Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty) upgrade introduced nasty bugs and flaws
Author: Igor H. Pirnovar

 

After installing the latest 11.04 Ubuntu upgrade from Maverick to Natty, beside a huge disappointment with both of the two new GUI shells, namely Unity and GNOME3 shell, a few nasty surprises cropped up:

  1. Evolution mail lost my address books
  2. Folders and Trash inaccessible
  3. Inaccessible international keyboards
  4. No place for hardware indicators
  5. Control icons in notification area disappeared
  6. Skype notification icon disappeared
  7. Open in new Window <Ctrl+N>
  8. Workspace control worse now
  9. Mouse clicks in some apps. often become totally insensitive
  10. Selecting GUI shells

The most disturbing is the loss of data in Contacts namely almost all, except the most recently used address books in Evolution email are lost. It looked as if the upgrade wiped out large portion of directory structure under ~/.evolution directory branch. I have found the missing files though in a different place namely under ~/.local/share/evolution. Somebody must have reorganized the directory structure, however they have not propagated all the changes to the application level setups!

A similar problem pops up with the Trash, as well as with the file access to folders in that reside under Places on the panel in Ubuntu Classic. One does not have access to these items. Since I also found Trash directory structure under the ~/.local/share I believe the problems with address books in contacts exhibit similar symptoms.

Second worse or even worse than that is the loss of multi-lingual abilities on Ubuntu. All the above is true for all available display managers, so it must be related to the Natty itself! Please, responsible folks at Ubuntu address these problems as soon as you can! We have never in Unix/Linux history been so disappointed with a regular release of OS!

 

Evolution mail lost my address books

Evolution: in Contacts most of address books are inaccessible

 

File folders and trash are inaccessible

Places -> Any Folder -- is inaccessible; with the error: Could not create the archieve Trash can is inaccessible; with the error: Could not create the archieve Places -> Any Folder -- is inaccessible; with the error: Could not create the archieve

To circumvent the file access until they fix this problem you can Create Launcher by right-clicking on the desktop background, and create a clickable command nautilus.

 

Inaccessible international keyboards

This problem is a very nasty one, since it rendered multilingual work on Ubuntu virtually impossible. Not only did I lose Russian and my native Middle European keyboard layouts and languages, I also lost Sanskrit for my linguistic research. I have to use my old 32-bit systems with older releases to handle emergencies and communications with the world at large in these languages.

I hope one of these days my Update manager will fix this problem, otherwise I'll seriously start thinking to reinstall Maverick on my favourite 64bit box!

 

In Unity and GNOME3 hardware monitors and indicators no longer possible

Hardware monitors and indicators in Ubuntu Classic still there

Until this problem will be fixed the solution is to switch to Ubuntu Classic. However, are my assumptions about this issue to be resolved reasonable, or just a wishful thinking, especially since Ubuntu announced they plan to remove Ubuntu classic from the future releases.

Also it would be nice to know what are the plans for GMOME 3 shell with regards to hardware monitors and indicators.

 

Some vital control icons in notification area have disappeared

Though the most disturbing disappearance of international language keyboards from the notification area, seems to be related also to some other keyboard presentation problems, there are other applications that fail to appear or work in the notification area. So for instance Istanbul screencast control icon is no more accessible though the application is running in background!

Until this problem will be fixed the solution is to switch to either Ubuntu Classic or GNOME 3 shell. An alternative to switching to different display manager is to install and use other screencasting software for instance the Desktop recorder or XVidCap screencast package, however, you should be careful since you will need to remember that libavcodec52 and libautil50 will be removed from your installation in order to accommodate the XVidCap installation.

 

Skype notification icon disappeared

This bug, and those above with multilingual-keyboards and screencasts all point to the problems in the notification area, where there is an impasse between the two sides GNOME and Ubuntu. The bug in Unity, as well as Ubuntu Classic seems to be inconsistent in times it appears the problem is on Unity side other times it appears to be in Ubuntu classic. Notifications in GNOME 3 shell seem to work impeccably, however.

I consider this a rather unpleasant bug or error which causes a lot of grief to those who are not computer savvy and were lured into upgrading to Unity, especially if they became accustomed to their communications protocols they have established with their partners, friends and family over the years.

