A Question of Perspective

I’ve seen a few posts complaining about the recent Ubuntu 9.10 release. Some cite specific issues, others are vague hand-wavy “it’s crap” posts with scant detail, making it difficult to find fixes.

Today we had a long time Ubuntu user turn up for support telling us that Ubuntu 9.10 had “so many problems” and “once again it was total fail”. This led them to state that he doesn’t “have a reliable working platform to work on”.

Wow, ‘total fail’, that sounds really bad doesn’t it? Until you dig a little deeper.

We asked a few simple questions to find out what the nature of the issues were. It turns out video playback had incorrect colour representation, and flash based websites were not clickable. Within about two minutes some experienced users stepped up to offer solutions. They knew that these two reported issues were well known (see the bug links above), and had good fixes or workarounds.

This apparently isn’t good enough. Even with the advice from multiple experienced Ubuntu users, the user decided they needed to reinstall the entire operating system despite the fact that both of these issues will in all likely hood still be there when they finish. We will of course help them when they come back with the same issue, asking for the fixes again, but it’s a monumental waste of time and effort on everyone’s parts, and reinforces the mantra that ‘Ubuntu upgrades are broken’.

This just flat out isn’t true. I’ve personally upgraded multiple machines multiple times and there have been some issues, but the vast majority of systems upgrade cleanly, resulting in a perfectly usable desktop/server. I’m not dismissing the issues that some people have, because there clearly are some, and many of those will be frustrating for inexperienced (or indeed experienced) users. To blanket label them as “total fail” or “broken” is just factually and statistically incorrect.

I can understand that some people prefer a ‘clean’ install over an ‘in place upgrade’ as years of experience on other platforms leads to people being reserved about the reliability of upgrades in Ubuntu. If you believe the press there are scores of users out there with systems that won’t upgrade or if they do, result in systems so damaged they cannot be fixed.

The above cited example was clearly neither of those. The user upgraded and got a working desktop with a couple of frustrating issues, yet chose to undo what they did and reinstall again, probably still believing the upgrade was at fault.

So lets get this in perspective:-

  • You don’t have to upgrade to 9.10. We have multiple fully supported releases you can stay on for now
  • Ubuntu upgrades on the whole do work, and if they don’t, we have a great community and paid support structure to help you get things fixed
  • You can even upgrade Ubuntu releases which are beyond their EOL (End Of Life)
  • Windows isn’t exactly easy to upgrade
  • OSX isn’t perfect either

22 thoughts on “A Question of Perspective”

  1. I updated to Karmic on my MSI Wind from around Alpha 6, and as I saw some of the serious bugs appearing with updates (beta, RC) like the severe brightness flicker and USB failure, I feared that Karmic might do major damage to the reputation of Ubuntu and open source o/s.

    For a longtime PC user used to googling for workarounds to beta software, the workarounds needed to keep my Wind usable are just about acceptable, but to general users, hitting right buttons to kill flicker, Fn-F6 to kill the webcam (and make USB work after reboot) are rough, and even though they are mentioned on release notes, they are not enough to keep many users from “trying out the latest” Ubuntu.

    Now I’ve updated my Dell Studio 15, and I’m seeing even more serious issues on resume from suspend, and problems with clean shutdown. Again, I don’t mind reporting the bug and providing dumps to the developers to help address the problem, but for typical laptop users, even regular Ubuntu users, these are serious issues. At least for the MSI Wind problems, there were other users who had filed reports and workarounds. For the Dell it seems I have actually hit a bug which is new (but others apparently also experience).

    It seems to me that for Lucid, we (Canonical / the Ubuntu community at large) need to be wary of another release that will inevitably be compared against the release of pretty well-tested Wind****7 and Snow Leopard.

  2. I installed Warty Warthog (4.10) on my desktop and have upgraded ever since.
    I am now running Karmic (which I think isn’t the slickest of the lot, but still great) which is 11 upgrades over 5 years.
    IMHO that is truly impressive.

    Admittedly I have had to do a lot of house keeping (mostly do to the fact that I’ve installed non-supported packages on my machine).

    My impression of karmic is that is isn’t very slick. It has a few rough edges, but all in all it was an awesome upgrade and a lot went into it for only 6 months of work.

