Am I really running Ubuntu?

If people ask me what distribution of Linux I run on my laptop I tell Ubuntu but in all honesty that’s not entirely true and I’ll explain that later.
I have been using Ubuntu for a couple of years, mostly because when I was looking for a distribution for my laptop it was Ubuntu which just worked out of the box, unlike Fedora or Suse. Many years have passed since that decision and things have changed with Ubuntu. The default software provided by Ubuntu has changed drastically and with the upcoming Ubuntu Lucid Lynx it will be changing even more. I didn’t like the changes the made in the past and I don’t like the changes they are making for Lucid Lynx. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate all things they change, new kernels, upstart are just a few things that I agree with. What I don’t agree with is what I like to call the dumbing down of applications and bloating of applications.

Just because computers get more powerful, have bigger disks and get more memory doesn’t justify to bloat your software. Take Tomboy for example, the default and very simple note taking application in Gnome. If you want to install Tomboy it requires Mono which consists of 25 extra packages totaling a combined space of 22 MB on your drive. I don’t know what will be running in memory but it can’t be low, Tomboy itself occupies 10 MB while the alternative gNote is 6MB and it does the exact same task, maybe even quicker.

And it’s that bloating of the software that made me make drastic changes to my setup over time, and that’s what I mean when I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I’m not really running Ubuntu.
Of the applications I use almost daily on my laptop, 80% is not coming from Ubuntu’s repository.

  • Kernel – From Ubuntu’s sources, modified and self compiled
  • Mail – Claws Mail, self compiled
  • Browser – I actually use two, Firefox and Google Chrome. I download the official packages and installed it for Firefox, for Chrome I’m using their repository
  • Video Driver – I download the nVidia install package from their site and install it
  • PDF Reader – Acrobat, download from Adobe’s site
  • Social Networking – Tweetdeck, downloaded and installed from their site.
  • Flash integration – Official download from Adobe
  • RSS reader – I don’t even know what the default reader is in Gnome but I use Liferea, self compiled.
  • Video Player – mPlayer SVN version, self compiled with VDAU support
  • Note taking – gNote, from their PPA.
  • Password Vault – Keepassx, from their PPA
  • Messaging – Pidgin, self compiled
  • Torrent client – rtorrent, self compiled.
  • revision software – Git, self compiled

Looking at this list it makes me wonder if I have a good reason to stick with Ubuntu, and the conclusion is I don’t, I could switch to an alternative distribution, DEB based, RPM based, Slackware or any other kind that’s out there but I like to think I give back to the Ubuntu community by way of my How to compile your custom Kernel articles and my Git repository. For now I’ll stick with Ubuntu and yes I will be updating to Lucid Lynx when it comes out.

Let me know what you run and if you run “alternative software” or out of the box software.

This article is filed under the categories Desktop » Ubuntu and has the following tags associated with it: , .
  • You sound like someone who would enjoy using Arch Linux. You should try it if you haven’t already.

    • I never tried Arch Linux. I do have a spare laptop so maybe after spring break I’ll give it a try.

      • The Arch package manager and Arch Build System make it super easy to install custom compiled packages. Just edit the PKGUILD file to get your custom package.

        The initial installation may be daunting for some but if you follow the guide it is not hard at all. Once you have it setup, you will have system that is built specifically to your needs and preferences. And it is a rolling release so save completely borking your system, you will not have to reinstall ever while still getting the latest and greatest versions of packages almost as soon as they are released.

      • I also agree with Shane. I switched from Ubuntu to Arch (distro hopped in between) and have loved it ever since. I got annoyed with how Ubuntu does things and having tons of apps I would uninstall each time I updated to the newest version of Ubuntu.

        Arch is a bit daunting at first, but given you know how to compile software from sources, your knowledge of Linux should be more than sufficient to use Arch. Having a rolling release made Arch easily my choice for Linux distro as having to add tons of PPA’s to Ubuntu was not fun either.

        I would suggest walking through the Beginners Guide on the wiki. Make sure to read fully each step. It may take a couple hours of installing, but doing it slow will ensure a working and entirely functional desktop.

        The last thing I would look into after installing is what Shane also mentions. The ABS and the AUR. The AUR houses the majority of other packages that Arch doesn’t include in it’s main repositories. An easy way to navigate and install software from there is using either yaourt or packer. It will basically automate installing packages from there and you _shouldn’t_ have to mess with the PKGBUILD files.

