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?