Ubuntu, Linux, Users, Bugs

by Carla Schroder

I apologize for going off on a half-baked rant at Ubuntu. Ubuntu is not perfect, but these kinds of flames generate more heat than light. I know better, and I'm sorry.

What I wish I had done was post something like this:


Anita Lewis
2007-12-10 03:00:46
Ranting, Raving, Explaining, or Apologizing--you are always a good read! Keep up the good work.

By the way, I'm working my way through the old version of Linux Cookbook on O'Reilly Safari. I wish they had the new one there. I've been using Linux for almost 10 years now and I'm still learning from your book and enjoying the fresh approach at explaining things I know. After I finish it, I plan to recommend it to Linux newbies. If it were open source, I would definitely want to use it for our online course.

a reader
2007-12-10 03:23:29
Well said.

I won't go into details of this post nor into the details and comments of the last post, but I think you managed to capture the general problems, perceived or real, that Ubuntu may have.

The eternal hype and the six-month release cycle makes a distribution that is an odd-child in the population. In many ways I believe that this does more harm than good to the Linux generally. Stability should be the keyword across the board. A principle that was well understood by the distribution's parent, but got lost somewhere along the path laid down by the hype machine. I never understood why is it necessary to release a complete distribution twice a year. And when Shuttleworth announced that upstream projects should follow this battle against the clock, I can fully understand the irritation many people had. Such messages coming from a disribution that does not even package its own stuff! Maybe this all boils down to the fact that Ubuntu is a community project, but with commercial aspirations; history has shown that the Fedora-Red-Hat/OpenSUSE-Suse -axis works well.

2007-12-10 04:11:19
Ubuntu's main weakness is that it uses gnome which will never be useable / useful.

Try a KDE based distro - i would avoid Kubuntu though as its a half baked effort.

Try opensuse, mandriva, pclinuxos instead!

2007-12-10 07:18:45
Nothing is perfect. I have used stable distro's like debian stable and slackware. They got the stability , but they lack functionality needed by a desktop system and easy of use. I've also tried Mandriva, Fedora, OpenSuSE & PCLinuxOS - yes, they got more gui tools, but I wouldn't say they are more stable then ubuntu, some of them I consider buggier and slower due to being rpm based. Even though...Yes, I agree that the 7.10 release is a bit buggy for being a release.
a reader, you probably haven't watched any interviews and lessons from Mark Shuttleworth. The ubuntu release cycle is fast, but you also get the Long Term Support releases - these are the releases for the people that love stability. If something isn't ready during the "building" of the next release, in such cases ubuntu follows the gnome's rule - don't include it ( http://live.gnome.org/ReleasePlanning/TimeBased ) That's why I find gnome more stable and usable then KDE.
morgan, let's not start a KDE vs GNOME holy war here. I like KDE too, but I prefer gnome, as I find myself more comfortable using it, so the weakness of ubuntu in your opinion is a strength in mine.
Henrik Nilsen Omma
2007-12-10 07:47:01
Hi Carla,

Thank you for pointing this out (even in rant form). My tone in those replies was indeed opaque and bureaucratic, so I personally deserve the flak :)

The stable release update policy is basically sound though, as others have explained. Any update always represents a risk of breaking the current system, and so in the stable releases we want to be highly conservative with that. We also need to focus our development resources on the development version where more improvements can be made with less work because the code is more malleable.

Our bug tracker has a feature that lets any registered user nominate a bug for fixing in a given release. Someone then has to evaluate those nominations and decide which bugs are sensible targets for a given release, and that's what I was doing in this case. Many of these bugs were nominated for Gutsy while *it* was still the development release. In that context it means 'I consider this bug to be important and should be fixed before releasing Gutsy.' After gutsy has been released though, that same bug nomination represents a request for fixing it in a stable release, which is very different.

You are right that Ubuntu asks for a ton of bug reports when we provide 20 000 packages, many synced from Debian. When we also have frequent releases and broad user base we end up with lots of reports that are a real challenge to process. Thankfully we get great of help from the community in triaging these bugs!

