Ubuntu Linux Gnome Desktop Gripes

3 04 2009

I’ve been using Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex as my desktop platform of choice on clipper for a few months now. As part of that changeover, I also switched to using Gnome as my desktop environment.
I have to say, after my initial “ohh, look, this just works” with Gnome, the shine has certainly come off. There’s a consistent series of twitches that are causing me to grit my teeth whenever I come across them. Some of them have been identified in the Ubuntu bug tracker, and even after numerous comments and “me too” updates, the powers that be have not seen fit to include the fixes into the regular updates.
My guess is they’re waiting for Jaunty Jackalope, which is scheduled to be released this month. Be that as it may, I’m going to list out my current gripes now, and hopefully in a few weeks, when Jaunty is released, we can see if these will be addressed.
Compiz Window issues
There’s an annoying bug in how Compiz interracts with gnome’s window manager. In particular, transitory windows (such as the calendar popup, the ‘shut down..’ dialog box, etc), tend to pop up underneath existing windows. So it’s common to go to System->Shut down, and apparently nothing happens. Alt-tabbing, you find the shutdown dialog box buried under existing windows.
Shutdown Madness!
Speaking of the shutdown dialog, lets hear it for inconsistent interface design. On other Linux installs, and under KDE, hitting control-alt-delete brought up the suspend / logout / shut down dialog. Not so under Ibex! Control-Alt-Delete brings up a dialog that JUST has “Switch User” and “Logout” (and, as noted above, it tends to be under other windows). Suspend is not on that panel. To suspend, you have to mouse to System->Shutdown and select Suspend. Or, I found out recently, in the upper right corner you can click on a little ‘power’ icon, and select ‘shutdown’ on that menu. (Small tidbit – that pulldown menu looks completely different than the system menus. No icons, different layout. Nice going Gnome.)
Sound + PulseAudio
Anyone who has touched current versions of Linux has seen this come up, and the rants and vitriol have been piled all over the net. Some bright light in linux-land decided to set sound under Linux back half a decade. Getting sound working used to be quite a challenge, using the old OSS sound drivers, later replaced by the enormously stable and well supported ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) toolset. All was fine and dandy through multiple releases.
Then someone decided that that wasn’t good enough, and they introduced PulseAudio. Naturally, some tools support PulseAudio, some tools support ALSA. Under many circumstances, this will cause a deadlock, where an audio application simply will not play sound. The only way to clear it that I’ve found is to reboot, and even after that, chances are it will lock up again at some point.
Further research has shown that this instability is being blamed on a botched release of PulseAudio by the Ubuntu team (the Pulseaudio folks are blaming Ubuntu for the craptastic port), but be that as it may, it still has not been remedied. To me this is a HUGE issue, as I listen to sound and watch video every day on my laptop, and not knowing whether sound is going to work next time I sit down to do some coding for half an hour is a huge impediment.
Wireless Tools
I consistently have problems with the wireless browser not being able to ‘sniff out’ local networks. There appears to be no mechanism to say ‘scan for new networks now’ – there’s some passive ‘oh, I’ll get to it at some point, maybe’ timer mechanism there, and there’s no way to tickle it and say “No, really, you’re RIGHT NEXT to the WAP. Browse please!” Frustrating.
Conclusions
I’m not sure exactly where I’m going to go when Jaunty is released. I may do a from-scratch install (saving my home directory), just to make sure I don’t have old configuration details lying around. I’m still willing to stick with Gnome for one more release, but if the issues I’m finding have not be fixed, and progress on the environment doesn’t move forward, I’ll have to seriously consider seeing how KDE4 is doing, and switching back.

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