16 things we'd change about Ubuntu

Ubuntu may be a popular distro, but it has some big flaws

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Ubuntu is a popular Linux-based distro but, like everything in life, it isn't perfect.

There's plenty that could be improved, both in terms of software and the way it goes about doing things.

Here's what we think would improve it.

1. Show how it helps

This was doing the rounds recently: "What many people don't understand about Linux development is that it's truly a team effort: Red Hat develops the kernel, Novell develops the applications, Debian does the packaging and Ubuntu takes the credit!"

It's a little unfair on Ubuntu, but maybe that's because it doesn't get credit for what it does contribute - such as making Linux more accessible for the masses. It should blow its own trumpet more.

2. Make better colour choices

What is it with Ubuntu's colour schemes? It's not just the drabness of some of the palettes - all the pretty colours were taken by the older distros - but the way it changes with each release.

Ubuntu seems to have used every possible shade of brown, from the darkest to ochre, with no apparent pattern, before switching to a strange aubergine shade. Some sort of consistency would be nice. That way, even if we didn't like the colour, we'd have time to get used to it.

3. Set up a home partition

I've complained about this in reviews before and got a quick response from Ubuntu, but nothing has ever convinced me that lumping your data files in the root partition is a good idea. Kludging the installer to delete parts of the root filesystem instead of formatting it to preserve /home shows why /home should be separate in the first place.

4. Lengthen the release cycle

The six-monthly release cycle, set for release by the last day of April and October each year, is a hindrance. Sure it builds anticipation, but it also forces developers to release code before it's ready. This affects commercial software, because companies have to plan marketing and advertising to coincide with the release.

It also seems that Ubuntu is desperate to make each release distinct from the previous one in some way, be it with the colour scheme, button positions or default software choices. Free software should be more flexible. Releasing when it's ready works for Debian.

Now that the distro is so much more mature, a longer break between releases would enable Ubuntu to make the new additions it desires with more time for testing. It could even find itself releasing early, instead of frantically fixing ISO bugs at the eleventh hour.

5. Explain changes

Change for its own sake is pointless, and if you don't explain why you've changed something it'll be perceived as such. An upgrade installation, or a full installation over a previous Ubuntu, should open a list of changes and the reasons for them in a browser when first booted. Don't just move the buttons and hope we like it.

6. Try more user testing of new ideas

It's great to see a major distro experimenting with alternatives to established software, such as Wayland and Unity, but is a full distro release the place to try these out? Maybe Ubuntu should have some sort of testing branch, where users can get these changes before they make it into the full distro release.

This isn't the same as trying an alpha or beta release; this should be done before an idea even makes it into that branch.

7. Consider rolling releases

Fixed-point releases are good for marketing and promotion of a distro: awareness and interest each increase as a release date approaches. Plus they provide agreat excuse for Ubuntu release parties. But once your system is installed, fixed releases are more of a pain.

Yes, you can do a dist-upgrade with apt-get or Synaptic once the new release is out. But that's not the same as rolling releases where the latest packages are always available when you need them, not just after a new version release and not again until the next one.

8. Make Lubuntu official

LXDE is a fabulous lightweight desktop and far better than Xfce - even for coverdisc editing - but Lubuntu still remains an unofficial respin. It's now time that Lubuntu was given the same recognition as Xubuntu and officially endorsed by Ubuntu as a true alternative for lower-powered machines, or for netbook users who still want a standard desktop experience.

9. Partition LVM

If it really wants to avoid partitioning hassles, Ubuntu should consider partitioning the disk with LVM as an installer default. Not the way Fedora does it, filling the whole volume group, but a sensible allocation of space for root and home, and a graphical tool for rearranging and resizing volumes. Needs change, so let the users change their systems to suit.

10. Use RPM

Everyone knows that RPM is a superior package format to Debian - why else would the Linux Standard Base (LSB) have chosen it? Ubuntu is now well enough established to not need to depend on Debian any more, and has shown that it's willing to make major changes in other areas (such as Wayland and Unity). It's time that it dropped Debian packages and upgraded to RPM.

11. Give us a minimal/network install

For those who have a fast connection, downloading a full CD with live desktop is unnecessary. Debian (I'm pretty sure the Ubuntu guys have heard of it) has a small CD that boots the installer and then downloads only the packages that are needed. It's a good idea and actually speeds up the complete installation process, because you don't have to wait for 700MB to download before you can even boot up the installer.

12. Don't be greedy

Banshee

The switch from Rhythmbox to Banshee may be a good one, but the insistence that 75% of the revenues that come from any Amazon MP3 downloads go to Ubuntu instead of the Gnome Foundation is scandalous. After all, where would Ubuntu be without Gnome?

Yes, it may have its own Ubuntu One Music Store, but asking for virtually all the commission in order to let users buy from a rival store is the sort of heavy-handed approach that even Apple would think twice about.

13. Simplify codec installation

This is a grey area, but people will try to play a DVD and complain that "Linux is broken" when it can't be done. Including libdvdcss in the Ubuntu repositories isn't an option, but searching out and adding repositories such as Medibuntu is a chore - worse if you don't know about them.

If Ubuntu offered to install third-party repositories during installation, by downloading a setup package from elsewhere, users would be able to play their media without hassle.

14. Don't use disk UUIDs

There's no doubt that the fstab file on Ubuntu looks a mess. Disk UUIDs may work well for automated installations, but they're much harder to maintain. Can we have filesystem labels, if not by default, at least as an option? Labels give a completely human-readable fstab and leave the user in no doubt as to what goes where. Of course, using LVM would make this point irrelevant.

15. Fix more paper cuts

I know developers like experimenting with cool new features, but the minor niggles continue to annoy long after the wow (or WTF) reaction to the new stuff. Eye candy may attract new users, but reliability and usability keeps them. No one really wants to fix these minor (but numerous) bugs, so more effort needs to be made to encourage fixing them. The 100 paper cuts initiative was good, but it needs to go further.

16. Embrace the games market

One of the reasons why so few companies decide to develop games for Linux is that there's nobody to demonstrate the market potential to them. Ubuntu is in a position to do that. With so many home users, a commercial organisation backing it and its own online store, if any distro can convince the games developers to consider Linux, Ubuntu/Canonical can.

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First published in Linux Format Issue 144

Liked this? Then check out The history of Ubuntu's design

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