      • Aeiluindae

        I was like you, too. I had a huge list of PPA repositories and compiled lots of things with checkinstall. I was getting fed up with hack after hack to do something as simple as run a standalone Compiz environment. I went to Arch, and loved it. Getting the newest version of anything was easy. Building from the AUR is nicer than grabbing a package from a PPA, because you can fix the package if something doesn’t work quite right. Definitely look through the beginners guide, or install Kahel OS or Chakra (both are basically custom GUIs on top of basic Arch, so all the good things about Arch are there, with a friendly face).

      • Like the other responders here, I’m a recent Arch convertee. About the only disadvantage I’ve found for myself over Debian based systems is that some of the _really_ esoteric stuff won’t be in the repositories. For example, I like to use dog instead of cat.

        I’ll probably wind up with Arch on my desktop (where I can tolerate steady changes) and straight Debian on my laptop at some point in the near future. I doubt if I’ll continue to use *buntu much longer.

        There’s definitely a place for “I’ll do everything for you, and make all decisions for you” distributions. That place is not on my computer. And I feel that *buntu is increasingly going there.

  • Mathieu GP

    Xubuntu’s goals are to: “provide an easy to use distribution, based on Ubuntu, using Xfce as the graphical desktop, with a focus on integration, usability and performance, with a particular focus on low memory footprint. The integration in Xubuntu is at a configuration level, a toolkit level, and matching the underlying technology beneath the desktop in Ubuntu. Xubuntu will be built and developed autonomously as part of the wider Ubuntu community, based around the ideals and values of Ubuntu.”

    • Jon

      And Xubuntu is a VERY bloated install of XFCE, further illustrating the OPs points.

    • As the quote mentions, the XFCE Desktop has a focus on low memory, but that’s not the point. I run Gnome and that has a might big footprint and I’m OK with that. Just Like Jon says, the Xubuntu is very Bloated. All the extra software that’s installed by default that I don’t user and I’m pretty sure 95% of the users never touch.

      Just open your Synaptic Package Manager, search for Ubuntu-desktop and check how many dependencies this package has. BTW Ubuntu-desktop is the package that basically installs the Gnome Desktop.
      I’ll name a few that 95% of the users never touch:
      Package: Vinagre
      What is it: Sounds like that blue pill but it is a VNC client (My bet is that 75% of the the users don’t even know what VNC is).
      Size: 5MB

      Package: xsane
      What is it: featureful [SIC] graphical frontend for SANE (Scanner Access Now Easy) Uh right That explains it.
      SANE stands for “Scanner Access Now Easy” and is an application programming interface (API) that provides standardized access to any raster image scanner hardware (flatbed scanner, hand-held scanner, video- and still-cameras, frame-grabbers, etc.).
      Size: 4MB

      Just two small examples, I know it’s only 9MB, heck my Nikon D300 camera takes pictures that are bigger than that, but what’s the point of having these applications if I don’t use them.

      • Paul

        While I agree that some things are bloated — I wouldn’t agree with your examples here. I think if you have graduated to linux you probably know what VNC is. I believe that Vinagre also acts as Remote Desktop client as well. Also XSANE is required for any scanning functionality, which many people still have.

  • Adonis

    lol…ubuntu…someone should outlaw that distro so that normal distros can finaly attention they deserve

  • sirj77

    I did some experiments some time back between Ubuntu and Debian. I was suspecting that Ubuntu was getting bloated, but I didn’t know how much. Ubuntu takes about 40-50meg more memory than Debian. That seem significant considering both OS’S were clean boot and idle.
    Another example is CrunchBang linux (love this for my laptop). Version 9.04 is ubuntu minimal base built, and runs open Openbox, uses about 85meg and cpu often shoots up to 25%+ idle on my laptop. Their new version is Debian based. I tried the Alpha 1 XFCE version, and Live it took a little less memory than the ubuntu openbox version I have installed, and didn’t eat the processor doing nothing (about 1-2%).
    So yeah, over the last 6 months or so, I’ve been working with Debian more than Ubuntu, and I like what I see.
    Lately Ubuntu has been having some other issues in the last month or so as well, which give me more reason to look elsewhere.

  • Nikola

    hmmm strange, you mention bloated apps, and yet adobe pdf reader and tweet deck are the most bloated apps that I’ve come across.

    • I know Tweetdeck and Adobe are bloated, but I have yet to find a twitter client that has the same functionality as Tweetdeck. I tried a couple but couldn’t find one to my liking. Same with Adobe I tried Foxit, but I just couldn’t get used to it. BTW I just downloaded Foxit again while typing this and it has gotten better, or maybe I just had a bit more patience. I’ll give it a try.

      I’m running Gnome but I also run KDE’s Calendar, because it does exactly what I need. Installing KDE in Gnome comes with a tremendous amount of extra packages but it isn’t installed by default. Until there will be a equivalent calendar in Gnome I’ll keep using the kOrganizer.

