Monday, 23 April 2007

Ubuntu vacation feelings

After a long and discontinuous experience with Linux and particularly Ubuntu, I switched to Ubuntu over Easter.

All the good reviews

If you are interested in appraisal only reports, look somewhere else. I had so many errors, bugs and strange behaviours that I cannot fall into the choir of Ubuntu enthusiasts.

Ready for prime time - for some

If you use your computer just for E-Mail, web browsing and the occasional word processing, you will love Ubuntu.

If you watch a video every now and then, you will be excited to see that it can be painless.

but not for all

If, on the other hand, you want to use Ubuntu in a mixed environment with Windows clients and servers, prepare for some surprising incidences.

Gnome provides an interesting approach to file access: gnome-vfs (Gnome virtual file system). Its an easy to use API that allows applications to access remote and heterogeneous file systems. Just mount a volume, drive or directory and access it with any application. That's what it says on the box.

Reality quickly catches on: Only a few applications are aware of gnome-vfs and the mounted drives. Nautilus (the Explorer pendant under Gnome) can access files. OpenOffice supports gnome-vfs as well. Others don't. And they are not just any applications: Thunderbird and Firefox are among them.

Notebook misery

I run Ubuntu on several notebooks. The basic system will always work. If you want to use notebook specific features like touchpads, sleep mode or wireless LAN, prepare for nightly sessions of debugging and error discovery. If your notebook is equipped with exotic peripherals (anything other than a keyboard a screen and an external mouse will do), you will likely find it not working.

On a HP nx8220 the smart card reader is not recognized, the SD cards cannot be mounted and sleep mode will wake up with sound amiss.

My HP 510 has a built-in Synaptics mouse pad. This is recognized in my nx8220 but not in the HP510. To calm us down, sound works after wakeup.

Tiny little annoyances

As a professional developer I am not prepared to ship things that do not work. And it seems pretty clear that some things don't work. So, they should not having been shipped.

Video playback using the proprietary graphics drivers from ATI don't go well with video playback. OK, they are turned of by default. Also compiz is turned of by default, and that is good so as it conflicts with video playback as well.

There is no centralized tool to adjust regional settings. This has to be done in configuration files, logon scripts, gnome tools and sometimes within the application itself. Thunderbird for examples does not honour the system wide font setting. It also ignores regional time formats. You have to set these using environment variables.

Why do I use it?

So, if I am not happy, why did I bother migrating?

Well, I did not say, I was unhappy. There are things that really work well. Automatic update, upgrading to a new version, installation and deinstallation of software all are more stable and trustworthy than the monopolists counterpart.

There is no IE installing malware behind my back, no Office update that deletes some of my .NET framework DLLs and most of all, no DRM to tell me what I am allowed to do, see and view.

I have no need to defrag my harddisk or registry, no thrills using some low level maintenance tools. I do my work and thats ok.

If there are some issues or lack of functionality I can look under the hood and identify the problem myself. I can contribute to the evolution of a system and that contribution is valued (as opposed to Microsoft where reporting a bug will cost you money).

But most of all, I feel like a person that has left its privileged live behind. All the high-tech gadgets, the nitty-gritties, items and toys that seemed so important mean nothing. I stand here with my bare feet in the sand, watch sunrise (or sunset, whichever you prefer). I feel like I don't need all the chaos, hectic and stress.

I feel like I'm on vacation.

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