  3. Hello Popey, I disagree with your comments. Upgrades crashing might not be too bad for you and me as most of the time we will find a workaround to get it to work anyway. However, for most people, an upgrade that crashes (like a package that locks the whole process in the middle of the upgrade) might mean a PC that doesn’t boot anymore, and a complete reinstall potentially involving loss of data (everybody might not be aware of how to recover his data using a live cd).
    Frankly, it should just work.

    I for one am personnally extremely tired that I need to upgrade all my drivers, X server, kernel to get a new (and supported) version of firefox. Because most of the time, at least one thing will break, sometimes preventing me from working.

    Oh and deploying Ubuntu desktop in our company for multiple users, I can tell you, upgrades are a disaster. From soundcard to wifi, things that worked for some just broke after the upgrade.

    Sure I could stick to LTS. What version of openoffice and firefox would I be running now if I had sticked to dapper though?
    I believe we really need to have backports that are officially supported, and that cover the most important programs – OOo, Firefox, etc. If I am running dapper I shouldnt have to stick to the same version of firefox for 5 years. And I shouldn’t have to risk to break 100 desktops just for an upgrade to a small desktop program.

    Sorry about the rant, but am getting tired of Ubuntu devs telling us that Ubuntu is wonderful instead of acknoeldging serious problems. Failing to acknowledge problems will prevent us from looking at solutions.

    1. Yann, the latest LTS release is Hardy Heron, Ubuntu 8.04. With that you would be on OpenOffice 2.4 and Firefox 3.0.

      My hunch is that a later version of OpenOffice may be available through backports, though.

  4. The problem with upgrading is that it increases the chances of unknown problems coming up. While the usual full installation is probably well-tested, I’d say it’s impossible to test all upgrade possibilities. So if I have some custom changes in some /etc/… files and then upgrade, in most cases I’m in unchartered waters. Then, if a problem comes up, how do I know whether it is caused by upgrading or whether it is a real problem? Which is why I don’t bother with upgrading any more – rather make a backup, reinstall, then restore personal files, and restore important settings. Would be nice if Ubuntu gave some help with this process, but it also works manually.

    That said, I’ve tried Karmic on two different systems and only afterwards noticed that this release truly shines, in an everything-works way: no driver problems, Gnome works well, nice improvements like Software Center and boot screens and volume control, no big software problems anywhere… Thanks a lot to all involved for the hard work!

  5. Popey,

    I agree that the Ubuntu upgrade process works. My primary workstation and home server started off as Hardy and have both been upgraded successfully a few times since.

    However there are on occasion frustrating bugs that crop up after an upgrade. For example the Intel graphics in Jaunty. There is always a work around but it does make me hesitant to walk my Mum, a four hour flight away, through the upgrade process over the phone.

    As the defacto standard for desktop Linux Ubuntu takes the spotlight each release and when simple things go wrong it just makes it harder to justify encouraging new users to try Linux.

  6. The whole argument “You don’t have to upgrade so often” disappears if you consider that quick releases are a strong selling point of Ubuntu.
    Also, given the emphasis on using repositories and possibly official/safe ones the operative system upgrade is also a strong need if you want to keep your applications up-to-date.

    Sure the upgrade is not easy stuff, and Ubuntu upgrade is not perfect, but I’d consider it a challenge more than a real problem. And finding good solutions could provide Ubuntu a nice competitive advantage.

  7. I have upgraded from 9.04 to 9.10 without any problems. Then I decided to go for the 64 bit option and do a clean install. I first tried the 64-bit live cd, and I had no problems with it. This is unfortunately where things started to get a bit rough.

    After I completed the install, it asked me to reboot and remove the disc from the tray. It booted up but then dropped me to a shell with a message saying that it gave up waiting for a root device. I browsed the forums from my little netbook (running UNR 9.10) trying to find an answer and found that lots of people had the same problem. After many many hours I found a forum post by one guy with a solution. Change the entry in the grub menu from root=UUID xxxxx to root=/dev/sda1. This did the trick. Once inside, I uncommented a line in one of the grub config files and everything has been running smoothly since.

