Cyberborean Chronicles

Choosing an OS

There is April – the time of “to upgrade or not to upgrade” question for every Ubuntu user. For sure, the 12.04 “Precise Pangolin” release is going to be LTS (Long-Term Support) so perhaps, the answer in another time would be simple and obvious. But for me, things are much more complex now.

This article is mostly negative but I am rather confused than angry. Yes, I know that it makes no sense to bitch about open-source software: the only adequate response would always be “come in and make it better” and I am 100% agreed with that point. But the problem is much bigger than the bugs or missed features or even than controversial design decisions: the problem is an attitude which is much more difficult, if even possible to fix.

Away from humanity

The reason why I won’t just type “apt-get dist-upgrade” after Apr, 26 is that I’m going to jump off the Kubuntu train: mostly because of growing disappointment with what’s going on in the KDE world for the last years.

I’ve been a KDE fanboy since 2.1 version (it’s 2001, I think), using 3.x exclusively on all my desktops and laptops since 2004 (when I’ve finally dropped dual-booting with Windows) and I’ve been a Kubuntu user since 7.04 “Feisty Fawn” release. Like many others, I was used to rejoice at continuous improvements from version to version, like many others I expected that Version 4 would shift KDE on another level of beauty, and when it’s happened, like many others I was confused and spent a good couple of years struggling with bugs and crashes and getting used to numerous regressions and leaking resources.

I didn’t grumble in very dark times of early KDE4, when a unusable mess had been pushed out as a “production release” without a chance to keep on the stable 3.5. I spent a fair number of sleepless nights googling for solutions and workarounds while trying to do my job for living on the epileptical system at days. I stood all that because I believed that the developers bothered about end-user issues and everything is going to be fixed eventually. Three years have passed and know what? My KMail is broken in another 4.x version (Kubuntu 11.10) because someone decided that it’s a cool idea if the users would run MySQL server for their mail.

I finally realized that peace is not going to come to this place. Three years is more than enough for a community to polish a piece of software to brilliant: compare it with three years between KDE 3.0 and 3.5. The bad news also is that Canonical is not interested into supporting their K* offspring any longer and it’s unclear so far how a new sponsor is going to help it to survive.

So far, I am rather pessimistic on perspectives of KDE in general and Kubuntu in particular and I just want to leave those disturbed waters now.

Ubuntu

Well, it was always good to know that there was a rescue plan: old good fellow Gnome. So, the first thing I did when started to look for alternatives was installing the Beta of Ubuntu 12.04 on my laptop to check if I can switch completely after the final release.

After looking at the result and reading on what’s happened with Gnome in recent years, it’s turned out that the good fellow is dead and replaced by something that has nothing common with it but the name. There is no point to criticize what I’ve seen, because I’m incompatible with it in nearly every aspect.

What’s more important, after reading Shuttleworth’s blog and other sources, I found myself incompatible with the whole philosophy that apparently drives major Linux Desktop vendors nowadays. The idea of a desktop environment designed with someone’s individual idiosyncrasies about human productivity in mind is fundamentally different from original Linux spirit and the way of thinking we, Linux users are accustomed to. A freedom to configure everything according to personal tasks, preferences and habits for maximal productivity was one of the reasons to flee Windows many years ago; and one of the reasons still stopping many of us from using Macs.

To resume, I consider the mainstream Ubuntu to be a big regression of my desktop experience. And it eats laptop battery like a hog, to be said.

Xubuntu or Lubuntu

Sometimes referred as the poorman’s Ubuntus before, now they look like the popular landing places for refugees from the mainstream Linux desktops. They are praised for performance and low system requirements – that is a good thing, for sure – but I’m interesting also what’s the cost of that in terms of features and usability.

Nevertheless, I probably need to evaluate one of them or both, to see how a XFCE or LXDE-based system could work for me. At least, on my laptop, where I wouldn’t mind to give up some features as a trade-off for speed and battery life.

Linux Mint + MATE/Cinnamon

What I read about this distro was really promising. It’s not that I’ve been inspired by feature specifications and overall technology; it’s an attitude I liked a lot in this project. It sounds like while the mainstream Linux desktops go their fancy and inscrutable ways, Mint stays in the reality working hard on getting things back on track.

According to DistroWatch, Mint’s popularity beats Ubuntu now and I’m not surprised. The most of the people expect that the system just does what it is supposed to and hate to be the guinea pigs for someone’s experiments. I very appreciate the Mint’s position and feel like taking a closer look to their product.

Windows

It sounds surprising, but I’ve got some solid reasons for that. Also, modern Windows seem much less painful as it is used to be and anyway, my desktop experience is much closer to it, than to Unity/Gnome3, for instance.

Back to the days of divorcing from Windows, the idea of a computer was mostly a “single desktop PC for everything”, so the decision was really tough. This doesn’t matter any longer: now, my computing tasks are balanced between the home server for infrastructural stuff, my main desktop box for work, the laptop and Android devices (a phone, a tablet and an e-book reader) for the most of non-work related activities.

As for my work, this is a cross-platform (Java) software development, so it is basically not related to Linux- or UNIX-specific technologies at all. What’s more, the audience of the software are mostly the Windows users, so anyway, I need to run Windows 7 in VirtualBox regularly to check how my software is working there. The development tools I’m using are also cross-platform or have good counterparts in the Windows world.

So, the idea is to bring that diversification of activities to its logical end and move my developer workstation to full-time Windows while keeping Linux on the laptop (Mint or X(L)ubuntu) and on the server (the latter runs Ubuntu Server happily). All in all, it looks practical and I’m considering this direction seriously.

2 Responses to “Choosing an OS”

  1. Maegan Bastos · May 7, 2012 at 9:44 am · Reply

    Maybe true. according to my understanding I can download Gnome 2 or another UI. I am not sure how well it would work with latest Ubuntu though because I never tried it before. Right now, I am leaning towards Freebsd.

  2. Nolaan · February 8, 2013 at 10:05 am · Reply

    Hey,
    I’m glad to read about your frustration and see that i’m not the only user feeling this way, when you have distribution developers saying : “Gnome 3 is good, it’s a question of taste. Either you like _it or not_ (that’s very offensive) it will be shipped with the distribution.”, in the case of Fedora, I’m feeling like I made a very bad choice choosing a linux distribution as my main operating system. It’s like the user and his choices doesn’t matter anymore. But as we see Free Software at its core have this smell of rebellion and phenomenon of return to its initial state : Freedom.
    So besides just slowing our desktop advancement they won’t get anything else from us than frustration and eventually lose all their investment. Remember that it’s the users that makes the product what it is.

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