New Ubuntu version hits today!

If it's April, it must be time for a new version of the Ubuntu operating system; a great, free, easy-to-use, highly polished version of GNU/Linux. Ubuntu does two releases a year -- October and April -- and the new release, Raring Ringtail (AKA 13.04) is a consolidation release that adds a lot more polish, performance and stability to the system. I'm happy about this: Ubuntu has been slowly transitioning to Unity, a new graphical interface over some years, and while I've come to really like Unity's featureset, I've also been noticing that it's getting a bit creaky under the hood. A stability and performance release is very welcome.

Ubuntu is my operating system of choice, and has been since 2006 or so. I run it on rock-solid, amazing, lightweight and fast ThinkPad laptops (currently the X230) and I find it to be exactly what I need from an OS: fast, easy, easy-to-maintain, and super stable. Switching to Ubuntu (which runs on pretty much any computer) was a little like remodeling the kitchen: for a couple weeks I kept looking in the wrong place for the menuitem I was seeking (just like I kept looking in the wrong place for the cutlery drawer), then, one day, everything was where I expected it. I don't even notice my OS anymore, in the same way that I don't notice my doorknobs or coathooks anymore. It just works.

And when something goes wrong, it goes wrong very well. I spilled a cup of coffee into my last laptop, an X220, while on tour in February, just as I was leaving my DC hotel for a plane to Boston. I rushed straight to a Micro Center in Cambridge -- where I met not one, but two knowledgeable, helpful and skilled sales clerks! Seriously! -- and bought the X230 I'm working on right now. I then commandeered a pallet of blank CDRs as a worksurface, removed the single screw that holds the drive, and smacked it into the new laptop and pressed the power button. Ubuntu figured out that it was in an all new computer, churned for about 30 seconds, and has worked great ever since.

Now I fear that I've got a problem with my hard-drive (a big SDD that threw a couple rare and suspicious crashes last week during big file-writes) so I'm about to switch to a new drive that should be arriving in the post today. All I need to do to effect this drive-swap is pop the drive in the machine, install Ubuntu on it (it's free to download and you can easily make a bootable USB-stick installer), and feed it a tiny text-file listing all the apps ("packages") I've used Ubuntu to install. It will auto-download the right apps for the new version of the OS, auto-configure them, and auto-install them. Then I copy over my user data and bamf, it's ready to rock. No re-keying serial numbers. No searching out the original install disks. No worrying about whether I have the right version for this OS.

I love living in Linuxland. The operating systems are so boringly useful and undramatic. They work great, and fail better.

Ubuntu 13.04 available Thursday, brings a streamlined footprint to the forefront


  1. Are you fucking kidding me?

    Ubuntu was easy to use with Gnome 2, up through 11.04, IF it supported your hardware. Unfortunately, although the online info claimed it supported my hardware, the actual operating system didn’t and treated my touchpad as a PS/2 mouse and treated every hand motion near the keyboard as either moving or clicking the mouse. I finally installed a patch that fixed that, but it wasn’t standard.

    Ubuntu has grown harder to use since then, hasn’t it? First they introduce Unity, and my disabilities make it a pain in the arm and hand to use Unity, and then they disable normal use of Gnome 2. Also they decide to eliminate the scrollbars and in later versions they break the patches that restore the scrollbars. Also they rely on malfunction-prone pop-up features. Also they consistently ignore any accessibility concerns. Shuttleworth think that since he can use touchpad scrolling and mouse wheels, everyone else can, so no one needs functioning scrollbars. He assumes everyone has the same coordination, the same ability to type two-handed, and so on as he does.

      1. Gnome 3 uses a very different interface from Gnome 2. I haven’t tried it, but I understand it has some of the same accessibility problems as Unity, though I hope it isn’t as much of a nightmare as KDE, which kept resetting the screen to MAXIMUM BLINDING BRIGHTNESS, and I’d have to try to reset the damn thing while looking away from the screen.

    1. Have you tried linux mint MATE edition?

      I haven’t side by side compared it with Ubuntu 11.04 but from memory MATE does seem to be the same as Gnome 2.

      I wouldn’t know if the touchpad problem has been fixed though.

      1. I love Mate. It needs a lot more of polishing, tho, I would not recommend it for beginners. You need to fix a lot of stuff and solve conflicts if you install Mate on top of Ubuntu. Once all of that is fixed, I just love it, even better than having Gnome2, and with a functional compiz, but no crashes or screen freezing.I need to install it on top of Ubuntu because my machine (system 76) has special drivers, and the people from S76 made them available only for Ubuntu, not even Mint, so you need to install GDM and other things in order to install the drivers.

