I’ve spent the last few days with the final release of Canonical‘s latest offering, Ubuntu 8.04 LTS aka Hardy Heron and overall I am impressed. Unfortunately some crippling difficulties, not all of them directly attributable to Linux or Ubuntu, have prevented me once again from ditching Windows as my primary OS on my main computer.
For those that don’t know, the “LTS” portion of the name stands for Long-Term Support and means that Canonical will support this release for three years. LTS releases undergo much more rigorous testing than standard releases and should in theory be more reliable than other releases. This is the second LTS release. The first was 6.06 aka Dapper Drake, released in June of 2006.
What they have fixed which were problems for me in previous releases (not only of Ubuntu but also in Fedora 8 and OpenSuSE 10.3):
- Xorg auto-configuration is much more solid and for the first time ever on my laptop (Acer Aspire 5020 series) I didn’t have to choose safe mode graphics, or manually hack xorg.conf to use the VESA driver.
- Wireless LAN was much easier to configure. My laptop uses the infamous troublesome Broadcom 4318 chipset coupled with a software power switch for the wireless LAN component. Previously this required compiling the acer_acpi kernel module and then using ndiswrapper with the Windows drivers to get it going. It was also unreliable and it would never work on system startup until I disabled the network adapter and then re-enabled it. Now I still have to use the acer_acpi package, but no longer need ndiswrapper and also it all works right away on startup.
- ATI restricted driver stability. I no longer get little graphical artifacts all over the place or random colour stripes appearing. Thanks mostly to ATI I suppose.
When I found that the above problems had been resolved I was thrilled and immediately took an image of my Windows installation to external HDD and did a complete new install of Hardy.
Unfortunately my joy was short-lived. Once I started using Hardy for some real work a bunch of bugs reared their ugly heads, including some ancient ones that should long since have been resolved. Especially in a Long-Term Support release.
I will point out ahead of time that all of the issues mentioned below are not due to me or my particularly rare combination of hardware (and brains). A quick Google search will reveal that these issues have all been reported to Canonical and also raised on the Ubuntu forums at some time or another. Please note also that these are not all Ubuntu or Linux issues in themselves and may be an issue that only the appropriate software vendor, such as Skype or VMWare, can take the responsibility to resolve.
What doesn’t work
I would class all of these issues as moderate in my books, meaning that they are not absolutely critical to my being able to use Ubuntu for my work but combined they give me enough trouble that it’s no longer worth the time cost in trying to get them to work.
Simultaneous sound. The first issue, and possibly second most annoying, is an old problem that we had even since the late 90’s when Linux’s multimedia capabilities were mostly in their relative infancy. Two applications can’t use the primary sound device at the same time. For example, if I open Firefox and play a Flash video I won’t hear incoming calls from Skype. Also, if I then pause the video and load a media player I can’t play any music until I first close the media player, close Firefox and then open the media player again. Although I can get used to this it should really not be an issue any more.
Skype. Skype call quality is atrocious. This is the kind of sound quality we got from Skype three years ago. Sound cuts out and often the calls are barely usable. This is quite a big issue for me because I communicate with people across the world using Skype all the time and it’s not reasonable to request that everyone on my contact list use something else. I’m not sure but I suspect that the problem is with Skype itself as general sound quality and network performance is very good under Ubuntu, possibly even better than Windows.
VMWare Workstation internet access. My virtual machines can’t access the internet using any mode. I’m used to using Bridged mode networking in VMWare which is supposed to work. The VM’s can see the host machine and vice-versa. It’s not a MAC address or router access issue. From what I’ve read there is a problem with VMWare Workstation on certain Linux kernel versions, using bridged mode networking and wireless LAN. No patch available as far as I know. This is also quite a big issue as both my emergency Windows XP installation and my test web development server run in virtual machines and require exposure to the internet on a regular basis.
Firefox bugginess. I can’t for the life of me think why Canonical has decided to include a Beta version of a major component of the desktop software suite. Hardy includes Firefox 3 Beta 5, which should be reasonably stable by now, but I still would rather include Firefox 2 as the default and have 3 as an optional upgrade. Now the problems with Firefox 3 are not necessarily with the browser itself. I use v3 Beta 5 both at work and at home on Windows and it works fine. Issues I found with Firefox include:
- General slowness. Scrolling web pages is often very jerky and opening a new tab sometimes freezes the browser for a few seconds. Also it sometimes just freezes anyway for no apparent reason, and then resumes a few seconds later. This is the most annoying issue for me.
- Flash Player lockups. This is annoying with the amount of YouTube I watch. Regularly, even with no other apps running, the Flash Player will lock up, then do a speed catchup of where it is supposed to be, which means you miss a piece of the video, and freezes the browser at the same time. Now you are given a choice of three different Flash plugins, including the Adobe one and two open source ones, but the open source ones do not work well enough at all so the best one of the three is still the one that freezes often.
Sleep and Hibernate. Sleep and hibernate still do not work. Sending the machine to sleep or hibernate works, but waking it up is the problem. I have similar problems in the morning but I would expect the computer to work! The system locks up solid on a black screen when attempting to wake the machine. I can do without this but it’s a feature I like to use a lot so it’s a bit of a pity that it doesn’t work at all. This is partially compensated by the fact that Hardy boots up nice and quickly on my machine.
Bad 3D performance. Even though the 2D artifacts are gone my 3D performance is still about 75% of what I get on Windows, even for simple apps like Neverball.
What I like about Ubuntu:
- It’s not Windows.
- Software installation / removal is fantastic.
- Package management in general is great.
- Hardware detection is amazing.
- The standard set of applications is pretty much bang on for anyone willing to use the computer for typical home use.
- It’s very fast overall.
- It’s Linux.
What I don’t like:
- There are still ancient issues (e.g. simultaneous sound) which should long since have been fixed.
Despite the issues, I still highly recommend everyone give this release a try. From what I’ve heard the verdict across the internet seems to be unanimous: Canonical has done well. If we can iron out some inconsistencies and fix some ancient bugs we’ll be just about there.