Goodbye Ubuntu, hello Debian

I’ve been having issues with the direction that Ubuntu/Canonical are taking since a couple of releases. The latest release finally made me decide that it’s time to try something else. Things that are going wrong IMO:

– The notification system was one of the first things where Ubuntu unnecessarily forked away from the already good Gnome notifications. I don’t like the Ubuntu version because it doesn’t have that close button with which I can quickly click a away a notification. For example, if somebody chats me, I want to be able to click it away in case my boss is looking over my shoulders. Also, if I remember correctly, it doesn’t pick up themes that well. I’ve never seen the point of this effort, but I did not care that much either.

– The communications icon in the status bar I never used that much. Except for launching Evolution, Empathy, etc, which is a bit stupid since it makes app launching inconsistent (some apps from the app menu, others from the icon, etc).

– The logout button in the upper right corner I liked. However, it became a little bit of a sink for other stuff as well. The recent move to put the system settings there is complete bullshit IMO. Who would intuitively get the idea that system settings hide behind the ‘on/off’ button?

– The window close/min/max buttons on the left side I didn’t really care much. It’s a clear MacOS ripoff which I personally found a bit pointless. Maybe it makes more sense with Unity now, but this is even more pointless.

– The global menu bar is one of the worst ideas ever, IMO. It might be ok for maximized apps, in which case it pretty much behaves like the normal menus (except that you need to hover over it to make it visible), but for everything else it simply disconnects an application from it’s menu. It’s especially crappy for (e.g.) empathy, which usually sits in my lower right corner of the screen. Now I need to take my focus from there to the upper left corner of the screen (and hover over it) to find the menu. Complete fail. And another pointless MacOS ripoff.

– The new scrollbars I actually hoped would be a nice idea. But the implementation sucks. I cannot simply click in the lower corner of the scrollbar to scroll there in one shot. No, I need to find where that little scroller sits (which is difficult, because it’s only few pixels wide), hover over hit, then grab the little knob and drag it around (or click it to get page scrolls). I understand the intention behind it to offer something that works both on desktops and tablets, but the realization so sucks. Maybe Canonical will improve it in a later release, but given it’s history I have my doubts. What is worse is that some apps have this new scrollbar, some apps the old Gnome one, and some even seem to have the old with strange colors (e.g. gnome-terminal). Completely inconsistent, and another pointless deviation from standard Gnome.

– And finally, Unity, the most pointless deviations from Gnome. It’s conceptually the same as Gnome Shell, it behaves similar in many respects, but just that little bit less usable in a couple of aspects. E.g. I found it trivial and straightforward to launch an app in Gnome Shell (click activities, click applications, choose), where is was quite unobvious to find in Unity: find app menu, which looks more like a zoom button, get a list of favorite/recently used apps, which never really work (haven’t they learned this lesson from windows??), figure out how to get a complete list, search list, find applications after X seconds, click. Complete fail. It’s so beyond me why Canonical did not simply invest in Gnome Shell and build on that. It is this attitude of selfbrewing half baked stuff that drives me crazy about Canonical.

From now on, I will make Debian my default, and keep an eye on Ubuntu inside a VM or such. I was actually quite surprised how well Squezze works. It probably helps that Linux (as a whole ecosystem) is at a point where bleeding edge (which Debian is not) doesn’t do much to improve the user experience (and except of breaking changes like Gnome3, hardly noticable at all). The less bleeding edge but rock solid stuff in Debian is actually quite enjoyable. And it makes clear that the relatively vanilla Gnome (2.30) is much more usable and consistent than the Ubuntu modified Gnome. Let’s see how it goes.


About Roman Kennke
JVM Hacker, Principal Software Engineer at Red Hat's OpenJDK team, Shenandoah GC project lead, Java Champion

7 Responses to Goodbye Ubuntu, hello Debian

  1. Clemens Eisserer says:

    Seems you are not the only one unhappy here 😉

    I spent the last few years waiting for KDE4 to become what it probably never will be – a desktop stable enoughto fit my needs. Every major a few things are fixed, while others are broken. Not to mention it sucks more memory and starts up slower than all the other desktop environments.

    Gnome3/Unity are just too “different” for me. I played with both a few days, only to find how happy I was when switching back to a traditional Desktop. Both look cool, but I doubt either makes me more productive.