Sometimes we make errors of judgements (in this case made by me, a Canonical employee). We also need to improve our debugging documentation, our bugtracker and our procedures to meet the challenge of the growing bug report volume. We try to learn from the feedback we get, whether it be in bug comments or the tech media ;)

Henrik Nilsen Omma
Ubuntu QA Lead

2007-12-10 08:38:26

Sorry for my last comment - It wasn't meant as KDE troll...

I have always found a few issues with Ubuntu / Kubuntu - sometimes bugs live through several versions until fixed (one off hand was an SDL bug which affected brightness on certain hardware- this is now fixed.. however It meant for several versions having to recompile it to fix the issue)

I have noticed more hardware issues - particularly video/resolution reset issues with Ubuntu than others though - this is on various hardware...

Overall I do find Opensuse quite stable - I like the community repositories that enable you to have the leatest KDE,openoffice, etc (i know ubuntu has similar..) and remain stable(ish) - however you are not able to upgrade to the next version as easily as debian based distros - this is Ubuntu's major advantage over others - and why I use it on my work machine (i use ubuntu - well kubuntu...).

I think the lack of a central control system (i.e yast - mandriva control centre) lets Ubuntu down also - for newbies.

I will always check out the next Ubuntu version but I will not use it full time as my home desktop (at least for the moment).

P.S I actually use gentoo/opensuse as my main desktop(s)

2007-12-10 09:40:22
Your "rant" was right on the mark. You shouldn't have to apologize. Coders also code for attention -- to be the best. Lately, it seems Linux coders are trying to out candy Apple or Microsoft without first stabilizing the core system. Stability and rapid fixing is what set Linux apart, but now Gnome and KDE (4) seem to be in a race dumb down the interface for the masses.
2007-12-10 09:42:18
Your "rant" was right on the mark. You shouldn't have to apologize. Coders also code for attention -- to be the best. Lately, it seems Linux coders are trying to out candy Apple or Microsoft without first stabilizing the core system. Stability and rapid fixing is what set Linux apart, but now Gnome and KDE (4) seem to be in a race dumb down the interface for the masses in order to provide BG's "WOW". However, when the functions don't work and the tools start coming up missing, then it makes me say wow#$%!!#$@!!!
2007-12-10 19:34:38
Constructive critique (this article) is (should be) always welcome.
Ranting (initial article) on the other hand does not help.

Most/some users that find some problems/bugs think their situation is to be considered critical and should be solved asap. Well you need to understand that you are not unique and there are others that also have problems and they also want their problems to be solved asap. But there are only so many bugs/problems that can be solved every day/week/month/year so you need to wait your turn. Also consider that the software provider has his agenda and his priorities and limited resources.

Bottom line: if you find a bug report it, try to help/support for better describing the bug, help if you can with a solution but also be prepared to wait some time for a solution or to not get a solution at all. That is the nature of open source or I think more generally for software for the masses. It's all about priorities and available resources.

Maybe it would be a good addition to the bug tracker to allow visitors to vote for a bug if they are also affected by it or consider it to be important to be solved. This metric (and existing ones) would then be used to calculate the priority for fixing bugs.

2007-12-10 19:35:20
Linux distributions such as Ubuntu 7.10 or OpenSUSE 10.3 are particularly successful when using only the mainstream app's in the regular repositories. Stray from them and the risks of broken app's increases annoyingly. All Linux distributions are works-in-progress with extensive code. The nature of bugs is that the easy ones are fixed right away while the harder ones linger seemingly forever. I work with what doesn't cause me problems and skip the rest.

Are things improving across the board. You bet. But some stuff just doesn't work well yet. Wireless boards and scanners have very mixed results with extraordinary 'fixes' for coping. For your distribution, maybe the fix works; maybe not.

I personally would love to see the accounting format option in OpenOffice.org 2.3, but it just isn't there yet. (probably requires some crazy fix like a Visual Basic script from somewhere--that's probably impossible to install in the native Linux distribution) For now I just don't mess with $ sign fixes of that problem.

