Proverbial Last Straws

I am not a distro hopper. While I enjoy updated apps, I do not prefer rolling releases or fast releases. As much as I enjoy tinkering, important to me is my computers are stable and function the way I want.

Since March I have been giving Ubuntu a good run. First with Xubuntu 15.10 and then with Ubuntu MATE 16.04. I also use Slackware. I standardized all computers in the house on Slackware and Ubuntu MATE.

Since starting with Xubuntu, the Ubuntu line has been gnawing at me. A growing list of bugs and irritants for Xubuntu and Ubuntu MATE is the cause. Paper cuts. Quirks. I have found solutions and work-arounds and also have not found solutions and work-arounds. The former is satisfying, the latter is not.

The following quirks seem common to both Xubuntu and Ubuntu MATE:

  • Frequent kernel updates, creating excessive administrative overhead.
  • When rebooting or powering down, the system fails to unmount NFS shares as well as local mounts /home and /usr/local.
  • The quiet kernel boot parameter does not work correctly.
  • A few seconds after booting to the console, the login prompt disappears. Pressing Enter restores the prompt.
  • Caps Lock LED in console does not work, works in X.
  • cpufreq_ondemand does not seem to work correctly.
  • Wireless sometimes fails to start with a cold boot.
  • NetworkManager does not always change to wireless when pulling the wired cable.
  • NetworkManager fails when rebooting from Slackware using wired, then pulling the cable.
  • The network connection often stalls.
  • Slow opening panel menus.
  • On my laptop only, the LightDM login manager clears the password box after 1 to 3 seconds.

Of late the following Ubuntu MATE quirks irritate me:

  • After logging out often I am unable to toggle to a console. All I get is a Black Screen. I suspect LightDM.
  • Often the LightDM login manager fails to accept my password. Because of this weirdness I am careful about typing. LightDM still often fails.
  • Cron jobs sometime send mail despite redirecting to /dev/null.
  • One specific Conky configuration does not load immediately. No such problem on Slackware with the same configuration.
  • The fancontrol service fails to run on my office desktop.
  • Thunderbird crashes when exiting when the MinimizeToTray revived add-on is enabled. This does not happen on Slackware.
  • MATE Ctrl+Alt+Del dialog does not always capture focus (known bug).
  • CPU frequency often is high.
  • A weird bug with rpc.statd and LibreOffice.
  • Connecting to an NFS share starts dnsmasq.
  • Updates for top tier software often are slow to appear in the repositories, or not at all.

A possible last straw was updating Firefox to version 49.0 on my laptop. After updating, Firefox failed to load any web pages. The progress spinner spinned and that is all that happened. On my office desktop Firefox 49.0 worked just fine. I suspected profile corruption. Restoring the profile from backups did not help. Starting Firefox with a fresh profile resolved the problem. Restoring the profile from backups and manually rebuilding prefs.js resolved the problem. I had to rebuild my interface tweaks. Problem resolved but I wasted an hour of my life.

The traditional question is WTF happened? This is not the first time I experienced breakage on one Ubuntu system and not others.

There is much to like about Ubuntu MATE and Xubuntu, but the paper cuts and quirks are taking a toll. Perhaps many of the quirks are self-inflicted corner case issues. I am not bad-mouthing Xubuntu or Ubuntu MATE. I am only saying that the Ubuntu line does not seem to fit my work flow or concept of how computers should function.

Perhaps I should move on. Six months is a fair period for testing and actually using a distro. In a way I am saddened because I wanted to like both distros.

Nobody likes walking with a pebble in the shoe. This is how I have felt the past few months with these distros. Or to use a common phrase, “Something isn’t quite right.”

Will I replace Ubuntu MATE? I do not know. I might provide Xubuntu and Ubuntu MATE another chance by performing fresh installs, methodically reconfiguring to my taste, and noting what still breaks or irritates me. I might not.

For now I will leave things be for a few weeks.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: MATE, Ubuntu, Xubuntu

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