Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why Ubuntu Isn't a Great Working Distro (For me anyway)

I really can't think of any other way to start this post than by a small list of disclaimers since the title alone incites a warmongering mafia to pound my door down and crucify me.

Let's start off with the target use case. Here are a list of things that I do with any computer that I have. I've tried to put this list in descending order starting from most important to least important tasks.

  • Android Development (Primarily with Eclipse but I do like to have the ability to use adb and related tools from the terminal if required)
  • Multimedia production (Image editing, screencast recording, video editing/transcoding, desktop publishing)
  • Podcasting
  • Writing
  • Gaming

So far so good. It took a few years but Linux ended up fitting the bill quite nicely. At least in all but the gaming department but I can deal with that since gaming doesn't really pay the bills.

I run a total of four computers. Three are Linux systems and one is a Windows system which, as you guessed it, is the gaming one. I run two different distributions of Linux: Fedora and Ubuntu. I'm primarily a Fedora user first since my initiation distribution was RedHat and I fell in love with it but there are some things that Debian does better hence using Ubuntu.

Here are a brief list of specs for the system that's running Ubuntu. These specs are similar to the desktop running Fedora but there are differences.

  • Gigabyte GA-770T-USB3 Rev 1.0 Motherboard
  • AMD Phenom II X2 555 Callisto Black
  • Sapphire Radeon HD 4670 1GB PCIe
  • OCZ DDR3-1333 (8GB)
  • OCZ Vertex Turbo II (60GB MLC)

Like I said there are some differences between this setup and the Fedora desktop setup. Primarily the Fedora desktop is running on an AMD FX-6100, a newer Gigabyte board whose model escapes me at this point, and has the same model RAM just 16GB of it instead of 8.

The point I'm trying to make here is that aside from the obvious processor bottleneck in the Ubuntu system, it's not lightweight in the least. For the most part, I've been able to do everything in my requirements that I've mentioned above and do it with a relatively swift pace which is absolutely important.

Being more akin to RedHat/Fedora-like systems, you might wonder why I bother with Debian/Ubuntu in the first place. Being well rounded is important to me. I'm always on the hunt for subtle ways to make my workflow more efficient and if that end requires that I adjust the distribution I use then so be it. It's also not enough to just stick all of your eggs in the RedHat basket and ignore the rest of the world since (A) RedHat's methods may not always be the best and (B) not everyone relies on or uses RedHat for their needs. As someone who occasionally fulfills consulting requests for Linux systems, I can't really afford to be on either end of the playing field.

The major selling point on Ubuntu has been, and still is to this day, the fact that it works OOTB without much configuration required. Sure you still have to install a few miscellaneous packages post-install for multimedia requirements like ubuntu-restricted-extras. For the most part, you really could get away with deploying stock images onto systems and being happy with that.

Ubuntu really has made progress in leaps and bounds much to the chagrin of the Linux world. And really, if it weren't for the fact that I need a system for work, I wouldn't be writing this and would be happy as can be with it. I've had Ubuntu 12.04 on this system for a few months now and I don't have a whole lot of bad things to say about it from a usability perspective.

Sometimes though, it's the little things that matter. It's also the little things that end up catching you off guard and interrupting your workflow.

Let's start with something simple: shutting the computer down. Now that sounds like something really odd to complain about right? I've never really been able to figure this out but there have been a handful of times where I'll initiate a shutdown and the computer hangs. It appears to kill most all processes, goes to the Ubuntu shutdown screen, and then quits. And it just sits there. And sits there. And sits there. One time I decided to let it sit to see if it'd eventually shut down on its own. About an hour later, I forced it down.

That was just more of an annoyance. Here's one that actually interrupts my workflow: Compiz intermittently crashing for just about no good reason other than it decided to go on a coffee break and was late coming back. Originally I'd chalked this up to the driver that I was using. Since I have an ATI graphics card, I tend to favor using the proprietary ATI driver which is more commonly known as fglrx. fglrx is known to cause more than its fair share of random issues on a number of distributions but it's been stable for the most part. But after having it happen nearly seven times within three days, I'd decided to remove the driver and use the stock one provided instead. While it did in fact cut down the occurrences, it didn't stop it from happening entirely. The bad part about this though is that when this happens, the system locks up completely for an arbitrary amount of time. Once it gets back on track, all of the windows are stacked in the same workspace which, frankly, is really effing annoying.

Ubuntu uses this program for error reporting called apport. It tends to throw these small little dialog boxes up when it notices that something has gone screwy in the system. Here you can examine the erroneous program and opt to send a bug report to Canonical. The cute thing here is that if it's a recurring issue within a specific time period, you'll actually have the ability to tell apport to ignore future issues of this type. In other words, the problem probably isn't going to go away but you'll be none-the-wiser since you have a choice to just ignore them. Of all the times I decided not to ignore them, I kept getting errors with colord. For those who aren't aware, colord is the daemon that manages monitor color profiles. I wasn't sure why it was being flagged by apport, all I knew was that damn little dialog kept popping up, literally, every three minutes or so. It did this regularly for about an hour before I'd finally had enough and just opted to ignore the issue. I wasn't seeing any performance impact on the system and my monitor was working fine. What it was doing was stopping me from writing code.

To summarize this, I feel like a non-verbatim quote from Coder Radio's Michael Dominick is in order. He said something along the lines of if a system starts interrupting the workflow, it gets repaved without question so long as you know that workflow works well somewhere else. As much as I like tinkering and figuring out what's going on with my Linux systems, I can't really afford to spend the time tinkering with Ubuntu to fix these things. Rather I'm simply more inclined to migrate to another arena where my workflow operates unhindered. So far, that arena has been Fedora with GNOME3.

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