Monday, November 14, 2011

Ubuntu 11.10, and Gnome 3

I'm going to a quick piece here on Ubuntu, Unity, and Gnome 3. Its been a while since 11.04 and 11.10, and while I'm learning how to bend Gnome 3 to my will, I figured I might as well start a comprehensive investigation into the concepts behind Unity and Gnome 3.

I started my current distro install somewhere around Ubuntu 10.04, 10.10, and I don't remember any major issues with those distros. Sure, there was a bit of instability here, there, but I remember running my laptop for months, on end.

With 11.04, I've been frequently lucky to get a day of my laptop without a full reboot.

But, this is not a lets-bash-Natty post, we can all agree that Ubuntu has seen better days; the question remains, how does 11.10 shape up?

Not well, in my experience. 11.04 broke my install, to the point that the system crashed, and I had to use my knowledge of apt-get to recover the package installs via command line. After much tinkering, I eventually got my 11.04 install to a usable state. 11.10 hasn't been much different so far, it took me the better part of 8 hours to fix the package states, after the OS went into completely frozen state of unresponsiveness. Yes, I have a lot of packages, around 3k, that I had to upgrade, but this I think is a fundamental design flaw with the distro. If you have that many packages, you should be able to keep distro-agnostic packages that don't care which "platform" you happen to be running, with the exception perhaps of compatibility layers in the form of scripts, for programs that may require some special love to work with the "distro settings", for lack of a better word.

Honestly, I suspect that my 3 GB of 3k packages was largely redundant packages provided on a new section of the Canonical server, not any real upgrades. Even after I've gotten 11.10 to come up for lsb_release -a, the packages were still largely broken and I'd ended up removing a lot of stuff that either had no business being removed, or I suspect had been artificially outmoded. Thanks Canonical, you apparently suck at software management (which means I should be trusting you why?). But sadly, to get support from Canonical (read to use the updates which will only be posted to Oneiric repos), the upgrade is mandatory, at the cost of completely switching to a new platform.

Which brings me next to the gui. Unity was a broken concept, IMHO, and remains one. This is not MacOS wannabe, this is Linux. We aren't wannabe anything. Docks are ok, if you don't attempt to force users into your concept of a dock, and if you don't force badly designed ui concepts on us. Thankfully, the Unity dock is not forced on us, it is merely pressed upon us at every major release by the parent company, and its fairly trivial to remove the dock with a checkbox in Compiz. With a bunch of other potentially annoying changes.

So what will I be going over in depth in subsequent posts, you ask?

A) What is and isn't broken in this new gui release of Unity + Gnome3.
B) Relative ease of getting Gnome3 to behave like the old Gnome2 components.
C) Investigation of productivity behaviors.

Finally, you may wonder why I simply don't move to another UI. Why not? Because I loved Gnome2. Unless you can say that another platform like LXCFE not only replicates Gnome functionality, but does it down to the configuration files, themes, and settings, then I'd say its not the same thing. There are also just a lot of gtk applications, such as the gimp, which look better when kept within their standard UI environment. Yes, Qt runs on Gnome, and Gtk runs on KDE, but for anyone's who has used either solution, they are likely familiar with some of the quirks that end up popping up.

One of the possibilities I will be investigating is rebuilding Gnome2 components using Gnome3 libraries. I have heard that such efforts exist, but the only fork I am aware of hasn't gotten very far; specifically I will be looking for people using the work that the (snobby) Gnome3 developers are doing, and using that work to replicate the very functionality they seem to loathe.

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