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Ubuntu jumps the shark?
December 10, 2011 2:49 PM   Subscribe

Mint is a Debian-based Linux distro that is now the fourth most popular Operating System after Windows, Mac and Ubuntu, focusing on usability for those without previous GNU/Linux experience. With Ubuntu declining in popularity since the introduction of the tablet-oriented Unity desktop interface, Mint may be taking its old place.
posted by moorooka (68 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like the new Ubuntu look (I'm on Unity now), but the next distro is supposed have more integration with the old style and the gnome panel. I didn't know Mint was so popular, I'll have to try it sometime.
posted by Malice at 2:52 PM on December 10, 2011


Ditto. I had to ditch Ubuntu for my laptop awhile back because of some hardware-support-related nonsense. Fedora14 has been fitting the bill pretty nicely, but I hadn't even considered Mint. I, too, will have a peek soon.
posted by jquinby at 2:56 PM on December 10, 2011


I installed it on a dual-booted Windows laptop, and it's actually slower to start up that Windows.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 3:16 PM on December 10, 2011


I started with Slackware, quickly moved to Red Hat, and then used Gentoo for three or four years before Ubuntu came out. I used Ubuntu for over 5 years exclusively on my desktop, laptop, and server -- being able to maintain a consistent configuration across all three, and upgrade regularly every 6 months, was pretty great. But Canonical's self-destructive decisions are probably going to make me switch to Mint soon.
posted by miyabo at 3:17 PM on December 10, 2011


From what I gather the distrowatch numbers are number of visitors to a page. Uhh, well gee, maybe that's because ubuntu has enough mindshare that people go to the ubunutu page? Not that mint may not be cool or anything, but those numbers are pretty useless.
posted by aspo at 3:19 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I’m using MintPPC on my old G5. I’m pretty sure they are unrelated except in spirit, but it’s basically a lighter faster Ubuntu as far as I can tell. Everything worked right out of the box (even better than Ubuntu) including shared printers on other Macs on a wireless network. This is even though the guy said I was the first to install on a G5.

I’m not a Linux expert, my experience consists of installing something a couple times a year since the late 90’s and playing around a little. Ubuntu and MintPPC were the first time things just worked and there was no gnashing of teeth. Anyone with an old PPC around might want to check it out.
posted by bongo_x at 3:23 PM on December 10, 2011


Not to mention the article says "It does seem certain that the timing of Unity’s introduction coincides with the decline in Ubuntu’s popularity. And according to DistroWatch, the widening of the gap between Mint and Ubuntu is accelerating" when if you look at the graph (the fairly meaningless graph to be clear) the numbers have been going down for a long time. And if you look at the google analytics graph there a pretty constant slope since mid 2008.
posted by aspo at 3:26 PM on December 10, 2011


Calling unity "self destructive" is a great example of why 2012 will not be the year of linux on the desktop. Unity was a necessary but painful step in the evolution of ubuntu - mint is based off (read: has most of the hard work done by) Ubuntu anyway. The "home" success of which; I would argue, has little to do with attracting people who liked Gentoo and much more to do with providing linux in a format that felt accessible for technically competent users of windows.

Unity reflects the fact that GNOME had failed to provide a good user-experience for a very long time (classic example, the stupid way it arbitrarily reversed yes/no dialog boxes from the way every other UI presented them, can't remember if that was ever fixed) and it is a pretty good first attempt at building something better from that foundation. The only vaguely comparable transition I can think of is mac os 9/10.0 - just like in that transition - even though Unity is the "flagship" now most serious users will probably not be using it (like 10.0/10.1) but it is totally necessary and a very good thing that it is the shipping version of ubuntu.

(disclaimer: this post written by a jaded former open source zealot on mac osx lion)
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 3:35 PM on December 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


when if you look at the graph (the fairly meaningless graph to be clear) the numbers have been going down for a long time

That started about the time when Mint came out, so it's probably a case of Mint gaining users at the expense of Ubuntu.

Put me down for not liking Unity. Having a vertical dock isn't that bad (it makes more sense than putting it at the bottom of the screen really), but not resizing the icons like on OSX means you usually end up scrolling, and not having an easily-accessed application list is a deal breaker for me. Why would you get rid of that? Have they just moved it somewhere out of the way? It is possible to switch back to full Gnome fairly easily I hear. I haven't used Linux in a couple of years, dating actually to about the time of the push for Unity, due to Windows development needs.

Haven't tried Mint yet, may have to have a look at it soon. This reminds me poignantly of what Ubuntu did to Mandrake/Mandriva.
posted by JHarris at 3:36 PM on December 10, 2011


I solved this problem with Ubuntu with this: "sudo apt-get install xfce4". Went and got a coffee and came back to a usable desktop.
posted by octothorpe at 3:36 PM on December 10, 2011 [20 favorites]


Mint's been my favorite distro even before Unity, especially since Ubuntu broke compatibility with my old cheap Intel graphics chip with 10.04 or so. Now though, neither will work. I'd try the XFCE edition but it doesn't have the option to "install inside Windows" like the main version does, and that's vital to me.

Mint still holds a place in my heart though. The first time I tried it I was blown away by how much better than Ubuntu it was.
posted by tatma at 3:37 PM on December 10, 2011


Unity? Really? Watching that video it's basically OS X with the Dock on the side.

