Ubuntu 18.04 Desktop | Just Not Good Enough!

May 1, 2018 · 8 min read

I’d like to fake that I’m a new Linux user, and Ubuntu 18.04 was the very first Linux I ever installed, but the truth is quite different! My first PC was Linux, and since then, I have tried and used at least all major distributions. So every time I install something, to me is always a matter of comparison! And compared on rest solutions, Ubuntu 18.04 is just not good enough!

Myself, I dont use Ubuntu, and in fact I’m not even interested to this system at this point! The reason I got a fresh 18.04 installation is sorely for trying elementary Juno desktop (disk died on my previous setup!), till they public release their first beta, that it shouldn’t be long now. Few bugs left!

But since I got it and before i elementerize it (LaL!), here’s a quick review!

It’s All About The Desktop!

Everyone who uses different Linuxes for years and specially the last 5 years, knows that 9/10 issues and annoyances come directly from desktop components! It could be the display server, the window manager, the audio, the NVIDIA drivers, the default settings, or a GUI app, but it will rarely be something on development side, like on Ruby, or Node, or Go, or Android or databases and containers. Those play, and play exactly the same in every Linux!

This article isn’t about what to get on servers, or on Linux on embedded, but on a typical home PC!

The Installer!

When Ubuntu developers initially wrote Ubuntu installer, they must made it immutable, because in every Ubuntu installation I have made, I remember the exact same installer, without any changes at all! Probably there are changes, but I cant just recognize them! In any case, it is nothing like Fedora’s Anaconda, that they constantly introduce new things!

As long as we have a new PC, without any other operating system inside, and as long as we let Ubuntu to automate the installation for us, the installer will work fine! In fact I think Ubuntu installer is one of the most “no-failing” installers on the market

However, if we need to set-up partitions ourselves, it is ridiculous, with no further explanation! They just need to work a lot on this part! Like completely drop the current, and develop something else!

One new and super nice thing though they did on 18.04 release, was the addition of a minimal installation option, that only installs some basic set of applications. For example it doesn’t installs Libre Office, and for some un-imaginable reason, the AMAZON APP IS MISSING!? :p

Those are all the apps you get after a new installation on minimal, and I guess the idea is that Canonical wants you to open SoftwareApp, and start getting their Snaps! But of course you should do this!

Speaking of which those are some Snap apps that come pre-installed

So we can see Calculator, Characters, Logs and System Monitor, and if you notice, all those are GNOME 3.26 apps, because Canonical hadn’t time to update their Snaps to 3.28?

Ubuntu 18.04 is supposed to ship GNOME 3.28, and instead they offer a mix, and as an add-on they haven’t even updated the Screenshot tool, that has an amazing annoying bug, that you cant “Go Back” if you take a bad screenshot, so you can retake it!

The Initial Setup!

After you complete the installation, and on the first login, Ubuntu launches the initial setup. The two main functions are

  1. Ask you for sending anonymous data (hardware info, installations options)
  2. Setting up the Live Patching

I dont have full screenshots or videos on that, but you can check on Ubuntu Insights article by Will Cooke that has a nice walk through

Inside Ubuntu Desktop!

Look! GNOME desktop, and specially Shell, has already lots of UX issues, and before you even go on things like, the not re-arrange-able applications and DnD for appFolders on appOverview, or AppMenus, or the hidden (and feature poor) dock, or the weird alt-tab etc, GNOME desktop has already failed to provide a good UX experience, only by the animations performance and the visuals

And yet, Canonical managed the impossible! They took a desktop with lots of problems, and they made it even worse! It is what the Chinese say “There is always worse”, and Canonical traditionally excels on it! They take upstream projects, and worsen them on downstream!

The most noticeable terrible choice by Ubuntu guys was the theme, that there is a visual bug, in literally every single click! In some cases bugs are like invisible wigets, missing highlights etc. It is not just about the aesthetics, but also a usability issue, with even a dark variant missing!?

Then there are things like the hold-back of Files apps in version 3.26 (and 3.28 has many bug fixes), so they could retain the icons on desktop support for those who use that. And in exchange they ship a worse file app, that is a crucial system component

Canonical engineers knew that GNOME was going to drop that, almost 2 years ago, but they didn’t care to provide an alternative. So, I’m not sure what they are expecting to happen on their next LTS in 2 years from now, because hardly GNOME is going to re-introduce file-managing in desktop

Another thing is that Ubuntu by default doesn’t install Tracker, which is a core component of GNOME desktop. What is hilarious with that, is that if we install a GNOME app that needs it (eg Music or Photos), it will pull it as a dependency, but if we get apps from GNOME Platform (Flatpak), they won’t even start, because Tracker is missing!