Anyway, enjoy the best of the distributions you've successfully installed. Each is a testimony to the incredible, creative potential of very hard-working people. Someday your fix will come in.

2007-12-10 21:23:15
Once again, the squeaky wheel (with a bully pulpit web blog) gets the grease. There are a lot of situations like this where legitimate bugs are reported to Ubuntu by users (without a big-name web blog), but brushed off by devs so that the bugs never get fixed! Just take a look at the growing number of issues without a fix. One can only hope that 8.04 LTS will truly be a stable release. --AC
2007-12-10 21:52:12
I disagree with you on 2 points. Firstly you weren't ranting! As a software engineer & sysadmin, that would not barely register as Flame Force 1.

Secondly, the implication that coders don't get frustrated by this stuff. We may understand it, we may agree with the reasons behind it, but we're just as likely to be frustrated by it.

Many professionals, will feel let down by colleagues who are unable to place themselves in the problem reporters position, and tailor a response that they can understand.

The Forum screening idea, is a good one. The difficulty in general is that even someone experience can be confused at first, trying a new release, where changes make their "internal model" incorrect. That can lead to confusing reports, and miscommunication with response team, who have a different "model" and all too often at first, pick up on the wrong details, and through wishful thinking see an easy fix, to clear this report.

2007-12-10 22:17:52
To ac who said :

"Constructive critique (this article) is (should be) always welcome.
Ranting (initial article) on the other hand does not help.

Most/some users that find some problems/bugs think their situation is to be considered critical and should be solved asap. Well you need to understand that you are not unique and there are others that also have problems and they also want their problems to be solved asap. But there are only so many bugs/problems that can be solved every day/week/month/year so you need to wait your turn. Also consider that the software provider has his agenda and his priorities and limited resources."

Ubuntu is supposed to be about Community and FOSS development mode. It's a mistake to apply commercial logic, based on limited resources and paid support ppl. It is unfortunate, but most ISV's seem to be able to fund unlimitted sales & hype machines & plush facilities for them, but rather skimp on the people actually doing something about problems side.

Looking at that bug, I did not see anything untoward. You find a bug, you report it, explain how to reproduce it. If you can fix it, or can suggest a fix you do so. Perhaps you request an interim workround.

When you can't fix it, you're dependant on someone else to do something. What you need, is some acknowledgement of the problem, and either a fix, or a work round with real fix post-poned to future release.

In this case, it was discovered to be trivial to solve the end-user problem, just rebuild the package; but the QA Procedures were imposing an uncessary OTT obstacle to a solution. It should be very possible for someone in MOTU, to rebuild a package and get testing by the bug reporters, and push out to "testers".

Because it's small amount of work, it should be done to clear the Bug, and make many affected end-users happy. Ubuntu 7.10 desktop, is not running the control system for a nuclear power station!

Most of the "rant" was actually quotes, and it explained well the impression given by the over officious response, in Launchpad, and fall back on "procedures".

Perhaps a distro with a fixed release cycle, should have a more stable base, and concentrate on backporting hardware drivers, and application updates (which generally don't require latest gcc/glibc/linux to be installed); and their Value Added stuff.

I don't see how the mix of less technical user base, and version-itis is meant to work out well. I've come across too many Win-Refugee types and other "just want it to work" ppl, who are unlikely to cope well with buggy systems, nor choose wisely when attempting to work round issues.

2007-12-10 22:22:57
The best way to get a bug fixed.
State the behavior that you think is wrong.
Say that you are a dumb user and you hope you are saying this right.
Show in minimal writing and many screen shots how to reproduce the bug.
See if you can generate an error report. Like start the program from a terminal window and save any standard errors to a file. eg:
prog_name 2> $HOME/mybugs.txt
Ask if you are doing something wrong.
Take note of the bug report number.
Keep track of the bug reports, and add any other useful information.
If you get a reply you cannot understand, politely ask for please explains for each undefined term for your dumb user mindset.
Thank the debugger for their efforts in your regard.
and so on until it is fixed.
Kind regards
Stomfi, Brisbane, OZ
2007-12-10 23:44:55
I agree with RD - ubuntu needs to improve technically so it can make more use of the community.