Are people pissed because they're ripping off UI paradigms from OS X verbatim instead of Windows? Because that's how it looks from here.
posted by Talez at 3:47 PM on December 10, 2011


UI paradigms

Bwaahahaaa.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:54 PM on December 10, 2011


Are people pissed because they're ripping off UI paradigms from OS X verbatim instead of Windows? Because that's how it looks from here.

Because it defeats the whole purpose of Linux. If they wanted a software vendor changing everything for no good reason every couple of years, Linux fans would use Windows and Mac.

Virtualization is working almost to the point where I'm ready to ditch OS X for a Linux box, and after Apple broke DNS in the latest release, I nearly did. Once I do decide to switch, I'm going to pick the distro with the least amount of arbitrary design decisions. It may be boring, but I don't use computers because I like to look at widgets. I use them to get things done.
posted by deanklear at 3:59 PM on December 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Google trends might be closer to a fair comparison.
posted by knave at 4:20 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are people pissed because they're ripping off UI paradigms from OS X verbatim instead of Windows?

Talez, I don't know about everyone, but for me personally I don't care whom they're ripping off. I get pissed when they take something that worked well and replace it with something half-baked. Ubuntu has a habit of pushing out major changes before they're ready for prime time, and making them the default (or worse, the only) option. I also get frustrated because Canonical's BDFL, Mark Shuttleworth, sometimes comes off as not respecting community opinion and pushing forward on things unilaterally, instead of trying to build a consensus.
posted by knave at 4:24 PM on December 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Because it defeats the whole purpose of Linux.

What do operating systems do when they lose their purpose in life? Humans go on spiritual journeys, Linuces... fork?
posted by LogicalDash at 4:26 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Unity? Really? Watching that video it's basically OS X with the Dock on the side.

It doesn't have an easily accessible program list, and it doesn't scale down when the dock fills with icons forcing intrusive scrolling, and the dock starts out full. Those are the problems as I see them, they are big ones however.
posted by JHarris at 4:27 PM on December 10, 2011


I was using Ubuntu on a netbook, and the Unity thing stopped it from being useful for me. I came to the conclusion that what would be really nifty would be some sort of Linux distro, run by one benevolent dictator who really gave a massive shit about usability.
posted by The River Ivel at 4:27 PM on December 10, 2011


If they wanted a software vendor changing everything for no good reason every couple of years, Linux fans would use Windows and Mac.

It has been about seven years since I've run Linux on anything besides a number of servers, but from ~1996 to 2004 I was a steady desktop Linux user. My memory of that eight year period was that vendors were changing everything for reasons a lot of us considered "no good reason" CONSTANTLY. That was what kept the distro market, such as it was, moving: Distros would go from "ugly but functional fvwm" to some new flavor that promised a more Windows-like experience, and that would irritate the hell out of the people who thought fvwm was the only window manager you'd ever need. Then the Windows-like experience would give way to some other thing, or the distro would announce that it was getting on the GNOME or KDE bandwagon at long last and everybody would throw a fit and somebody would start a new distro that was "Your Favorite Distro Except Without the Hated Abrogation of Our Freedom to Not Use GNOME."

Then for a while it wasn't the distro vendors so much as it was the people actually developing the desktop environments (for a period SUSE and Red Hat rendered the distinction almost pointless) who were periodically telling you that the window manager they'd initially embraced was a lost cause and some new thing was where it was at, and with that came a new set of limitations or changes or seemingly arbitrary "Havoc Pennington read a few paragraphs of some usability study while on the toilet and realized how wrong he was all along" changes that turned everything upside down or made previously easy things harder.

And don't get me started on GNOME Office, which was a ridiculous clusterfuck: Miguel had a new bestest office suite every six months, and if you were the sort to just go along with whatever Red Hat or SUSE was dishing out, you just suffered like a poor dumb animal until it changed again.

I was getting paid to write reviews and columns about Linux desktops from 2000-2002, then watching it all from the remove of someone who just wanted to get stuff done without a lot of donking around for the next few years, and the whole period was practically defined by the lunatic thrashings of people trying to will Linux into mass market viability by throwing all the pieces in the air and replacing stuff people were just fine with with new, untested crap.

Maybe Linux fans have changed a lot since I was a regular user. I guess to a certain extent I know they have because the amount of whining I hear about having changes "forced down their throats" from people who are terrified to venture outside the default vendor loadout tells me the blood of Numenor has become thin indeed. But still ... I think the defining trait of desktop Linux users from a certain period was willingness to endure everything changing for no good reason every six months.
posted by mph at 4:29 PM on December 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


Can Ubuntu be crossgraded to Mint?
posted by rhizome at 4:31 PM on December 10, 2011


(But I came here to say "thanks for this post," because I was cleaning out the closet today and found a box I'd like to stick a desktop distro on, and Mint sounds like an interesting candidate: My "Ubuntu in a Mac VM" experiences haven't been very satisfactory.)
posted by mph at 4:32 PM on December 10, 2011


The best thing about Ubuntu is that its package installation and configuration system is very well developed. This is important so you can uninstall/replace Unity with Gnome 3 or xfce or xmonad (which is the best thing ever if you are an obsessive control freak and don't mind learning Haskell).

I mean, if you want a really good out-of-the-box user experience, get Mac OS X. That's a product that's gone through a lot of refinement via dictator. And it's great!

