Russel Winder's Website

Go back to using Debian or stay with Ubuntu?

Along with many others, I have been increasingly irritated by certain aspects of the way Ubuntu has evolved recently. There is increasing obsession, and indeed hype, around the look and feel that is presented by default. This is not in itself a problem, at least not for me: having an interface that looks appealing and is usable is very definitely a good thing. At the surface of my problem is the Apple-like assumption that there should be a single, essentially unchangeable look and feel for all instances of Ubuntu. It is not the attempt to create a default, harmonious look and feel that is the problem for me, it is the fact that Ubuntu users are basically being blocked from anything different from that which is being handed down by the Ubuntu designer elite. In pushing their vision for Ubuntu, Ubuntu is losing the ability to work reasonably with anything other than the officially sanctioned default look and feel.

I have my own (highly idiosyncratic) user interface that works for me. It is minimalistic, yet Gnomic. It is just not post-Jaunty Ubuntuish. I want to keep my look and feel rather than fall in with the emerging Ubuntu standard. More importantly though I want to use the applications I prefer with the functionality that fits what I want to do.

I moved from Debian to Ubuntu early in Ubuntu's life, 5.04 Hoary Hedgehog in fact. My rationale was three-fold: Ubuntu was based on Debian (to which I had moved from Red Hat 7.3 instead of going to Red Hat 8.0) and so was not that much of a change; having a corporation managing a Debian-based release on a rigid 6-monthly update cycle appealed; and the staff of the company I was running at the time told me to.

Until 8.04 Intrepid Ibex, I had been happy with my choice and was very much an Ubuntu advocate. There had been some problems with sound in Hardy and Intrepid which hit me but which I sorted, and which I assumed was a one off problem. However, it turns out that this was the beginning of my disaffection with the way Ubuntu was developing. The upgrade to Jaunty Jackalope had various glitches associated with applications I think of as core and were in the main repository (not in the universe or multiverse repositories). The response to the bugs I reported were null: the bugs were ignored and the packages were subsequently dropped from main in favour of other applications with less usability but more trendiness. It seems that there was a turning point sometime around late 2008 that the look and feel of Ubuntu was more important than the functionality. Much of the default application set dumbs down the functionality beyond my ability to live with it. The volume control is perhaps the most trivial and yet is the most obvious instance of my irritations: the mixer is completely missing.

So I have a decision to make: do I retain allegiance to Ubuntu, or do I, like many others say "enough is enough" and, like many others have done, return to using Debian - probably Squeeze (aka Testing) but maybe Sid (aka Unstable). I still like the Ubuntu ideal as of 2005-2009, so still feel an affinity to using Ubuntu, but the continuously updated pool of things to choose from idea of Debian Testing and Unstable is increasingly appealing.

Given a decision of this enormity, I shall have to dither a while.

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