Saturday, February 19, 2011

Is Ubuntu playing with fire?


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How’s that for an incendiary headline? Before I continue, here’s how I got here:

First I tested the Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Alpha image, which I thought way too raw for a release two months and barely two weeks away, with the Unity layer on top of GNOME barely functional.

Then I tried a pre-alpha of Fedora 15, due May 10, a full 10 days after Ubuntu Natty, and found that while I didn’t seem to be running GNOME Shell, it was GNOME 2.91.6 and pretty much worked as normal, and anchored a live system that was functional and responsive, though pretty darn ugly.

The comments on both entries were mostly written by Ubuntu defenders, telling me how wrong I was to judge Ubuntu by this alpha image, how it was going to rock at release time, and how I should a) do some research, b) screw my head on right and c) basically realize that Ubuntu can do no wrong, so shut the f*** up.

I’m not a Ubuntu basher.

I always say that Ubuntu holds a very important position in the world of free, open-source software as well as in the wider world of all computer operating systems and environments, and for that reason I hold the Ubuntu project and its corporate entity Canonical to a higher standard than other software projects and companies.

I even run Ubuntu, albeit on one computer and not some or all (but certainly not none).

And I went back into my past entries and found a couple of reviews of previous Ubuntu alpha releases that … actually were functional, and Ubuntu Natty at this point in time running a desktop window manager (is that what it is?), Unity, that is untried, barely tested and not terribly functional does not bode well for a release in under three months time.

Here is my comment from a thread in LXer that explains the reason NOT why I’m anti-Ubuntu but why I see a frantically waving red flag in the path Ubuntu is taking toward its bleeding-edge push for new technologies in what people are expecting to actually use on their desktops:

What I’m saying is if you can’t deliver basic functionality in an alpha release of the distribution you hope to deliver to end users in two months time, maybe you should consider holding the troublesome features until the next release so you can provide a better user experience.

Fedora did this with systemd, which they could have put in Fedora 14 but instead chose to hold for Fedora 15. Debian is extremely conservative as to what they’ll put in a Stable release. Testing is frozen very early, and development then focuses on eliminating bugs in those frozen packages.

And yes, Gnome Shell has had considerably more development than has Unity. Along with that “edge” in development, Fedora is releasing AFTER Ubuntu.

Fedora gets a reputation for being too “bleeding edge,” and I am among those who have been burned by changes in Fedora mid-release. I left Fedora after F14 when I couldn’t get my video to work. Now with the same hardware, F15 displays perfectly. And I don’t think it’s anything Fedora did; the bugs were fixed upstream.

I’m still not happy that Ubuntu made a big deal about pulling from Debian Testing instead of Unstable to create the 10.04 LTS, yet they pushed many new or newish features/services such as Ubuntu One and the Me Menu which clearly could benefit from a lot more development before going into a release that is supposed to last three years on the desktop. More care and more conservative package choice should be the guiding principles behind a release with such a long support life.

I’m sure that Ubuntu One and the Me Menu features have been improved for 10.10 and will be even more polished in 11.04, but that leaves LTS users to either turn off the features or be forced to jump on the six-month cycle to get better versions. Pulling from Debian Testing is just lip service if you’re shoving a bunch of stuff on top of it that has not been through as careful a development process.

I want to like Ubuntu, I still use it on one machine, and I support many of the project’s goals. But when Fedora seems more conservative in its releases, you know there’s something that’s not quite kosher. I don’t think newbie users are well-served by such raw software.

I hope I’m wrong and Ubuntu 11.04 turns out to be a rock-solid, fast and functional release that gives those new to Linux the minimum of trouble. Of course, there’s always Mint …

I’m on the record as thinking the Ubuntu 6.06 and 8.04 LTS releases were great ones, but I’m not as happy with 10.04 LTS (though that’s the version I run on my remaining Ubuntu machine), which was advertised as conservative in the way packages were pulled from Debian Testing rather than the usual Unstable but which ran off the rails by incorporating features added to the Debian base and other upstream packages by Ubuntu developers that were in no way ready for what I think a long-term-support release should be.

And I fear that Unity is another piece of software for which Ubuntu is both the upstream and downstream, with what smells to me like a mandate to release in distribution form before GNOME 3 and GNOME Shell is allowed to get any traction via other distros such as Fedora and Mint.

Question for you: Do you think there will be a Canonical-supported “spin” of Ubuntu featuring GNOME 3 and GNOME Shell? GNOMEbuntu? Or will it be Linux Mint?


Strict Standards: Non-static method StringParser_Node::destroyNode() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /home1/passjoe/public_html/debian/fp-plugins/bbcode/inc/stringparser.class.php on line 358

Strict Standards: Non-static method StringParser_Node::destroyNode() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /home1/passjoe/public_html/debian/fp-plugins/bbcode/inc/stringparser.class.php on line 358

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Steven Rosenberg writes about many things in many places, including Debian (and FlatPress) right here.

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