In Linux land you are not going to get that because if you combine the opinions of all the users you get a big disgusting kludge, and if you go your own way and build your own thing like Unity, people yell at you for veering away from the community and being "no better than Windows."

The powerful thing about Linux is that you can define your own experience of the system with fanatical precision. Despite its shinyness, Ubuntu still lets you do that.
posted by sixohsix at 4:44 PM on December 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Are people pissed because they're ripping off UI paradigms from OS X verbatim instead of Windows?

More like they are ripping off the _crappy_ UI paradigms.

Which in itself wouldn't be a big deal, but they seem to be deliberately engineering it to be difficult to change back to more sane (and familiar) experience.*
That leaves those of us who like the advantages of a debian based system combined with more frequent updates, which ubuntu provided, adrift.
Hence the recent rise in popularity for Mint.

* There is also the very condescending "screw you if you don't like it" attitude coming out of Shuttleworth and acolytes, but that's not a technical issue, just a personality one
posted by madajb at 4:44 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh hey, this is my distro. Been using it since 2007. Maybe "all the hard work" is done by Ubuntu, but what I like about the Mint team is they improve upon it. And they haven't done anything to hide the fact that their repositories are coming from themselves, Ubuntu and Debian.

I'll add that going from Windows XP to Mint 3 was pretty much a seamless process, apart from getting wireless set up, but I only needed to do that once. Everything else about the interface was pretty intuitive. I'm using Mint 10, and am about to give Mint 12 a whirl (despite misgivings I've heard about Gnome 3), and can honestly say it's probably the most intuitive distro I've used.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:48 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've used Mint for years and find myself liking it less and less with each release. Mint 12 is slightly better than 10 and 11, but not by much. For my needs they peaked at release 9 (I'm still using that as my primary after my tests). Your mileage may vary. I find them focusing way too much on how it looks and less on how it operates. You shouldn't have to relearn things each time there is a new release. One of the few good things I can say about Windows (apart from all the apps and drivers) is that they only release every few years. With Mint it is every six months. I'd rather they make my machine run faster, boot quicker and try to get developers to write more quality apps. Having said all that, I love it and have no intention of using anything else for a while. :)
posted by FrankBlack at 4:53 PM on December 10, 2011


I'm going to call shenanigans on blaming Unity for Ubuntu's problems. If you look at the Google Trends data for the popularity of Ubuntu searches, you'll see it start to fall right after a huge amount of chatter after the middle of 2007. I can't seem to find out why this chatter happened via the Trends interface (anyone know how?), but it probably has to do with media attention.

So, the decline has been for a while, and while correlation is not necessarily causation, it appears to have something to do with Ubuntu just becoming too mainstream. If there's one thing Linux people like, it's the cutting edge underdog. This may happen to Mint too, and to every popular linux distro until people who are ambivalent about computers are stuck using it en masse.
posted by hanoixan at 4:58 PM on December 10, 2011


I was using Ubuntu on a netbook, and the Unity thing stopped it from being useful for me. I came to the conclusion that what would be really nifty would be some sort of Linux distro, run by one benevolent dictator who really gave a massive shit about usability.

Funny you should mention it, but just two days ago I finally ditched Ubuntu on my (old, tired) netbook in favor of CrunchBang linux, which fits the bill in some ways, only instead of "usability" the priority seems to be "minimalism." (The first tip-off is how every page seems to be in white text on a black background, which I suppose somebody thinks cuts down on battery power.) I didn't think Unity was terrible, completely, but it was way too slow for my system, and it's nice to get back to a more stripped-down pure-Debian derivative. I actually think it might be pleasant to use on a full desktop, though.

I would definitely not recommend CrunchBang to anyone who doesn't want to occasionally need to edit a config file by hand in order to update a UI preference. In fact, I sort of count myself in that category, and I'm wondering if anyone has other recommendations for minimal, netbook-oriented distributions.

Also, about distrowatch I would imagine that Ubuntu's page hits get a significant boost because of their truly excellent user support forums, which are often just as useful for other distributions as for Ubuntu proper.
posted by whir at 4:59 PM on December 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Maybe "all the hard work" is done by Ubuntu

All the hard work's done by Debian. There's something hilarious in the spectacle of Ubuntu folks whining about people "copying" their distro.
posted by rodgerd at 5:29 PM on December 10, 2011 [14 favorites]


I can't seem to find out why this chatter happened via the Trends interface (anyone know how?), but it probably has to do with media attention.

Click "More News Results" and narrow the custom date range to 2007 and two stories that leap out are Dell announcing it would start selling Ubuntu preloads and Everex announcing it would sell a $198 Ubuntu machine via WalMart.
posted by mph at 5:31 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ubuntu may be losing some mindshare, I'm rather skeptical of the Mint bandwagon.


First, the statistics people keep quoting aren't a good measure of Mint's actual userbase. DistroWatch only measures hits to a distro's page on the site, which in many cases has more to do with the news cycle than real users. Notably, a couple years ago a distro named "PC Linux OS" moved to the top of the list, but it didn't become the next big thing in terms of users or development. Other sources of data aren't great either: Google Trends reflects searches, not users; surveys often wildly disagree with each other; few distros modify browser User-Agent strings anymore, so web stats are out.

