Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ubuntu's Jackalope not so Jaunty

I'm not one to write reviews of things like desktop Linux systems typically. In fact, any of you who read my blog for Reia should probably just stop now. But I just tried desktop Linux for the first time in two years, and my experience was anything but pleasurable.

My Background (a.k.a. chance to be a blowhard)

For the past several years OS X has been my desktop of choice. I get a beautiful, slickly animated GUI interface, seamless 3D compositing of all UI elements, nifty commercial software, and Unix underpinnings. Sure, it's proprietary, but I don't give a crap.

That said, I am no stranger to desktop Linux. My first desktop Linux experience was using FVWM on a Slackware 2.3 system back in 1995. So yes: I'm one of those Linux users that survived the transition from a.out to ELF and from libc5 to glibc. I'd try a few different distributions, next RedHat and finally Debian before becoming a Debian person. I tried RedHat 5.0, when they made the switch to glibc, and it was such an unmitigated disaster I destroyed the install CD (purchased from a store) out of rage. That is the lowest low I think I've ever seen Linux reach.

I remember trying out an early Enlightenment, which leaked memory so quickly it completely consumed the 16MB of RAM I had installed at the time. Eventually I would discover WindowMaker, which would be my standby window manager for years to come. I flitted about with OS choices after that, running FreeBSD as my primary desktop for quite some time.

Around 2001 I discovered the Synergy software which lets you seamlessly share a keyboard and mouse across two computers. From then on I loved running two computers, typically one with Windows and one with my *IX du jour. This has remained my standard configuration for quite some time.

Around 2006 I was given a new monitor for work, with a strange 1680x1050 resolution. I was running Debian at the time, ripping my hair out hand editing my X config trying to get it to work properly. I could not for the life of me figure out what was wrong, and this was after spending 5 years as a Linux sysadmin. I decided to give Ubuntu a go. I stuck in the install CD, and BEHOLD it booted straight into X and my monitor was automagically configured to the right resolution! I was awestruck.

I'd been against Gnome for years, but by now it seemed almost downright usable. I actually liked having things like desktop icons! It was pretty nifty.

However, shortly thereafter I would buy a MacBook and ditch desktop Linux entirely. I've been running an OS X/Windows Synergy setup ever since (although now I use OS X exclusively at home)

Fast Forward to Today

Amidst many of my coworkers setting up their computers to dual boot Windows and Linux, I figured I'd do the same. I thought it'd be pretty nifty to have OS X one one computer (which would remain my primary development computer) and Linux on the other.

First I installed Windows, which wasn't without its hiccups but when I was done I was left with a 30GB Windows partition and 220GB free for Linux.

I threw in the Jaunty Jackalope CD one of my coworkers had and started up the graphical installer. I missed the good old text-based Debian installer I had used for over a decade, but hey, it's the 21st century, nothing wrong with graphics, right?

I got to the partitioning step. Now, I've dealt with some pretty bad graphical partition managers in the past. Solaris's was particularly atrocious. At first glance Ubuntu's seemed fine... it recognized I had an NTFS volume and offered me the option to "Install Windows and Linux side by side". I figured this was such a common use case it would just naturally know the right thing to do.

So, I click OK and it pops up a modal dialog asking me if I want to resize my NTFS partition. WTF? Resize my NTFS partition? NO! You have 220GB of free space to work with there, why would you resize my NTFS partition? It offered three buttons I could click: one that said "Go Back" which was highlighted (and I guess the one I was supposed to choose), one that said continue/proceed or something, and the traditional "X" in the corner of the modal dialog window to close it. I clicked the latter, which was the wrong decision.

It then popped up another modal dialog window, informing me it was resizing my NTFS partition to fill the entire disk.

Seriously, are you kidding me? Closing a modal dialog window with the "X" button does NOT MEAN I WANT YOU TO PERFORM A DESTRUCTIVE ACTION. And furthermore, who installs Linux and wants it to resize their Windows partition to eat up the entire disk? Frustrated, I opened up a terminal, started gparted, shrank my Windows partition back down to 30GB, and rebooted to try again fresh.

This time I chose to manually partition my disk (although I still longed for cfdisk) and things seemed to go a little more smoothly for awhile.

