Hey Ubuntu, Stop Making Linux Look Bad

Ubuntu's new Karmic Koala 9.10 release has been highly anticipated as the greatest release ever. In truth, it falls flat on its face in a time when Linux really needed to shine.

It’s the same old story. A new Ubuntu release, a new series of pain and frustration.

Canonical releases a new version of Ubuntu every 6 months, come what may. Unfortunately what most often comes is a system full of bugs, pain, anguish, wailing and gnashing of teeth – as many “early” adopters of Karmic Koala have discovered.

The problem is, Ubuntu makes Linux look bad. As more and more people make the switch to free software this is not a good thing. Linux is meant to be stable, secure, reliable.

On the other hand, Ubuntu is obviously doing a lot right. People are indeed switching to Linux, and most of these users have come from an operating system far more torturous, but what they arrive to doesn’t have to be the way it is. Indeed, it shouldn’t be that way.

You see, “With great power comes great responsibility” and now that Ubuntu is very popular it really has a responsibility to create quality products.

As usual, some things which were broken in the previous release are now fixed, but things which were working are now broken. A friend of mine has two wireless USB devices. One works on 9.04 while the other one doesn’t, which is fair enough. With 9.10 however, the one which wasn’t working now works, but the one which was working now doesn’t. Come again? It’s not the first time either. Upgrading from 8.10 to 9.04 his TV tuner cards which used to work, then stopped.

There’s gotta be a better way to do this.

With each new release comes new features, newer software, yet somehow things go backwards. Free software is supposed to improve with each new release. Take OS X, which gets faster. Cleaner. Better. Sure, they have a much smaller hardware base to work on, but it can be done. Ubuntu with the potential for thousands of developers surely can do a better job? Or at least, surely it could at least move forward??

Perhaps Ubuntu’s success is also its curse. They came to fame by making the hard things easier and as such have done great things for the Linux desktop. When you introduce components like proprietary software however, things get more complicated. Sure, Jockey (the proprietary driver manager) warns that Ubuntu “cannot improve or fix these third party drivers,” but does the average user really know what that means? All they know is that their entire (supposedly stable) Linux box hard locks each time they log out or switch users.

Personally, upgrading a recent Jaunty install to Karmic entirely broke networking on the box. Meanwhile, a fresh Kubuntu 32bit install wouldn’t boot with a broken GRUB2 configuration and booting to the Live CD then hard locked the machine. On another machine, half-way through a fresh Ubuntu 64 bit install, the video card suddenly started to display artefacts on the screen. A power off and reboot and it’s still broken. Coincidence? Maybe.

Other people experience awesome features like broken graphics, crashing installer, misconfigured boot loader, USB drives not mounting, sound not working, broken wireless, the list goes on. Upgrading is so bad that a majority of the advice is to perform a fresh install. In fact, the entire term “early adopter” refers to the fact that most experienced Ubuntu users upgrading to the latest version will always wait at least a month before doing so, in order to ensure most major bugs are fixed. Is this seriously acceptable? Is this what you expect from a Linux system? Surely this is some kind of morbid, ironic joke.

Ubuntu is starting to make dents in the commercial arena and that’s great, but do we really need fancy new features like Ubuntu One when basic functionality (that quite frankly should be solved in the 21st century) doesn’t work as expected? Isn’t Ubuntu supposed to “Just Work”™?

Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the release notes for 9.10 and read the 40 odd bugs for this “stable” operating system:

  • Boot from degraded RAID array broken
  • File system corruption with so called “large files” over 512MB
  • Hibernation unavailable with automatic partitioning
  • Kubuntu package manager does not warn about installing from unsigned package repositories
  • No USB devices work on MSI Wind netbooks, plus flickering graphics
  • No Xv support for Intel graphics
  • Samba nmbd daemon not started during boot
  • System won’t boot with converted ext4 file system
  • Ubuntu Netbook Remix missing shutdown applet
  • Ubuntu One client corrupts data
  • Wireless kill switch segfaults kernel
  • X server crashes when using a Wacom tablet
  • ..and others (plus more discovered after release).

You must be joking.

A poll on the Ubuntu forums shows just 10% of people had a flawless install. Now that’s something to be proud of! Still not convinced? Try it yourself.

They say, “What goes around comes around.” If Ubuntu doesn’t get their act together then they will be eclipsed by other distros, and rightfully so. What’s worse about all this, is that Karmic Koala had been talked up so much. “It’s a Windows 7 killer” and all that, which of course we’ve heard before. Shuttleworth boasts that he is even “looking forward” to the battle with Microsoft. In the face of Microsoft’s latest effort, just when Linux needed a knight in shining armor and a prime example of how amazing free software is we get, ah, Ubuntu. Hurrah.

Many years ago Linux was very command line focused (and still can be, thank goodness). Back then, many Windows users tried Linux and were scared off, never to try Linux again having been so deeply scarred by that initial experience. It’s happening again, except that this time many of the things which are great about Linux that are touted by the community are being destroyed. Linux is stable, it doesn’t crash. Whoops, Ubuntu just hard locked my machine. Whoops, Firefox is no longer starting up for some reason, whoops this package is now broken. Gah!

Canonical is not an open source company, they are just using free software to try and get a slice of the huge operating system market. Even so, one of Shuttleworth’s primary goals for Ubuntu is for it to be as good as OS X. With releases like Karmic Koala, they aren’t going to get there any time soon, especially when Apple is releasing excellent bug fix-only versions like Snow Leopard. Get your act together, because while Ubuntu might be gaining brave new users who have it worse on Windows, it just doesn’t cut it for experienced Linux users.

Of course these sort of issues are not limited to Ubuntu, but it certainly seems to have more than its fair share. Perhaps it’s the whole commercially driven “release on time” philosophy, or maybe there aren’t enough beta testers. Then again, Fedora has been pushing the limits more than Ubuntu recently and has introduced far more features, yet has had much more successful releases. Something is very wrong with Ubuntu’s release cycle.

Perhaps it’s just Karma, or perhaps the mascot too greatly epitomizes this release. Koalas are after all, very lazy beasts who sleep most of the time (and they don’t drink at all). Drop bears on the other hand..

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