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Why I decided to stop using Ubuntu desktop

I’ve again returned to Windows 7 after having used Ubuntu for about 3 months on the desktop. For some reason Linux on the desktop always breaks down after about 3 months, give or take. My main reason for trying out Linux again was so I could develop in a *nix environment. I’m comfortable with a terminal and lots of cool and useful libraries compile without any hassle. And most of the programming I do ends up running on a Linux server anyway. On Windows 7 you can get quite far with MinGW and MSYS, but it usually takes quite some effort to get something to compile. MSYS is also very slow on my machine(s). And although with Strawberry Perl it has gotten a lot better, from time to time you run into modules that won’t compile and are almost impossible to fix.

This wasn’t the first time I ran Linux on my desktop PC. About 7 years ago I started out with Gentoo. It actually ran fine on my laptop, aside from WiFi issues. The compile hell that came with it was terrible though. I’ve ran Ubuntu 7.10 on my desktop without much issues, until I upgraded to 8.04, which broke everything. After that I used Windows Vista for a while and eventually Windows 7. Somewhere late December ’11, early January ’12 I decided to try Linux again. At first I wanted to use CrunchBang because it was so lightweight, but couldn’t get my system to boot into it. Then I tried Fedora 16, which featured Gnome 3 out of the box. I really liked how Gnome 3 looked, but Fedora 16 was way too unstable for me. After that I gave Ubuntu 11.10 a chance, installed Gnome 3 on it and simply enjoyed it a lot.

For 3 whole months I was able to run Ubuntu 11.10 without issues. Some software didn’t work out of the box, but I was able to fix that and I don’t consider that Ubuntu’s fault. Before I tossed the towel into the ring my NVIDIA 9800GT got too hot and the system would just freeze. I was using the open-source drivers (nouveau). I found out that this driver always runs the GPU at 100% and it simply wasn’t able to not do this. After replacing these with the official NVIDIA drivers the problem was solved. But shortly after an update for this driver made my system freeze at startup. I rolled back to an older version and again, the problem was solved, though the rollback was pretty hard to execute. The real misery started after I did a normal package update, which sometimes happened daily, and everything I needed malfunctioned. The VPN software I used wasn’t able to setup a tunnel, which I need to connect to the company’s network. I also run a virtual server in VirtualBox for several things, but I no longer could fire it up anymore. It had something to do with VirtualBox drivers that couldn’t load anymore.

When all that happened I had enough of it and waved Ubuntu, or Linux for desktop in general, goodbye forever. I’ve had enough of it and in all these years it hasn’t gotten any better. It’s my expectation that Linux on the desktop will never get big. I’ve still got Xubuntu installed on my netbook, but haven’t booted to it in ages and will probably uninstall it soon as well.

I don’t want to be too negative though. Ubuntu 11.10 did have a number of pros as well (though most are software you can run on other platforms as well):

  • Gnome 3 – after a couple of tweaks I found myself to be very proficient with Gnome Shell. Lots of people hate its guts, but I really liked it
  • Remmina – a great remote desktop client for RDP
  • ShrewSoft VPN (ike) – easy to use VPN client, but you have to compile it yourself since the supplied package doesn’t work.
  • Vim/GVim – yes, it’s multi-platform, but seemed a bit more responsive in Linux
  • Terminal (Bash) – some tasks are faster done on the terminal and Git for example is a lot faster than on Windows
  • Compiler toolchain – you pretty much install build-essential and you’ve got almost all the compilers and other related things you need
  • Nautilus – a much better file manager than Explorer will ever be
  • Skype + Bluetooth headset – I’ve had no issues using my Bluetooth headset under Ubuntu and Bluetooth in general just works. Can’t say that for Windows 7.

Currently I’m back to Windows 7. It works, but could be more responsive (I’m looking at you Explorer). I know that for my terminal needs I could use Cygwin, but I don’t see that as a proper solution and the last time I tried it installation took forever and it just didn’t work. Since my desktop PC is already 4.5 years old I’ll be replacing it sometime this year. I’ve decided to try out a Mac, either an iMac or Mini. All I want is a fast system, with a stable OS that doesn’t require much attention to stay running and a *nix environment. At the moment I think OSX will be able to give me that. The wait is now till Apple renews their models.

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  • Nobody Important

    Heh… Each to their own. I’ve been using Linux for a long, long time; I would rather not use Windows because, in the large, my experience has been one that would be the same on Windows (it should be noted I’ve been using computers a Loooong time and I was doing this stuff since before the PC and MS-Dos was a big thing…); and that I’ve found more grief on that score in that world than in Linux.

    Your Mileage May Vary. However…

    1) Ubuntu ISN’T Linux- it’s a version thereof.
    2) Ubuntu’s going in a direction with things that’s not in line with desktop use.
    3) You could’ve shopped a different Linux, based on your gripes about Windows.
    4) Much of your problems were due to insisting on things like Nouveau. If you wanted FOSS support that mostly works, I’d have suggested pulling the NVidia card and popping in a decent Radeon, which the FOSS drivers do a decent job of things. I’m sure some of the other issues were just as self-inflicted.

    Just enjoy the enforced upgrade mill, lowered security and robustness. I left that over a decade ago and never looked back.

  • I did look further than just Ubuntu. I tried Fedora, which is quite main stream, but most applications including Gnome would randomly crash. But I guess you’re right about #1, I shouldn’t generalize.

    In all honestly though, I don’t really know what other good options are available. To me it seems Fedora and CentOS are similar, as well as Debian and Ubuntu. Of course there’s also Arch and tons of others, but in the end I think they’ll all suffer from the same driver and software issues, sooner or later.

    The Nouveau problem was my biggest issue. But having to replace my video card just to be able to run Linux? That’s outrageous.

    The fact that after a normal update of packages my VPN client ceased working, as well as the Virtual Box kernel modules, and not being able to revert (without much hassle!) to a previous version are a no-go for me. Even if I would’ve successfully reverted to a previous state, when would I be able to apply updates again?

    I don’t enjoy the enforced upgrade mill, and currently I’ll be using Windows 7 because I don’t have a decent alternative for it at this moment. But I’ve come to a point where I just want my damn computer to function without me having to fix bad updates and all that other nonsense. I’ve wasted enough time fixing my system after updates gone wrong. And trust me, I don’t run any strange stuff, it’s all standard software provided by the distribution maintainer. I guess that’s what perhaps frustrates me most about it.