There are no two ways about it. Ubuntu blew it big time with their 16.04 release. All of the Ubuntu flavors I looked at in beta performed beautifully but the moment 16.04 became an official release something went terribly wrong. I started to hear rumblings from the community almost immediately and then I ran right into show-stopping problems myself when I bought a new computer a couple of weeks ago. This article will detail those problems and you’ll find out just why I have found a new respect for Linux Mint.
Those of you who’ve been reading my stuff and watching my videos will no doubt remember how I went gaga over Ubuntu MATE. I still think it’s one of the most innovative distros out there. As a matter of fact, the problems with Ubuntu 16.04 have very little to do with the desktop, so I don’t blame any of the independent communities like Ubuntu GNOME, Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Lubuntu or Ubuntu MATE for the issues folks are dealing with. Information is still a bit sketchy as to what’s going on with the Network Manager problem and the display issues all go back to driver problems that third party companies have to deal with. Still, Canonical, the company that distributes Ubuntu, has their hands full. We’ll talk more about them later.
THE INSTALL FROM HELL!
My HP EliteBook came up with a broken hinge and so I decided it was time to find me a new laptop. I looked at the current crop of new machines and a whole bunch of used ones, too. I finally settled on a very nice refurbished Dell Studio 1750. It has all Intel inside, a big colorful 17-inch monitor and just enough Core Duo processing power to play the kids games and to do a fine job of playing YouTube videos. Awesome. I didn’t anticipate any problems getting Ubuntu MATE to run on this machine. It isn’t all that different from the HP EliteBook and the installation of Ubuntu MATE Beta was a breeze on the HP.
My first plan of attack was to simply take the hard drive from the HP and put it in the Dell. There’s no UEFI and I had no proprietary drivers installed, so this should have worked just fine. I swapped the drives and, lo and beheld, it booted with no apparent issues at all. “Cool,” I thought to myself, “This’ll be easy.” Wrong! Yeah, it booted just fine but I had no Internet access. Neither WiFi nor Ethernet worked at all. It was funny because the WiFi appeared to be working. It saw the networks but just would not connect. I went off to burn a fresh Ubuntu MATE 16.04 install DVD.
Booting the machine from the DVD gave me a slightly different result. The WiFi didn’t work at all but I could get access with an Ethernet cable. “OK,” I thought, “I’ll just reinstall and I can figure out what’s up with the WiFi.” Wrong again! I did and found that the WiFi built into the Dell was Broadcom and needed a driver. No problem. OS all installed, driver installed and the WiFi card was operational. The problems started again when I went to create the user accounts. There are five total on this machine. Each time I’d log into a new account, the WiFi would ask me to put in the passphrase for my network and each time it would take several tries to get it coroneted. I had configured only two of the accounts when it decided to stop working altogether. Clicking on the Network Manager icon would just make it disappear. It crashed every time. I’d restart it and it would happen again. Bummer.
LINUX MINT TO THE RESCUE
I poked at this all damn day, folks. I tried Ubuntu with Unity, Ubuntu GNOME. Evey version of Ubuntu 16.04 simply wasn’t going to work with this laptop’s WiFi. I didn’t want to go back to Ubuntu 14.04 but Ubuntu 16.04 wasn’t going to get it for sure. I did install 14.04, only to find that the screen brightness settings were all jacked up. The machine booted with a very dim screen and you’d have to manually adjust it every time if you wanted to use it. That sucked. I was now at my wit’s end and I considered sticking the Windows 7 drive back in it and packing it up to send it back!
I’d try one more thing first, though. Let’s see what happens with Linux Mint.
It was evening when I went and dug out my Linux Mint 17.3 installer DVD and gave that a try. Bam! Everything worked perfectly! The WiFi driver installed without a hitch and I only had to connect it once. Each time I created a new account, the WiFi was already there and I have had zero networks related trouble with this machine since. Working with the Cinnamon Desktop was like going back home and I got everything installed and rocking in just an hour or so. Linux Mint still won’t suspend the machine when the lid is closed while sitting at the login screen, though. That’s actually OK with me because I figured a way to use it to my advantage. I’ll explain that in more detail later.
HERE WE GO AGAIN
The ten-year-old eMachine desktop I had been using for e-mail and such finally got to be more trouble than the ability to brag about getting useful work done on a dinosaur was worth. It was slow. There’s no getting around the fact that today’s software is built for multi-core processors and runs slower than molasses in January on an old single-core machine. This old machine also started to show its age by locking up at the most inopportune moments. Other than the broken hinge, the HP with its Intel i5 still worked just fine and so I hatched a plan to put it back in service. I would use it as a desktop by plugging in a keyboard, mouse, monitor, printer and speakers. My plan included running it with the lid closed so the faulty hinge wouldn’t be an issue at all.
Now, this machine had been running Ubuntu MATE 16.04 without a hitch, so my first thought was to slap a new drive in it, install Ubuntu MATE and everything would be unicorns and rainbows. Wrong! Not only did I run into the same WiFi-related problems but the displays were a mess. All I wanted the machine to do was use the Acer 19 inch display I had been using on the eMachine as the primary display. Ubuntu didn’t like that idea from the start. It came up with the login screen at some crazy resolution that made me only be able to see half of the login screen. I was able to open Displays and fix the problem but the settings wouldn’t stick. Every time I logged out it would go back to being all jacked up.
