Dear Ubuntu…

Dear Ubuntu,

I hope this letter finds you well. I want to start by saying that our time together has been one of creativity and entertainment, a time in which you gave me the tools to develop a new career, to run a small electronics business, make fun things, and to write several thousand articles for Hackaday and other publications, but for all that it’s sadly time for our ways to part. The magic that once brought us together has faded, and what remains is in danger of becoming a frustration.

In our early days as an item you gave me for the first time a Linux distro that was complete, fast, and easy to use without spending too much time at the CLI or editing config files to make things happen; you gave me a desktop that was smooth and uncluttered, and you freed me from all those little utilities that were required to make Windows usable. You replaced the other distros I’d been using, you dual-booted with my Windows machines, and pretty soon you supplanted the Microsoft operating system entirely.

Ubuntu and me and a trusty Dell laptop, Oxford Hackspace, 2017.
Me and Ubuntu in 2017, good times.

We’ve been together for close to two decades now, and in that time we’ve looked each other in the eye across a variety of desktop and laptop computers. My trusty Dell Inspiron 640 ran you for over a decade through several RAM, HDD, and SSD upgrades, and provided Hackaday readers with the first few years of my writing. Even the Unity desktop couldn’t break our relationship, those Linux Mint people weren’t going to tear us asunder! You captured my text, edited my videos and images, created my PCBs and CAD projects, and did countless more computing tasks. Together we made a lot of people happy, and for that I will always be grateful.

An Ubunto wait to quit or force quit dialogue
This dialogue has been an unwelcome guest rather a lot of late.

But over the last few years, I’ve noticed that our relationship has slowly become one less of harmony and more of frustration. Like middle-aged spread, you became progressively more bloated, your moments of freezing became obvious and inconvenient, and the delays to open some indispensable pieces of software became too long to simply explain as the result of having other apps running in the background. Our once close relationship has become strained by endless waiting for Snap packaged applications to load, and by my USB peripherals mysteriously refusing to talk to applications they’ve been used with for years.

I understand that Snap is meant to release us from dependency hell and I know why you’ve put each one in its own little sandbox, but honestly, even ChromeOS running a Linux application in its virtual machine is faster than this, and it doesn’t require everything to come from one distribution hub, or mess with access to hardware. I need my machine’s performance back, I need using a peripheral to stop being a lottery. I need more, Ubuntu, I need a distro that understands me and works with me, not against me!

I’ve tried to work around my frustrations, tried to convince myself that maybe if I had a faster laptop we could be happy together, but I can’t help thinking about the older generation PC in my hackerspace running Arch that Just Works, and Just Works without having to wait several minutes for Prusa Slicer to load. I realise that I can’t go on living a lie, I need to move on and find a distro that gives me the performance and stability I crave.

I need you to know that I didn’t jump to this conclusion in an instant. I kept the faith, I kept hoping every fresh distribution update would fix your shortcomings, and I even defended you when confronted with the other, leaner, distros my friends use. But I sense we’ve passed the point of no return, and a relationship built on frustration is no way to live. Let’s remember the good times, writing an article lying in a hammock at BornHack, or cracking how to number-crunch millions of words of corpus text on a mundane laptop. We traveled a long way together, and for that I’m grateful.

The transition will be painless enough, I won’t even uninstall you. Instead I have a new SSD in the mail, and I’ll transfer you in your drive to your own caddy. We’ll still see each other from time to time, and maybe if you can Snap out of your midlife crisis one day we’ll get back together. Meanwhile, thanks for all the good things you allowed me to do over the years, and I hope your maintainers can help you through your current difficulties.

Yours,

Jenny List

280 thoughts on “Dear Ubuntu…

  1. Feeling the same I do share you with, Obi Wan. Honestly, I dropped Ubuntu since their Unity, now I am on XUbuntu derivative and I am happy with that. And yes – first thing I do after fresh installation of xubuntu – “sudo apt remove –purge snap”.

  2. I’ve used Linux on my laptops and desktops for years – SLS, Slackware, RedHat opensource (pre RHEL), Suse, Ubuntu, Debian, and I’ve currently landed on Alpine.

    The switch to Alpine reminded me of what it is the other distros seem to have forgotten – the toolkit ethos – Linux isn’t monolithic for a solid reason: you are allowed to swap out any component, or at least you should be. Have to ever tried replacing systemd, or worse, just one of systemd’s functions?

