Ubuntu 18.04 Bionic Beaver - Canonical giveth, Canonical taketh

Updated: May 21, 2018

After covering the other three major flavors, it's time to focus on Ubuntu. So far, the spring season has been rather mediocre. Kubuntu started well but then sort of ruined it with crashes and bugs. Ubuntu MATE delivered a fairly strong offering, but it had its own shares of crashes and it took a huge amount of effort getting into order. Again, not the LTS quality. Xubuntu was all right, except no innovation, and it took too much putting together into a reasonable package. All of the stuff you expect NOT to have to do with a pro LTS release.

Meanwhile, after sampling Ubuntu in its beta phase, I let it rest for a while, and now it's time to look at the flagship edition, and see what it can do. The big contention point is the use of Gnome 3 as the desktop environment, of course. It's simply not good enough for serious use. Not pro, not anything. Which makes the Ubuntu effort almost a lost battle. But there's a caveat. Let's do it.

Teaser

Live session

I grabbed the Ubuntu ISO, etched it, and then we power on. The firmware error, and then a quick boot into a desktop that's a pale shadow of what Unity did. It just doesn't look as good. It feels crude. You don't get the ability to right-click new files into place, and no settings options for the file manager. This is AFTER Canonical added its own touches to the totally useless Gnome 3 framework.

Live desktop

No right click, new file

Networking

Wireless worked fine - although you need to click to expand the menu - the icon does not show in the panel. Bluetooth worked, and there were no errors, so this is an improvement from the other flavors. Samba sharing does not work unless you change the allowed protocol, because security zealots want to ruin your life with their paranoia. Once I had that edited, I was able to reach my Windows boxen. Printing wise, the system detected both the Wireless and Samba devices, so that's nice, even though the applet looks like something designed by a crayon support group at the local shelter.

No Samba

Printers

Bluetooth wise, though, you need to open the settings tool - no icon or button in the top panel applet.

No BT option

Multimedia playback

Worked fine - but music opens in Videos and not Rhythmbox (why is it installed anyway). No panel integration, but that's something we'll discuss when we tweak the system for normal use after the installation. So we get HD and MP3 playback, including cover art and meta data from external devices and smartphones. Nice.

HD video

Music, MP3 playback

Smartphones

No complaints. Three out of three - Android, iPhone (iOS), Windows Phone, with automount. Lovely jubbly.

Windows Phone

Android

iPhone

And here be phone music and such:

Music from the phone

Other observations

To keep myself calm and whatnot during the testing, I had the whole lot of James Bond themes playing in the background in Youtube, and I noticed the system was quite laggy because of that. The affected Web processes were eating a good dose of CPU, but this also had a negative effect on the responsiveness. This is not what I've observed in other distros/desktops. In fact, this seems like an entirely Gnome 3 thing.

CPU usage

Installation

It was all right - except the usual niggles. Timezone/language problem remains, but this affects most distros out there. The partition discovery step was fast, but the format step was slow. You get correct distro labels, so you know what to select. You cannot use encryption unless you have an LVM layout, so if you're reusing your partition table, you won't get it. The installer switched instantly to the slideshow, and you get a reasonable showing of propaganda and information. The best composition among the four flavors.

Partitions

Unlike Xubuntu, there's a whole-integer number of lines (entries) in the wizard window.

Slide 1

Slide 2

Why is Spotify promoted when it can't play local files in Linux?

The process completed fine. I have a fairly complex eight-boot Windows-and-Linux UEFI/GPT setup with sixteen partitions on my 2015 Lenovo G50 laptop, and there were no issues. Also, unlike the other flavors, Ubuntu sets the GRUB menu background color to its aubergine-purple signature hue, so you instantly know you're using that. Kubuntu used to do that, not anymore. I think they should all have their own shade. Fifty shades of GRUB. Ha ha.

Where the buses don't run

If you're wondering about the title, 'tis an episode in Miami Vice. Very sad, very poignant. And then, the ending also plays out to the background tune of Brothers in Arms, which is probably among the top five finest songs ever composed in the modern era. We shall get to that. For now, bear with me.

