Friday, October 18, 2013


The announcement by Canonical that they are creating their own graphics stack called MIR has been inciting quite a bit of vitriol and drama among developers in a number of open source streams this year. The future of my preferred Linux distributions of late Kubuntu and Lubuntu is rather unclear at this point for future releases in 2014. I have already been plagued by broken graphics server updates a couple of times this year and it was not much fun.

As such I have been thinking about distro-hopping. Something with a big developer base, stable but not immensely fiddly to set up and maintain. After many years happily trucking along as a newbie with Ubuntu Linux and GNOME 2, and since migrating away from the "test our shiny touchscreen telephone interface with your mouse and keyboard desktop" paradigm of the Unity desktop environment, I have become a satisfied user of KDE 4 and its Qt based programs. I am much more comfortable with the command line and system management than I used to be. The enormous and easy to use Debian/Ubuntu/apt-get package tree is great, but . . .

As openSUSE is often remarked as the best implementation of KDE I started looking at that. Lots of good things have been written since the release of 12.3 earlier this year. Yast for all the system settings has often been disparaged in the past but upon testing so far seems to be great tool for nerdy total control. The rolling release Tumbleweed repository maintained by Linux hyper-guru Greg Koah-Hartman is also inviting, as well as susestudio. Lots of in depth documentation wikis are available for the things that I do not know how to do. Word is that they have reorganised the business side in a positive way under Attachmate, and openSUSE looks robust and secure as a community and foundation. They contribute a lot to the Linux Kernel in code and funds.

What are you using these days? Any comments or suggestions?


Pete said...

You're safe from Mir on Kubuntu. The 13.10 release notes state that they're sticking with X-Org for this release but plan on switching to Wayland in the future.

I didn't know about the Tumbleweed repository. I knew Greg worked at SUSE. I'd used SUSE in the past and was impressed with it. The only complaint I had was the slow release cycle. In terms of how conservative they are with their packages, they're somewhere between Ubuntu and Debian Stable.

I was seriously considering setting up an Arch installation. Which sounds quite involved. It could be a great learning experience about many of the moving parts of the operating system. But I'll probably just do a clean install of Kubuntu.

Don J. said...

I have actually been reading a lot further into this software developer mud-slinging but decided not to link to it as it all rather overblown and is reminiscent of a kindergarten class somehow. Slashdot, Phoronix, and especially Google+ can keep you up to the minute live if you are so inclined on the soap opera drama of who said what mean thing about the other project, and who got offended and fell down on a fainting couch and vice versa.

I know John Ridell has said he will keep all aspects of MIR away from Kubuntu, but I find that as these kinds of developments build on one another at Canonical what is the point of basing your distro on such a series of incompatible elements. It is now no wonder that Canonical decided not to fund its derivatives anymore. They just want to make a shiny Ubuntu Touch phone and try to compete with Android and iOS.

Stability issues popped up for me on multiple systems (especially with 12.04 which was supposed to be a LTS release), and this why I am thinking about migrating and learning a new system. You know, one that is specifically built for a computer with a keyboard, which is what I and everyone I know uses to work on.

If Canonical keeps hammering away and releases an Ubuntu phone maybe I would buy one as that is the company focus now and it could be a great toy or secondary device. I just do not at this point appreciate the "one interface to rule them all" fixation.

Don J. said...

By the way, Greg Koah-Hartman works directly for the Linux Foundation now solely as a grumpy Kernel monkey. He uses openSUSE on his desktop/laptop and started the repository for people that want all the newest packages without the instability of being on the "bleeding edge".

Archies have a strange hollow look in their eyes but seem rather excited about building and maintaining their lean personalized systems from scratch. Sounds a lot like an exercise in Gentoo-like self punishment just for extra nerd experience points to me.

Pete said...

Yeah, I'd use Arch to help me better understand how to configure the parts of the OS that are already set-up in more end-user distros. It is a bit less extreme than Gentoo, as your installing binary packages and not compiling everything from source. Most of the investment in Arch is during the installation step when you start with the command line, then install only the things you want.

I'm intrigued by Arch, and I'd think it'd make me better at computing, but I can think of a dozen more productive ways to spend a weekend.

My set-up survived the in-place upgrade. So I'm not in any pressing need to leave Kubuntu. I'm definitely intrigued by OpenSUSE, as I said I remember liking it. They have a release at the end of the month, so that may be a good time to switch.

I'm no Linux Beard but I suspect that having development proceed in a several conflicting directions is how it's always been done in the Free Software world. I don't see Mir as a threat to Linux development. I'm just not interested in phones and tablets right now. Recent developments like the Steam box and the Android dominating the smartphone market will hopefully play a role in securing Linux's future.

I haven't spent any time on Phoronix, but it has a reputation of being toxic, excitable and fact-deficient.

Don J. said...

"I'd use Arch to help me better understand how to configure the parts of the OS"

Definitely, they state explicitly that the goal is making it easy from a developer side and not hiding layers of complexity for end users.
The Wikipedia page sums it up well:

It seems to be seen still as a start-up by Linux neckbeards, but anyone who has good command line skills speaks positively about streamlined systems, speed unhindered by bloat, and a proven long running rolling release format.


I do not see MIR as a threat to Linux development, this sort of thing has happened a number of times in the last 20+ years. What jars me somewhat is a development strategy that started as just some extensions to the GNOME 3 shell to make some shiny buttons is now completely rearranging the back-end as well to focus solely on implementation on devices that I do not use, and apparently very specific kinds of licensing agreements. This may serve the commercial interest of making Canonical finally profitable but increasingly isolates them from everyone else in open source. In my experience as a user it is mucking with the "ease of use" thing on a desktop which was the whole point of begin with, and I am of the opinion it threatens the viability of distributions based on Ubuntu. Maybe that is seen as a perk for them, or maybe it is just an irrelevant bump in the road as they go their own way?

Red Hat, SUSE, and more and more Google are very profitable using the Linux Kernel but with the opposite strategy of shared development streams and contributing back to the source.


A good description of Phoronix. It reminds one of a gossip column for software developers.