    In these days of dbus, systemd and the other invasive, non-linux tropes it good to know that there is at least one distro that is keeping it real, keeping it Linux, keeping it small, secure and simple.

  3. I used ubuntu at the start when there was gnome 2. After i used mint cinnamon for many years. I got botered by add specific repositories to install a specific uncommon software. I found out endeavour and yay. Since that i have no more problem to find any software and with last update. Rolling means i never have to reinstall at every major update. Until now the best distro for my uses.

  4. I have been trying for years to make the transition from Windows to Linux. Not so much because of its quirks of which it has many, but because of Microsoft’s increasingly draconian policies, telemetry, and forcing Edge down my throat even if it is a good browser. I’m a geek, a developer, and have been in the IT field for 50 years, so I am almost expected to run Linux.
    But I can’t do it. Almost all of my favorite software is available for Linux. But a few crucial ones are not, nor will they run under Wine even with a bunch of hacks. So I have to spin up a virtual Windows machine to run them, badly. And I’ve run into so many issues I cannot resolve even with many hours of Googling and asking the Graybeards on numerous forums. The final straw was the Linux file server I tried to set up. It kept eating my music and video files. Every piece of hardware has been replaced, most more than once. I’ve reinstalled from scratch many times. I’ve tried 3 different distros (all Debian based though). I have spent at least 350 hours and a ton of money trying to fix it. Many many many posts on numerous forums and no-one else can figure out the problem either. It was actually rock solid and never ever crashed but that’s worthless when it destroys your data. After 2 years and much hair pulling I said f–k it and installed Windows on that machine. Have not lost a single file since. When Windows screws up, and I admit it does so often, I can always find a fix. Linux only some times. I have not completely given up on Linux and every time Microsoft does something even more fascist I make another attempt to break up with them. Just can’t make it stick.

    1. I get it, I’m kind of there. I have tinkered with with the good ship linux since major distros could be tested on a 386/4MB spare machine, but it always starts to sink or have other problems in “sea trials” leading to me never setting sail fully.

      The assertion of some that you can do “everything” on it is specious, as significant chunks of everything have been abandoned, they used to be possible, but had some dependency that has been cast out, made incompatible, completely restructured, or otherwise deprecated, meaning the “At least you have the core routines and only have to rewrite the other 75% from scratch if you want it to work ever again.” open source guarantee applies.

      I just got one application trashed with an update a couple of months back. Thankfully nothing important, just a leisure thing. The “store” version of the app was much neglected and had been built from 15 year old code, 15 years old, a maintained project too with irregular but constant updates through the years. Anyway, it sorta worked, but had glitches related to newer kernel problems, and libraries also much newer than the code used. But it also had it’s old bugs cast in amber with it, and did not support as much as the up to date version. So what do I have to do but build it from source myself… which went apparently without a hitch, all up to date and working perfectly…. then the stupid store gets a stupid update of it last month and blam, messes it up… I haven’t even delved into the wreckage yet, frying other fish.

  5. We have one remaining Win-10 PC left in the house, for no good reason. It my wife’s desktop that she uses for her computerized embroidery machine and digitizing programs. The needed software runs in Ubuntu with Play on Linux and there will be no updating her desktop to Win-11 so there is no reason to keep Windows. It will become an Ubuntu machine this fall when it’s annual cleaning and updating comes due. My Dell Precision M4700 is dual booting Win-10 and Ubuntu but since it has the wrong TPM it will not upgrade to Win-11. This one will become a Fedora/Ubuntu dual boot. Sorry Microsoft you no longer want us as Windows Users, so be it.

  6. Hello! As many of the people commenting, I agree with Jenny. I am an Ubuntu user since before version 9. And I was pleased, but as time went on my experience with it became less profitable and each new version seemed to make it slower and many “ameliorations” seemed to me very cosmetic. So whereas I am still using Ubuntu, I am exploring other path like Manjaro, Fedora, Debian. Sorry for Ubuntu but the way they chose is not the way I wish to travel.

  7. I love how every single Jabroni here in the comments assumed the problems Jenny is facing are “GUI vs CLI” before even reading the article properly.

    That is not the problem.

    The problem is worse. More insidious, and it is made up of several things that not only was Canonical warned NOT to do, but several of their staff left the company over when it became apparent that nobody in charge was listening.

