I have been running this release from the very day it was made available… up until right now. Well, until about two hours ago, to be exact. I've wanted to write a review of this latest version of Ubuntu (specifically the Desktop version) but I just haven't been able to figure out…how. Now, after over a month of living in Ubuntu (full-time), I think I finally am prepared to talk about my feelings for this release.
Before I dive in, I'd like to point out that I've been – quite possibly – one of the most ardent supporters and advocates for Ubuntu over the last… jeez… nearly a decade. While I haven't been as big of a fan of the Unity interface, my praise of and advocacy for Ubuntu over the years has approached fanboy levels. Even during times when I ran other Linux-based systems (openSUSE, Arch, Android, etc.) I still maintained a soft spot for this little orange and purple system.
The short version: It's an amazing release that the Ubuntu team should be astoundingly proud of. Also... I hate it. A lot.
With that, seemingly random, inflammatory bombshell out of the way, let's talk about what Ubuntu 15.04 gets right. Namely, stability.
Past versions of Ubuntu-powered Unity have been… let's just say "a bit buggy and crashy." Not horribly, mind you, but the first few years of the Unity era hasn't exactly been smooth sailing. But Ubuntu 15.04, with Unity 7.3, has been stable as heck for me. It hasn't once – not ONCE – crashed on me. I've never needed to reboot my system or kill a process because of the Unity desktop.
Likewise, I've experienced no funky graphical glitches that were so common in the earlier days of Unity. The entire desktop environment feels mature, well-tested, and reliable.
It took several years to get to this point, but the quality truly is excellent. Part of me felt like it might never happen, but I'm happy to be wrong about that. In fact, I think every single person who worked on this system deserves one hell of a high-five for the quality of the release.
There's just one teensy, tiny problem here ("teensy, tiny" being code for "huge, colossal, Extinction Level Event" problem) – Ubuntu is about to completely replace the display server (switching from X.org to the internally-developed-at-Canonical Mir) as well as drop the stable, polished Unity 7.3 for a new codebase in Unity 8.
The Unity Desktop was made the default Desktop Environment in Ubuntu version 11.04, four years ago. I'm going to repeat that again to make sure that point sinks in – it took four years from the time Unity was made the default environment until it became truly stable, polished, and reliable. Four. Years.
Now, Ubuntu is not only going to move to a new-codebase Unity, but also a completely new (and, comparatively, untested) display server. All this possibly happening as early as Ubuntu 15.10, to be released later this year.
The Desktop Team manager at Canonical, Will Cooke, wrote about their plans (recommended reading) with this to say:
"This gives us a full 2 cycles (in addition to the one we've already done) to really nail Unity 8 with the level of quality that people expect."
What quality, in the desktop environment, would I expect Unity 8 to be by the 15.10/16.04 releases? Roughly the same quality that Unity had back in 11.10. Which is to say, "crashy and buggy enough to make me want chuck my laptop through a plate glass window." If the new Mir/Unity8-powered Ubuntu takes another four years to regain this level of stability, we're looking at version 20.04 before plate glass windows are once again safe. That's the year 2020, which most movies about the future are pretty sure we will never reach without either inciting the zombie apocalypse or being wiped out by a big old space rock.
Now, I agree with what some of you are already saying. Judging the current release of a piece of software by what I think it might be like six months from now is pretty stupid.
So, I won't do that.
Ubuntu 15.04 and Unity 7.3 is stable and solid. It's high quality without even the slightest doubt. But that victory was hard won. The trail leading from Ubuntu 11.04 to 15.04 is littered with victims of dysentery and snakebites. To feel as though, as we stand right here at the end of that long trek, we are simply going to do it all over again without so much as a victory picnic (is that a thing?... it should be a thing) feels…maddening.
Which makes me not want to use 15.04 at all. Knowing that, based on history, when I install 15.10 or 16.04 (whichever gets Unity 8), I'll likely have a significantly worse experience? I hate that idea.
It's like when you're leaning back in a chair at a restaurant, just a little too far. That moment when you realize, "Aw nuts. I'm about to tip over and fall. I can't stop it. All I can do is panic as I slowly watch it happen. Maybe I'll spend this time thinking of a way to make me look slightly less clumsy to my date."
But you can't stop it. It's going to happen. The only thing you can do is whip out your best Steve Urkel impression and resolve to practice leaning back in chairs at home when nobody is looking. You know. So you'll be awesome at it from now on.
Either that or you don't upgrade. For four years. Which would be fine for some things… but for the main desktop PCs of people like me (nerds), that simply isn't going to happen ("Upgrade or die!").
Which leaves me with two realistic choices. I can either simply stop keeping any Ubuntu-powered computers around – I've usually had at least one Ubuntu instance running at any given time, even when other distros have been my main environments – or I can resign to the knowledge that my Ubuntu rig is going to get buggier and less stable in the near future and for the next few years.
Now, to be clear, doing something new is always messy. To make a new piece of software, you've got to deal with some buggy releases. It happens. We've all experienced that more times than we can count. To make an omelette, you have to crack a few eggs.
It's worth cracking those eggs. Because, in the end, you get to eat an omelette. Something awesome that you didn't have before.
But, what if you already have an omelette? With cheese, mushrooms, green peppers and some sort of crazy artisanal bacon. Took you four years to make – had to get the bacon from some quadrennial bacon-making event or something. Do you take one little bite, throw the rest in the garbage, and crack some more eggs?
You could try to tell me that my entire point here is dumb because Canonical is only throwing out the omelette because they want to merge the Desktop and Mobile code-bases together. And that would, indeed, be a (somewhat) valid reason for making this decision.
But that doesn't make the future prospects of the experience with the desktop version of Ubuntu any better. It only tells us why you deprived us all of our omelette picnic party.
I was going to write here about some of the additional parts of the 15.04 release… but an omelette picnic party reference seems like a really good place to stop typing.
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