2011-05-15

Ubuntu 11.04

If Mac OS is the continuing evolution of Steve Jobs' vision of how we should use our computers, it's becoming increasingly clear that Ubuntu is Mark Shuttleworth's indirect request that we all just fuck off and get ourselves an OS from someone who actually gives a shit.

Rise
I was a big fan of Ubuntu in the beginning. I liked Debian in principle, but hated having to choose between the "stable" and "testing" branches, the former of which was literally years out of date, while the latter was too unstable for my taste (leading me to dub the choice "stale" or "broken"). Ubuntu at the time seemed to strike a happy medium: a reasonably well-tested 6-month snapshot of Debian "testing". As far as I recall, my only real complaint in the early days was that its color scheme had been decided upon by someone we can only assume was legally blind. Turd brown with safety orange highlights: no sighted person's first choice.

It also seemed, in those early days, as if Canonical was adding some value. They were acting as editors, shielding us from the petty internecine freetard religious wars. So, for example, those of us who just wanted to be able to play our mp3s didn't have to have an opinion on exactly which of the 100 not-quite-shippable music apps to choose, nor did we have to trawl through them all trying to find one that we'd consider acceptable: someone at Canonical had made a good-enough choice for us.

Decline...
Then things turned bad. Each release was less stable than the last. Only the LTS ("Long Term Support") releases were even half-way reasonable, and then they started fucking them up too, changing major components shortly before release, swapping in things that couldn't be considered stable. (And, of course, the user who restricts themselves to LTS releases gets to relive the old Debian "stable" days. Given that Debian is no longer as pathologically bad at shipping as it once was, such a user would have to ask themselves "why not Debian?".)

The usual volunteer disease afflicted Ubuntu too: people would only work on stuff that interested them. Which basically means that the same three components (window manager, desktop, music system) get rewritten over and over and over, each one being replaced before it can actually mature to the state where an impartial observer might call it good.

...and Fall
And now we have Ubuntu 11.04. The worst release yet. A release so bad even noted free software apologist Ryan Paul hates it.

I've no idea what the underlying stuff is like, because the surface layer of crap is so bad that it's taken away all my will to use it, and I'm spending my time surfing the web trying to decide which other distro to jump ship for. (Presumably Debian, but if I'm going to go to all the trouble of reinstalling, I may as well do the legwork.)

Misguided netbook focus
What sucks? There's yet another implementation of a dock from someone who appears to know nothing of the competition that can't be gleaned from screenshots. The old task-bar-thing has moved to the top of the screen (and apparently can't be moved back). The old menus are gone, and so are the buttons representing windows (the latter of which never worked very well anyway, compared to Mac OS or Windows). My system monitor and weather thingies disappeared (and if they can be added back, it's not in any way I can find), the rather nice world map used for the world clock is gone, my launcher for Chrome was replaced by Firefox and random crap I've never used like OpenOffice (and if I can add my own launchers, I couldn't work out how). The replacement for the apps menu appears to be an enormous search box that -- despite using almost a quarter of the area of my 30" display -- somehow only manages to show four apps at a time.

(Despite all this upheaval, there's no attempt to introduce users to the new system.)

The reason for moving the task-bar-thing to the top of the screen is because they've tried to switch to a Mac-style screen menu bar (rather than a Windows-style per-window menu bar). Unfortunately, this doesn't work with any of the apps I actually use. The only thing I've found that it did work with was the on-line help which I tried to use, but that inexplicably starts in some kind of full-screen mode, making it really frustrating to try to actually follow the instructions in the help.

I'm sure some of this must be semi-reasonable on a 10" netbook screen, but can only assume that none of the freetards responsible was able to get their mothers to buy them a 30" display. For example, even on Mac OS, the per-screen menu doesn't work very well on a 30" display. The screen's just too damned big.

ChromeOS: the netbook done right
But why would I be running Ubuntu on a netbook? Why wouldn't I be running ChromeOS? The only reason I can think of is if the netbook was my only computer. But that would be pretty stupid for the kind of person who even considers Linux. Sure, I have the Linux kernel on my Android phone, my Android tablet, my ChromeOS netbook (sorry, "Chromebook"), and my big-ass make -j16 desktop. But there's only one of those devices I'd consider using a Linux distro or desktop on, and honestly that's only for lack of an alternative.

I was hugely skeptical of ChromeOS until I acquired a Cr-48 and started using it. It's replaced my MacBook Pro at work. It hasn't replaced any of my Android devices, nor my work or home desktops, but that's fine and hardly unexpected. An Android-based netbook might be an interesting idea, but it would represent a different trade-off. For example, ChromeOS' multi-account model is its multi-user model. Pro: you can safely let friends or strangers log in to your Chromebook. Con: if you personally have multiple accounts (one for work, one for talking to the wife, and one for talking to the mistress, say), it's awkward to switch between them because you have to actively log back in. Android doesn't have a multi-user model, but supports multiple accounts being logged in simultaneously. Pro: you don't have to log in and out. Con: you can't log in and out, so an Android device is something you no more want to hand out than you would your wallet.

This whole Ubuntu netbook mania just seems like a way to screw your real users with no realistic hope of gaining new users. Not happy ones, anyway. Sadly, it looks like we're going to have this stuff forced down our throats whether we like it or not; GNOME Shell looks to be pretty much the same.

A work-around
As a work-around until you install something less lossy, here's how to go back to the pre-11.04 desktop. Click the "power off" button to get to "System Settings". Why wasn't I able to find that myself? I must be stupid, not trying the "power off" button!