      2. I’m considering LMDE, but I’m not ready to transfer everything over yet, and when trying live cds, it’s hard to know what could work with the right patches…

    2. The other side is that Ubuntu is basically the figurehead of Linux Distributions these days — and it’s a little bit concerning to me if the platform all the software developers attracted to Linux by Ubuntu’s popularity are developing for an increasingly tablet-like UI.

      1. Learn keyboard shortcuts. A tablet-like UI is great if you have a touch screen. If you have a keyboard, learn how to use it.

        I despised Unity at first. Since then it’s grown on me a lot. 

    3. Buy a Mac.  Which should trigger a Cory nonsensical rant about how much better the plastic,  poor quality screen and build Lenovo’s are so much better.

      1. Basically, Unity with half-decent ergonomics. Which still leaves the problem of the widening scrollbars and everything to accommodate my clumsiness.

    4.  You may be happy to learn that Unity in 13.04 has the old scrollbars back.  If they’re not enabled for you by default (they were for me) you can use unity-tweak-tool to enable them:  System -> Scrolling -> Legacy

      Just finished my upgrade from 12.10.

    5.  Gave up on Ubuntu. Unity is as brain damaged as Metro. Now I use Mint with XFCE. I had Mint Debian Edition for a while but it is too unstable. Canonical has fallen into the Microsoft trap of thinking that you need a single interface across a multitude of devices. That’s rather like saying you need the same interface for your bicycle, your car and your airplane. Balls to that. A laptop is not a tablet and a tablet is not a phone. One fit for all will be compromised in different ways on every one.

      1. Mint with XFCE is the bees knees.

        While not Ubuntu based I use Slitaz a fair amount in Virtual Box.  It’s small and very lightweight, but it does have a tendency to break some.  But for using in a virtual environment it’s pretty quick and easy.

      1.  ‘Free’ rings a bit hollow since Ubuntu tries to sell you shit at every opportunity.

        /still using it right now b/c lazy

        1.  I must be using Ubuntu at all the wrong opportunities… Just because you can see to-pay-for programs and games in the Software Center?

    1.  It’s a  bit gushing all right. But Ubuntu is good. I couldn’t be entirely uncritical of it – I can’t stand Unity either – but it’s a nice easy starting point for Linux.

    1. I was a service manager at a Micro Center, and let me tell you, they emphasize customer service to a ridiculous level. It’s the kind of mid-century customer service that is so difficult to find elsewhere these days. They also engage in a ton of product training, and instruct salespeople to never sell anything they don’t think the customer needs. Rather, they are supposed to try to uncover new and unknown needs. The service department operates on the same principle; we would never have tried to sell service if it were more economical to just purchase a new system. I’ve seen small, independent places charge $500 to repair ten-year-old computers. A person would get fired for that at Micro Center.

      I haven’t been with MC for several years, but I was proud to work there. You’d be hard-pressed to find the same level of quality in similar-sized stores.

  2. If you want Ubuntu without the bloat, try Puppy.  It (he?) has lots of utility, minimal eye candy, and a huge and supportive user base.  It runs on almost anything, from a Pentium II to a Phenom quad-core.  It only needs about 128mb of memory, though if you’re booting from a live CD it’ll be much faster with 256mb or more (it loads into a ramdisk).  The desktop is either Openbox or JWM (some versions let you choose).

    The latest version is based on Ubuntu LTS Precise Pangolin (some other versions are based on Slackware), but leaned way down.  Many Ubuntu binary packages work with it, though you may have to chase down dependencies now and then.

    It’s about a 130mb download.  The default installation method is a bit quirky, but you can opt for a full conventional installation (which I find I prefer for faster hardware).

    Yes, you run as root in Puppy.  Don’t be afraid. :)

    1. I was with you up to “you run as root”. I don’t feel like having all my passwords stolen along with my private keys and bank account balance, thanks.

      1. I don’t mean to dismiss this concern, but I think it may be a bit overstated.

        I take the same precautions I followed when I was a Windows user.  I don’t run mysterious executables or open email attachments of unknown provenance.  I stay away from dodgy websites.  I keep Java off and allow Javascript only when I trust the site.  I use Flashblock and a well maintained hosts file.  My router has a firewall.  I don’t use public wifi, ever.  Again, this is exactly the same as when I was using Windows.

