A little more time with Ubuntu

by davidnielsen

In the quest for the perfect Linux for me, I decided to give Ubuntu a longer bit of time on my setup. This lead up largely to the weeks till the release of 9.04 meaning it is the latest Ubuntu has to offer.

Ubuntu has a very solidly frozen release which kinda bothers me since I either have to apply an unsupported PPA external repo to get the version of software upstream supports. This is the case for things like Banshee e.g.. In addition Ubuntu does not seem very willing to adopt software early which means that 9.04 ships with the older 0.9.14 version of Pulseaudio, which is a shame since 0.9.15 definitely is an improvement and finally lets me set up 5.1 (though still only analog). Again I can enable a PPA but that leads to a support nightmare (and breaks the awesomeness that is Apport) which I am not really prepared to bestove on anyone having worked with supporting users myself I know that I always like them to be in the most vanilla state I can get them to lessen my burden. This is a larger problem though of what to do with regards to the balance between a static release with updates and a rolling release. I do not believe this to be an easy problem ti solve but making people rely on PPAs to get important updates to X drivers and leaf applications like Banshee is not a good way to solve it from a QA point of view. What is, seems a huge problem space which would be interesting to explore.

There are also some really annoying moments, mostly when dealing with the package manager. I really miss an up to date PackageKit 0.4.x and interacting with apt-get or dpkg from the commandline just doesn’t feel as natural as using yum or rpm. The output of yum e.g. is very clean and easy to follow as is the out of rpm. In contrast dpkg has multiple lines of jibberish which one has to dig into to find simple information like version numbers for filing a bug report. I really think the time is approaching rapidly to have dpkg put down and radically redesigned, things like debhelper are especially poor designs for the target audience Ubuntu has. If you default to a situation where asking questions during the installation of updates you have failed. My metric for this is normally how quickly my mother would call upon me screaming “IT’S SAYING SOMETHING AGAIN!!! HELP”. Aside that dpkg is extremely frail for some reason, it falls over and gets it database corrupted quite quickly and unlike with rpm the recovery has not be easily discoverable (rm -rf /var/lib/rpm/__db.00* && rpmdb –rebuilddb normally takes care of it). It lacks some nice modern functionality like rollbacks and delta downloads, sadly it does’t look like it will gain them anytime soon either. I am concerned that I have yet to see a clear sign of commitment to PackageKit from Ubuntu, they don’t have the latest version and despite being marked as “in process for Jaunty” we still do not have it by default in any capacity.

I hate the fact that I can’t delete everything relating to gimp and openoffice without also losing my danish translations for everything else. Yes I know OpenOffice has features like a presentor that GNOME office does not have but AbiWord does just fine for me, it’s pretty, quick and very stable. I should be able to remove all those useless help files from OpenOffice as well. Minor nitpick I know but it seems that Ubuntu isn’t very flexible when it comes to changing these applications.

The Mono stack works beautifully, documentation is generated for everything and the coverage is near spotless (all I lack is Monsoon). You are given a full MonoDevelop stack. It’s truly a thing to behold how well kept it is and how much work has gone into making it the best Mono stack around. Additionally the excellent debian/ubuntu Mono team has done some impressive work cutting down the size of applications by removing Mono 1.x functionality meaning that now Banshee and all it’s dependencies take up less space on the CD than rhythmbox. I find this especially interesting as one of the, fallacious, accusations I got when proposing Banshee as the default media player in Fedora was that I disregarded the space contraints and I suggested just this solution to meet the requirement along with splitting out debug information. I am happy to see that it paid off for them and I hope that the patches will be broken out and pushed upstream where possible, also so other distros might benefit that they become available in something other than dpkgs default horrid one mega pseudo patch per package format. Truly masterful, and I get moonlight in the repos as well which rocks my rationale mind.

The desktop itself has some nice tweaks, I like the idea of using the fast user switching applet to do presence and to handle the logout/halt/suspend/hibernate scenerios. I just wish they did that work upstream so that everyone would benefit from looking at the design and applying. It is though a very nice idea and it works really well with Empathy. I do lack the option to set some predefined custom states such as “Having dinner” and such. There is the risk of growing this list very long if one was to do this though.

I hate Launchpad marginally less now, I still think that it is confusing and dead hard to use but somehow work gets done. It needs to be orders of magnitude easier to use before I beats bugzilla though. In the same sense I really miss an easy overview on a per package basis of all the bugs, like bugz.fedoraproject.org/<packagename>. It makes it much easier to do what I love, namely breaking software and triaging bugs, in an effective manner.

Suspend just works… most of the time, I have gotten the system into a state where the network driver never regained life and other little wringles but overall it is the first time I have seen suspend work consistently on this laptop. I hope the same is the case for other people so that one day we might rely universally on this technology to suspend machines when they are idle. If wake up could be made really quick perhaps a system as envisioned by OLPC that would suspend the machine while reading a website might be a viable future for us all.

I am still not sold on the per home directory encryption and it does worry me that I have yet to see any evaluation of this technology by a 3rd party security expert for flaws. It is appealing to have security that does not require every user of a machine to know the master password to boot it yet still have the advantage of knowing that while you are not logged in your data remains safe. It also does not encumber boot nor imparts the performance overhead to system binaries that full disk encryption would do, which is another appealing idea. I would like to have a more informed opinion on the design before I judging one way or the other. It worries me that I have not been able to find a wiki page listing the known weaknesses in this approach, it is not enabled by default but it would still be nice to be able to look up more information. Personally since my laptop is used only by me, I used the alternative CD to install and used dm-crypt, then added this on top, mostly “because I could”, surprisingly the performance overhead of doing this was very low. I think what worries me is that it seems like such a finely pick solution that does the best from a user point of view that it really has to have problems from a security point of view – experience tells most people that when sounds to good to be true, it very likely is.

A problem that seems to plague all Linux desktop right now on this laptop is that it takes very little to make it lock up for seconds or minutes. Audio stutters when the slightest load comes along. It didn’t used to do this but looking at the cpu scaling the slightest load seems to cause a problem where it instantly lowest the cpu speed to the lowest setting. I am currently unaware of what is going on and I don’t have another machine to confirm that it isn’t just this machine going tits up. Ubuntu sadly is affected as well, I won’t deduct them any points but it does make Linux as a desktop very painful on the whole.

Jaunty is an excellent desktop I would not hesitate to recommend it to people, out of the box you get a lot of very nice functionality and a very polished look and feel. It does somehow feel like it is the end of the line for the current Ubuntu desktop and that their experiments with new UI elements will have to lead to some major changes. Hopefully they will be able to pipe this into the GNOME 3 process in a standardized manner so to avoid basically forking the desktop.