A mildly trustworthy source is the popcon (popularity contest) reporting package that Ubuntu includes as an option, and it seems to show a fair rate of growth in userbase. Hard to tell how steady the growth is on a log-scale graph, but it definitely doesn't look like a collapse.


Second, Linux Mint has poor infrastructure. They rely on Ubuntu's packages far more than Ubuntu relies on those of Debian. They don't have their own bug tracker, using Ubuntu's launchpad instead. Their development team is very small, small enough that they can make last-minute decisions like including the MATE environment (continuation of GNOME 2) in the recent release. Mint has no consistent source of funding.

Perhaps worst of all is their upgrade policy, which boils down to "Why upgrade? Nobody needs security fixes!" Their MintUpgrade tool also excludes updates to certain packages like the kernel, even when the updates fix vulnerabilities. This is the kind of policy that's ok for a first release, when there's a very small user base that is mostly tech-savvy. But at some point, as more users end up on unsupported releases with security holes, and as the larger userbase becomes a more attractive target for malware, I can see this biting them in the behind. Most distros would have found a better solution by their twelfth release!


Finally, all the whining about Unity has happened before so very many times. It wasn't that long ago that KDE 4 came out, and all over slashdot one heard cries of "This is horrible, they keep changing things! Why couldn't they just leave well enough alone? I'm switching to $OTHER_DESKTOP!" Yet now, everyone's threatening to switch from Unity to…KDE 4. This same situation has happened over and over. When GNOME 2 came out, it was heralded as a horrible change–anti-aliased text is a weird fad! When the first KDE came out, FVWM was the good-ol'-days. When Firefox was released, it meant Mozilla had abandoned the Mozilla suite to seduce Windows users. I just can't take the ranting seriously anymore. If such a high proportion of Linux users hated Unity and GNOME 3, surely more of them would have stepped forward to maintain GNOME 2. But instead MATE is currently a side-project for just one guy on the Mint team, and no other hackers seem to want to touch it.

Desktops evolve, and it's for the best. Some might have fond memories of Windows 95, Mac OS 7, or AfterStep, but few want to go back to using them daily. I don't know that Unity is going to emerge as the new favourite, but I'm glad that Ubuntu is innovating on the Desktop. Paleo-conservatism in user interfaces isn't going to help Linux in the long run.


Still, I wish Clem and the rest of the Mint folks good luck. Most of these problems are soluble, and once they have enough users donations of time or money could sustain them. Their approach of using GNOME 3 extensions to make it feel more familiar was a great idea. The more distros the merrier! So go ahead and try out Mint…just make sure to install security fixes, please.
posted by vasi at 5:32 PM on December 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


aspo: "From what I gather the distrowatch numbers are number of visitors to a page. Uhh, well gee, maybe that's because ubuntu has enough mindshare that people go to the ubunutu page? Not that mint may not be cool or anything, but those numbers are pretty useless"

Distrowatch is essentially a measure of what people who know about distrowatch think other people are interested in, as I remind the local linux curmudgeon who cites it while casting aspersions in Canonical's direction.

I'll largely set aside Unity complaints as I've just been avoiding it. It's clear that Canonical is thinking more of the 99 percent of the market they don't have than the 1 percent they do, and I respect that vision. But I have been thinking lately about a productivity focused Linux desktop that expanded the "distraction free" writing programs to the whole desktop. It'd have an integrated todo system that tracks which websites, which programs and which files are relevant to the task at hand and obscure the rest. It'd essentially have one workspace for every task, and if you have recurring tasks or get interrupted, it can bring stuff up ahead of time. All the various email, RSS, podcast, Netflix, Bugzilla, RT, billminder, instapaper and todo queues get unified. So I guess that's a Unity I'd get behind.

One advantage is that you have a much better onboarding experience; everyone starts with a set of tutorial tasks to learn about the UI and system. The system could suggest tasks to try out applications it thinks you might like based on current tasks. There could also be interfaces to community repositories of suggested task lists, like the Euler project.
posted by pwnguin at 5:44 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


pwnguin, that sounds similar to KDE4's concept of "activities"--similar to sessions, but you're expected to stop one and start another while you're using the desktop. You can run many at once though.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:09 PM on December 10, 2011


After Ubuntu 11.04 rendered my system completely unusable (in the literal "I will randomly shut off and frequently refuse to boot!" sort of way, not the "I hate this window manager" sort of way - I'm pretty happy with xmonad), I finally said the hell with it and went back to stock Debian. The experience has been entirely pleasant. I know where everything is, it all just works, and if I need fresher code than what's in Debian stable, well, this is the era of GitHub and I'm ok with typing make && make install.

What I do mourn is the loss of a default "your grandma could probably use this" distro that also happened to have a saner release cycle than Debian's glacially slow process. Ubuntu's apparent need to fuck this up kind of boggles the mind, considering how painless they'd managed to make things for a couple of years there.

Also: You know what doesn't actually need a radical redesign ca. 2011? Scroll bars, that's what. Just stop it already. I'm looking at you too, Google.
posted by brennen at 6:20 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm going to call shenanigans on blaming Unity for Ubuntu's problems.

Anecdata: The day (nay hour) Unity appeared on my desktop, I started searching for "How do I remove Unity" / "How to restore gnome on Ubunty 11.10". Then I started searching for "Alternatives to Ubuntu". Then people started telling me about Mint.