        Who knows, maybe I’m just lucky.  But in 2 years of using this OS, I’ve had no malware problems at all.  (I never had any under Windows, either.)

        I hang out at the Puppy forums quite a bit, and I’ve never seen any other user report having his system cracked.  I suspect that being stripped down to a compact single user system, Puppy is just different enough from the mainstream distros that what malware might be aimed at those systems would tend to bounce off it.

        This is not to say it can’t happen, but rather that the limited size of the user base may make it less than worthwhile for the typical malware writer.  I’d expect the crackers to take aim at the top few distros – currently Mint, Mageia, and Ubuntu according to Distrowatch – since that’s where the largest number of potential victims hang out. 

        As I said, don’t be afraid.  But if you are, you could always boot fresh each time from a flash drive or CD, and never save anything to the boot drive.  Or you could su to Puppy’s default unprivileged user, spot, for potentially risky activities.

    2. Love the Pup. Carry her on a USB fob for when I’ve got to use someone else’s PC for awhile. Playing with Bodhi Linux at the moment. Based off of Ubuntu but has Enlightment for the desktop. Liking it. 

      But Ubuntu? Argh. Kubuntu maybe but even then the Ubuntu Software shop lock newbs into using their brands of browsers that are loaded with their targeted search engine advertising. Etc.

      Those who are fans of Ubuntu might want to check out Ubermix. It’s a school derivative developed by some of the California school systems to run off of their donated PCs. It has two flavors. A locked down version for kids & an accessible (normal) one for teachers.

    3. You had me too until you say “Yes, you run as root in puppy”.  You shouldn’t.  Even if it means adding another user and su’ing to that user, you should _NOT_ run as root.  That’s dangerous and stupid.  It’s taking the prime features of linux multi user security and completely ignoring them.   Your advice is instantly turned invalid when you suggest people do the most insecure thing they can in a linux, running as a root for common activities.

  3. I used to give Linux a go every couple of years but always found myself back on Windows. The last time I was pleasantly surprised. Everything did ‘just work’. Printers, wifi, the lot. 

    Recently I’ve had to install windows 7 on a friends Dell. Utterly shocked that I had to go and manually find drivers for pretty much everything except keyboard and mouse. How has this happened? How has Linux, famous for being impossible to use except by beardy geeks, become so painless to use while Windows 7 (from megacorp microsoft selling OSs by the bazillion, running on a Dell of all things) requires me to manually hunt down drivers for everything from all over the web.  

    1. I think Windows packed in drivers were probably best around Win 95 or so, right?  Ever since then, the number of users installs has been very low.  

      Linux has two things helping in this area:

      1) It’s almost always installed by the user so the process has to be seamless.
      2) The drivers are generally not provided by the manufacturers, so if they get written at all, they are Open Source, whereas your Windows drivers are not and can only be distributed by the hardware manufacturer.

    2. Your prediciment is not common. It kind of depended on the PC you were installing things on. Certain vendors are notoriously bad about making ‘one of a kind’ hardware. Sony & some dead end branches of HP come to mind. Linux has the advantage of having a few universal drivers that will work with 80% of what’s out there.

    3. I think that’s the difference.  A lot of people assume windows is so better at drivers, and that everything “just works”, but they also have windows preinstalled (or are upgrading, and the drivers often transfer over or get copied over behind the scenes.)  It’s when you build your own computer, and you have to find all the drivers yourself, that it becomes a bit more accurate.   And this is not something new, every windows version ever sucked when you did your own built PC and had to hunt the drivers down.

  4. tried to print .odt document of the Legal size, latest version printed it on 1/8th of the page. The rest works fine.

  5. I find it to be exactly what I need from an OS: fast, easy, easy-to-maintain, and super stable. 

    I’ve also been noticing that it’s getting a bit creaky under the hood. A stability and performance release is very welcome.

    Super stable!  Except when it isn’t.

    Also, so easy to maintain you can install a fresh version twice a year!