      The first thing I removed from my Desktop when I started with Ubuntu was Evolution. I didn’t want it, back then I preferred Thunderbird, since that time that one is replaced by Claws Mail.

  • onavir

    I may agree 100% with your conclusion:
    ” Looking at this list it makes me wonder if I have a good reason to stick with Ubuntu, and the conclusion is I don’t, ”

    But regarding these,

    “Many years have passed since that decision and things have changed with Ubuntu.”
    “Take Tomboy for example, the default and very simple note taking application in Gnome.”

    My idea is that Tomboy in not part of the changes you mention. I’m pretty sure it has been part of the Ubuntu default build since it’s first release.

    • Tomboy was part of Dapper, so you are right about that. In Dapper the size was 1MB and now it’s 9.8MB.

  • harryw

    As long as they don’t slow down the boot-up time I see no reason why these programs shouldn’t be present on the HD. A lot of people use X-Sane (I’m one) and, I suspect, all the other programs you complain of as ‘bloat’. If you have a large HD – and most of us have – why not use it?
    Incidentally, X-Sane on 9.10 finds my old Canon scanner whereas Windows 7 doesn’t.

    • And why not use the space, that the programs you don’t use occupy, for data storage, like your images that you scan.
      With Ubuntu Lucid Lynx they are removing Gimp from the default installation so if you want to use it, you’ll have to install it yourself.
      And I agree with you about boot time and on that note I wonder what Beagle does to the overall performance.

      Don’t get me wrong, I don’t say get rid of all the software Ubuntu offers, heck it’s great to have such a big software library (now if they only would keep it up to date with the latest versions out there)

  • same thought that the first comment, you _have to_ give a try to Arch Linux, Don’t get stuck with Ubuntu.
    When you start check dependency, and try to customise everythings, that the sign to switch to something else !

  • Once upon a time, all linux distros were installed “from the ground up”, meaning you started with a base install and worked your way up from there. Sometime around 2003 or 2004, the LiveCD came along, and when Ubuntu came out in 2005, it was partly the ability to install using a LiveCD that made it popular.

    LiveCD install is a great way to install; among other things, it gives new users a nice selection of packages for basic functionality. The downside is that it installs a lot of things you don’t use.

    Eventually most users grow out of this approach. The nice thing, just about every distribution offers some way of installing a minimal install and building the system you want from there. Ubuntu is no different. I usually set up Ubuntu and debian machines these days using my PXE boot server, the net installers, and a local apt-mirror. Saves a CD, and creates a system exactly to my specifications with all the patches already installed.

    As for bloat — I think we need to be careful throwing this word around. One man’s bloat is another man’s killer feature. I used to obsess over the wasted space on my installs, until I decided that I’d rather have features readily available when I need them rather than a few extra MB of hard drive space that I wouldn’t have needed anyway.

  • SwiftNet

    The beauty is having the option to choose. I use Debian on my netbook, laptop and servers. I find it offers excellent performance and a huge selection of pre-compiled packages. I use E17 for my gui. It is lightweight, intuitive, fast and attractive. Good luck on your quest for your perfect distro.

  • w1ngnutz

    lol… this post is so irrelevant! I would agree with the Tomboy statement, they really should get rid of it (not because of mono itself but because it requires 25+ mbs of libs to be installed) AND there are options but c’mon, are you serious? You really think a distro is just a bunch of precompiled softwares put together? Why don’t u use slackware or arch instead… and please your self doing everything from the scratch. If It would make you happier, take your time. And if your distro doesn’t run on your new hardware out of the box, please come back to ubuntu.

    • Like I said in the beginning of the article, the reason I choose Ubuntu is the fact that it ran out of the box.

      I know a distro is not just a bunch of precompiled applications put together. The kernel Ubuntu is running has a whole lot code made by Canonical. I’m not looking to do everything myself, I just like to run up to date software hence I use PPA’s and compile my own stuff.

      I think most of us like to run newer software, and that’s why we upgrade to the newer version of the distro or upgrade the application when it comes out.
      What I am saying is that the distro I am running is not really Ubuntu anymore, and that is for the reasons I mention.

      • w1ngnutz

        Isn’t it why every distro is all about? I mean, few days ago Mr. Shuttleworth proposed a sync between some of the main linux distros every 2 years if I quite remember. In the end you’ll be running the “same apps” on any distro you choose with the some minor differences (aka customizations) between them besides having support/community support. For instance, ubuntu will bring daily updates and every 6 months a new version. It’ll have bugs, of course, every software has but you keep your efforts on what’s important to you, not on building the lastest code from scratch our editing the .c file to make it run on your system. Apart from that, I still think that – amongst all distros, Ubuntu is making the best into integrating things on the desktop and *this is what matters to me* besides running the linux kernel and gnome. And you choose what matters to you – this is the beauty of GNU and FOSS.