Not everything’s bad! Canonical also introduced some important fixes on GNOME UX. For example the Status Icons Shell extension (dropped in GNOME 3.26), or the Dock, that has also some options inside Settings apps, which is quite cool ..but not super cool!

Whats not super cool here, is that the original Dash To Dock upstream has some nice options like a “Dock” mode, that isn’t available on Ubuntu Settings. Dock Mode basically makes the Dock ..like a Dock (eg macOS), which makes more sense in case we want to add it on bottom

Another thing is that Ubuntu disables by default GNOME’s top left hotspot, and it doesn’t even give an option on Settings app to enable. Instead we have to use GNOME Tweaks, that it isn’t even installed

The problem with that, isn’t only that Ubuntu removed the “GNOME Shell Design Trademark”, but we cannot DnD without it!?!

I specifically highlighted that to Didier Roche (Ubuntu desktop developer) since 17.10 release, and I asked him to at least provide that option on Dock Settings, but the answer was “we decided not to”. So Ubuntu by choice, doesn’t allow DnD on files! Go Figure! And apart the broken DnD, who on the earth could had such a wonderful option available, and not exposing it (optionally) to the users?! oh! Canonical guys :p

The Sessions!

On my first boot, on GDM, with Nouveau drivers, I had two options

  1. Ubuntu
  2. Ubuntu on Wayland

What happens is


Ubuntu 18.04 gives a package that can log you in on a default GNOME session, with default GNOME settings and themes (Adwaita)

# apt install gnome-session

If you install this, you’ll get two more options on GDM, so it will be

  1. Ubuntu
  2. Ubuntu on Wayland
  3. GNOME
  4. GNOME on Wayland

You can watch this video to see how GNOME Session works, and there is another session for the Community Theme! Honestly I dont even have the mental power to describe how bugged and how bad practice all this thing is!

Ubuntu instead of messing everything up, they could just provide a default GNOME, add some extensions, and add Tweak Tool inside GNOME Settings! That simple!

In many things I totally disagree with GNOME Designers choices (like the Shell dock for example), and I’m on Ubuntu guys side. However, every time you try to “lazy change” an upstream project, you always make it worse! If you really want to fix GNOME problems

  1. You either work upstream
  2. Or you fork it
  3. You never lazy patch it!

Sure! All these sessions stuff, can easily be fixed, as long as you know, but that doesn’t take away the first bad impressions, and the mess up Ubuntu 18.04 brings

System Updates!

oh, lord..

There is SIMPLY NOTHING WORSE THAN UBUNTU UPDATES! It makes Fedora to look like they use super extraordinary alien technology! The Fedora that a couple of years ago, I was making jokes on how bad their update system was!

Snaps Vs Flatpaks!

If you read that far, forget everything you read above! Because all that matters when you’re going to select your next or first Linux, it’s if you want to use Flatpaks or Snaps!

Personally I’m in favor of Flatpak, but technically GNOME is Flatpak! The GNOME SDK itself is actually Flatpak, and you will find everything GNOME related on Flathub!

On Flathub you will also find a PPA for Ubuntu to install an updated and working Flatpak! Thats right! The Flatpak support in Ubuntu is so terrible, that Flatpak developers had to provide a PPA! Imagine!

And about Snap? As you did see from somewhere on the beginning of this post, Canonical can’t even offer GNOME 3.28 Snaps yet! And nobody else does really!

Just Not Good Enough!

To make that quite clear! Ubuntu 18.04 is a good Linux! It is not the random Linux you will find on Distrowatch or on some Linux YouTuber! And Ubuntu still has the biggest community support, that is a very important factor, when you choose a Linux!

But they really facing the problem of Not Being Good Enough! There are better Linuxes you can use for GNOME today, like Fedora or Arch Linux! Which is kinda weird, because Arch hasn’t as large team as Canonical! Not even close, neither provide a default desktop ..as Canonical!

In my opinion, Ubuntu is for someone who definitely knows what they need! But if you are unsure what Linux to get (with GNOME on mind), just try Fedora! Which they btw added NVIDIA out of box support on version 28!

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