Networking

The desktop installed fine AND I had the Wireless up and running - the only one among the four to actually do this. In Kubuntu we had KDEWallet issues, MATE and Xfce didn't reconnect, but this one did. Bluetooth settings were also preserved. Then, Samba wise, none allowed connection by default - but Ubuntu also didn't have the Samba common package. Unlike some of its siblings. There was the whole language localization problem, but it's easier to sort out than say MATE or Xubuntu. And it did not crybaby about any missing language packs or such like. Inconsistencies and zero QA are what makes Linux remain stranded in the amateur pond.

Desktop installed

Welcome, Livepatch, system data

Ubuntu pops a nice welcome screen at you. Cool. This lets you overview and customize some of the basic aspects of the desktop usage. It explains some of the differences in usage, it allows you to setup the rebootless patching mechanism called Livepatch (I touched on that in the beta review, you need Ubuntu SSO for this), decide whether you want to share your system data with Canonical (privacy zealots are having a field day), and finally, you're told about Software, so you can install and download stuff. This is the first time Ubuntu actually promotes itself.

Welcome

Livepatch

System info stats

Software notice

That Open Software now button is so badly placed I had to vomit a little.

Package management & updates

So there's some improvement in this regard, finally. The updater popped up right away, the way it used to back in the olden days. Neat. Ubuntu Software also seems a little bit better than before, i.e. less totally pointless the way Gnome Software usually is, but to be fair, only Boutique offers anything akin to the pro-quality USC that we used to have - and still do in Trusty, which is the only distro installed in my production setup.

Updater

Updating

So what did Ubuntu Software do for us? Well, at least you can tweak repos, check for drivers and such, the usual. Then, this one actually offers Snap packages seamlessly - in parallel to the standard channels. Several popular programs were offered, like GIMP 2.10, Skype and such. I did need to download Chrome from the Web, and the Skype deb would not install with the snap version in place, but I was able to grab VLC and GIMP from both the snap and repo sources and have them installed side by side.

Software

Of course, it behaves differently from what you get in Xubuntu 18.04.

There are advantages to the local repo method - less disk space, seemingly slightly faster app response, and in the case of VLC, the snap version looks uglier, possibly because it wasn't built with Gtk or such. GIMP is neat, and we will talk about 2.10 soon. Steam also showed correctly in the repos, something that only took a few years for the Gnome side of things to iron out.

Skype shows correctly

Software working, installing packages

Snap errors are not pretty - but you can install multiple packages simultaneously:

Snap error

GIMP 2.10

Partner repo not selected by default

The partners repo is not enabled by default, but snaps help offset that a little.

And in the end, you have something like:

roger@tester:~$ which skype
/snap/bin/skype

roger@tester:~$ which gimp
/snap/bin/gimp

roger@tester:~$ which steam
/usr/games/steam

Applications

This is the heaviest of the four 'buntus I've tested, but it does not give you any big extras. The default offering is reasonable if a little bland - Firefox, Thunderbird, Rhythmbox, LibreOffice, Cheese, a utility here, a utility there. But then Ubuntu never really focused on giving you a bombshell app experience. That's up to you to download and configure. No issues, though.

Apps

Customization

Now the grueling, sad part. Gnome 3 is not suitable for day-to-day use. Canonical already hacked this beyond recognition by using its own theme, adding window buttons, offering a permanent dock, and a few other tricks. Still not good enough. But first, you need to install a Gnome browser extension and the system integration package before you can install new extensions. This is an operational failure that stands in the way between users having fun and having to fight bullshit ideology.

Gnome extensions setup

I tried to add a bunch of stuff - media integration in the system area, worked okay but 'twas a bit clunky; a simple, innocent show desktop button, which I couldn't integrate into the dash on the left, like Ubuntu Unity would let you. All of this is unnecessary work that highlights the stupidity of the original pseudo-touch design. Microsoft learned from its Windows 8 mistake AS I TOLD YOU SO, but Gnome 3 is stuck, and so the Linux desktop is stuck somewhere in 2011 or so.

Extensions

Music integration 1 Music integration 2

Global menu

I tried using a global menu - nowhere near as elegant as Unity.

The Skype icon is low-res ugly, but at least it looks like an icon and not vomit as we've seen in the MATE and Xubuntu reviews. More inconsistencies. And each one kills a thousand unicorns and three thousand bunnies.