  • Qchan

    You people sound like a bunch of whiny babies. So what you don’t like Ubuntu. Use something else. That’s the beauty of Linux; choice. If you think one distro sucks, use another one. You’re not forced to stick to any one distro.

    Since the beginning, Ubuntu was designed to attract new users to the Linux community. With the inclusion of Lucid Lynx, it is continuing to do so. I applaud Mark Shuttleworth for what he’s doing. He’s doing the opposite of what you elitists want him to do; and that’s to make Ubuntu more accessible to new users. None of you are new users, so shut up and use something else.

    • Well that’s the question here, am I’m running Ubuntu or not?
      When I boot up my laptop, which happens maybe once a month, I see the Ubuntu logo, the kernel I run has Ubuntu patches, but I think it could just as easy be Fedora, OpenSuse, Arch, Slackware, Mepis, Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Lubuntu.
      If I ran any of these distro’s I probably could ask the same question.

      I’m applauding Mark as well. He clearly brought Linux to the desktop, more than Fedora or Opensuse ever did.

      • Rahul Sundaram

        I think, you might very easily overlooking Fedora’s extensive contributions to Linux on the desktop. Here is a partial sample

        You might want to take a look at Fedora 12. Comes with Gnote by default for which I am the maintainer for and a number of things have changed since the last time you probably tried it.

        • I’m sure Suse (Novell) also contributed extensively to Linux on the Desktop, but as far as it comes to having people install Linux on their desktop I really believe Mark did a better job.

          When I started installing Ubuntu on a laptop as Desktop I tried Ubuntu, Fedora and OpenSuse. It was with Ubuntu that I didn’t have to search on the Internet for drivers for my wireless card. Yeah I got Fedora to work but unlike Ubuntu it didn’t work out of the box.

          Does this make Ubuntu better as Fedora? No I don’t think so, either distro has it pros and cons.
          People just embraced Ubuntu more.

          A parallel can be drawn back in the days of VCR’s. There were a couple of systems out there, VHS, Betamax and a few others. VHS wasn’t the best, but the people embraced it and the other systems disappeared.

          • Rahul Sundaram

            Well you are conflating slightly different things. Fedora has a very strong emphasis on free and open source software. So if the hardware requires proprietary drivers, Fedora will work on a free replacement (ie) Nouveau instead of the proprietary Nvidia driver which leads to long term benefit. Fedora’s goal is all about growth of free and open source software and a good base for contributors. That’s a different target. I think, it is easy to overlook the real investments made by others and look at the short term opportunities. That would be missing the big picture.

          • I understand the goals for Fedora and Ubuntu are different. I strongly believe Mark’s final goal is to make money but that’s beyond the point.

            Even though Fedora’s goal is a noble one, it’s limiting itself to be installed on certain hardware as there might not be a good free replacement at that time.

            Again I’m not saying that Fedora/Redhat is not contributing, but exposing new users to Linux is something Ubuntu is doing better.

  • Bender

    If you want a fast, memory efficient distro then gentoo is for You. I am using gentoo with KDE 4.4.1 right now and guess how much memory it takes on start? 90MB.

    Yesterday i tested Ubuntu 10.4 Beta 1 and guess how much it used? 490MB!! It may be that it is a beta but still using this on a netbook is an overkill.

    While i have been using arch earlier then gentoo gives you complete control over your system and it is You that decides what features you will activate and what features you disable.

    You don’t want nepomuk/semantic-desktop on KDE? No problem, don’t want X? No problem. And it’s dependency solver is great!

    Of course it takes a little bit to learn all those stuff but it is worth it. My Samsung N130 starts in 20 seconds i kid You not. That’s how great it is 🙂

  • microMXL

    Same here, tried arch, it was very good but I’m more used to gentoo, so that’s for me

  • Rahul Sundaram

    “Again I’m not saying that Fedora/Redhat is not contributing, but exposing new users to Linux is something Ubuntu is doing better”

    Perhaps but the cost of that should always be considered. I just think, compromises with proprietary drivers are too high a cost.

  • TangoMikeMike

    Just build your own distro online..i guess you can add just what packages you need.