    1. This, VERY much this, as well as what I also said, further below.

      The open-source ethos really doesn’t work well with that of any sort of corporation, or really ANY similar such structure oriented and organized around profit gain as a primary focus and objective. Really the two operate as point-and-counterpoint more than anything else.

      Which way comes out better for society as a whole, and which community is therefore the better choice to enrich… I suppose in at least some sense, that’s a matter of perspective. Personally? My perspective is one of collaboration over competition, and so I support open source initiatives. However, I also weigh the same against the measure of practicality, so I’m not nearly as militant about it as some. For example, I don’t hold onto very specific older machines just so I can have a CoreBoot BIOS or a driver for my given WiFi card that’s free of binary blobs.

      But when my father, a graphic artist who depends on applications from Linux-hostile companies to do his stuff — Corel for example — asks for advice on a slow Windows install, my answer isn’t “Linux Mint!”, it’s troubleshooting for what he has. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Inkscape is wonderful once you learn to use it, but hoooooo boy do those people need a class or three in UI design, my god. QMK is arguably easier to use, and that’s just awful.

      I’m not vegan about it, or really even vegetarian. Sensible portions, and healthy dishes with meat used more to flavor than as a main thing — think kielbasa and cabbage vs hamburgers — and minimal red meat, that sort of thing… that’s good enough for me.

      F|OSS where it’s reasonably possible, in other words, with understanding where it isn’t such right now, and certainly not libre.

  8. Laaawd haff marcey what a comment stack! Not that I’m surprised. If there’s one issue that gets this community ignited, it’s “Hey, I’m looking for a Linux distro, recommend me one?”

    I doubt I’ll make any sort of splash — deservedly so! — but hey, here goes nothing.

    For those like two commenters way way above. MacOS and Windows are both very much ‘walled gardens’. They don’t know how to play well with others, they’re largely unwilling to learn (WSL is a welcome step in the right direction, however), and they’re altogether all too keen to blame everyone else for it.

    Don’t get me wrong, MacOS has some brilliance to it. Interface and UI design get a lot of thought put to them in terms of usability and intuitiveness. My issue with Apple is more that their corporate attitude is one of brazenly shameless profiteering, and open hostility towards any sort of 3rd-party repair as part of that. Let’s face it, the reason we all admire Louis Rossmann so much isn’t that he teaches regular people how to do seemingly impossible repair work, it’s that he’s a mortal who got so angry at Apple’s bull-headedness that he mastered the tools and skills of the hacker gods themselves to teach those fellas a lesson, and when they STILL wouldn’t listen, he started a movement to basically destroy all of that stuff one way or another.

    As for Windows, the last version that was even remotely decent was Win7, but it’s honestly a bit long in the tooth now. There’s machines you just can’t run it on, simply because they use kinds of interfaces for which Win7 never had drivers and never will. Add to this that ‘decent’ is VERY much a relative term here, and that Windows’ out-of-the-box experience is, by and large, “Whelp, time to go back to the store and buy more software!” because unlike Linux, it is essentially unusable as a bare install — when you buy Windows, after all, you buy WINDOWS, and that unfortunately means you haven’t bought anything else with it — and things start going downhill rather steeply. Further largely-unavoidable pitfalls and potholes are the removal of certain admin features with Win10, such as the ability to permanently disable updates, and the absolutely unshakeable (since at least the XP era, if not 9x) performance curve seemingly designed in so that every three years you either need to upgrade or reinstall… or put up with the kind of performance you’d get if you tried to game on a 2011 HP Mini.

    Don’t get me wrong, Linux has plenty of issues. I daily-driver Mint, and I know that means all the ghouls and golems of SystemD, and I’m simply not allowed an exorcist for that. I know that means a lot of illusory security, like how I need a password entry to install the full version of LibreOffice that Mint doesn’t come with, but Shift+Del executes with only a sanity check to bypass the virtual rubbish bin. I also get plenty of Windows-oriented flashbacks in places where Mint automatically assumes I’m an idiot in the wrong place, which I don’t appreciate — a large quantity of “are you sure” dialogs fit this issue — and I will forever question, loudly and openly, the supposed wisdom of isolating and mostly disabling root, especially in the traditional sense, on a system which will never be anything but single-user (remember, suddenly is a PATCH for this, and in my opinion a poor one). I shouldn’t have to mother-may-I a computer where I’m the only one who’s ever going to touch it.

