Ubuntu and I – Beauty Isn’t Enough

I’m not a new Linux user. Actually, I’m about as far away from being a new Linux user as you can get. I’m perfectly comfortable getting down as low as you want to go, rolling in the grease, re-routing the pipes and wiring, or smashing about in the subatomic.

So you Arch Linux cutie dilettantes, you go have your fun running your scripts and googling for what someone else did to fix something, and feel all big about yourselves. That’s wonderful. It’s good to learn. Maybe you’ll be solving some problems some day too, that other people will benefit from. But don’t think I need to hear anything about how wonderful Arch Linux is.

I don’t want my main workstation computer to be used for tinkering. I want it to be no hassle at all – no time sinks. I want it to look nice, function well with the developing “ecosystems” on the net, and be stable. I want it to be a no-brainer. My brain and time is needed for other things. The workstation is merely the conduit. I don’t want to waste time fiddling with it.

This is why a few years ago I started using Ubuntu. They just gathered up all the stuff and slopped it into a pretty package that worked, for the most part, without me having to hunt down drivers, recompile, decide which messaging client was going to work best now with the ever-evolving technologies, etc., etc. They gave me the no-brainer for my workstation. Yay for them, yay for me. And they embraced Free Software! Mostly.

Ubuntu replaced Debian on my workstation. It made me feel ok because they drew from the quality of Debian, taking the latest developments, and packed them up nicely. I didn’t have to wait 2 years for updated software on the workstation. Joy! Of course, where servers are concerned, I am very happy for Debian’s more careful release cycle…

Lately, however, Ubuntu begins to irritate. A little like a beauty who turns out to be insanely controlling and utterly self-centered. Sure, I admit, I haven’t shown a lot of love back, but I just assumed we had an understanding that our relationship was a marriage of convenience.

Now, I find myself increasingly inconvenienced. For example, a couple days ago the Ubuntu boot process started to hang, telling me my Windows partition was horribly corrupt. I won’t deny that. But the filesystem really is fine. So I have to take out the Windows partitions from fstab if I want Ubuntu to boot, then add them back when I want to mount them later (in the specific way I want them mounted). Or write some scripts to mount and unmount them. Yeah, so what, you might say. Easy. Yes. But it means my workstation is requiring my attention and work.

And sound… sometimes the soundcards are detected, sometimes they are not. I can reboot until they are detected. Then sometimes the volume is locked all the way on, or all the way off. Despite muting. Despite levels. I can select a soundcard used for the speakers, or for the headphones, yet often times it doesn’t matter which I select. Sure, I can troubleshoot pulseaudio, alsa, or whatever else might have been thrown into the works. But that requires my attention, and my work.

The point is, if I were using Debian’s workstation right now, I wouldn’t have to worry about minor updates breaking things. I wouldn’t really have to worry that any of my customizations within the OS would break my boot process. I would, however, have to deal with a glacial release cycle, which is wonderful for servers, but annoying for desktops. Then again, I would have the same software versions to work with on the workstation as I do on the servers.

Ubuntu is beautiful, no doubt. Visually, I prefer it hands down over Windows 7 or OSX. Functionally as well. One of the worst things for me when working in Windows or Mac is that I feel trapped within what they’ve provided for me. Anything unique I must research and work to get past their many “easy” abstractions, and even then I am often locked out due to a proprietary nature. Though this is not the case with Ubuntu, I certainly have to dig through much fluff at times.

Also, I happily pay Canonical for Ubuntu One service. I do it more to thank them, than for any benefit – though it is nice having my music and documents automatically sync to my laptop. But I can’t easily use Ubuntu One with any other Linux distribution. It’s not like syncing files remotely is even remotely difficult! But this kind of “lock-in” isn’t compelling enough for me to remain true to them. In fact, it pushes me away.

Also, the noise around Shuttleworth’s directional intent for Ubuntu does not sit the best with me. Actually, it hasn’t from the beginning. I’m not fond of any person or business taking from another, then calling it their own. I’m looking at you, too Apple, especially. And of course, Microsoft.

So my no-brainer workstation based on Ubuntu is now up for re-evaluation. Arch is out because the install processes won’t install /root on an LVM drive made of RAID. Sure I can get around that. I’m not going to bother, though. Debian, I could boot over into right now. I like the look of Fedora with Gnome 3, but it’s a chore to get all the drivers right. Thank patents and proprietary nonsense. Debian suffers because of this, too. But the process is faster/easier with Debian. And I swore off Gentoo after the last library dependency debacle I experienced. Arch users, Gentoo is where you’d really do some learning, btw.

At this moment, I’m considering trying Linux Mint – the Debian version. I do this because I had almost convinced myself to switch back to Debian on the workstation and follow along the “unstable” path. My thinking is, Linux Mint may filter out much of the riskiness in doing this, since it goes through them (using the “testing” branch rather than “unstable”, apparently).

Basically, I’m really not liking the more commercial feel of Ubuntu lately. And since my no-brain reason for using it isn’t exactly valid any more, I think it’s time to switch. The irony is, many of the things that make Ubuntu more accessible to the masses is making it more difficult for me. I think I am not alone in this.

So we’ll see what the Mint can do. And if it can’t, then Debian it is. Recreating the eye candy functionality is easy, if I want to bother. It will be nice having my panel applets back. Best of all, I can always count on Debian to be a solid rock. And any deviation from Free and Open will be mine, not theirs. This makes me happy.

Next in this series: Out of Ubuntu’s Bed to Hairy Arch Linux in a Dark Alley