Skype icon

I had a somewhat presentable result in the end, but it's boring. An imitation of life.

WIP 1

WIP 2

The wallpaper used above, if you're interested.

Hardware compatibility & stability

Not bad at all. Webcam worked fine, Touchpad did not interfere, all the Fn buttons and all that. Suspend & resume also worked fine and fast. No Intel firmware for the processor. But there were no hardware-related issues of any kind, which is what you'd expect from an LTS distro. No crashes either, making it the only one among the four to deliver a stable experience.

Resource utilization

The numbers are okay, kind of, but they don't tell the full picture. Gnome 3 is decidedly slow and laggy, and once you start multitasking, things lag. I had music stutter and the mouse pointer freeze because this inefficient blob was doing its computations. The 2015 machine feels like a 2005 box struggling to keep up, even though it comes with 8 GB of RAM and four logical cores. Much like Xubuntu, Xorg ate about 10% CPU on a single core constantly, the overall CPU utilization was about 5-6%, and memory usage on idle stood at 1.1 GB. The other desktop environments are much better, and Plasma stands out as the lean, mean killing machine specially because it's not touted as a lightweight alternative to anything (like MATE and Xfce are).

Resources

Battery life

Average. About two hours with brightness around 50% and light use. This is with the battery charge down to 90% max capacity, so technically, Ubuntu will do something like 2.5 hours at a stretch. Nothing special or amazing in any way.

Battery life

A song if you will

Overall, Ubuntu Bionic was better than I expected - but much worse than what an LTS ought to be. This is a nominal, soulless release. Canonical is no longer focused on the desktop, and that's obvious. The way the community treated its every effort to make a professional alternative to Windows, we're lucky there's even Ubuntu desktop to begin with. But while the basics kind of work, the new UI is horrible, and this makes me quite sad. Enough to compose this little a-la Brother in Arms songlet:

These code-covered distros, are a home now for me,
But my home is Windows, and always will be.
Some day you'll return to,
Your Github and your forks,
And you'll no longer burn to be,
Brothers in Tux.

Through these fields of destruction,
Baptisms of code,
I've witnessed your forking,
As the versions raged high,
And though the fonts hurt me so bad,
In Gnome and Plasma,
You did not desert me,
My Brothers in Tux.

And now ... Ubuntu Beaver with Unity!

Then, there's one thing we haven't done yet. Install the Unity desktop. It's in the repos. It takes a single line to grab the desktop environment and its associated 250MB worth of dependencies.

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-unity-desktop

You are asked to choose the desktop manager, if you want to use gdm (that'd be Gnome for you) or lightdm (that's Unity), so it's the latter please, log out, log back in, but make sure you select Unity as your desktop environment. Lo and behold:

Unity, first screen

Immediately, everything was better. Unity is sooooo much faster, snappier than Gnome 3. Prettier. Seamless top panel global menu integration. Smarter system settings. You can add a show desktop button. Speed, elegance. A professional desktop. Lightyears ahead of this sad new offering based on Gnome.

Unity, good looks

I promise you a full Ubuntu 18.04 + Unity review soon!

Conclusion

This review focuses on Ubuntu with Gnome 3 - and so I will leave my findings with the Unity desktop separate, except a single sentence: Unity is the desktop environment that 18.04 should have had, and everything else is a fallout consequence of that. So yes, Ubuntu Bionic Beaver is okay. But that's like saying paying mortgage for the rest of your life and then dying unceremoniously is okay. It's not okay. Mediocre has never been anything to strive for. EVER.

Ubuntu Beaver does a few things well - and with some updates, it's also polished up some of them early turds, as I've outlined in the Kubuntu review; hint, the same is ALSO happening in Kubuntu, and we may have a presentable offering soon. Yes to media, phones, app stack, package management. But then, the network side of things should be better, resource utilization should be better, the desktop should be more usable for ordinary humans. It's ridiculous that you NEED extensions to use Gnome 3, in addition to all the hacks Canonical introduced to make the system usable. So yes, if you wanna be mediocre go for it. 7/10. If not, wait for Kubuntu or MATE to get its game together, or stick Unity onto 18.04. More to follow soon.

Cheers.

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