If someone is able to fix a problem, then that fix should be available to everyone. The framework required to make this happen is possible - for example by using the community to rank fixes, allow community provided fixes to be installed using apt-get and friends, and provide a simple method for rolling back fixes.

Relying on a small QA team to make decisions on what is tested - let alone what is released - is a bottleneck waiting to happen. Not to mention it's just sooo yesterday.......

2007-12-11 00:46:10
I'm so tired of the "hey, my bug is not fixed yet! And I reported it TWO HOURS AGO!!" kind of people... Don't you think that the people that have reported other bugs deserve some respect? Don't you agree with me that developers' families (yes, they *all* have a life) deserve some respect?
There's so much to do, and a day only has so many hours. If you need something fixed go do it yourself, or pay (yes, pay) someone to do it for you. You have NO RIGHT WHATSOEVER to monopolize other people's time.
2007-12-11 03:22:08
We all run into bugs and performance issues either hardware or software related, the community and "coders" do try though some in both arenas are cryptic and at times rude and offensive. Some are that way due to pressure and desire and they take offense (hey your kid behaves like a goat) when something is "wrong" and pointed out to them but work on it afterwards. Others are just BVD skidmarks for their attitudes and remarks, it seems they are emulating Ballmer and co. If a distro is for the "masses" does that mean we (the masses) are on the same highly enlightend plane as the developers/coders? I think not... we (the masses) will help when possible but even at work I get the proverbial "that thingy in the second screen is broken, I click on it and it just sits there" my first thoughts are "what a @$#%& idiot" then I remember count to 20 breathe and walk through a load of dribble to decipher the actual problem. Remember everyone is not a trained professional, I suffer a mental gas pocket at times and truth be known so does "everyone" in this business.. yes business!
SO.... those wanting help/fixes you are not being ignored and appologies for the oft times you receive rude, cryptic, demeaning responses; to those giving responses remember the level of who (the masses) you are dealing with and try to be somewhat coherent and understanding as well as polite
2007-12-11 05:25:18
Communication between highly technical coders and arm wavy users will always be a difficult task, and also why communities usually have moderators as go-betweens.

I have found (in my own limited personal experience), that ubuntu (like many other distros) has more of a policy problem. Often when a bug in an application gets solved in a subsequent version of said application the fixes aren't propagated downwards, often not even in backports. The result is that the LTS versions Appear to be scarcely maintained and supported due to their fossil status and the cool crowd moving on to newer more exciting ground that happens to not have been tested as thoroughly as it should have.

Maybe I should move back to debian, but everyone is packaging for the 'buntus and I'm too lazy to cmmi.

Just my 2ยข.

Thunus F.
2007-12-11 13:09:09
I haven't read the original post and I don't care to. It takes guts to recognize you may have worded yourt thoughts in an unsuitable way. Kudos. I wish more people was capable of that. Cheers
Jeff M
2007-12-11 14:33:27

I have worked in other customer software bug reporting positions. I find your explanation and frustration consistent with the normal improvement processes. Here are some insights from a middle person.

1. It is worth submitting every true Bug report, even if it does not feel like it is worth it. This means you have done the right thing, and the ball is in their court. This process stinks, but it does put the information in the area where it can be reviewed by the right people.

2. Some technocrats are so into technology that they are incapable of talking or functioning in a social world. There is a gap between being social and technical and there are few that can play well in both worlds. This gap causes the two groups to form different language patterns or syntax. The technocrat can not understand comments that do not fit the expected syntax, and feelings and hope does not register or may be considered a No-op statement. Sometimes the social person can wax verbose overwhelming the input buffer of the technocrat. The technocrat can also frustrate the social person by being seemingly cold, calculated, brief (except in details) and detached from the social reality. To the technocrat feelings in a social environment are irrelevant.

3. There is work on both sides. The social person needs to explain the buggy error in a manner so it can be reproduced. This is a big key. The technocrat needs to understand the social person expects a social reply, and not techno-babble. This may be like getting water from a rock, but it is necessary to span the gap.

