Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage

Mr. Shuttleworth, Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer


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.

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