I can't even start to tell you how much Unity sucks, in terms of>
* Removing basic functionality that has existed on the Ubunty desktop since be beginning (Why can I no longer add a system monitor applet, or indeed any applet to my meny bar?)
* Being full of bugs and general shittyness (I used to have a nice, neat Wine applications menu in Gnome. Now two-thirds of my Wine apps simply no longer start when launched from Unity. The Unity "panel" also gets stuck "open" or stuck "closed" constantly)
* Breaking very basic user-interface guidelines, once of which is to avoid unnecessary switching between keyboard and mouse. Sure, from a shell, I type the program I want from my keyboard. As The Lord intended. In a normal "Start Menu"-style system, you use the mouse to go through a hierarchical structure. Cool. In Unity you are pretty much forced to click a menu, click a text entry box, then switch to the keyboard to type the program you want. What the hell?

I hate it. It has killed my productivity, and makes my other computer, running Windows 7, feel like an absolute joy to use. I mean, in Windows 7 at least you can customize things, move things around, change options. Unity feels like fascism. Some bright spark decided that the future of the Linux desktop would be (a) tablets and (b) geriatric users, instead of, you know, way 95% of people use Linux desktops now.

And all they had to do was offer a choice to turn it off!
posted by Jimbob at 6:20 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


They did offer a choice to turn it off. It's on the log-in screen's session menu, the one in the bottom right. Usually says "Ubuntu Session" or something like that.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:27 PM on December 10, 2011


They did offer a choice to turn it off. It's on the log-in screen's session menu, the one in the bottom right. Usually says "Ubuntu Session" or something like that.

They did in 11.04. In 11.10 that option was removed, I'm pretty sure, because I was looking desperately for it (currently logged in running sudo apt-get install xfce4 so I can't check to be certain).
posted by Jimbob at 6:32 PM on December 10, 2011


I hate it. It has killed my productivity, and makes my other computer, running Windows 7, feel like an absolute joy to use.

Amen. Unity actively fucks up interface patterns that I've been using successfully for years. Mouse to focus? Broken. Multiple instances of an application? A trial. Tabbing between windows? Ruined. Scrolling? Painful.

The worst of it is that I can change my habits to match whatever the latest bullshit interface fad is, but what I can't do is update every single piece of software on my system to go along. Unity destroys the usability of every single application that relies on multiple windows. Stalwarts like GIMP, or Eagle CAD.

And okay, I'd drop rhythmbox like a sack of wet bricks in a heartbeat too, but banshee? Seriously, Shuttleworth?

(I love venting threads.)
posted by phooky at 6:33 PM on December 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Just gave Mint 12 a shot from a LiveUSB, and you know, I'd actually be OK with Unity if I could get rid of the bottom panel, which is rendered pretty much useless or at least redundant by the top panel.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:53 PM on December 10, 2011


The idea of the change is, in part, driven by the idea that "if one gets rid of the command line, GNU/Linux will take over" and to that end 11.10 ubuntu takes more clicks and mouse movements to use terminal windows.

Because the best solution to the command line "problem" is make the terminal window HARDER to use.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:04 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


phooky: "And okay, I'd drop rhythmbox like a sack of wet bricks in a heartbeat too, but banshee? Seriously, Shuttleworth?"

I can kinda see where they're going with this. There's several unfortunate bugs. Like it just spinlocks and eats up a CPU while rendering nothing on startup sometimes. Or TED playback sometimes rendering video and sometimes not. Ironically, I've never had problems with the Microsoft Research podcasts.
posted by pwnguin at 8:02 PM on December 10, 2011


All the hard work's done by Debian. There's something hilarious in the spectacle of Ubuntu folks whining about people "copying" their distro.

Agreed. Ubuntu users have been badmouthed on the Debian forums for so long, it's kinda sweet they finally have someone to kick around themselves! Personally I use Arch, so I only worry about being looked down on by Gentoo users.

The best way to install Ubuntu now in my opinion is use the alternate install CD, do a command line only installation and then "apt-get install xorg xfce4". It's crazy that even Xubuntu, which is supposed to be a lightweight distro, comes with ~1300 packages on a default install.
posted by Lorin at 8:03 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, my strategy is LTS only now, and if 12.04 still has Unity I'm going back to stock Debian.
posted by Joe Chip at 8:10 PM on December 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, is xmonad actually good? How does it compare with other tiled window managers like wmii and ratpoison?
posted by Joe Chip at 8:11 PM on December 10, 2011


I think the defining trait of desktop Linux users from a certain period was willingness to endure everything changing for no good reason every six months.
Everything changing every six months was wonderful, because it was lots of little disconnected changes: three people would have three wacky ideas, one of those ideas would end up included in your distribution's default settings so you got to see a little of it before you found the dialogue box to switch back to what you preferred, or if you got bored you could mix in the other two ideas too. And although typically a couple of those ideas would prove to be dumb enough and unpopular enough that even their creators stopped bothering to maintain them, often one would be so good that it would become an integrated option to everything else, and then everybody had yet another way to improve their desktop.

Note the key phrases in the above paragraph: "the dialogue box to switch back to what you preferred", "mix in", and "option". This is why Unity went from a mere annoyance in Ubuntu 11.04 (where you could switch back to Gnome 2) to a travesty in Ubuntu 11.10 (where Gnome 3 is nearly as bad).