4. Moving forward and creating new stuff is more rewarding for most people than trying to recreate bugs and verifying fixes. Sometimes software labs are more focused on new features than fixing past bugs. This normal, but it is not helpful. New features are good, but more customers are lost by unfixed bugs than won by new features. Quality to a customer means the software does what is if reported to do. If it does not work a version 1, why would I move to version 2 with new features that I may not even want. I said all this to suggest the job of reviewing bugs may seem unrewarding to the geek, but it is worth the world to the common user. If you win a user because the software does what it should, the customer will use the software with or without the new wiz bang features.

5. Yes, the Bug process stinks. Until there is a new paradigm shift to replace this process it will continue as it has for the last 20 years.

6. I don’t like Windows, and how Windows takes advantage of the average user. Please keep submitting bug reports. May the technocrats please keep reading the bug reports and work on customer satisfaction not just new features. Help us get out from under the Microsoft control machine.

Thanks for your time. Be Linux friendly and Windows fearful.

2007-12-12 02:16:54
i want a free copy of linux ubuntu
2007-12-12 04:58:24
I have always been beffled as to how Ubuntu can take what seems to be Debian unstable and somehow make it stable years before Debian themselves can. And if they can (which seems impossible) why it does'nt feed back into Debian so taht Debian then catches up with Ubuntu. What actually happens behind the scenes I know not. But its still interesting to speculate. Is Ubuntu rather buggy? Or is Debian being too cautious?
Another perhaps broader issua that also baffles me to some extent is that the more modern software is somehow less stable than the older software. One would assume that the more bug fixing that has been done the more stable the software would be. So how come the older less well debugged software is reliable, and the newer more extensively debugged software is unreliable? are time machines involved or have I a defective brain? (Before anyone mentions it, I do reliase that more recent software may have new functionality in it - but much of it either does not, or at least the older functioality is should be better debugged, and the new functionality could be ignored).
Caitlyn Martin
2007-12-29 13:16:42
Carla, I feel your pain. I migrated away from Ubuntu permanently after trying Gutsy (64-bit version). Too many bugs, too little time... I'm not saying my current choices are perfect distros but Ubuntu had become terribly painful for me. I wrote a searing review of Gutsy and decided not to post it. I've had enough of being flame bait on this site if I post my honest but rather negative opinions.

@morgan: As those who have read my posts here on O'Reillynet know I am no fan of Gnome but it really and truly isn't the problem with Ubuntu. None of my complaints with Gutsy were Gnome-specific and most also show up in Kubuntu (KDE-based) or Xubuntu (XFCE-based). For example there were problems with wireless that I just did not experience in other distros.

Carla Schroder
2008-01-01 07:12:55
Hi Caitlyn! I've uncovered the core of the problem here- Canonical's hype budget is unlimited, so the constant, loud, and endless nattering of how great Ubuntu is distracts the poor devs- they just can't concentrate with all that racket.
Non Sequitur
2008-01-19 10:05:31
@Henrik Nilsen Omma

To recap your statement, the bug exists in the development version and it is regarded as important. The unfixed bug remains and is released in the "stable" version, still broken. Now the "stable" version is broken and the very same bug, previously "important", is no longer important enough to warrant fixing?

I can tell you precisely what the problem is. The problem is two different definitions of the word stable. To the developer, the word stable means no changes. So broken or not the stable version gets no changes. To the user however, the word stable means reliable and fit for purpose. To the user a broken application or library is NOT stable.

The fact is that while bugs and defects in the development version are to be expected, users expect a "stable" release to be a working/functional release. If it turns out that working is not the case, and that it will never work because it meets the developer's definition of "stable" then the users will go elsewhere!

Lee Ley
2008-02-20 11:40:04
I do not find it wrong to complain about something, but if really do not like a certain distro then don't use it. There are more than one fish in the sea.
I use Ubuntu 8.04 every day on my production machine and yes there are problems but you if you do not report them then do not complain. If every distro was perfect then ther would not be any complaints. Or would you rather run Windos and get major headaches and not be able to nothing about them.