Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Ubuntu 12.04 - the questions that divide a community

I have been running several computers on the Ubuntu Linux operating system for 5 years, and although not expert I would at least claim some sort of familiarity with the capabilities of the system, its strengths and weaknesses.  I have written previously in Windoze or Ubuntu (Linux)? that I can do virtually everything on Ubuntu that I could do with Windows, enjoy some features that Windows does not offer, and that the one thing that I would really miss if I had to abandon Windows completely is Microsoft Excel.  (Word is pretty good too, although gradually less so!)

Ubuntu has for a long time had a policy of bringing out a new version every 6 months (which is perhaps a bit too often), but having a Long Term Support (LTS) version once every 2 years.  The LTS version is guaranteed to be supported for an extended period, thus making it a more attractive option for people running large networks where they can achieve a level of stability for their users.  I personally like that stability as an individual user too.  Almost everything continues to work fine, although individual packages might get left behind in the rush for 'progress'. 

This means that my desktop machine has been running 10.04 for over 2 years.  I had a netbook running 10.10 and a laptop on 11.04. (My mother and two of my children also run 11.04.)  I have a policy of never installing the version before an LTS release as they tend to be experimental to the point of frustration.  (No I can't support that claim with evidence!  But I do believe it.  9.10 was a disaster from my point of view!)

Over that 5 years, my familiarity with Linux has improved.  The general compatibility and usability of Ubuntu has also also been transformed.  During that time I have found that some of the features that used to be problematic now 'just work'.  Sound was one of those things that sometimes had to be coaxed into operation - now it works fine.  Laptop wireless networking was another weakness that has been improved beyond measure.

On the whole, Ubuntu installs easily, finds the settings for all your hardware and implements everything without human intervention.

Nevertheless, in the background, Ubuntu has been gradually trying to lose the word 'Linux', and appears to be trying to go away from the accepted conventions of all desktop environments in an attempt to stamp out a look and feel of their own.  In some senses, Ubuntu seems to be gradually changing its appearance to be more like the desktop environment of the Apple Macs, and not all of us regard that as being progress.  But for example, why on earth would they move the icons from the top right of a window to the top left?  Yes you can get a script that moves them back, but they fact that Ubuntu imposes this irritation on us shows that they don't give a sh*t for our opinion! 

Introduction of the utterly horrible new 'Unity' interface was another example of that, and the fact that Ubuntu is one of very few distributions to have packaged the 'GNOME3' 'shell' is takes it a step further.  For many Ubuntu users one of these was an incumberance, but putting both together was an imposition that is certain to drive loyal users away.

It is with these points niggling at my mind that I undertook the process of converting all three machines over to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, released 26th April, while half-wondering whether the time had come to abandon Ubuntu in favour of one of the other well-known Linux distros.  Fedora and Debian both have a good following, and Fedora in particular has excellent community support.  Open Suse was another option that I have considered exploring.

One month and a week into the experiment I have completed the transition.  First I transferred the laptop and netbook over, and only after establishing that all my usual activities (see below**) worked properly on the laptop did I convert the desktop machine.

I will say a bit more about my conclusions in a few days.  (I will add a link here when I publish it.)  Will I stay with Ubuntu or not?  The jury is out.

** Normal activities include web browsing, e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets, online messaging, Facebook and Twitter (including bulk uploads of tweets), web site maintenance (including FTP), photography and image manipulation, blogging, downloading podcasts and synchronising them to an MP3 player, Skype, listening to music and watching DVDs and probably more.

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