I spent most of this week in various shades of the new Ubuntu, with everything from pure command-line installations to full-blown Gnome desktops, and just about anything in between. I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs, but it was nice to get back to the system that started me out, so to speak.
It hasn’t all been daisies and happy puppies though. To be perfectly honest, the newest Gnome edition of Ubuntu just doesn’t do it for me.
I have any number of reasons to say that. Aesthetically I think it’s a bit clumsy — yes, putting the buttons on the left is a hazard, the purple-black-orange color scheme is bizarre, and the wallpaper is amateur at best — but I say that as a founding member of the Your Default Desktop Doesn’t Matter Club. Three clicks and it’s gone.
It’s more than just looks though — I get sluggish performance in Lucid, a slow mouse, Nautilus takes seconds to open the home directory, system updates take forever, the hard drive is constantly churning for something, ext4 seems slow compared to ext2 … and so forth. If I was still using my old 1Ghz machine I would expect that kind of drag, but on 3-year-old core duo … ?
In the old days I probably would have gone on a quest to trim back all the things that make it slow and unwieldy, but these days I have a different philosophy. Ubuntu is slow because Ubuntu is slow, and me wasting my time trying to perk it up is just that: me wasting my time. There are dozens — no, hundreds of distros out there all designed and intended to run fast or light or speedy or flexible, and trying to cram Ubuntu into that category is like trying to cram an elephant into a Volkswagen Beetle.
The funny part is, if you strip down Ubuntu’s Gnome — or even better, start without it in the first place — the underlying skeleton is actually quite efficient. Not lightning-fast, but at least workable. Aside from minor points of core design — like the fact that aptitude is a slug when compared to other package managers — you gain an immense amount of speed and function just by whacking off the tumor and grafting on something new.
And Ubuntu’s repositories are immense, so your selection of prepared software is vast. That fact coupled with the previous says to me that, if your hardware is willing and your mind is creative, you can come up with some impressive home-grown systems that run circles around anything the Ubuntu overlords dictate. If you want a system that’s very easy to put together the way you want it, Ubuntu would be my first suggestion.
A long time ago I made a wish that Ubuntu would concentrate more on performance and reliability over looks and flash. This was back when Beryl and Compiz were the rage, and every cool kid had a 3D spinning cube on their desktop, and the lure of accelerated graphics by default was powerful.
I didn’t get my wish, or at not from where I stand now. The trend turned toward razzle-dazzle, and from my perspective the result is an orange-purple-black splash that only looks kinda good, and eats up a lot of my system’s resources even when idle. I could have asked for a lot more from Ubuntu, given the two or three years I have watched it grow.
But the bright side of that — and the reason that I will still use it on occasion — is that it is so very easy to peel off the outermost layers of that onion, and find something useful to start with inside. That’s what makes it worth keeping, in my opinion.