    What is frustrating for me, is that the pc in question is a Dell Inspiron that I bought with Ubuntu 8.04 pre-installed (about a year ago). I thought this way, I’ll have the minimum hardware compatibility issues going forward. Dell linux team made statements some time ago that future versions of Ubuntu should “just work” because they are fixing things upstream as far as possible. Also this was not just a minor annoyance like flash not working or something like that, I could not boot up my pc even after I did run the live cd first to check compatibility.

    What is also annoying for me is that when I try to select Guest Session, I’m left with a black screen, and the only option is a cold reboot (I can’t even get to VT by doing ctrl+alt+F1). This has been the case now for 8.10, 9.04 and 9.10. I suspect the proprietary ATI driver is the culprit here, but why are we still using the 8.6 catalyst driver? I think ATI are actually aware of the problem and have fixed it for later versions of the catalyst driver. I have stopped following the bugs in launchpad for this issue seeing that it didn’t seem to go anywhere.

    I think it should be reasonable to expect that when you buy a Dell with Ubuntu pre-installed that hardware-wise you should be ok. That unfortunately does not seem to be the case.

    Anyway, now that I have that off my chest, I feel better and will continue using Ubuntu although it might be with the very occasional whine :)

  8. I never upgrade an operating system always a clean install, even though it takes me more time and effort. I know many Windows users who have a had time after an upgrade and they pay hundreds of dollars to a billion dollar corporation.

    I installed Ubuntu 6.10 soon after it came out. After, I read so many reviews that 6.10 was the worst, buggy as hell, unstable etc. You know what? I ran Ubuntu 6.10 for 20 months with not one problem or hassle, amazing. Lesson: Read reviews with a grain of salt, it is their experience, they my blow things out of proportion, criticising for the sake of it, may be trolls etc, so many reasons. I am wary of any reviews. Well written constructive criticism I prefer.

    I am one of those who do not upgrade often mainly because I depend on this and that I don’t upgrade, only clean installs. Currently I am using Ubuntu 8.04 and I intend to keep it until 10.04 or maybe even end-of-life.

    Clean install: I would try and do this if you can. Sure, it takes more effort, but it’s worth it.

    Maybe there should be some warning about upgrades. Some versions maybe harder to upgrade than others, eg Ubuntu 9.10 has ext4 so maybe that’s a problem too.

    I hope the Software Centre will have the ability to install/upgrade/downgrade drivers from ATI and Nvidia. This maybe a way to solve a few problems.

    I hope that Ubuntu can sort out these problems in the future, as it is affecting some users and it’s not good publicity.

    Thanks to thousands who have made this available to me.

  9. Upgrades do work. That’s the reason I switched from RedHat to Debian years ago. Often before an upgrade I will remove 3rd party repo’s and see what synaptic thinks is local/obsolete and remove most of that stuff – I can alway install it again later. Then I know my upgrade is starting from a fairly sane system.

    I have upgraded a netbook, laptop and three desktops of varying ages to 9.10. One of the desktops even had a power failure mid-upgrade, that was fairly easily fixed from the live CD. The netbook was the messiest with all it’s extra packages to make things work, but guess what? None of them are needed now, everything just works.

    I honestly don’t understand the obsession with complete re-installs. The only time I do that is when I’ve manually installed a load of stuff under /usr rather than /usr/local and I felt a re-install was the quicker way of purging it.

    If something doesn’t work in Ubuntu chances are it won’t work in a clean install either.

  10. I know there are are gong to be problems with upgrades, it’s the nature of the beast.
    I had big problems going from Hardy to anybuntu with a dwl520+ wifi card (still not fixed in Karmic beta) and had to find my own workround. Reported it , told lots of people – even replied to Jono in a blog entry but nothing was/is done.

    I am quite capable of sorting things but most Joe Soaps aren’t, and Win7 (ptuey!) DOES seem to install and run as best it can without resorting to workrounds.

    What really ‘amuses’ me is the number of ‘lets party til its 1997′ and ‘ look at this little kitten in the next release but one’ that seems to only occur with anybuntu.

    I fondly remember the days when if things worked in xyz version 1, they would still work in version 2 and also new stuff would work. A good example is akregator, it worked a treat in Hardy. In Jaunty it crashes twice a day and yet it doesn’t look any different and no new features that I could find. Reported it, sent crash dumps etc. and not a peep from anyone.