As recently as a few years ago: wasn't it nice to be able to choose between "a hundred crazy compiz special effect options, some so cool that people who'd never heard of Linux were oohing and aahing over the YouTube videos" and "a vanilla but functional window manager that would work fine even on buggy video card drivers" with a few mouse clicks, without so much as restarting any of your programs? Of course, even then the KDE people had already started blazing the "take functional desktop software, rewrite it all at once then push it out at alpha quality" trail, but I thought they were being treated as a *cautionary* example, not something to catch up to.
posted by roystgnr at 8:12 PM on December 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


my strategy is LTS only now

My strategy is LTS only now because I like it when my wireless drivers work.

And seriously, people, Kubuntu. With a K.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:15 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, is xmonad actually good? How does it compare with other tiled window managers like wmii and ratpoison?

xmonad is one of my favorite discoveries in recent years. I've been pretty fickle with window managers since I first installed Debian in the late 90s (when a list of the installed WMs to switch between was a prominent part of the menu system), but at this point I've used it full time on my primary work machine for a couple of years, and I'd have to be pretty impressed to switch away from it. It's fast, extremely stable, and does the right amount of staying out of my way.

A downside is that configuring it to your tastes can be painful unless you're somewhat comfortable with basic Haskell syntax to start out (I was not, and remain largely ignorant of the language). Fortunately, there's a good wiki, and lots of people offer sample configurations. (My not-particularly-original one is here, and wouldn't make a bad starting point, though it looks like I could stand to write some basic instructions.)

I haven't used wmii or ratpoison extensively enough to comment there, but I liked xmonad a touch better than awesome when I was first playing around with tiling WMs. (I think awesome is pretty good in its own right, and I've recommended it to a bunch of people as kind of a get-your-feet-wet thing with tiling. It does pretty much all the right stuff out of the box.)
posted by brennen at 8:39 PM on December 10, 2011


Personally I use Arch, so I only worry about being looked down on by Gentoo users.

As nearly as I have ever been able to tell, Gentoo exists primarily to provide emotional support and a sense of community for people who really enjoy waiting on compilers but don't feel quite hardcore enough to run a BSD.
posted by brennen at 8:55 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mint 12 was completely un-installable on a very old thinkpad I bought. Some really messed up problem, I posted to the forums and got no useful response.

I was looking into Mint in the first place because no recent version of Ubuntu has been worth anything at all on old hardware. Mint's been somewhat kinder to them. But if you can't install it, you can't install it.

So fuck Mint, I'm back to Debian. Maybe I'll jazz it up with Mint Debian Edition, which is entirely compatible with Debian in the first place.
posted by edheil at 9:26 PM on December 10, 2011


Ooh! Gentoo story time!

Sophomore year of college (2004-5) I had the world's cheapest crappiest computer. It was an AMD Duron, I think like 400 MHz and cost all of $250. I built it myself in one of the weird odd-size mini cases which meant it overheated and crashed all the time, and I think the hard drive was something ridiculously small even for the time like 20 gigs, and the drive was abysmally slow too.

Ubuntu wasn't really a thing yet, and I had used Red Hat long enough to hate it. Debian wouldn't install for some reason. That's why I used Gentoo.

But it was a terrible computer, right? It took like 2 hours to compile the kernel. Compiling a new Gentoo release (emerge world) would have taken like 3 weeks, during which the machine would be unusable. And the hard drive might fill up, ruining all that effort.

That's when I discovered distcc, which lets you distribute compilation across multiple machines. I put the names of every Linux machine in the computer science department's computer lab, which I could ssh to. Even though the campus network was pretty slow and flaky, I managed to get the latest Gentoo update in just 48 hours. I was so proud!
posted by miyabo at 9:36 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I used Gentoo for about three years... I had tried Suse back around 2000, and hit a wall with some basic issues when all the documentation that seemed like it would be useful was written in German. So a few years later, I decided to go with the distro with the best forums, and Genoo won. I learned a shit-ton about how linux is put together and development cycles in those three years, mainly from keeping my desktop running and occasionally upgraded, but yeah, it was completely unsustainable. So I've been using xubuntu for the last few years now. (Not only have a been linux-only for like six years now, but I also switch over every installation to fluxbox straight away. So no Unity troubles for me; I don't think I've ever even seen it run. Might have to give this xmonad a try, even though I fundamentally disagree with their statement that, "In a normal WM, you spend half your time aligning and searching for windows.")
posted by kaibutsu at 10:46 PM on December 10, 2011


Question to people here. Looking at using Eclipse for Java development. Which Linux (64 bit) distribution for that? Haven't done Linux before but have used Unix machines and shells (mostly Bash) before. Was looking at Ubuntu but there seems to be some unresolved issued about the dynamic menus of Eclipse in Ubuntu for the current and last release. There may be a workaround but wanted to know if anyone else has a favorite for that use. I've also read that Ubuntu doesn't use the Sun/Oracle JDK by default though there seems to be instructions available to install/enable it.
posted by aleph at 11:18 PM on December 10, 2011


I jumped ship to mint from ubuntu when unity came along (and it became clear it wasn't going away). I've installed mint on at least a dozen machines on at least two dozen occasions, and I've been generally happy with it. It looks good, it's surprisingly intuitive for people coming from either linux or non-linux backgrounds, and it usually does just work out of the box in a way that ubuntu now doesn't. But I don't now use it- I'll get to why below.

