The Move Away From Ubuntu

The Blog of Tom Webster

  2013-04-13 17:32:00 PDT

I’ve recently started distro shopping again. I’ve been running Xubuntu 12.10 for a while now, after trying several different distributions, including the many Ubuntu flavors. Early in my Linux life, I started with SuSE, put up with YaST until I couldn’t stand it, then moved to Ubuntu. I had been a mostly-happy Ubuntu user since 6.06. Ubuntu had everything I needed in a Linux distribution: Stability, speed, community, and ease-of-use. I could work, play, and live on that system. Unfortunately, that’s started to change recently. I find myself wanting a bit more stability, a bit more focus on the desktop, a bit more speed, and a bit more respect towards system customization. Everyone points to Unity, everyone points to the ads thrown around, some people point to Ubuntu One and the not-so-open Software Center. These are problems, these are contributing to me picking something else, but the main issue is that I believe Canonical is losing their way with Ubuntu, both on the desktop and server side. They’ve simply grown too large, gotten too commercial. I don’t want this to turn into the “they sold out” rant, but it is looking like it will.

The new “Metal as a Service” project they have going on, is a decent foray into the cloud services market, but I’m not sure why they don’t just jump right into OpenStack and offer a non-branded solution. Instead, they come up with the Ubuntu Cloud and put all of their effort into Juju and Charms. I’m ok with new projects, but it seems a little sophomoric and irresponsible to throw so much power at a brand new system, re-brand it as your own design, and heavily sell support packages based around it. Its very annoying to read through the documentation and get sales pitches left and right.

Lets get this out of the way, and its nothing new: Unity is an unmitigated disaster, especially this latest release. It is very annoying to power users, difficult to customize, and difficult to run on low-end machines (AKA netbooks). I don’t know any long-time Ubuntu user who prefers Unity to their old Gnome 2 setup. Difficult, annoying, and locked down is not something you should be pitching to users, especially Linux users, who regularly want to tear something apart and make it their own.

Realistically, I could just as easily blame KDE and Gnome for releasing shit-tastic products. KDE4 was annoying at best, with the over-reliance on widgets and slow, poorly-organized menus. Gnome 3 was utter shit. There aren’t any real redeeming qualities to this window manager. It is slow, has no customization, even a few years there aren’t any decent applications for theming or changing the look/behavior of your system. This isn’t easy enough for novices, it isn’t customizable enough for power users, and it is far too confusing for anyone in between. Hold the shift key while clicking your username to get the shutdown menu option to appear? Who the fuck thinks of that? What kind of UX testing (if any) was done to ensure that users wouldn’t riot? Needless to say, the main line of Linux window managers have taken a massive step backwards, so Ubuntu isn’t alone in this.

Ubuntu One has become increasingly annoying and hard-to-avoid. The Ubuntu-only imitation Dropbox was both a bad idea, and poorly implemented. Canonical selling music through this service was an interesting idea, but also poorly implemented. What is most concerning about this is how the Ubuntu One Music Store is integrated into the default music application, Rhythmbox, by default. In the past few years, Canonical is basically begging people to buy into the “Ubuntu Experience”, and this isn’t appropriate for an open source operating system.

The Software Center is another point of contention, but to a smaller extent. It does good things for new users, but the featured software is never open source or free, its always a legal DVD player or a game. This isn’t a bad thing, but Canonical doesn’t need to compete with Apple or Android (even though they seem to be moving closer to that each day), they don’t need an app store, and they shouldn’t be abandoning the open source community.

In essence, it seems that Canonical has lost their way, like these are the awkward teenage years of Ubuntu. I really hope they snap out of this soon. With all the choice in distributions today, there aren’t a lack of alternatives around, so worst case, people will leave and start new somewhere else, best case: Canonical gets fed up with themselves, goes back to their roots, and starts making Linux easy, stable, and fun again.

Need some more Ubuntu-hate? Check out Micah F. Lee’s post.

In my next post, I’ll write about my journey through a few different Linux distributions, and (what I believe to be) the distribution I’ve settled on for the majority of my new installs. Stay tuned.