(Note: this article is just an amusing complaint. If you want actionable information, I wrote this as a follow-up: Alternatives to Unity.
I foolishly upgraded to Ubuntu 11.10 yesterday on my work laptop. Usually Ubuntu upgrades are fairly smooth, with a few configuration and third-party repository and application installation tasks at the end. Last release was a hassle because someone mutilated the user interface with something called "Unity," which was supposed to be a next-generation replacement for the familiar and highly usable GNOME Desktop Environment. Ubuntu was designed with GNOME in mind; now it is designed for Unity.
Why does Unity suck so much? Because it assumes you're a complete retard who can only click shiny buttons. It assumes you don't care what is going on in any programs except the one you currently have focus on. It assumes you want to run everything maximized. It assumes you don't need proper notifications from certain applications. It puts the hideable launch bar on the left, where you accidentally activate it every time you go to the File menu in a program, or aim for the refresh button in a browser. Speaking of browsers, Unity hates Google Chrome (the browser I use most) so much, it buried it three levels deep in a ridiculously oversimplified, slow-loading, nonsensical menu system. It assumed I wanted every LibreOffice program in my application dock; I use those programs so infrequently that I may as well uninstall them, but somehow Unity thinks they are more important to me than Chrome. Hell, Unity thought I would prefer Chromium, and up until now I thought I'd uninstalled it!
I can no longer quickly switch between programs without having to cycle through alt-tab or fishing through the application dock and possibly selecting from a list of program instances. My desktop is well-hidden and difficult to get to. I can no longer quickly pause a music application, especially if it doesn't work with a multimedia keyboard (Pandora). Instant messages and emails are not easily seen because the notification applets don't recognize the programs I use. I can no longer look at the taskbar title of Firefox to see what the Jira case number I'm working on is -- I now have to unhide the application dock, click Firefox, look at the case number, go to the application dock, select my XML editor icon, click it, select the XML editor from the turntable selector, and... and... shit, I forgot the number! Back to the application dock, Firefox, etc. Look at all I have lost in my computing experience because of Unity.
To be perfectly clear, I am not complaining that Unity is different from traditional GNOME. I can deal with things being in a different place. I can deal with improvements that are hard to adjust to. What I can't deal with is extra actions that make me think too much about the software; I can't have these kinds of distractions. I've lost productivity because the Ubuntu UI was redesigned for the utterly stupid, leaving experienced experts like me to rot.
In 11.04, you could switch back to GNOME by installing the gnome-panel package and selecting Classic GNOME from the login session screen. This is no longer possible in 11.10. While you can install that package and get a half-working GNOME menu system, you cannot get your taskbar or configurable panels back. There doesn't seem to be any reasonable way around it, except if you want to install GNOME Shell, which is the next-generation GNOME interface that is somehow worse than Unity. What the hell is wrong with these people? What are they thinking? Do they actually use these abominations they create, or are they designing for some mythical, completely theoretical user base while themselves relying on something more expert-friendly?
To make matters worse, the 11.04 to 11.10 upgrade crashed my system at about 90% completion, which caused it to hang when starting the X server. Fortunately I fixed it by switching to a virtual terminal and doing this:
sudo su - dpkg --configure -a && apt-get update && apt-get upgrade
Half an hour later, I had a working Ubuntu 11.10, though I've been slow all day long because of the interface.
So what do we, the Ubuntu-experienced, do? Well, maybe someone will fork Ubuntu and do a Classic GNOME remix distribution. That probably won't happen anytime soon. There are Lubuntu and Xubuntu, which use lightweight desktop environments as alternatives to traditional GNOME and KDE. There is Kubuntu, but I don't like KDE's single-bar interface.
In the old days when your distribution failed you, you'd switch to something else because there were a hundred other desktop Linux distributions. Sadly, since I switched to Ubuntu a few years ago, most of the high-end commercial distros are gone -- they never made enough money. Xandros makes middleware now, and its desktop distro looks ancient and forgotten. Mandriva fired most of its engineers and discontinued PowerPack Edition last month. openSUSE is switching its GNOME implementation to GNOME Shell, but you can still get GNOME 2 in openSUSE 11.4. Ubuntu was like this big, old, shark that gobbled up the users of other desktop distros until there were few swimmers left. Now that we're all on Ubuntu, we're slaves to Mark Shuttleworth's shitty opinions on UI design.
Somehow, somewhere along the line, the desktop Linux realm took some serious drugs and became obsessed with UI paradigms that don't make sense, aren't usable, and impress no one. Like a cranky old man refusing to sell out his land to the railroad, I've now got a Unity/GNOME Shell train running through my yard and the only option left is to move... except there's nowhere else in the neighborhood to move to. I guess my options are:
- Switch to Linux Mint, which is Debian-based and appears to use the "old" GNOME 2
- Use Debian or Arch and install a non-Shell GNOME 2 environment
- Switch to KDE and use a different distro (OpenSUSE, probably, though the most recent release also has GNOME 2)
- Switch to FreeBSD and install the forked non-Shell GNOME environment
- Continue to suffer with Unity or GNOME Shell (I honestly don't know which is worse!)
Many of these options involve relying on GNOME 2. I wonder how long some of the GNOME 2 distros will avoid GNOME 3. Perhaps they just haven't caught up to the current release?
The likely scenario will be to use a variety of these methods. My work computer will probably go to OpenSUSE; my netbook will probably go to FreeBSD or Debian; my home desktop will probably go to Linux Mint. Any way you put it, I'm done with Ubuntu. Considering how many people around my office, among my friends, and on the Web feel similarly, I wonder if this is the start of an Ubuntu exodus. Many of us switched from Windows 98 or XP to Linux many years ago. At some point in the interim, everyone seemed to standardize on Ubuntu because it worked well and was highly usable. Some people I've talked to refuse to upgrade their older Ubuntu to avoid Unity; others are looking at other desktop environments to use with an Ubuntu variant. A few, like me, are switching to other distros. I wonder, though, if some people won't just go back to Windows, being that it's no longer the horrid beast we so eagerly escaped. More than one person has seriously suggested it to me this week.
I've seen this happen before. Someone at the top makes a boneheaded decision and sticks with it until near or complete collapse. I'll give you some examples and you can look them up:
- KDE 4
- NetBSD (leading to the OpenBSD fork)
With Mark Shuttleworth insisting that Unity is the only future for Ubuntu, and the GNOME project insisting that GNOME Shell is the way the environment will develop, you've got to wonder if this is the end of Ubuntu. I predict that the post-Ubuntu dominant distro will rise by sticking with GNOME 2, or whatever fork of it survives and flourishes.