10 Things Ubuntu Needs To Improve On

Monday Nov 5th 2007 by Matt Hartley
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A favored distro for newbies and enthusiasts alike, Ubuntu has a lot going for it – and plenty of things to fix, too.

Ubuntu has been a force to be reckoned within the Linux world for a couple of years now. It’s undeniably the path to Linux gaining mainstream acceptance. In this article, I’ll examine ten areas where I think Ubuntu could go still further; that is, really improve and even gain back those who abandoned it out of frustration.

1) Wireless consistency
Ubuntu's biggest problem here is not its lack of working hardware, rather it is the distro’s developers’ maddening belief that attempting to make Broadcom chipsets a working reality is a good thing.

The logic is flawed on two counts: First, there are other great chipset options out there that do not require NDISWrapper. Second, why work so hard to support something that roughly 80% of the time is known to fail the end user? It just doesn't make any sense.

The smart money is on a three-tiered chipset approach: Intel, Ralink and Atheros. All of these have a long-standing history of workable success with most common Linux distributions. Yet Ubuntu developers apparently believe that the three out of fifty people who actually get it working are producing numbers solid enough to warrant the tremendous frustration from others who also try the Broadcom option.

This thinking, along with the ever-buggy network-manager, will continue to frustrate Ubuntu users release after release. Even with the vastly improved wireless stack found with Ubuntu Gutsy, you’ll find that cards based on the chipsets above often fail unless you uninstall the network-manager and replace it with the non-integrated Wicd application.

2) Multimedia Codecs
Watching and listening to certain types of media formats in Ubuntu provides a challenge on two fronts. One, rules rightfully put forth by the GPL that forbid the restricted codecs like WMA, WMV, etc. from being included by default. And two, the patent laws and organizations who maintain the right to use these codec formats.

Despite the perceived hassle with the GPL's rules, Ubuntu has done everything in their power to make installing them as simple as possible. Which is comical for U.S. users, as they are seen by many as 'breaking the law', despite the fact that the law relates to the distribution of such codecs rather than their use. So for some Ubuntu users, this leaves things in an uncomfortable position. Even with the likes of Dell selling Ubuntu PCs to the public, everyone continues to pretend like this is an issue that will eventually resolve itself.

I would suggest another approach. Make something once thought to be counter-culture, cool again. For instance, seeing Canonical teaming up with the people who make devices like the iaudio 7 portable music player, makes more sense than pretending that no one in the U.S. is going to mind dealing with perceived legalities of restricted codec legality. It's just too complex to explain. And perhaps with some creative marketing, would encouraging Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theroa alternatives might make for a more agreeable solution?

(Another distribution, Fedora has a unique approach on this matter. Rather than dance around the issue, Fedora states their case quite clearly.)

3) GRUB as the bootloader
Lilo has long since been touted as more reliable than GRUB for keeping track of which operating system(s) you have installed. And by reading about the number of people who have been faced with 'fixing' GRUB after an error, there very well may be something to this line of thought.

Still, other people will point out that any issues encountered with GRUB on Ubuntu are rare, and something that can be overcome easily enough. And yet these are the same people who claim that Ubuntu is definitely “newbie-ready,” then point them to the command line as a fix for these 'rare' occurrences. This leads me to believe it may be time to replace GRUB with something else.

Next page: back-up, restore, IPV6, and common sense

4) Not automatically backing up fstab
The blatant stupidity behind not being available by default is completely beyond me. In response, I have been hard at work making sure that newbies have a simple bash script that will enable them to have a backup available.

Having your operating system suddenly forgetting what drivers are connected is something that is – with current technology on Ubuntu – easily avoidable. All it needs is a little python and some GTK to make it happen.

5) Not automatically backing up xorg
I realize that Ubuntu devs have made great strides in this sort of area with the 'bullet proof X' initiatives. However, just a simple "cp" (copy) function of that little file would provide people with improved options when trying to 'tweak' something later, only to screw it up royally.

Because sometimes, those existing Xorg backups are not up to date, so the user needs a simple means of backing up a fresh copy of their Xorg themselves without having to learn to use Bash at every turn. If this was Slackware, this would never be an issue. But this is Ubuntu, designed for both typical Linux users and newbies alike.

6) Restore files from the trash
We have this rather basic ability in Windows, yet if something is tossed into the trash while using Ubuntu, you better remember where it goes to if you want it restored!

The lack of this feature is hardly a show-stopper for most people, as critical files are protected by the root user. But it would be nice to have when the kids decide to get creative with their 'system tweaking'.

7) PPPoE is a mess on Ubuntu (and Linux in general)
Again, not a show stopper if the user has a router in place with a home network. But for the single DSL user, it can be frustrating to find yourself dealing with no alternative outside of pppoeconf.

Generally, you will have to "up" the network interface yourself in some manner. And even then, pppoeconf is quite buggy once you discover this is what you are to be using. Asking new users to step into this application is beyond ridiculous.

For a newbie-oriented distribution like Ubuntu, this is once again a bug that could be avoided by simply advising a common sense policy of using PPPoE settings that come with cheap routers. The documentation even hints at this, yet then heads off into the sunset with the idea that most people using DLS are only connecting directly, which is just silly.

It's great that Ubuntu provides a step-by-step “how to” for those that are not in a position to connect via some sort of router, but making this the default means of dealing with PPPoE hassles is simply not time well spent.

8) IPV6 enabled
While the current status is set to 'fix released', the fact remains that it shows up again and again in each new Ubuntu release. During installation, there should be the option of activating ipv6 with the user's permission, and understanding how to disabling it later should it cause issues. This is not a rare issue. It’s been flooding the Ubuntu forums with users who are upset that Web sites don’t seem to connect as they once did.

9) A GUI-based recovery mode
Ubuntu's idea of a recovery mode is pretty geeky, as it’s basically the command line. But in addition to this, they ought to provide a means of reinstalling the system files while preserving the home folder. It was successfully done with Linspire 5.0, so I know for a fact that it is quite doable for future releases of Ubuntu.

10) Common sense distribution of documentation
Ubuntu, by and large, has the best documentation I have ever seen from a Linux distribution. However, some of the best documentation is not even really part of the documentation project itself. I would like to see some means of content cooperation or even content scraping (with permission) so that the documentation could maintain a more complete feel.

Perhaps this is something to add to Ubuntu's idea pool, be it another example of text-based chaos.

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