Like others above, I found ubuntu plus unity near useless on a netbook because buttons (and windows or wtf those things are) couldn't be resized; frustratingly opaque on any computer in terms of accessing applications, system settings and configuration options; and utterly enraging once I realized that a great deal of functionality had not been hidden, but actually removed (just one example being the option to downgrade to a gnome 2 UI disappearing in 11.10).

I'm still putting 11.04 on boxes I build and maintain for family and friends who know and like ubuntu, but it's always being downgraded to gnome 2. As I roll through the rebuild and upgrade cycle of a dozen or so machines, everyone is getting a warning that this is the last version of ubuntu that they are likely to be able to use without having to completely relearn their system, and that if they're going to have to do that, a shift to something further into its development cycle and with a better user interface will be much easier for both them and me.

That said, I haven't been entirely happy with Mint 11 either. Like edheil above, I've had immense difficulty getting it installed on older laptops (the lack of a net install function on any of the mint flavors, particularly lxde, is a serious drawback for installation on machines with low powered processors or small amounts of RAM - lubuntu ended up being the solution). I've had deal breaking problems getting it to work with hardware newer than 6 months old (particularly anything 64 bit or from AMD - the latest release of kubuntu with a 3.0 kernel fixed that). And I've had an unusual number of peripherals not recognized or buggy in nasty ways.

The worst of those was a termination/extraction error on USB ports/devices. Occasionally the "safe to remove" message would just be wrong. I'd get an on screen message that my device was safe to remove while it was still being written to. I'd pull the device. The result - device fried.. Checked across various machines, and same problem. Tried reinstalls from different downloads and disks, same problem. Rechecked the release notes, nothing. Checked the limited online bug tracking and documentation available for mint, nothing. Finally found some other dude crying over his keyboard on a blog somewhere in the states.

There is an easy work around to this in going into disk manager and unmounting a usb device from there, before powering that device down to be certain, but until you know that, you're potentially killing drives and losing baby photos. (Potential for you, rather real for me.)

And in that lack of knowledge lies the kicker. I get the sense that Mint's development team and user community (and consequently bug tracking and forums) are still too small to catch stuff like this before release. And when it does get caught after release, it's often quite hard to share or acquire knowledge about that problem.

Which I guess is my long winded way of getting to the point that large open source projects need a critical mass of skilled volunteer developers or users behind them, and they need some serious funding for their own hosting, documentation projects, forums, bug tracking, beer money, etc. Without those two things, bad shit happens and users need to treat that project with a lot of caution.

To wrap up the rant, it's only in quite unusual circumstances that a project gets both skilled users/volunteer developers and decent funding without first having a truly excellent and well developed product. But, catch 22, you don't get that excellent product without first having the community and the cash.

To my mind, at the moment, Mint is stuck in the middle of that conundrum.

Which is a crying fucking shame - the world really does need a FOSS OS that just friggin works, that either grandma or a kid from a rice farming village in Bangladesh can understand with minimal training, that isn't going to have to be relearned every six months, and that doesn't wipe out all record of the first 18 months of a little kid's life..
posted by Ahab at 12:42 AM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I got fed up with the progressive dumbing down of Gnome and moved to XFCE (first on Debian, but then Xubuntu as its a bit easier to install on non server machines). I have continued to happily use either while watching other linux desktop users complain bitterly about Gnome3, KDE4, Unity, etc.

Please XFCE developers, just keep refining and tweaking (like better dual monitor handling etc) but no big radical changes!

I liked the simple netbook sized gnome shell on the Ubuntu Netbook remix though, still use that on my netbook - I think that interface lives on in "easy peasy" linux.
posted by zog at 12:53 AM on December 11, 2011


The first release of the Ubuntu Netbook Remix (as I vaguely recall it was called at the time) had an utterly fantastic interface -- not necessarily one I'd want to use on a full desktop, but it made quite efficient use of the limited screen space on my A1, and it was pretty snappy on the A1's limited memory and processor resources. I don't even know if that interface had a name. It was just the netbook version of Ubuntu.

Then the next Ubuntu release came out, and the netbook version had this new creeping horrorshow called Unity. It was sluggish, and it made absolutely everything I tried to do an utter chore. I tried to put in the time to make it work for me, but in the end I just wound up using the Windows install instead.

I really didn't get any sort of OSX vibe from it, either. I missed the iMac I got to use at my old job. I'd have a Mac if I could afford it. Unity was nothing like as usable or pleasant as OSX.

I guess this means I hated Unity before it was cool?
posted by Kalthare at 3:52 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, I'm now using Mint 12 via LiveUSB, and I can tell already that this is going to be a game-changer for me. No longer will I be able to simply mount my old /home partition to my new /home directory, and watch as all the config settings fall effortlessly into place. Gnome 3 has changed a lot of things up here. It looks like I'll be doing a fresh install and building all my nitpicking little preferences from scratch.

Gnome 3 is going to be a challenge for barely-tech-literate users such as myself, who've grown comfortable with doing things the way we learned to do them many years ago. On the other hand, it does bring back that old rush of learning a new system. And as always, the Mint community has proven itself to be helpful and informative.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:44 AM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Joe Chip: "Also, is xmonad actually good? How does it compare with other tiled window managers like wmii and ratpoison?"