    1. “Super stable!  Except when it isn’t.”

      my first attempt at linuxing was with ubuntu 11.04. what a freaking mess. brand new system, drives, everything but the keyboard/mouse, and i couldn’t get it to remain stable through more than a couple of restarts before it started doing all kinds of weird stuff, eventually bricking the box, so that i’d have to wipe and start over.

      i spent almost a week wiping/redownloading/reinstalling ubuntu and trying different fixes before i said “fuck it”… downloaded mint and installed it once. mint hasn’t given me any issues, ever.

      my only real complaint with sizzling fast mint is that companies don’t tend to port games because of the variety of installs.. WoT, FSX, OFP, hawken, the new mechwarrior, all replaced by minecraft. (minecraft is great, but i miss my sims)

      [ed.. i realize mint is ubuntu, but whatever the devs did to it, it works a whole lot better.. plus no “BUY STUFF!” right on the desktop]

    1. I have been using it for the last three years or so, and since I have been home all day for the last five months, I have been using it 18 hours per day for that time. It is a great, reliable desktop. Good for admin type stuff (documents) and coding. It has a few quirks and a few bugs but I am happy with it.

      I just wish I could disable the key which opens the dash. Its the one thing which stops me working. I know it is going to appear in about ten seconds when the hard disk starts to thrash and my current window stops accepting input.

      1. How is it good for documents? It makes it harder to switch back-and-forth between documents, especially if you’re clumsy and can’t use this alt-tab nonsense.

        1. Mostly with documents I avoid maximising them, and I move between documents by clicking the window, so it is the same as other desktop environments. If I maximise the documents, then bringing another document to the front requires two clicks, one to say show me all open documents for this application and another to select the document I want.

          Its not as convenient as a traditional taskbar arrangement, but I don’t find it too much of a problem.

  6. I would love an alternative to the increasingly dumbed down & bloated variants of OS X but there are so many specialized “industry standard” applications I have to use I fear this will never be possible.

  7. What’s the name of the “feed it a text file with app names to autoinstall” thing?  Sounds useful.

  8. I for one am using Ubuntu happily and have been for some years now, all through the transition from Gnome to Unity.  It does of course need a readjustment. I don’t have a direct comparison but I daresay I’m faster with Unity than Gnome. (I haven’t installed 13.04 and probably won’t as i’m still using the 12.10 LTS version so I can’t really say anything about the current version.)
    Coming home from work is an additional joy if you’re forced to use Windows 7 in the office.

  9. I just started using it last week and am exceedingly happy. Installed it on my older machine that was creaking along on WinXP. The only hassle was having to buy a new USB wireless adapter. (I refused to monkey around with all sorts of command line fun to get the old one to work.) Found a stick for $13, plugged it in and it worked.

  10. Comments are turning into a fine assemblage of anecdata. There’s no way to be sure in advance that a version of Linux is going to work well on particular hardware. But it’s easy to find out. Especially if you use Wubi, the Windows installer, which creates a dual boot without any partitioning. Like any OS Linux is imperfect, but I’d urge everyone to try it.

    1.  Ubuntu ate my parents, causing me to be raised by wolves. Now I find it hard to stay employed because I scratch behind my ears with my feet during meetings.

    2. Pretty sure Wubi’s discontinued in either 13.04 or 13.10.  In any case, testing stuff is what VMs are for.

  11. Been using Ubuntu as my main desktop and main server OS across about 100 different machines since 5.10 Breezy. Didn’t like Unity. Got used to it, but still don’t really like it. Looking forward to 13.04 – can’t wait for the legacy scrollbars!

  12. Cory, as someone with a keen interest in privacy concerns, I’m disappointed to see you use a screenshot of Unity’s personal-data-sharing-by-default lens feature as part of a recommendation of free software.  Through it, Canonical shares what you type into the dash search area, as you type it (so, you don’t even explicitly ‘send’ the data) with some or all of the following companies/services:

    This ‘feature’ is enabled by default (though it is possible to opt-out or uninstall the feature), but only if you use the default flavour of Ubuntu and it’s Unity desktop environment, so I’d encourage people who still want most of the niceties that Ubuntu offers to try ubuntu-gnome/kubuntu/lubuntu/xubuntu/etc. rather than the default flavour.

  13. I’m excited about the new release since 12.10 didn’t run that well for me*, but I find it weird in other tech site comments how people get so specifically mad at Mark Shuttleworth like he stole the Crown of All Eternal Tech Problems from Bill Gates and runs around kicking in the teeth of neckbeards the world over.

    *if anybody could give me the command line to upgrade that’d be great

  14. Is it actually possible to install applications without an Internet connection? It’s great that you can just feed a text file to APT and it downloads and compiles it all for you, but there are situations where internet connectivity is limited/nonexistent, especially when travelling, or where downloads are limited/capped. I’d much rather have a collection of installers on a portable hard drive or USB stick, rather than downloading & compiling everything every time.

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