Ubuntu 13.04 on me high-end box - 'orrible


Updated: May 25, 2013

All right, time for another Ubuntu review. I am going to test Ubuntu again, on a laptop with some proprietary drivers. This comes after Kubuntu and Xubuntu, both tested running from an external disk connected to my HP Pavilion laptop, equipped with an Nvidia graphics card and Broadcom Wireless. Not the most usual and trivial of setups, especially since it entails several proprietary drivers, which we have not seen in the basic test on the T61 laptop. Ergo, this should be most interesting.

So far, the experience with the 13.04 family was mixed. Some great things, like performance, accompanied with kernel crashes due to bad QA. Overall, somewhat frustrating, as the intermediate releases between LTS editions should probably be labeled beta, for geeks only. Let's see what gives here.

Teaser

A new definition for pain: Ubuntu

Live session booted with the now familiar HDMI oops thingie, a thorough disappointment. After that, a simple, stock installation, making Ringtail join the eight-boot setup for this test machine. GRUB2 remains in control by Pangolin on the same disk.

Boot again, crash. Lovely. At this point, I already have over 9,000 expletives waiting, but since I have wasted them all in the previous round of testing, you get none for the time being.

Nouveau sucking again

Remember my praise for improvements in the open-source driver? Well, not anymore, not with the Unity based flavor of Ubuntu, that is. In Ringtail, the performance of this driver was appalling. The system was virtually unusable. Moreover, to make things worse, Canonical has gracefully taken away Unity 2D, taken away a fallback session that uses a basic VESA driver, because that is not chic. And this means you have to eat some brown cakes made from human leftovers, and by leftovers, I mean crap.

You think I'm just feeling adventurous. Let's take a look at some system numbers, shall we? System memory was 1.1GB. All four cores were churning at 25-40%, making everything sluggish. The fans were spinning like mad, and the laptop almost melted.

Resources before Nvidia

Compiz was taking easily between 120-180% CPU alone. Exacerbating the problem was the network speed, which we will discuss shortly, forcing me to wait many long minutes until the driver was downloaded from the local repo, at approx. 1/50 the expected rate.

Compiz, high usage

Compiz high usage, more

And so I waited, like the little masochist that I am.

Installing Nvidia

After a while I got tired. I thought the command line might be faster, and it might perhaps reduce the CPU rape. Only when installing the nvidia-current-updates, it chose the 304 version of the driver, and not 313. Lovely jubbly. But eventually the nightmare was over. Reboot. Crash. Reboot. Crash. Distro updates do not fix the problem. Reboot. Crash. We finally have the Nvidia driver running.

After updates

Now, the system is quiet. Memory usage is less than 50% of what it was before. In fact, it's quite good. And the CPU spikes only occasionally, when it actually needs to do something. Everything works as it should. Except the network.

Nvidia installed

Nvidia works fine

System resources after Nvidia

Network problems

Another problem was network performance. Slow, inconsistent, with high latency, absolutely annoying. You may assume driver problems or such, you may assume correctly, but we will discuss that shortly. Anyhow, there's little I despise more than slow networking, it really pisses me off.

I thought this might be related to the new network resolution thingie, but no it was not. The problem was unrelated, and so like any good Linux user, I thought maybe giving the network service a shake might help it recover.

Restart network ... Goodbye! WTF?

Indeed, I foolishly thought restarting the network might solve the problems. Yes, open command line and run the init script with the restart argument. That's all. Right. You've all done it hundreds of times without any problems whatsoever.

What it did was kill the desktop. Ubuntu then threw an error how it encountered a serious problem and all that nonsense. Restart lightdm, no help. Reboot. Unbootable desktop. I am not joking. That's right, fellas. Restarting the network ruined the X configuration. At this point, I totally gave up.

New problems all of a sudden

You may ask why I haven't seen anything like this in the first round of testing. Well, different laptop, different circumstances. With the T61 machine, Intel graphics and Intel Wireless, there was no challenge in getting things to work. But if you want a proper gaming rig or something, then you want a real card and a proprietary driver. And then, things start getting ever so slightly more complicated. Worry not, if things used to work in the past, there's a very good chance they might not anymore, all of a sudden, so you also have the added bonus of thrill and anxiety thrown into the equation.

Blame shifting

I like it every time there's shit happening in a distro, I get the following responses from various community zealots. I should contribute more. I should not complain, I am getting all this for free. Then again, HIV is free, too. It's the fault of those vendors making proprietary drivers, Nvidia and Broadcom and everyone else, right.

For some reason, it's everyone's fault except the people making and packaging the software. They are pristine, innocent little angels, and they shed tears that cure cancer. Only it seems to me, the reality is somewhat different. Starting with Lucid onwards, which was absolutely rock solid, stable, fast, and everything worked just splendid, on this very same hardware, things are getting progressively worse. In the rush to complete with the already rabid market, QA is dumped down the drain as second best, when it should be the top priority.

