Unity on my netbook and uninstalled it. I agree - it is confusing and binding. It limits what I can do. And, it is slower than the Ubuntu 10.10 Gnome desktop on my netbook and I have restored 10.10 from a Clonezilla backup - luckily.

    Unity, however, does attract the kids because of how cute it looks on screen.

    Unity, or some variation, I believe, would work best on a touch-screen tablet. For a 7-inch or 10-inch tablet, it could become a top-notch interface. But, to replace the interface of a desktop computer, it would be frustrating to general and more advanced users who want to have more control.

    I just hope that 11.04 and onwards will retain the various versions like Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Edubuntu, Xubuntu, etc. and even one for Gnome with their individual desktops for those who would prefer to have more control, to poke around.

    Canonical is taking a huge gamble with Unity, but if they retain the different interface flavors and work on Unity for those who really want to have a fast, simple, straightforward interface that is near-instant-turn-on for some fast task, then Unity could prove a success - on the instant desktop and tablets (I see my students gravitate more to the cheap 7-inch China-made tablets than to the netbooks or notebooks).

    A funny thing is my students prefer the Gnome desktop to Linux Mint, so I have made the Gnome desktop the default boot-up on my netbook and notebooks. They like Gnome much more than the traditional Windows desktop.
  • Hi, have been promising myself that one day I'll take the leap and install Linux. Then I read posts which include DistroWatch,Linux Mint 10 "Julia",Mint founded on Debian,11.04 gNarly Narwhal,Hoary Hedgehog and SuSE Linux, and I know that today will not be that day.
  • @sturgess. Exactly why did the posts you referenced dissuade you from trying Linux? You do have the opportunity of live versions for almost all Linux distributions without making any changes to your computer, to help you make up your own mind. If you like your experience, you then have the opportunity to install in a dual boot configuration, a process which can safely be carried out automatically by the chosen distribution.

    Linux Mint 'Julia' based on Debian is at beta status, i.e. it's still a work in progress, and is therefore not suitable for you at this time.
    The Former Moley
  • @sturgess - I don't mean this to be a personal criticism or attack on you, but do you get confused or intimidated and decide not to buy anything when you go to the grocery store because there is a selection of similar products? Or when you go to buy a new car, television, or even a new computer? Of course not. Getting started with Linux is essentially the same thing. There is a choice of distributions, and that is a GOOD thing - if there weren't, we could just call it "Windows", charge money for it, and that would be the end of the story. When you want to try Linux for the first time, you pick one of those, either by doing some research, checking some criteria, or just make a random choice - all are valid approaches. You install it, try it, decide if it is suitable for you (or could be), and continue from there. If you want some guidance on how to get started, or how to install Linux the first time, just poke around on the web a bit, there are literally dozens of such articles available, and more appear all the time.

    The important thing is, try it. Pick one, in whatever way you like, and give it a whirl. There are plenty of distributions now that you can even boot and try from a USB stick, so you don't even have to risk changing anything on your computer. Just do it!

  • @sturgess - As for the things that you found confusing, intimidating or otherwise off-putting in the original article, I'll demystify them for you.

    - DistroWatch: A web site that tracks and announces lots (and lots) of different Linux distributions, from the most common to the most obscure, and releases from Alpha/Beta pre-releases to Finals and on to LTS support updates. As a newcomer you probably don't need to be concerned about it, but once you start to get comfortable with Linux and variety, you might find it interesting.

    - Linux Mint 10 "Julia": The current (and only recently released) version of Linux Mint, which is a very popular distribution. As a beginner, this would certainly be a good place for you to start.

    - Linux Mint Debian Edition: An alternative distribution from Linux Mint, which is being developed from a different starting base than the "standard" Mint distribution. You probably don't need to be concerned with this, but if you chose it rather than "Julia", you would most likely still be satisfied.

    - gNarly Narwhal: A bit of "insider humor" that Jake threw in, a variation on the name of the next Ubuntu release, "Natty Narwhal". It's only a joke, don't let it throw you off.

    - Hoary Hedgehog: The name of a very old Ubuntu distribution, Jake included it to provide a reference for how long he has been using Linux, and how well it has served him for so many years.

    - SuSE Linux: Another major Linux distribution, an alternative to Linux Mint and Ubuntu; again, if you chose this one, blind or with some research, you would most likely end up happy. It's like Corn Flakes, Special K and Sugar Pops. They're all breakfast cereals, they will all fill your stomach to start the day, you can pick one, try it, and if you don't like it, use the knowledge you gained about what you didn't like to make a choice among the others.

    It's like reading technical publications about a field that you aren't familiar with. They look confusing and intimidating, but you have to start somewhere, and once you become more familiar with the subject matter, they start to look informative and useful.

  • I've been using debian since 'sarge' and have been on 'squeeze' for about 8 months. Whenever I've upgraded, changed machines, or otherwise needed to re-install, the one thing that does not change is the /home directly and all my preferences. Over the years I've slowly tweaked my setup to behave 'exactly' the way I want it.

    The result is that in recent months, although seeing interesting and different distros, I'm actually put off trying them because this one has become so familiar and comfortable (rather like one's favourite fireside slippers).

    I suggest the O/P has a binge on all the distros he can find. Work out which comes closest to ideal, then stick with it, and like me, slowly fine-tune it.

    The only thing I would say, is that with the ubuntu fully auto install, not having /home on a separate partition makes future upgrades harder. When installing I've always gone for manual partitioning - the first time is scary, after that you just shrug and do it :)
  • @clockworkpc: "As Shuttleworth said ... the desktop metaphor is broken"
    My beef with this is a) in my humble experience, it ain't broke and b) replace it with *what* exactly?

    Unity *as it stands* doesn't work for me, I don't see the point of it. As I pointed out in a rather hurried fashion, I can make my own Unity desktop http://bit.ly/xubuntunetbookedition - can anyone tell me what is so special about Unity?

    @jw: "I do NOT find it at all easy or intuitive to use". No beating around the bush here! I agree, Ubuntu really has to pull out the stops to make it better than GNOME.

    @stabbyjone: "Or you could just start with Debian?" It would be nice. But I _think_ the setup would take too long (installing all the nasty proprietary addons like Java and Flash). I don't know though, haven't tried to install Debian since a particularly traumatic 48 hour attempt many years ago!!

    @Orionds: "Unity... would work best on a touch-screen tablet... But, to replace the interface of a desktop computer, it would be frustrating". Absolutely. The issue though is that Shuttleworth wants a unified Unity interface, across all platforms.

    This is why I won't recommend the desktop version, as people could stick with Ubuntu and then have to learn yet another, potentially inferior interface.

    @sturgess: "I know that today will not be that day". I'd recommend Linux Mint 10 Julia - it's popular, with a solid Ubuntu foundation, well-supported and won't be changing in the next 6 months! (thanks to jw for the low-down on all the distributions!)
    Jake Rayson
  • Thanks for the feedback, had I realized what a friendly bunch you Linux folk were I would have made the leap before.
  • One other comment/question about the Ubuntu Unity interface. I keep seeing statements about Unity probably being good for touch-screen use, and I can't figure out how that can be true with the way the icons on the left side of the screen "accordion" together when there are too many to be shown in one column. I can't imagine how a touch-screen would expand and control those easily; perhaps it requires someone with much smaller fingers than I have.

  • @jw: "I can't imagine how a touch-screen would expand and control those easily"

    I think this is a large part of the problem - how will Unity work in practise? How will it actually be better than GNOME (or KDE for that matter)? I hope these questions are answered, I'm catching up on Mark Shuttleworth's keynote speech that @clockworkpc refereced:
    Jake Rayson