    Keep in mind, my first real distro was Puppy Linux, and I honestly kind of miss some of that architecture. I muck around with a lot of very odd hardware — thin clients and such — and the ability to sort out weird screen hardware with a few edits to xorg.conf in CLI mode is honestly something I greatly miss… not to mention that all you REALLY needed for an install was a copy command and something vaguely approximating a bootloader.

    Unfortunately, as brilliant as he was at the rest of it, from what I know, neither Barry Kauler nor the community that came to be around him ever worked out how to properly umount a drive at shutdown, with predictable results. It was around the 5.25 series, as I recall, that I really started to get tired of this, and there was a nasty thing that went down in the community at the time. I packed my bags for Mint and never looked back.

    Another thing I miss is 32bit support. I understand why it’s waning, but newer really just isn’t always better — and even when it is, it’s often unnecessarily so, introducing many more points of failure for relatively little gain elsewhere.

    I’m reminded, in that way, of the news article from a few years ago about a school that ran its HVAC system on an elderly Amiga. Maybe instead of going the shock-and-horror-that’s-a-machine-from-the-early-Nineties route, they should have reached out to the local retrocomputing community for repair help. HVACs don’t need much in the way of brains for controlling them properly, after all, and I kind of wonder how well the reliability of whatever new machinery they got stacks against the old Commodore that was absolutely fine until the one morning it wasn’t.

    Really, when I look at it, though, it feels to me like cheap high-performance hardware enables poor software practices. When you have gigabytes of memory and terabytes of storage, you don’t NEED good memory cleanup algorithms… after all, at that point, if a ~4mb memory leak brings the system crashing down like cop cars in a “Blues Brothers” movie, it was already hosed to begin with.

    Maybe the solution isn’t distro-hopping, it’s sitting down and designing not for what sells shiny new Dells, but for what people actually really NEED, and being a lot more honest about those needs in the process. I’d really like to see that more often — after all, in an era when an extra couple gigs of RAM is nearly pennies on the dollar, is it really fair to say it’s just the OS that needs a bit of Gas-X?

    1. A relevant follow-up point, as well as a question.

      I get the feeling that sooner or later someone’s going to see what I said about 32bit and give the old slippery-slope of — well, how far back you want to go? i386 arch? Backports to even earlier…?

      That’s actually a valid question, depending on phrasing and intent. My answer is essentially the final paragraph of my original post, to which this replies — really, I feel that what’s most needed is a look at what can be done with reasonably tight code practices and lower-end / prior-generation hardware, to see how low it’s reasonable to go. I don’t know enough to say where that’s likely to land, except that it’s probably pretty far down from even what you can get for the princely sum of $300 at Best Buy, and no I don’t want the extended warranty.

      I wish I could be more determinative — I admit, I’m interested to know the answer, how low can you go, if you go in and write like it’s 1983 and you’ve got a cartridge to get out — maybe for the C64, or some species of Tandy CoCo — in the past I’ve used the Atari 2600 as the mark, but maybe that’s a razor that cuts just a bit too sharp. After all, racing the beam IS pretty awful. But ya gotta admit, so is a Dagwood sandwich that’s nothing but bologna and Kraft Singles all the way down!

      Now, the question — does anyone here still use Puppy, and if so, did they ever fix umount on shutdown so that it didn’t eventually corrupt the system all to heck?

  9. Snap is a really daft idea. Linux never had “dependency hell”, it had shared libraries that had a single maintainer (sharing security fix burdens), the ability to do library versioning if really needed, and a much smaller disk/network/RAM/energy footprint as a result. I currently have 8.2GB wasted in /snap including 9 separate copies of /bin/perl . We need to go back to having ONE maintainer and packager for each app, the way Debian was designed to do it – and we can use automated tools to handle the updates. While we’re at it, it would be great if Ubuntu would package current versions of tools such as arduino-ide, and larger systems like mediawiki and suiteCRM. Then we can go back to using one tool (apt) to manage everything, including security updates for everything. To make this even better, why not have distro packages automatically built for all of the python and JS tools that are currently shipped separately with their own package manager. Why can’t I “apt install jquery” and then my web application can just symlink to it?

    1. Basically this. A lot of the work that the containers / snaps do is the responsibility of a package manager. With a well run distro, you shouldn’t be having the problems that they solve anyway.

      If I wanted statically compiled binaries, I’d just use -static.