    Any way running Crunchbang now cos I like the ubuntu base but (K)ubuntu is becoming too bloated – I am expecting winbuntu any day now!

    regards Nigel

  11. I was running 9.04 on a Dell Latitude C-610 and Compiz everything worked fine, monitor, compiz, everything. I upgraded, and then the video driver got hosed so the PC was unusable because of a video card issue. So, I then opted for a nuke and pave, did a clean isntall of 9.10, that fixed the vidoe card issue, but now Compiz doesn’t work on 9.10, which it did on 9.04. I should have stuck with my motto: “ONLY use LTS releases and even then, NEVER upgrade until the release is on .1 revision ala 8.0.4.1 for example.”

    There is suck a thing as bad Karma…and it’s number is the number of the flailing failing beast, it’s number is not 666, it’s 9.10.

  12. My own experience :
    I have a laptop with a fresh Ubuntu 9.04 install. I have upgraded fine to 9.10. Everything worked. However, as an experience user, I have found out that my PPA installations on 9.04 had slightly interfere with the new install, and that it was not “clean”. I mean everything worked perfect, but some packages were mixed up and I had to use the “Force version” of Synaptics on a few of them.
    I am then very happy with this upgrade. I mean that I have quite changed my system (with all those PPA), but in the end the upgrade was smooth and functionnal, and I only had to clean my own mess ;-)
    As for my desktop computer, it was installed with a fresh Ubuntu 6.06, and I have upgraded it since: 6.06 -> 6.10 -> 7.04 -> 7.10 -> 8.04 -> 8.10 -> (did not upgrade it since that, but will soon). I had only once a major upgrade problem (I think during the 7.04 -> 7.10). But I booted on my old 6.06 live CD, got on internet, find out the problem on the forums, and fixed it. I guess that if I would have migrate since that much times with another OS, I would not be that happy…
    :-)

  13. I had problems updating my wifes old laptop (a Fujitsu Siemens Amilo M 7400) to 9.10. The problem is the intel drivers for the graphics card. The problems started i 9.04 and even though it’s a known bug it’s just gotten worse to the point that instead of randomly freezing once a day in 9.04 to within a few minutes in 9.10. The best solution so far seems to be to use 9.10 with the drivers held back, which sadly blocks upgrading to 9.10.

    It’s not a big problem because the laptop is on it’s last legs, but I can understand that people who don’t have the time or feel comfortable enough with the terminal feel intimidated of errors that involve X crashing/dying/freezing.

    We are getting new computers at our high-school for the class I’m teaching in programming. They will, as soon as get a chance, have Edubuntu on them…

  14. What a surprise, both bugs due to proprietary software.

    Ubuntu could be a bit more honest that you ship with software you can’t fix.

  15. Personally I’ve never had a problem upgrading Ubuntu boxes, and thus I agree with your post. In the past, many people I’ve spoken to have had problems that were self-induced, rather than upgrade induced. My netbook upgraded to Karmic with no noticeable problems as yet.

    As I have noted before, we need to be increasingly aware of the “level 0″ users who will simply expect everything to work, and have no interest in learning anything about their system. Having said that, I still think that Ubuntu is still the best distribution available for this, despite some people having problems. The biggest targets always attract the most rocks thrown.

  16. I upgraded to 9.10 on Saturday. This was on a laptop (Toshiba with Intel graphics card), and I use an external monitor. Initially, I could only mirror the display. So I was pretty bummed. Sunday I looked on Launchpad and others reported the same problem. A patch was released on Monday that fixed the problem.

    My initial disappointment has turned to marvel that the Ubuntu team fixed the problem so fast. You won’t get that level of service/support from Microsoft. Next time Ubuntu issues a new release, I might wait a week before upgrading. All considered, I’m a happy Ubuntu convert (came over from Red Hat / Centos, which I still like but wish they were a little more current).

  17. i started with 9.04 about 4 months ago as my first taste of Linux,learned a lot and loved it.
    about a week ago i upgraded to 9.10 the only issuses i got into the sound being muted in a deep far off menu and the my firefox lost its bookmarks (had backup)
    i love 9.10 a lot,guess i was just lucky…

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