    So with Gnome2 beeing dammed to legacy, I’ll give xfce a try. Hopefully they don’t intend to do breaks soon 😉

  2. Another odd thing: in order to get some Unity stuff working, Compiz was updated to the unstable 0.9.4 version. So after 5 minutes fun with Unity I’ve switched back to the good old “Classic Desktop” (gnome2) to discover that on this desktop Compiz is in the really unstable state, working by chance… Any setting you change now in Compiz leads to some unpredictable side-effects…

    I think with latest release Ubuntu will loose a lot of users simply by the fact that with 11.04 version there is no stable and usable desktop on Ubuntu (ok, KDE/XFCE are still optionally there but I mean the “default” stock Ubuntu desktop).

    That’s really sad… I liked Gnome / Ubuntu until 11.04…

  3. Leonel says:

    I’ve installed gnome3 and works great

    sudo apt-add-repository ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3
    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
    sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

  4. Jonathan Gibbons says:

    As a result of similar experiences, I’ve finally moved to a Mac for my personal laptop.

  5. jim says:

    About ubuntu with Gnome 2.3x. I will say this again. Wheel is very old invention — but still, circle is the best shape for it. Can we pls have back in Gnome the scrollbars the way they used to be? So that we are on the same wavelength (it shows my age — doesn’t it; maybe I should say, we are on the same digital encoding), the scrollbars that you see in Firefox 4.0.1. What they have is a scrollbar that (a) has the right degree of color contrast and so is visible, and (b) stays visible at all times so you don’t have to hunt for it. IMHO

  6. Willem says:

    I agree with you on almost all accounts. The current direction of Canonical will destroy the foundation of any community-supported Linux distribution, namely the body of users actually using and improving the application. The current menu’s not only have an incredible depth to them, you have to work yourself through layers and layers of options, they are also incredibly lacking as far as usability goes. What’s wrong with a simple pop-up, pop-out menu? In the end, it might not be the best option for newer technologies, such as touchscreen displays, but the current Ubuntu App Finder is not going to work with those displays either, as the drop-down menu to find the basic categories is rather small.

    Another annoying thing is the lack of customizability, in the past you had some choice to the way menu’s were displayed to you. With the latest versions of Ubuntu, you’ve got to have some advanced knowledge of how things work to be able to change anything. Wouldn’t it be better for touchscreen users to be able to select a touchscreen-friendly menu, while mouse users can opt for a more speedy pop-up, pop-out menu? As it is now, most users don’t use a touchscreen display, so they don’t need big icons for big fingers. The current menu’s will scare people away from the distribution before they can appreciate the bigger icon design on their new touchscreen home computer. Besides, one look at touchscreen devices, such as tablets or mobile phones, shows us that, even while they’re not nearly there yet in terms of usability, applications are easier to find with their lesser menu-depth (sometimes you have to swap screens a few times). Even if Canonical is considering touchscreens, they’ve made some grave design errors.

    But there’s more. As a Human Factors expert, I’ve got a lot of first hand experience with (computer) engineers and their (lack of) psychological knowledge. In industries, this is normally lethal: Over 80% of organisational accidents involve predictable and often preventable human factors. Within end-user computer design this is normally less lethal, however, failing to understand psychology leads to complete failure in usability design. As mentioned above, hiding “System Settings” in a menu that pop-out after clicking an icon usually associated with power-off/power-on functions isn’t going to help people find it, especially new users. That the association between the icon and its normal function is strong is proven by the other options in the menu, shut down, log off, switch user etc. But that’s not the only icon that is ambiguous on first glance, the app-finder is a zoom button and almost all of the new uses I introduced to Ubuntu associated the “Ubuntu Software Center” with buying software, while most of that software is freely available. It seems that using a paper grocery bag brings an association of buying stuff which resulted in those users avoiding opening that useful feature.

    I can probably mention a dozen other design features that decrease usability and heightens the needed learning curve, things like the strange outward dragging of icons on the launch bar needed to be able to move them around in the up/down-direction on that same launch bar. It took me a while to learn that and I suspect some users never will. But this post is long enough, I think I made my point.

  7. thupten says:

    exactly. i hate the ubuntu with unity as much as you do. moreover i miss the ubuntu with gnome. i regret pressing that upgrade button to version 11. if they were so eager to make this big of a change, they should have just made something like unitybuntu. i am into linuxmint right now. lets see how it goes.
    i think windows has the best gui experience usability wise. things get done fast in windows. if it had the power of *nix underneath, that would be awesome os.
    and yea, i hate it that ubuntu is trying to copy mac osx. osx is the worst os usability wise. its looks is good. I have used windows, macosx and linux for many years. it seems these os’s are changing to cater to new users and power users like us are having rough time getting things done quickly.

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