Throughout the years I’ve used Slackware, Debian, Red Hat, Debian again, Ubuntu, Linux Mint and Ubuntu again. Except for that brief stint with Linux Mint, Ubuntu has been my distribution of choice since Feisty Fawn but lately I’ve been thinking about ditching it. Canonical has made a number of terrible decisions that have damaged Ubuntu’s value. In this post, I’m going to go over the issues I have with Ubuntu.
I actually first thought about ditching Ubuntu in early 2012. I had installed and worked with Ubuntu 11.10 for a bit but Unity proved so terrible at that time that I decided to give Linux Mint a try. I went back to Ubuntu when 12.04 was released because I felt that the costs of running Mint were greater than the benefits. (I plan to talk about Mint in an upcoming post.) So why am I again now considering ditching Ubuntu?
First, Canonical has diverted their resources to projects that are not desirable. Unity has proved to be a terrible waste of resources. I’ve come to this conclusion after having given it a very fair shot. I’ve used it for months as my desktop environment, but this past summer I ran out of patience. There are multiple ongoing problems with Unity, problems that have been reported on Launchpad months ago, problems for which there is still no fix in sight. A couple of prominent examples: menu bars that do not show up on the screen unless I tab back and forth between applications until somehow the bar manages to appear again, and window controls (close, maximize, minimize) that are not updated when new windows are displayed. The second problem has caused me more than once to close the wrong window. I click on the button to close a window, thinking I’m closing the window on top, which is maximized to take the whole screen, but in fact I’m closing the window under it, which is not visible! So I said “screw this” and switched to Gnome Shell. I’ve been with the Gnome Shell for a few months now. It is no paradise but with the right tweaks and extensions, it can be made to behave in an intelligent manner. On the other hand, the problems I encountered in Unity were bugs pure and simple. It is impossible to tweak around them. I have no plan to ever go back to Unity. Mir is another example of a Canonical project that should have never seen the light of day. There are plenty of problems with it, which I am not going to rehash here. Follow the links for all the gory details.
[This paragraph was edited to address Colin Watson’s concerns.] Second, while Canonical spends resources on ill-conceived projects, the rest of Ubuntu suffers. Take this security issue present in Ubuntu 12.04, which is a LTS release. This issue was fixed for Ubuntu 13.10 (Saucy). The Ubuntu Archive Auto-Sync brought version 1.9.13-3 into Saucy, and later a Canonical employee released 1.9.13-4build1. I’m not saying that the auto-sync or the employee were ever engaged in fixing the specific problem I reported but they released to saucy versions that in effect fix the security issue. However, the response I get is that I have to contact “upstream” to get this bug fixed. Perhaps if Canonical employees were not busy scratching Shuttleworth’s NIH itches, they’d find the time to check their own records or talk to their colleagues. Why is it necessary for me to talk to upstream to get this fixed when there are already versions in Ubuntu’s repositories that fix the problem? These versions were put there first by their own synchronization software, and later by one of Canonical’s own employees? What external source can be more authoritative than these two? From where I stand, there’s an easier solution: dump Ubuntu and the extra layer of passing-the-buck that comes with it and install Debian.
The third problem is how Canonical has pushed onto users changes to Ubuntu that violate the user’s privacy. Yes, I’ve read the explanations from the apologists about how what it is doing is not a privacy violation. Canonical is free to redefine “red” as “blue” and “up” as “down” if that suits it. I’m still going to call a cat a cat. What Canonical is doing is violating the privacy of users. No amount of semantic figure-skating or sugar-coating is going to change this. In addition, Shuttleworth’s response “Erm, we have root” is the crassest thing I’ve ever had to misfortune to read. Mark, if you actually have root on any of my machines, what you are effectively saying is that you are actively engaged in breaking into my systems, that is, you are engaged in a criminal activity.
There are even more problems that I could mention. It is worth reading Micah F. Lee’s own reasons on his blog. I find myself agreeing with him.