After I booted into X for the first time I was prompted to install updates. I hit the "Check" button which prompted for a password. It downloaded a list of updates. I hit "Install Updates". Nothing happened. I clicked it again, some 30 times. Nothing. The button depressed, and that was it. I called a Linux-loving coworker over, he looked at it and shrugged. "I don't use the graphical updater". Yes, popping open a terminal and typing apt-get upgrade was seeming like the way to go here. I clicked "Check" again then "Install Updates". Magically it worked this time.

After all was said and done, my display was not at the right resolution. It popped up a little notification prompting me to install restricted drivers. I installed the nVidia drivers, which completed successfully, then tried to open my display preferences.

An error dialog popped up, saying that display preferences couldn't be launched, and I need to run my vendor tool instead. It said I could hit OK to do so, but when I did, it said there was an error launching the vendor tool, and I needed to run a particular command from the command line.

Are you kidding me? At this point I'm seriously confused: who is Ubuntu targeting? When was the last time Windows or OS X asked me from a modal dialog to pop open a terminal and type some shit on the command line? I tried running the command and got yet another error. Frustrated I rebooted.

Now when I try to go to the display preferences, at first I get an error saying I need to run the vendor tool, and then it launches the nVidia preferences. Only... the native resolution of my monitor is not listed. All of them are below the native resolution of my monitor.

I thought: oh well, I'll just edit my xorg.conf by hand. So I did. And I rebooted. I was still at the same resolution, and the changes I made to my xorg.conf were clobbered by something. I don't know. I reopened the file and they were completely gone. What process overwrote it? I don't have a freaking clue. I remember when Linux gave you a sense of control over what you're doing, but now I feel powerless.

Now, insult to injury: this is the exact same monitor which in 2006 I stuck an Ubuntu install CD into my computer and it launched straight into X at the native resolution. I didn't have to install any restricted drivers. I stuck in the CD and it just worked.

3 years ago Ubuntu had me excited that maybe, finally, desktop Linux was reaching a level of general usability. Now here I am, a power user, and I've run into seemingly intractable problems I can't solve.

Pre-Emptive Anti-Zealot Repellant

Did I go onto forums and ask about my problems? Did I post bugs on Ubuntu's trackers? No. Know what I did? I rebooted into Windows. And here I think I will stay. I freshly installed Windows the same day and had it up and running to my satisfaction in a few hours. Windows is working and I am happy, therefore I don't feel the need to try to help Ubuntu sort out their mess.

All I can say is, without a doubt, Ubuntu 9.04 represents a rather severe regression from my previous experience with using Ubuntu on a desktop. We still continue to run it on our servers at my place of employment and there I have few complaints. However, at this point I cannot see myself running it on a desktop, and worse I've lost my sense that desktop Linux is actually getting better over time.


Praveen said...

If it did what you say, shame on Ubuntu!
It should co-exist with Windows as it promises.
Having said that, I must object to your line - 'When was the last time Windows or OS X asked me from a modal dialog to pop open a terminal and type some shit on the command line?'
When was the last time YOU installed vista and OS X on a foreign hardware? Can you download OSX and Vista and throw it at an unknown hardware? It's really not a fair comparison.

However, Ubuntu resizing your NTFS partition is surely outrageous. I run Linux Mint and always resize my partitions manually - but that goes against 'usable by non-technical users' philosophy.


Keymone said...

ok, so here's my 5 minutes of hate to linux.

ever going sound problem - it just looks to me that linux people don't give a crap about sound and they only listen 8bit PC speaker music - i don't see any other reason to have sound on linux messed up for more than 10 years.

double head desktop - don't even try it. real pro guru linux users don't know what is monitor. they only use 1 line terminal with vi like on old 80th unix machines.

the list can go on..

it is sad that ubuntu is focusing not on solving problems but on bloating what-could-be-nice linux distro.

Admin said...

Sorry to hear about your troubles, Tony. I just started playing with Jaunty myself, and so far have had no problems (not entirely true..., see below).

I'm running a middle of the road Dell Laptop on a doc with external monitor; 1680x1050.

Having had no end of trouble with dual boot systems (mainly from the Windows side, though), I opted for a new HD. This Dell has a very easy to get to HD bay, so I can swap HDs in about 5 seconds. 15 if I have to remove and replace the screws. So I obviously had no problems with partitions.

Jaunty recognized my (canon!) printer, built in wireless, both monitors (laptop 1920 x ?? and external), etc. Everything just works.

