Ubuntu phone fundraiser

Canonical has started a fundraiser to develop an Ubuntu/Android phone. There’s a 600 USD early bird tier for one day to get the phone itself, and afterwards it’s a massive 830 USD.

As someone who was extatic at the Ubuntu progress in 2007 through 2009, but foaming at the mouth at their massive “not invented here” syndrome ever since, I don’t think I’ll be pledging anything for this. For example, the dual boot feature. They say they already have the Ubuntu desktop integration working on Android, so you’ll be able to use it immediately. Great, let’s do that. “Then shortly after launch we’ll push out a free software update that adds this desktop integration to Ubuntu mobile as well.” So we’ll have a functioning Android phone with Ubuntu desktop integration from the get go, and then we’ll have to start using Ubuntu natively instead of Android later? You want users to learn to use two GUIs which do the same thing to use one phone? (Actually three, unless the Ubuntu desktop works exactly like native Ubuntu, and assuming anyone who buys this is already familiar with Ubuntu.) Now that’s usability fail. How about either Android or Ubuntu? Sounds more like someone thinks Ubuntu isn’t quite ready for handhelds yet, and they want the users to beta test before reinventing the wheel once again.

Ubuntu getting unreadier and unreadier for the desktop

I’m pretty sure that isn’t a word, but anyway. Since upgrading to 13.04 yesterday, I’ve found the following bugs:

  1. Unity crashes when turning on the AV receiver. So far I’ve tried using proprietary/open source video drivers, removing all GNOME-/Ubuntu-related dotfiles and directories in ~ (like .gconf), and purging/reinstalling the ubuntu-desktop and xorg-* packages.
  2. Can’t save display settings as root.
  3. Login screen resolution not set.
  4. Still no hint as to whether I should install the fglrx or fglrx-updates driver (the latter gave me a black screen), so I guess that’s not the right one then
  5. When logging in to a virtual terminal, it says “Welcome to Ubuntu 13.04”, and a few lines later it says “New release ‘13.04’ available.” I’ve verified that /etc/apt/sources.list contains no references to older packages, and that lsb_release --all reports “Ubuntu 13.04”.

Spyware in Ubuntu!

Although Richard Stallman’s tone is often too confrontational and absolute, this time it’s rather shocking news: According to him, in some versions of Ubuntu, any file searches you do are sent to Canonical, and from there to Amazon, to customize ads (like Google does with email). The details are few, such as which search interface we’re talking about, which versions of Ubuntu are affected, and how to actually turn this off (I looked in what I thought were likely places in the System Settings app of Ubuntu 12.04.1 LTS without any luck), but if this has actually reached mainline releases it’s bye, bye Ubuntu! Sending user information to somewhere which doesn’t provide a service which that user has requested is wrong, and sending it to a third party is just despicable.

I’m a long-time Ubuntu user and software developer, and I’d never heard of this – If I thought about the Ubuntu Software Center ads at all, it was as a nuisance which I could easily get around by using the web to find software I need.

I’m hoping to see more clear information about this soon, but the only other link in the Phoronix article is down at the moment.

Canonical’s Jono Bacon has a response (Google cache) which skips the actual issue completely: We should continue to cooperate with the Free Software Foundation, we’re doing great work with free software, and so on. But as you can see from the response there’s no mention of the possibility of asking the user if they want to opt in to this. At the absolute very least, users should not be helping third parties to serve more efficient ads unless they have knowingly agreed to it. This kind of software should not even be installed by default, in case it is “accidentally” activated. But since everybody knows that nobody reads EULAs, and Canonical obviously wants the money, I sincerely doubt this is going to get fixed.

Ubuntu Unity 3D first impressions

Today, for the first time ever, one of my computers was able to start Ubuntu Unity “standard.” I guess it had to happen sometime – I only had to try 11.04, 11.10 and 12.04, with open source and AMD proprietary drivers, on four different computers before the magic happened and I actually got a functional desktop (that is, not just garbage graphics, crashes back to the login screen or a crash so bad even the Magic SysRq key sequence didn’t work). I’ve no idea what they just updated to fix it, but let’s see what’s in the box…

Useful features:

  • Quick access to frequently used applications. Nice. Welcome to the 20th century.
  • The top panel. Straight out of GNOME.
  • Login screen with WM selector. Awesome!

Annoying features which I could fix/disable:

Annoying features which have no obvious way to disable them:

  • One keyboard click and two mouse clicks (with mystery meat navigation) to get to a list of all installed software.
  • No categorized list of installed software.
  • The format of the displayed date/time. One solution worked only halfway – It enabled display in my home country format, but not a custom format.
  • Top panel duplicated on every screen. I just want one main screen, please. No wasted space. According to one source this will not be fixed in 12.04.
  • Names for applications on the launcher.
  • Special folders which I never ever use, like ~/Desktop.
  • Really bad aliasing when showing application windows next to each other. Open up two windows of any app, then click on the icon in the launcher to see the result.
  • The Workspaces and media shortcuts in the launcher.
  • Minimize, maximize and close window buttons done even worse than OS X. OK, so you got the big hitboxes, tiny icons and ridiculous proximity, but making them visually almost completely indistinguishable (at least for a background window) was a stroke of … Oh, forget it. It’s too easy a target.

In summary, thank you from the bottom of my heart for making the first really user friendly and simple to configure desktop Linux (Ubuntu 8 through 10), and please, please, please, get your act together on this Unity monstrosity. Can’t you see it’s not even close to the usability of KDE or GNOME? Maybe those aren’t “cool” anymore, but Unity is just bad. Well, Unity 2D is stable and gets the job done, but the 3D one should be labeled “bleeding edge.” I get the feeling complaints like this are rejected as signs that users are shy of change, but does anyone need to be reminded of the practically universally approved Compiz and GNOME 2, even though both introduced massive changes?

I’m severely disappointed in Unity

Let’s count the ways:

  • Maximizing windows when moving them might be neat, but why not get rid of the button then and use the screen real estate for something useful?
  • Apple wrote the book on usability, but they screwed up when they skipped their own advice and put the minimize, maximize and close buttons right next to each other. That’s fine if closing an app doesn’t actually close the program, but in GNOME it makes absolutely no sense.
  • I just added my Minecraft shortcut to the side bar thingie, but some minutes later something went belly-up and not even a Java process was started when clicking on it. After a restart the shortcut was gone from the side bar.
  • Keyboard layouts have driven me crazy the last couple days. I can’t type “programmer quotes” (actually, single and double tick) without, for some reason, clicking the compose key once. After that it continues working, and it didn’t seem to realize that I had pressed the compose key at all.
  • Where did my freaking weather reports go? Did nobody else use that? There’s not even an option for it anymore.
  • Mystery meat navigation was never fun – Why would a sane person want to hide the main menu of each application?
  • Grouping applications by function was one of the best things about leaving Windows for Ubuntu 8.04.

Fortunately Ubuntu Classic is still available in the login menu. Yay for real backward compatibility!