Ubuntu 17.10

From 2005 to 2008 I was using Ubuntu quite a lot, and participated frequently on www.ubuntuforums.org with help and advice. As such, I was one part of the movement that made Ubuntu grow to the most popular Linux distribution.

What made me leave Ubuntu was my love for computer games, and the lacklustre office suite. So I moved back to Windows, specifically Windows 7. Then Windows 8 came out and it was total crap. A small jump to Windows 10 and it was beyond crap, it was an invasion of privacy where every user it treated as a point for data collection without any regard for personal integrity. CIA announced that they can easily connect to the webcam and microphone of any computer, which was immediately fixed in Linux and soon fixed in MacOS while Microsoft just said “we’re looking into this issue”. M$ probably put in that backdoor intentionally, would be my assumption. Not that Apple is doing any less data gathering and spying on their customers.

Linux is becoming the last bastion of freedom in the information society. Being open source is a crucial part of maintaining this freedom, since anyone can see what the operating system is doing (if you have the skill to read and understand code). However, many Linux distributions are delivering pre-built binary packages, so while it is open source in principle, most users have no idea what is in those packages.

The big Linux distributions are also taking many steps to make Linux more like Windows, which in my book is making Linux a lot worse by design. Systemd is the first problem in this, where lots of functionality is bundled together in this huge blob that you cannot modify easily, and then Gnome and other software packages start to require that huge blob. In Ubuntu 17.10 they will stop using a partition for swap and instead use a swap file, like Windows has been doing for ages. There is some reasoning behind this; the end user is too stupid to know what to do, so design something to prevent stupidity from causing too much harm. But the effect is really that you introduce something stupid to combat stupidity.

For the past year or so, I have been using the Funtoo distribution almost exclusively. I’m making quick dips over to Windows in order to print something on our network printer at work, but otherwise I’m 100 % Funtoo Linux. The thing I love about Funtoo is the package manager from Gentoo (portage / emerge) which builds everything from source and also lets the user define if there is anything they don’t want to use. OpenRC is used instead of systemd so there is complete modularity in the init system. Everything can be controlled in detail by the user so you can set your system up just the way you want it. And since you get your system just the way you want it, there is nothing to complain about or be frustrated about.

Except, there are some frustrations in Funtoo too. For example, the Funtoo community is very friendly, but it is also a very small community. It takes a while to get packages into the system. I wanted to install the Unity3D game editor, which has a client available as source code to build, but it just isn’t available. I wanted to use SageMath, but that was not an easy thing to do. Well, SageMath is moving toward some web interface instead of installing on individual computers so maybe that is fine anyway. I wanted to install an IDE for Python, but even though both Ninja IDE and Spyder are in the package manager, neither of them worked after installation and I’m not sure what I need to change to make it work. It is not uncommon for packages to have missing dependencies, so you have to find out yourself what is needed to make it work. Once you have a functional system with everything you need, Funtoo is by far the most excellent distribution you will come across, but I feel like the road to get a fully functional system is a bit long sometimes.

Ubuntu, meanwhile, are starting to offer Snaps or whatever it’s called. One package delivered with all the dependencies to ensure full functionality. More to download, but less issues when installing. The Ubuntu community is also huge, I’d say about 60 % or more of the entire Linux community is on Ubuntu, and with all the derivatives like Elementary OS and Linux Mint, it is probably even more than 60 %. A lot of this comes from the fact that Ubuntu is the default Linux distribution to come pre-installed when you buy a computer. Because the community is so big, there are lots of people working on hardware compatibility, enabling software packages, etc. This means that the road to a fully functional workstation is a lot shorter on Ubuntu.

What I don’t like about Ubuntu is that they don’t have a rolling release model. Because of this, every 6 months or so you have to re-install the entire system. Sometimes a dist-upgrade will work fine, but almost always you are better off to just re-install everything. With Funtoo and other distributions that have a rolling release model you just upgrade periodically package by package and deal with some minor issues with specific packages along the way. Rolling release is just so much better in the long term.

I have been going back and forth about this in my mind. Use Funtoo, because while it takes a while to set up it is so much better in the end. Or use Ubuntu, because it is so much easier to get fully functional that you can live with a few imperfections in the end result. In the end, there are some things that I don’t know if they will ever be available on Funtoo, like the Unity 3D Editor or the Unreal 4 Editor. Because of this, I am leaning towards leaving my perfect distribution and embracing the imperfect one, because of the availability of software.

It really sucks to leave Funtoo. I wish I had the time and resources to make sure that all the software I use is available there. If I had those resources, I would stick with Funtoo for sure. But in the end, what matters is being able to do the work I want to do. That work is possible to do on Ubuntu, but not always on Funtoo. So I will go for Ubuntu. Back to my roots. I’ve only been away for a decade.