  • Casey

    I use both ubuntu karmic, test with lucid and play with arch. I’ve been moving over to lucid pretty exclusively, but I love the arch partition/install as I can play with more edge of the cliff software, and tweak the system to my heart’s content and learn about the why’s n’ wherefores of how things actually function ‘neath the hood…but the more I test lucid, the more impressed by the polish, the stability and the direction its going I am.

    Oh and on that “mono” issue…sure its “bloat” if all you use is one application, but that framework supports different applications in the same way .net does on the ‘doze side….and as I prefer banshee and a few other mono apps, the bloat lessens considerably in that light.

    Also, you point out bloat in the “megabytes”. Umm… I have 2+ TERRABYTES of disk space for what I want and 4 gigabytes of RAM to run it in….and the latest terrabyte drive I dropped in….well oh shucks and geez it cost an entire 100 dollars.

    The “bloat”? That is such a moving target term as to be completely meaningless for 99% of the users out there. Some folks will scream “bloat” if the damn code is in C# vs. assembler. To most of us…if the shiz works, and does what we want it to…it ain’t bloat.

    Lastly, PPA’s? difficult? Since Karmic they’re click click done, and nice to have for those who wish to be more cutting edge with the software packages.

    I definitely agree with the OP though…ubuntu “just works” and THAT is the primary reason it is my “home” for day to day work/play. Things that choke other distributions, ubuntu for the most part is as slick as a mac in the “it just works” category.

  • You could also try sidux, it’s a very good distribution based on Debian sid with improved stability and a clean upgrade path.

    I installed it for the first time about 1.5 years ago and I never looked back.

  • I run Ubuntu for many reasons. Here are two that stand out:

    1) Community: Ubuntu has a strong sense of community (in the local sense). It’s not just software. What does that mean? Local support, meetings, events, fun!

    2) The Ubuntu Ethos: “Humanity to others”. Ubuntu strives to enable everyone’s access to information tools, without prejudice. There is specific focus given to making it as easy as possible for new users to enjoy.

    Ubuntu’s goal to put humans first is unique and commendable.


  • LM

    I have a very old laptop that I wanted to update with a modern operating system and the latest versions of programs. I tried about a half dozen different Open Source operating systems on it including Arch. Finally ended up running FreeBSD on it because it made best allocation of the limited resources on my machine. As to whether I’m running alternative software, with any system I would have tried, I would have ended up running alternative software. Seemed like every system didn’t have exactly the applications that I wanted to run. I ended up having to compile most of them from scratch and am working on some scripts that will run on a variety of operating systems and patch and build programs, so I don’t have to remember the steps to build by hand each time. I agree with the author’s concern about code bloat. I’m not using Gnome or KDE desktop or applications. I tried to stay mainly with lightweight and if possible, cross-platform applications in C or C++ that didn’t require a lot of extra libraries. Am pretty satisfied with the results.

  • Phillip K. Erskine

    The deeper I go into down the rabbit hole that is Linux (penguin hole?), the more the question “which distro?” seems irrelevant, or even unintelligable. What distro am I running? Well, if I remembered correctly, I installed Mint Isadora. At the moment, I’m logged into a Xubuntu session, and for some reason that I don’t entirely understand, my system monitor screenlet says that my OS is Debian Squeeze.

    As far as I’m concerned, Mint is just Ubuntu with a facelift. Not to belittle Mint. I like it for exactly that reason–it means I don’t have to choose between one or the other. I can have either, or both simultaneously, or anything in between, and I can change my mind whenever I feel like it (as I often do) without having to reformat and nuke my system (as I also often do).

    This is why I like Ubuntu…compatibility, and easy access to all the software I could ever want. Just because I CAN teach myself how to compile my own software doesn’t mean I want to have to. I’m drawn to Linux because I enjoy tinkering, and because I always want something newer and shinier…and just different. I switched from Vista not because I didn’t like Vista or had any problems with it–I may be the only person who actually liked it. But after using it for three years, I needed something different, and I wasn’t ready to buy Windows 7.

    The more options I have to explore and the more software I have to play around with, the more likely I’ll be to stick around and continue to learn until eventually the day comes when compiling–or maybe even writing–my own software is something I can do in my sleep. But I don’t HAVE to struggle through all that first, and meanwhile have a boring, non-function computer, just to get Skype to install, and to get my hardware to function, etc.

    I too am a little put-off by Ubuntu’s attempts to dumb down everything as much as possible. But it’s still Linux under the hood…and on any Linux system, the hood is very easy to open. If you have the level of computer savvy that makes you annoyed by the dumbed-down approach, you shouldn’t have much trouble learning how to make it do what you want anyway.

  • I guess if you’re looking for simplicity, Arch linux is for you. In the end it all boils down to preference.