One of the reasons I enjoy using the Ubuntu desktop is that it offers what feels like an endless list of software titles right at my finger tips. But with that many software titles, it should come to no surprise that not all of them are as good as they should be.
In this article, I’ll round up software titles that I’ve used with Ubuntu that, quite honestly, leave a lot to be desired.
1) Firefox extension manager
At one time, Firefox was my go-to browser. My love affair with it dates back to the Mozilla browser and later, the release known as Firebird. These days, however, the Firefox rapid release schedule has made many of my favorite Firefox extensions unusable. And even when an extension is updated in time, later on, the next rapid release comes along to break it.
If Firefox were to address this issue, it would instantly regain its former glory in my eyes. The core browser itself is usable. My complaint lies primarily with it’s handling of extensions.
I really dislike the bugs in this application. Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge that it takes a lot of work to keep bugs free from software like Cheese, but honestly, it’s been broken for at least the last three releases. As of Ubuntu 12.04, I have no idea if it’s working yet as I now am seeing a new bug _ segmentation fault. And even when it was working, it was slow and sent an endless drove of frustrated individuals to my inbox asking me why their webcams wouldn’t work.
The comedy of the situation was that the webcams worked fine, when used with stable applications like guvcview or any SIP/messenger client that supports video chat.
How should Cheese be dealt with? If the maintainer isn’t able to get it working, then it’s time for Ubuntu to stop promoting it on their website like it actually works.
Newsflash: it hasn’t worked for a very long time. I’ve personally tested it with over eleven Ubuntu compatible webcams. My advice is to never judge webcam capability with Cheese.
Over the years, I’ve done a number of desktop captured demonstrations and up until recently, the applications available were next to awful. The worst of the bunch has to be Istanbul. Often broken with one release or another, Istanbul has never worked well for me on any distribution.
Even worse now, it’s not compatible with Unity, which leaves Ubuntu users out in the cold. Thankfully, these days there are decent, stable solutions such as Kazam to take its place. And considering the months of frustration I used to have trying to upload ogg/ogv files to YouTube, screen-casting software like Istanbul is a waste of time for anyone who plans on sharing their work.
I really wanted to see this little application work. While it’s certainly not a dedicated legacy app by any means, it could be fun for creating some special effects for the next company video.
In any case, HasciiCam isn’t something that works as expected. While webcam detection works, the configuration options described on the manual page appear to be a little off. The defining moment of failure happens when generating video output that looks nothing like the screenshots from the project page. It’s very disappointing.
5) Lombard video editor
As video editors go, Lombard isn’t anything to get very excited about. While I will give it props for being seemingly lightweight, its lack of features is legendary.
Quite literally, this software is little more than a digital pair of scissors with the ability to export video. Quite honestly, I fail to see what the value is here. It feels like the secret love child of something from 1995 bundled with the removal of any useful functionality.
There was a time when I held high hopes for Miro, both as a project and a means of making Internet TV a reality for the Linux desktop. Built on the Mozilla Firefox browser base, this software continues to include links to channels based on Flash, despite not being Flash compatible for years.
What would be considered a very minor issue to those in the know is confusing to newbies. They wonder why sites such as Hulu, won’t work within the constraints of Miro. It’s an otherwise decent media jukebox, held back by its inability to include Flash functionality. And before anyone says anything, yes, Flash is still very much a HUGE part of Internet video for the casual user. Yes, Miro has a lot going for it. Sadly, a consistent cross platform experience isn’t among the positive aspects of the software.
When compared to the likes of Moneydance, HomeBank feels like a trip back in time. This buggy, overly basic software will drive away anyone trying to do book keeping on the Linux desktop. The UI is tired, dated and in dire need of a refresh.
Worse, connecting to US banking institutions with HomeBank isn’t happening. While I hate to admit it, web-based alternatives are dancing circles around this software by comparison. If you’re trying to maintain a grocery budget, then HomeBank might be an option. But if having an application that “sort of” works managing your finances isn’t for you, avoid this software.
As web browsers go, Epiphany wouldn’t be so bad with the exception of one critical thing: Flash compatibility.
While some users out there are living in a magical world where Flash is a non-issue, the rest of us still rely on it every day. Bundle that issue with the weird menu layout and anyone using this browser for the first time is sure to find themselves led into a world of frustration.
9) Gnome Nanny
Quite honestly, one of Ubuntu’s biggest shortcomings has to be its lack of proper parental controls. While some people have pointed out that this is a non-issue, I disagree.
Not everyone is going to have the know-how to setup DansGuardian or run an otherwise unknown setup wizard for site blocking on a router. No, instead Ubuntu users have the “left for dead” software known as Gnome Nanny. Back when the functionality was still working, one could upload a set of pre-configured rules to keep kids off dangerous websites. Even time limits and other aspects of parental controls were possible.
While the user interface was a bit rough, the software was badly needed. But like many software projects still listed in the Software Center, this, too, is dead. That’s right, even grabbing the latest PPA release with some rough patching, still didn’t work correctly. Oh, it blocks stuff. However, if you try to uninstall it, you’re blocked from all web access. Yes, even when it’s completely disabled, you’re left without a way to discard the software safely. How’s that for a neat feature?
Designed to make annotations using a graphics tablet, the final app that fails out of the box under Ubuntu 12.04 is Gromit. Another non-starter application, it would have been useful if the developers had added a little drawing tablet interactivity with screen drawing. This would have been a nice feature for those giving presentations. Additionally, Gromit leaves us in the dust by failing to work under Ubuntu 12.04.
By the way, did I mention this and all of the software titles above, are included in the Software Center?
A Quality Assurance Help Wanted
I want to remind everyone that I’m not here to rip on Linux, Ubuntu or the other software I have given praise to in the past. Most software I’ve used on the Linux desktop is as good or superior, to its closed source comparable.
That said, buggy or poorly maintained software left floating about inside the software repositories isn’t doing anyone any favors. For full-time Linux enthusiasts, it’s a pain as it means wasted time. And for newbies, it’s a huge disappointment as it reflects poorly on the distribution the bug was experienced with.
Obviously, software is going to have its issues. But non-starting software needs to be pruned via a community effort and if possible, disclaimers added to software like Epiphany that stuff like Flash isn’t happening without significant frustration.