Lucid had no problem with Nvidia or the network. Stable. Natty was the first to start exhibiting problems with both the graphics and network stack. I should have known back then. Well, Pangolin was quite good, which is sort of expected from a long-term release.

Then, Quetzal ruined it, and now Ringtail ruins it, most majestically. This is even worse than Fedora 18, because it was simply badly tailored, but at least it worked. Fedora does not presume to be newbie-friendly, and it is virtually beta. Ubuntu, which Canonical hopes to put on people's phones and tablets, is really trying to test my patience and my desire to see Linux succeed. I feel like a big fool for believing in the idea, and for trying to champion Ubuntu. Steam and all that, kudos, but you can't pour feces down users' throats by the gallons and call that nectar. There's a limit to how bad things can be.

Non-LTS releases should NOT be made available to general public. Not the way they are nowadays. They should be labeled strictly beta. The only thing they manage to achieve is cause harm, to users, to enthusiasts, to people who wish to promote Linux, and to the company itself. I dread to think what will happen once Wayland and Mir come along. This is going to be C.L.U.S.T.E.R. foobar of colossal magnitude. I seriously consider not testing the next release. Just skipping it.

Mark the words of the prophet Dedoimedo - Ubuntu cannot succeed, no operating system can succeed, as long as it does not offer a solid, stable, consistent baseline to its users. Progress is nice, but it will explode like the bubble it is unless you can offer a version that works flawlessly, no matter what is thrown at it. True, when you bundle software and hardware, you end up ironing out bugs and crashes. So someone buying an Ubuntu smartphone will never see problems like the above.

But then, see what happens. That person goes to their desktop, see! They believe in having a complete Linux stack, one familiar interface spanning all their devices, just as Canonical plans. Makes sense. Only the desktop hiccups and crashes, and you ruin everything. Won't work. Cannot work. Goes against evolution.

Cherry de la turd

The worst, really the worst part is, Ubuntu cannot even agree on having a really sucky release. The differences between the Unity-based version, Kubuntu and Xubuntu are so vast it's mind-boggling. I would feel better if the other two sucked, but no, they seem to work fine. Xubuntu did experience the oopses, at first, but Kubuntu remains untouched so far, and this is more worrying than having those crashes happen. Because you know they will happen. Someday. Sit and wait.

Even more stupendously stupefying is that Kubuntu 13.04 and Xubuntu 13.04 Ringtails are probably among the best, most polished versions of said distros released, ever. Yup. I was almost tempted to grant a perfect score to each one of them. My simply conclusion would be that Unity adds its own layer of problems that is not present in the other two. And this make our problem a tad more problematic. Awesome.

Conclusion

Ubuntu 13.04 Raring Ringtail on my Nvidia-powered laptop was a total, absolute flop in every sense of the word. But let's put the technical bits aside. There will be a kernel upgrade one day. And I could use the stock drivers instead of the Broadcom set and resolve the issue that way. That's irrelevant.

The problem is inconsistency. No similarity of experience whatsoever to other releases, past or current. My physical hardware has not changed. Lucid worked well, even when the laptop was fairly new. Pangolin managed fine, too. Indeed, three years forward, you would expect handling this fairly mainstream hardware to be trivial. Only what happens is, things are getting worse. They killed Jockey, because it was not sexy, and since, installing proprietary drivers is a nightmare. They replaced System V with systemd and upstart, and now restarting your services is a nightmare. Not everything needs to be an abstract event-based object. It's not as if you make boot times faster than they used to be. And you get a heap of other problems to further undermine your confidence and make things even shakier than they are. So you can perpetually wonder when the next upgrade will break something, and you won't ever know why. 

Overall, the Unity-based flavor of Raring Ringtail, I repeat the Unity-based flavor, not Kubuntu or Xubuntu, which are quite alright really, deserves 0/10. This is the very first time I ever handled this grade to any distro. But if I have to fight slow graphics and dread drivers installation like defusing an IED, suffer kernel crashes and other buggy behavior that no one bothered to test, if I cannot use my network, and doing a simple network restart command kills bloody everything, then gently and politely screw this. Come the autumn, I might not bother really. Maybe I will, just so I get some extra clicks. Come the end of the smartphone contest, I might actually buy the lucky winner some Android phone, they will probably like it better.

Canonical, you pissed on my almost childish, naive goodwill to do some innocent good. I put my reputation at stake for thinking to promote your products, believing like a fool that this might work out. What you did is tantamount to stealing presents from orphans on Christmas. And farting in their weeping faces. Shame on you, Canonical. Shame on you.

Cheers.

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