The Arch wiki has a handy page: Comparison of Tiling Window Managers.

For me the huge amount of customisation and flexibility available with xmonad wasn't worth the amount of time I'd have to spend to get it working just as I wanted it (partly because there's just too much choice and the temptation to tweak is too great, partly because I found configuring stuff in Haskell a wee bit confusing).

I use the super-duper-simple dwm & dmenu combo, occasionally switching to the underrated WMFS if I'm plugged into a big monitor (when a few extra tiling modes come in handy).
posted by jack_mo at 6:00 AM on December 11, 2011


Kalthare, the initial release of Unity was Unity 3D, which did in fact require a graphics accelerator. Technically your laptop had one, else it would have blackscreened, but it was a crappy one. Unity 2D had not come out yet. It will work better. I think the installer will auto-detect your hardware and select the appropriate Unity.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:13 AM on December 11, 2011


1. Even Ubuntu is talking about turfing most of the cross-platform stuff that is just cruft for the majority of their non-frame-buffer, Intel-only user base.

2. Mint doesn't run anywhere nearly as seamlessly on netbooks and tablets yet.

Ubuntu ain't dead yet.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:59 AM on December 11, 2011


I use the super-duper-simple dwm & dmenu combo, occasionally switching to the underrated WMFS if I'm plugged into a big monitor (when a few extra tiling modes come in handy).

dmenu is sufficiently perfect for the task that most xmonad setups seem to use it, and I've got it bound to a hotkey even in places where I'm running stock Gnome 2 or XFCE. Really nice little tool.
posted by brennen at 11:03 AM on December 11, 2011


aleph: "Looking at using Eclipse for Java development. Which Linux (64 bit) distribution for that? Haven't done Linux before but have used Unix machines and shells (mostly Bash) before. Was looking at Ubuntu but there seems to be some unresolved issued about the dynamic menus of Eclipse in Ubuntu for the current and last release."

I use eclipse just fine? Sadly, the Debian ecosystem has lived without java for long enough that a lot of components have been regularly neglected. Ubuntu seems to have caught up on Eclipse, though was perpetually like one year behind previously. Not sure about jboss, but I do see a jbossas4 package...
posted by pwnguin at 12:49 PM on December 11, 2011


I don't use Eclipse regularly, but I know Red Hat has multiple full-time developers contributing to it. I'm pretty sure they're the ones who distribute Eclipse versions that run as native code through gcj. So it stands to reason that Fedora or RHEL would have very good support for it.
posted by miyabo at 12:54 PM on December 11, 2011


Eclipse is a pretty straightforward install on ubuntu. If I actually used it much I'd probably want to run CentOS/Fedora.
posted by rhizome at 1:09 PM on December 11, 2011


Unity 2D had not come out yet. It will work better. I think the installer will auto-detect your hardware and select the appropriate Unity.

I've tried it since then. Yes, it's faster. It's still awful, painful and hideous, but you're right, at least it's not slow anymore. I didn't really get into Unity's other problems because they weren't relevant to the point I was trying to make.

Unity 3D, which did in fact require a graphics accelerator. Technically your laptop had one, else it would have blackscreened, but it was a crappy one.

Every netbook had a crappy graphics accelerator. Netbooks were cheap. That was the whole point of them. They were super-portable little notebook computers with very little oomph to them, with Intel (or worse) graphics hardware, designed to be little more than thin clients for web apps. If you had a netbook that Unity 3D ran well on, it wasn't actually a netbook. It was a two thousand dollar sub-notebook.

What I was getting at is that they debuted Unity in the release of Ubuntu targeted at computers that couldn't run it well. This is not the behavior of an entity capable of making good design decisions.
posted by Kalthare at 1:14 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I dunno, I'm kinda digging Unity to be honest. It reminds me of the one thing I felt Mandriva did better than Ubuntu: consolidate your needs into a single window (as was the case with the MCC). Once I got rid of the bottom panel and the menu extensions, the rest fell into place - just flick my mouse into the corner and click a favorite. This is pretty much what I was doing in Gnome 2.X, where I had launchers on a top panel, and no bottom panel. Moving between multiple windows is also a lot easier. To each their own, I guess, but count me among the slim minority for whom Unity made things easier.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:12 AM on December 12, 2011


As another datapoint, some things about Unity bothered me (poor Wine integration, notably). I switch to Mint 12, thinking it looked promising and it was buggy as hell. I've gone to Xubuntu now - best of both worlds!
posted by RGD at 10:06 AM on December 12, 2011


Kalthare, I am looking at the release notes for 11.04, the first Unity-default version, and it already had unity-2d by default, so I guess that wasn't the version you were using...? Yeah, says on Wikipedia that Netbook Remix has been using Unity since version 10.04, before unity-2d existed. Probably a bad choice for netbooks in general, but it also says this was developed specifically for the Inspiron Mini 9, with GMA 950 integrated graphics... if you tried to run it on an eeePC or something, yeah, performance would be shot to hell.

I can't respond to your other complaints about it because they're not very specific. I thought Unity looked and felt very much like the older netbook-launchers.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:27 AM on December 12, 2011


Mint founder explains why he diverts Banshee referrals to a Mint Linux account.
posted by pwnguin at 11:56 AM on December 12, 2011


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