Except sound. I had a lot of problems with sound, and in the end never DID get my company's "soft phone" (VOIP/SIP) to run. Had to go with a hard-phone.

But the dual head wireless out-of-the-box win won me over. I've been using Windows for years, although I started my career on Sun pizza boxes and SunOs 3, and Solaris 2 slinging Motif code, and I really, really, really am glad to be back on an OS that works like I think.

I don't know what problem Keymone had with dual heads, but mine worked flawlessly out of the box.

grant rettke said...

Tony don't worry, Ubuntu did their best to push away ATI graphics card users in Jaunty, too. In Ibex graphics acceleration worked fine. In Jaunty, they used the new version of x.org that doesn't support ATI cards.

They are totally unapologetic; it worked fine in 8 (flawlessly) and it is totally broken in 9.

Not a dealbreaker; but surely annoying :).

RJ Ryan said...

To be fair to GNU/Linux, NVIDIA hardware is proprietary and while NVIDIA develop a high-quality proprietary driver, they do not build the driver to community standards, or use community designed interfaces for display configuration.

For example, they refuse to comply with xrandr specs. `Not Invented Here' syndrome. The list goes on.

I would suggest Intel hardware, as the Intel graphics drivers are top-notch. Intel is a company that knows how to cooperate with open-source. ATI is making good steps, as well -- but their driver is not as well written as Intel's.

@Keymone -- Forget dual head -- I have 6 19" LCDs working perfectly with Xorg. For 6 terminals of course =).

grant rettke said...

RJ: What about ATI users?

Keymone said...

@RJ you mean 6 different unrelated X sessions? did you try Xinerama or TwinView?

i have laptop + 22" external monitor and for 90% of the time i only need external monitor but switching between laptop and external is simply pain in the ass - it doesn't remember last resolution i used, it cannot correctly figure out refresh times - i had to manually generate them using cvt tool. the list can go on.

phil pirj said...

I had no such stuff with jackassalope, but a lot of other things disappointed me. Everything was beaten and worked around except for that my mail didn't open any links in Firefox 3.5 (i'm not a fan, but i had to, after 3.0 stopped working completely after some portion of updates). My taskbar annoys with that "lock to panel" that does nothing. Most applications use to crash/stuck several times a day. Flash movies doesn't work. youtube ones does, other players doesn't. With any combination of flash plugins/browsers.

The only thing i found useful for the last year is VirtualBox. I found startup/shutdown to be around 20 times faster than with VMWare. And it's free.
Yes, it crashed my virtual machines several times to "unable to load, broken blah blah" but this can be easily restored.

TurboC is still on my list of less error-prone software. The other ones i've seen are awful.

Linux desktop is so bad i believe Windows 7 will get 80% of the desktop/laptop market.

KDE is slower and memory-hungry even Vista isn't.

You should try Hackintosh on your desktop, and VirtualBox

That saves days, partitions, monitors and so on.
But always store data you work with on a different partition than any of the OS's (including host one), to share it between virtual machines as shared folder and be sure to keep it alive if you decide to break your ubuntu partition in rage ;)

phil pirj said...

and ubuntu has a nice Prism app
Fluid.app for poor ones

Kunthar said...

I had exactly the same problem with Intrepid. You have dirt your hands with xorg.conf.

Check the snippet and figure out the changes.

Section "Screen"
Identifier "Screen0"
Device "Device0"
Monitor "Monitor0"
DefaultDepth 24
Option "TwinView" "0"
Option "TwinViewXineramaInfoOrder" "CRT-0"
#Option "metamodes" "1680x1050_60 +0+0; 1680x1050 +0+0; nvidia-auto-select +0+0"
Option "metamodes" "1680x1050_60 +0+0; 1680x1050 +0+0"
SubSection "Display"
Depth 24
Modes "1680x1050_60" "1680x1050"


Shawn J. Goff said...

@phil pirj
To get other applications to open links in Firefox 3.5, you have to set it as the preferred web browser in System->Preferences->Preferred Applications. Choose "custom" from the dropdown and type "firefox-3.5 %s".

osiris said...

well, ubuntu is a bad excuse of and operating system. i would choose windows over ubuntu anyday. and I AM a Linux user. i've used slackware, debian suse and opensuse.
i have opensuse on my laptop.
never had a problem, always did what it was told to do. i tried ubuntu and said "never again". other people i know said the same. ubuntu...well...sucks. there. i said it.

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