Ubuntu release quality

Filed under: Uncategorized
Created 11/19/2008 (12:01 pm) | Updated 07/24/2009 (9:33 am)

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.

7 Responses to “Ubuntu release quality”

  1. JD Evora Says:

    I agree 100% with you, I had major problems with my last upgrades as well.

    There are 2 brainstorm ideas that are aimed to improve that.
    #15228: Avoiding feature regressions should be more important than (exact) time based release http://brainstorm.ubuntu.com/idea/15228/

    For try to have more stable releases.

    #15834: Have a fallback repository for avoid having a faulty system after upgrade. http://brainstorm.ubuntu.com/idea/15834/

    For less important stuff or when you are hit by a bug anyway.

    Cheers

  2. AaA Says:

    Good post. Even though the quality measurement is not exactly scientific you have generally hit the truth.

    Ubuntu sounds and looks like a really nice Linux distribution. Sometimes it even works nicely. If you are lucky you can even work with Ubuntu. Nevertheless, this doesn’t change the fact that Ubuntu is fundamentally broken by its release policy. That policy provides releases which don’t work by design, only by chance. It’s gambling, not serious software business.

    Well OK, hobbyists may like to gamble and Ubuntu may have a place among hobbyists. For serious work people need a system which is stable and reliable and not only by luck. This is why I gave up Ubuntu over two years ago and it seems that Ubuntu wasn’t even that bad at those times as it is today. I’m really happy that there is not just one Linux distribution. I’d buy a Mac immediately if we had only Ubuntu.

  3. Anthony Says:

    Excellent post.

    Ubuntu’s release policy has shown a fundamental unwillingness to make shipping a workable release the goal, and as I’ve got more involved in filing bugs etc, I’ve been very disappointed at how they simply blow them off, fixing them late or never.

    I’m definitely going to be looking at going back to Debian if this isn’t addressed in the next few releases.

  4. Steve Says:

    Sorry to sound a discordant note, but I haven’t had any problems at all.

    I switched from Vista to Ubuntu about 11 months ago (Gutsy). It worked great. When Hardy came out, I read so much whining on the forums that I held off installing it until August. At that point I did a clean install of Hardy and have found it to be an appreciable improvement and just as stable as Gutsy was.

    Computer is a Toshiba Satellite laptop.

  5. Endolith Says:

    Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had equally good experiences? We need to identify the biggest problem areas and fix them.

  6. Ubuntu isn’t getting any better Says:

    […] the same Ubuntu Forums experience polls charts as in Ubuntu release quality, but […]

  7. Andrew Szeto Says:

    Wait, I thought the LTS releases were meant to be the ones that were rock solid, and the regular six month releases were for trying out the newest and coolest things.

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