      (grumpy-old-greybeard mode off)

    2. I use exactly ONE Snap on my Linux Mint system. I have a particular fondness for a particular image viewer — Irfanview — that is only available for Windows (sadly) and advises people to install WINE should they want it functional on Linux. However, I’ve also had pretty consistent results with attempting to install WINE resulting in a hosed system. (Probably this has something to do with the fact that, while I’m a hardware guy, I’m a PURE hardware guy, and the programming side of things… generally does not fare well around me. /Spectacularly/ so.) However, the Snap available for this one application reliably installs, doesn’t roach my OS, and incorporates a neatly compartmented WINE install.

      While I have my — admittedly quite pointed — questions about the concept of “security” that the people behind Snap have, by and large these points are the same for Linux in general. (For example, removable media access must be manually enabled via CLI.)

      I’m not actually sure if Irfanview is open source — a brief look on Google and on Irfanview’s website does not appear to suggest that it is — but I’m hoping that, in the future, there will indeed be a native Linux port.

      1. 20 some years ago, I installed IrfanView on my PC.
        It was a nice program, I don’t recall paying anything for it.
        I haven’t used it in years.

  10. I tried to explain the problem of making music on Linux, but my comment was withheld by moderation. Too bad. My post contained information that could save people a lot of time and trouble.

  11. We’ve been running minimalist Ubuntu LAMP stack on our servers built from metal up for 10 years or so. CLI only, no desktop installed. Transitioned from WinX to OSX for our desktops back in 2008 and never looked back. Apple’s not perfect but their proprietary silicon is amazing. One of my desktops runs X-Plane well with no graphics card beyond the default M1 chip. Amazing … Did a trial version of Win10 last year and was shocked at all the disorganized garbage MS defaults on your home screen. Many years ago I built Windows NT server environment for SQL and ultimately deleted the SAM to get the garbage out of the way. MS moving towards Linux to power Azure now … not at all surprising.

  12. I don’t understand why they didn’t just implement snaps with a loopback filesystem. Sandboxing and some redundancy from stuff not in basesnaps (or from snap authors not using them) I can accept, but the compressed filesystem is completely useless.

  13. I just gave up on Liinux Mint 21.1 for same reasons. Mysterious behavior of peripherals,: TouchPad, SD cards, USB, Bluetooth. Going back to Mint 19.3 (the last time I was happy). Still dual booting Windows because Linux does not have the right tools and WINE mystified me. Linux fan for 10 years.

  14. I started my journey on Fedora Core 4. After 10 years we had to update and chose Ubuntu. Another 8 years later Ubuntu updates failed and we moved back to Fedora. Back then ubuntu was trying to go to Wayland which wasn’t ready. After Fedora moved to Wayland we tried ubuntu again. Until my graphics card wouldn’t work so we moved to PopOS. Currently I can get PopOS to run on all my hardware. Especially on my desktop with a gForce video card. I still can not get a bluetooth dongle to work though.

    I tried Ubuntu when my Win 8 laptop needed to be updated. Win 10 update failed miserably. Ubuntu wouldn’t install. So that laptop is now running PopOS. But its dual graphics isn’t supported correctly.

    PopOS isn’t perfect. Some updates break software that I’ve installed. Not a fan of updates. Thinking that eventually I need to figure out how to install VMs and use them for all outside access so that my main OS doesn’t have to update and runs until I need a piece of software that I can’t get. (When PopOS requires Wayland this will probably be the only way I can run all the software I currently use). Then create a new VM to use to run the new software in. Current PopOS with Flatpaks or Ubuntu with Snaps isn’t the way to start this new machine as the installed apps would be too slow for me.

    Less people use PopOS so that means there is less help available when things don’t work, or change. In addition PopOS uses flatpaks so Ubuntu instructions don’t always work either.

    Its great that linux has so many options that we may try and find one that works. Its not great that we have to do this ever. Not many people I know use linux. Maybe this is one of the reasons why.

    Running all applications in a sandbox or vm might make our machines more stable but there is no way its going to be faster then running applications natively. It would be a real pain to have to compile all the applications ourselves. And even more difficult to fix their dependencies… But we could and we do if we need too. Though again maybe this is why not everyone is on linux.

  15. one of the best experiences ive had is with vanilla Debian, its stable does everything i need it to ,the only reason i use windows still is audio production and gaming , canonical has long been doing shady things so went to Debian , i hope this helps anyone who is seriously looking into linux , i cant recommend it enough

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.