NOW I’M PISSED
For my British friends, I don’t mean that I had one too many beers while I was fooling around with the computer. No, I was pissed in the American sense, meaning I was mad as hell. Why was I so upset? Simply this: ALL of this had WORKED flawlessly when the machine was running Ubuntu MATE 16.04 Beta and now it didn’t work at all! I tested it weeks before I even thought of buying the Dell laptop to replace the HP. The idea of shifting the HP to desktop status had been knocking around in my head for a while.
“So, what am I gonna do now?” I thought to myself. Answer: “I’m gonna install Linux Mint 17.3!” Guess what, folks? It worked perfectly, yet again, and I’m writing this text on it right now.
The ‘no suspend at login’ thing I have complained about the Mint Display Manager in the past actually worked in my favor here. Linus Torvalds once said that if developers leave a bug in something long enough it becomes a feature. Well, here’s a case in point. I set the desktop to do nothing when the lid is closed and that way I can run the machine with it closed and locked so I don’t have to fool with the broken hinge. If it would suspend at the login screen then that would be a pain because it would just go to sleep right after booting up. So far, it works perfectly.
The Dell Studio acts the same way. I can have the kids log out but not shut down. They close the lid, the screen goes out but the machine is still very much on-line. I can work on it through SSH and send a power off command when I’m done. That’s nice.
I still have one machine running Ubuntu MATE 16.04 and I’ve had no issues with it so far. The only problem is that if I should want to reload that machine, I am willing to bet that it won’t work. Canonical screwed the pooch somewhere between beta and official release and took what promised to be a super stable Ubuntu distro and made it a big pain in the ass. This is particularly frustrating for those of us who talked it up so glowingly in the tech press prior to the release date. We now all look like a bunch of idiots. The Linux detractors out there are going to have a field day with this as well.
Ubuntu has a laundry list of problems to worry about with 16.04. No AMD proprietary drivers, display flickering issues on certain Intel graphics, the new Software app has had major problems and let’s not forget the show-stopping Network Manager bug.
There’s lots of complaining about what Canonical got wrong here and I don’t want to appear to be one who would kick them when they’re down but I would like to offer my opinion for what’s it’s worth. Here goes…
I talked this over with Jeremy O’Connell at Cyberweb in Atlanta a few days ago and he said something that really got me to thinking. He asked the question, “Why does Canonical lock themselves into such a rigid release cycle in the first place? Why not release numbered releases when they’re actually ready instead of pushing out what they’ve got just because the calendar says they need to?” I couldn’t give him a good answer.
Mark Shuttleworth has made a big deal out of the “orderly release candidates” that Ubuntu uses in speeches for years. Well, maybe it worked ten years ago but now it’s out of step with the FOSS world and it doesn’t do anybody in the Ubuntu ecosystem any favors. The idea of an LTS is a good one, though. Rolling releases are a big gamble for anyone who needs their machines to work day in and day out without having to troubleshoot something that gets broken with updates. I would have happily waited a few more months for the next Ubuntu LTS as long as it worked right when it came along and I think a lot of users would agree with me on that.
Linux Mint takes a lot of heat for the way they wait for things to be ready before putting out the next version and they’ve had also taken heat for basing their entire distro on Ubuntu LTS releases starting with 14.04. Mint now releases interim “dot” releases that users can easily upgrade to without having to do a complete reload. I think I may have added my voice to those who complained about Mint’s “stagnation” at times but I take it all back now, folks.
Whether or not we will be able to move to Linux Mint 18 when it finally comes along with an in-place upgrade remains to be seen but they can take their sweet time on that, as far as I’m concerned. I want to know that whenever they come up with is going to work when I upgrade or install it. I’m tired of dealing with what amounts to a bait and switch from other distros. Ubuntu 16.04 looked wonderful in beta but now I can’t use it nor can I recommend it to my clients.
Linux Mint is NOT perfect but it meets the criteria I set forth when I set up a machine for someone other than myself, which is that it has to be stable and it has to be easy to work with. I don’t want to worry about an update breaking a whole bunch of machines and then I have to deal with it for weeks to come as clients call me or e-mail me for support. Yes, Linux Mint holds back sensitive packages but maybe they’re right to do so after all. Security is damn important but so is stability and there has to be a balance of risk to reward that should be considered every time something is updated. Is it more of a security risk to keep the stable version or is there more of a risk of trashing the system when you upgrade for the sake of security?
I respect the fact that the thick-glasses wearing, neck-bearded Linux nerds out there want to be on the cutting edge of technology but there’s another group of us who just want the stuff to work. The glasses and neckbeard crowd have had the loudest voices up to now but I think it’s high time some reality got injected into the discussion and hopefully, this article will serve to do just that and get folks talking more about reality and less about ideas and theory. Linux is out of the lab for good now. It’s no longer a toy for the technically gifted. It’s time to treat it as such and stop beta testing long after the official release date has come and gone.
Are you hearing me, Canonical?
One more thing: There’s too much hype out there. I include myself when I say that those of us who write about technology need to stop echoing the press releases and quoting the speeches from release day events and start being a lot more critical of what actually comes to us when we click on that download button. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement but when the dust settles and we gotta use the stuff for real that’s what really matters.