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Ubuntu 18.04 Review: Tough Love

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Also see: Ubuntu History: Linux Evolves

This Ubuntu review of 18.04 is going to be more blunt than what you've seen elsewhere. Perhaps a bit of tough love.

Not because there is anything wrong with the release or the distro. Rather the fact that in 2018 Ubuntu's big push isn't for the desktop any longer. The 18.04 release is about developing technologies, not desktop technologies.

This Ubuntu 18.04 review will touch on the areas we need to consider before upgrading or switching to a new distro. Allow me to say: my opinions may not be terribly popular, but they are my own.

Ubuntu 18.04 data collection

I'm all for the idea of choosing to opt in for hardware data collection. Done effectively, it allows us to expand on challenges like dual-graphics switching on select notebook PCs, oddball wireless configurations and other issues that might crop up that better hardware detection might solve.

Where 18.04's data collection completely loses me is the idea that the Ubuntu development team needs to know my "general" location (West Coast, etc.) or why they need to know which applications I have installed. Historically, I've never been a fan of Ubuntu crash reporting as it's the very first thing I disable. Ubuntu 18.04 data collection feels like apport and then some with geo and software popularity data collection.

To make matters worse, you must disable data collection from three separate places. The first thing to disable is the hardware use data collection. Benign enough, but none of Ubuntu's business as far as I'm concerned. Second, the application popularity reporting. Not only is this the absolute dumbest thing I've ever heard of with a distro, it's again, none of Ubuntu's business. The last item is in my opinion, the only data collection feature I'd argue is anyone's business.

Apport data collection while tremendously annoying with its past popups, does lead to bug fixes. Despite any value of apport reporting, I do not like my distro doing anything without me explicitly choosing to enable these features. I will never be okay with data collection by default.

Now before we move on from the data collection element of Ubuntu, I need to state that the Ubuntu devs have been transparent in what is being collected. The report collection GUI allows you to see the contents of the hardware collection report. So that is a positive move for a feature that should still be disabled by default.

Ubuntu 18.04 live kernel patching

The idea behind live kernel patching is fantastic. And for servers, cloud instances and other enterprise specific examples not needing to reboot live hardware is a huge benefit. Enter the desktop space: Does it really matter for desktop users? On reasonably modern hardware, I'd argue it's a convenience at best. Regardless of my own view of it for desktop users, Ubuntu 18.04 kernel live patching has a decent GUI.

It's made pretty clear that the GUI for the live kernel patching is being aimed at enterprise users. The general idea being you can update the kernels on up to three workstations without rebooting any of them. The capability of doing this comes down to the Ubuntu One account service. This again makes this the GUI kernel updater useless for casual Ubuntu users in my opinion. But perhaps there are instances where such a non-reboot option is useful for workstations somewhere along the line.

Ubuntu 18.04 minimal install option

While the option to install a minimal Ubuntu install may not do much for saving disk space, it does offer a lot in terms of avoided application clutter. I personally think this is the best feature thus far with the Ubuntu 18.04 release. Now I will grant you that the concept of an Ubuntu minimal install isn't completely new. It is however, new for its inclusion on a standard Ubuntu desktop ISO.

The reason I like this option so much is that I get to choose what my default applications will be. And while this may sound silly on the surface, I'd counter with the idea that it allows me to better customize multiple installations without having to remove stuff I don't want. I also see this as yet another enterprise focused benefit. If you had to deploy a number of workstations and each of them had different application needs, this would be a huge time saver.

Ubuntu 18.04 uses Xorg

I'm actually pleased to discover that this Ubuntu release will be relying on the aging yet always compatible Xorg display server. I've said it once and I'll say it again, Wayland has a long way to go before it's ready for use. Last time I checked, no dual monitor support, no proprietary driver support and of course, oodles of applications that still rely heavily on Xorg over Wayland.

To be fair, one can deep dive into XWayland and Weston for some of those legacy applications such as screen recording applications. Personally, I'll stick with the Ubuntu default of Xorg as it means less messing around with Wayland tweaks and whatnot. One can make the argument that Wayland is more modern and elegant. However I'll go on record in stating that it's not the right choice for Ubuntu yet. Clearly, the developers agree it is best a secondary option for the time being.

Ubuntu 18.04 GNOME desktop

I must first disclose that despite trying to use GNOME 3.x over the years, I simply prefer the simplicity of more traditional desktops in its stead. That said, Ubuntu has definitely found its stride with the GNOME desktop. From the application menu to the launcher to the indicators in the upper right hand corner, Ubuntu is making the GNOME menu work for them in a positive light.

Buttons to control each window are in the positions that make the most sense. Window behavior feels natural for the most part. And if I'm being completely forthcoming, I would say the switch from Unity to GNOME was a wise decision. Gone are the days of that archaic HUD (heads up display). Instead, you have GNOME interface with a Unity-like launcher bar.

Ubuntu 18.04 now…and tomorrow

So what does Ubuntu 18.04 hold for the future? Well as it stands now, 32bit images are off the table and are no longer available. It's becoming readily apparent that 18.04 is about change and much of that change is centered around the needs of IoT and cloud services. At the same time, it's fair to point out that Ubuntu hasn't dumped casual desktop users.

What say you? Are you going to be trying Ubuntu 18.04 anytime soon? Perhaps instead you'll stick with other distros either based on Ubuntu or using a completely different distro base altogether? Hit the comments and tell me about it.

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