Ubuntu release quality

When I first installed Ubuntu in 2006, all my hardware worked out of the box.  It needed a few tweaks to run correctly, but it was much easier to get running than other distros I had tried.  I was very pleasantly surprised, and Linux became my primary desktop for the first time.  My computers are still configured to dual-boot with XP, but I barely ever boot into it.

With the last few releases, though, I’ve felt that after “upgrading” my system, it actually gets worse. There are lots of bugs and regressions, and I wonder how this can possibly be an official “release”.  Intrepid was the worst so far: my video card stopped working, my keyboard’s function keys started locking up the screen, session saving doesn’t work, sound system is misconfigured, …  These are exactly the kind of headaches that led me to abandon Linux in the past and go back to Windows.  When I upgrade my computer, I expect the upgrade to fix problems, not cause more.

Is every Ubuntu release worse than the last?  To see if it’s just my own personal experience, I looked through the release polls on Ubuntu Forums and combined them all together into a little HTML percentage bar graph.  The green bar is for the percent of users who found the release “worked flawlessly”, after either an upgrade or clean install. Yellow is for “few things to fix, nothing serious though”. Red is for “many problems that I’ve not been able to solve”.  (The poll questions are the same for each release, and have 1,300 to 5,500 voters each.)

(Updated graphs including Jaunty)

It’s pretty clear that my experience is not unique:

Feisty (1,387)
47% 23% 30%
Gutsy (5,479)
22% 44% 34%
Hardy (4,250)
23% 46% 31%
Intrepid (1,343)
18% 34% 48%

Almost half of Intrepid users experienced “many problems” that they have been unable to solve.

You can see from the original results that the experiences for upgraders and first installers are roughly the same, proportionally.  (47% of Intrepid upgraders had serious problems, while 48% of first-timers had serious problems, for instance.) I’d speculate that this means that the main difference between people who have problems and people who don’t is the compatibility of their hardware.

I don’t know much about the technicalities, and haven’t followed the politics behind release cycles, but it seems that something needs to change in the priorities.  I don’t understand why a product would be shipped out the door as a “release”, when it has major bugs like this that were known in advance.  Isn’t that what betas and release candidates are for?

I’ve been told that I should wait a few months before upgrading, so that when I do, the bugs have been fixed.  But then… what’s the point of calling it an official release?  Why don’t you delay the release until those bugs are fixed?

I’ve been told that I should stick to LTS releases if I want fewer bugs, but I had plenty of problems with the Hardy upgrade, too.  The graph shows that Hardy was only marginally better.  Some even said the LTS release was “much more buggy than Gutsy or any other previous release“.

I’ve been told that Ubuntu’s release schedule is a response to Debian’s long delays between releases — that a rigid six-month schedule keeps programs like Firefox and OpenOffice up to date, but as a consequence we have to pay the price of a less stable system. I don’t understand why these are so intertwined.  I can download the latest bleeding-edge versions of software titles from getdeb.net and run them just fine on my system; why can’t the “flagship” titles be kept up-to-date, while the low-level subsystems are kept as stable as possible?  If I’m using the latest Firefox beta and it crashes, it’s no big deal, but if a less-technical user upgrades their computer and the video card or wireless card stops working, that’s a deal-breaker.

Also, why not keep the release candidates to a rigid schedule, but delay the actual release until the bugs are fixed? Users who just can’t wait for the upgrade can subscribe to the RCs instead of the actual releases, while normal users who want to use their computers instead of debug them can wait until the real release.  Maybe this is what’s supposed to happen with the betas and releases?  It’s not working.

Add a “From:” field to gnome-screensaver locked screen

Just a small idea for improving gnome-screensaver.  When the screen is locked, other people can leave messages, which show up as libnotify pop-ups.  It’s not obvious to the person leaving the message how it will appear, though, so I think we should add a From: field to encourage them to sign their name.  Otherwise you might not know who left the message.

Currently it looks like this:

and the pop-up looks like this:

I think we should add a From: field like this:

and the corresponding pop-up could look like one of these:

After proposing this on Ubuntu Brainstorm, I found an independent request on Launchpad, so I’m not the only one. 🙂