[ Wednesday, 6 June 2007, michuk ]
It has been a long while since I have written my last review of a GNU/Linux distribution. Lack of time was one of the reasons, second being the fact that my Ubuntu system just worked and I haven’t been in a mood to experiment lately. This will not be another “I just installed Ubuntu — it beats Windows — try it yourself” type of review. It is going to be rather a report from another successful upgrade, pointing out the biggest surprises and the most miserable failures of the latest release of Ubuntu Linux, codenamed Feisty Fawn.
Author: Borys Musielak
Short history first. I started using Ubuntu Linux just when this distribution first appeared, 3.5 years ago with Warty Warthog. I switched from a totally screwed-up installation of Debian Sid which was my previous distribution of choice. Since then I upgraded the system more or less regularly every six months, following the Ubuntu release cycle. I had to clean install only once since two years ago I changed my laptop. As you can see, I can be called a hardcore Ubuntu user. I could say that I know this system like my own pocket, provided that the contents of my pocket weren’t a mystery to me most of the times. So, what was the biggest surprise in the recently released Ubuntu 7.04 to me? Read on if you’re interested.
For the first time in my life I decided to use a graphical user interface to upgrade GNU/Linux. Before I used to call spells like
apt-get dist-upgrade with insane smile on my face. This time it was different. I grew up and decided to use the Ubuntu Upgrade Manager — a state-of-the-art upgrade manager. It looked like on the following screen.
Rys.1 Edgy to Feisty upgrade in progress
The program occurred to be a rather decent one. It managed to upgrade my whole system in the background! While I was successfully doing some other totally irrelevant stuff, an unexpected pop-up suddenly informed me that I should restart my Feisty Fawn machine. I obeyed and restarted my machine instantly.
Where are my applications?
My new Ubuntu after a successful reboot booted up without causing problems and let me log in to a little bit refreshed GNOME desktop which has been my desktop of course for years. The only surprise was that the system lacked a few applications that have been previously installed. These were Amarok, K3B and some other “K” apps and my special edition of OpenOffice.org from UxSystems which has been replaced with the default edition available in Ubuntu 7.04. The change wasn’t anything I would care for. I used OpenOffice.org UX only because the Edgy Eft version wouldn’t allow me to open any files saved in OpenOffice.org 2.1. The problem ceased to exist in Feisty Fawn so I ceased to care as well. Maybe with an exception that the documents created in previous versions of OO.org tend to be displayed somewhat differently in the new release (the most irritating was the positions of tables and graphics), something that I cannot understand and justify. Oh well, I fixed the documents manually and apt-get the missing KDE apps. The personal settings were kept so the trouble was still minimal.
New features in Feisty Fawn
Plenty of new features that Ubuntu 7.04 introduced didn’t really impress me. Except for the upgrade manager I don’t think I benefited from any. The migration assistant was no use for me since I do not have a Windows installation on my computer. Automatic multimedia codecs download seems nice but I use Automatix2 anyway since this downloads all at once. However, when I tried using this magic feature on a different machine it failed miserably to enable WMV support on Totem — the system detected a missing codec and downloaded something but failed to play the media. I used MPlayer which obviously caused no problems at all.
One more feature that may be not crucial for a desktop user but it probably a big benefit for the developers is the introduction of Apport — a tool for automatic error handling and delivering to the Canonical team. The feature turned out to be useful quite soon — when Automatix failed to install a Netbeans package for some unclear reason.
Rys.3 Sending an error report to Canonical
In spire of the fact that I read some 15 different Feisty reviews in the last few weeks, the OS (or rather the apps it provides) surprised me a few times in a good way:
- Fonts — no idea what happened, but they look nicer than in Edgy Eft. Notice that I have never complained on fonts in Eddy so this means that they got even better in Feisty. I cannot explain what have exactly changed though, I just see that they look kind of more pleasant. And I like it this way
- Fast OpenOffice.org 2.2 — obviously the suite starts like a turtle (no change here), but I have noticed that once launched, it loads up new document like a breeze — much faster than in 2.1. The ODT parser must have been enhanced or perhaps other things have been optimized for speed, but the gain is obvious. Big plus to the developers. I just hope once OpenOffice.org suite will be also able to start as fast as MS Office under Windows.
- Rhythmbox learned how to cooperate with Sony Ericsson. Indeed it learned the trick. Before it tried but with little success. Now it reads my MP3 files saved on the telephone MemoryStick with no problems. I can alter the ID3 tags, remove, load new ones or even play the music directly from the phone connected to my laptop. Little thing, but a nice one.
Nobody likes failures. Even declared losers. Unfortunately in case of Feisty Fawn there are quite a few of those. And they aren’t minor once. Let’s name but a few…
- Unstable Liferea. My favorite RSS reader got crazy after upgrade to 1.2.10 (default in Feisty). Once upon a while it simply crashes. Probably segfaulting, but I cannot prove it since I usually run it from GNOME toolbar and can’t see any useful logs anywhere. The crashes are unpredictable and totally random. They happen when I right-click on one of the feeds, sometimes just after changing focus to the reader — no pattern here. I even submitted a bug to the authors but it was too general and I was too lazy to investigate the matter in detail. Just switched to Google Reader. Yeah, I know it sucks…
- Beryl, Compiz…. — well ii “kind of works”. I can see the cube, I can move the wobby windows. But it’s too unstable to use it daily. Sometimes the toolbars just disappear when using the Beryl window manager. In such case
killall beryl && metacity --replacefixes the thing but of course we don’t want regular users to cast such spells. It’s very slow too. Scrolling in some applications take forever. And it’s pretty strange since playing couple of movies while playing with the cube doesn’t seem to bother it, but minimizing and maximizing a window sometimes result in frame-dropping-like effect. To put it short — it’s unusable. At least in my typical laptop Intel graphic card (with free open-source drivers).
- /etc/init.d/dbus restart — this command is probably well-known to all Feisty users. NetworkManager cannot detect any network? The computer fails to hibernate or suspend? GNOME acts unstable? Restarting DBUS service is a magic cure to all. It’s great but… doesn’t the fact that I have to complain about it disqualifies the distribution as a “regular user” friendly? Well, yes it does.
Ubuntu 7.04 is a great OS for a person who likes “the computer” to do things for him but at the same time enables the user to configure anything he wants manually without screwing the installation. I’m that type of person, actually. Unfortunately it isn’t stable enough to recommend it for real work. For this purpose I would go for version 6.06 Dapper Drake. It’s stable, mature and all the bugs have been already fixed. My father actually uses it on the desktop in his company and has no problems whatsoever.
I have an impression that Canonical was very determined to release Ubuntu 7.04 on schedule. However I think Mark forgot about one crucial thing — it’s stability, stupid! In fact 95% users care about stability the most. Features, eye-candy, fancy effects — it’s all cool and “useful” but it the system crashes, you cannot get your work done. Linux is not a toy, at least for me. I demand a system that works in a stable manner. All the rest has lower priority. I really hope that the philosophy “let’s release it on time, anything we have” will be dropped in Canonical and replaced with “let’s release it when it’s ready”. I mean really ready. With no annoying bugs that make people believe Linux is not mature enough to use it on desktop.
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