Hardware monitors and indicators in Ubuntu Classic still there

 

Launch of applications in new window should be almost always available

Though none of the suggestions and the critique here really matter to those of us, who would, providing we had a choice, never enable Unity nor equally dumb GNOME 3 shell UIs (user interfaces), from the standpoint of those on the other side of the divide between the flat /icon/ and the hierarchical desktop organizations, I may add, that both GNOME 3 and Unity application launcher or docks are a bitter disappointment. Especially are they both rather ugly, and missing a lot of functionality, found in its Apple's as well as some other Linux display manager counterparts. First of all configuring the icon size, or for now a lot of other missing configurable options, in some tucked away "Python menu" should be made click-able on the spot. As well as the dock location, as promised and a more eye pleasing appearance of the dock together with the looking glass effect would be much appreciated in the future. Let the users decide where they want to have the dock. Indeed, GNOME developers, have painted themselves into a corner with their "improved" workspace management panels on the right side and notification panel at the bottom. The fact that Ubuntu developers follow their suite despite the fact that they have different workspace and notification arrangements makes me wander how much prematurely Unity was scheduled to roll out or, indeed, how bad is the design underneath, not to allow for the flexibility to move object around effortlessly. Placement of control objects on the display should really not be an issue, and notifications could always be made hoverable just like Skype notification on Classic Linux is, and which has no trouble appearing and disappearing at the bottom of the screen over the taskbar when a notification message is triggered.

Unity's application launcher or dock, however, has one major flaw, namely, it should provide default option for most applications to open in a new window. This is also a good example of how much worse the new "improved" desktop designs are in comparison with the old ones, where you always know what will happen when you click an icon on the panel, and where will the application go when you minimize it. Indeed, minimizing an application is no longer an option in some cases. What an improvement is that? Scale down the number of simultaneously opened applications and you'll be fine. "Less is more" surely does not apply here. With the new designs users lost control over their workspaces, and to make things worse the dynamic aspects of new designs demand increased user involvement and attention first selecting the right choices from the pull-down menus on a selected icon in the dock and then by an even more disturbing distraction in the form of a ridiculous presentation of miniature multiple choices selections of arbitrarily placed windows in the helper virtual workspace panels, where all the applications of the same type from all workspaces are cluttered onto the same space. A miniature display of all workspaces simultaneously, where most of applications are either hidden behind open windows or worse minimized is no replacement for a systematically arranged list of applications on each workspace taskbar.

While some of the cosmetics could be easily fixed I am afraid that the way Unity's application launcher dock is entangled with workspace management is the worst between all of the competing display managers out there. GNOME 3 shell is currently even uglier, however it is more intuitive and hides less surprising behaviours than Unity's dock incarnation. Though it would by no stretch of imagination solve any of the above problems, the most obvious and immediatly required fix in Unity should be the addition of Open a New Window option for most applications.

Some applications should always have the option to open in new window

Some applications should always have the option <Ctrl+N> to open in new window, especially when one needs to populate other than by Unity selected workspace!

Unfortunately, to control the workspace population as well as navigation, there will hardly ever be anything better than the old taskbar! I doubt that Compiz will improve anything, unless it will also be capable of spinning the cube with Ubuntu classic workspaces, or if an optional taskbar together with the old Workspace Switcher will become possible in Unity.

 

Workspace control in Unity is now much worse than before

The move by both Ubuntu and GNOME to develop display management foundation which eventually will provide capabilities not unlike those designed to manage computer tablets and phones is a rather unwelcome development for desktop environments. While the simplification may be appealing for average computer user it is utterly unacceptable in almost any serious professional environment. Let us hope they will come to some kind of a compromise and that they will find some way for these two display management extremes, namely the old hierarchical desktop organizations on one the side and the new flat /icon based/ organizations on the other to permanently coexist side by side at least on desktops.

But let us for the moment forget about our over many decades evolving and indeed, very solid and well tested desktop management devices and techniques which have very little to gain from the "singular-like" desktop flat organizations on phone and tablet devices, and focus on the recent Unity and GNOME 3 novices.

Ironically, the proponents, indeed, mostly those who were involved in the development of the new toys on both sides of the Ubuntu/GNOME divide are advocating, that the most important new features in both Unity and GNOME 3 shell are Workspace management arrangements, which, I should add, for the majority of "finger sliding" or "mouse pushing" users, truly simplify multi-workspace experience to appear almost as if everything were happening on a single "place" to which you can pull applications that are tucked away into some hidden corner where they disappear and magically reappear when needed, but can still be accessed if you know the tricks that allow you to pick at them dangling behind the background on those neat transparent panels. Unity in this respect is much worse than GNOME 3 shell which at least provides some top level visual proof for where things are, though Ubuntu hoped to do the same by copying and "improving" the attractive Apple's workspace management techniques, which indeed is neat, however, it never could live up to user multi-workspace experience on Linux desktops, that is, until the recent besotting or dumbing of our Linux desktop environments. Arguably this was the reason we never kicked our Linux systems onto some virtual box. To this day the efficiency and productivity of Linux users remains unchallenged and unmatched thanks to the superior desktop organizations we depend on. Destroy this, as we are witnessing with Unity and GNOME 3 shell, and a large portion of our community will do just that, namely switch the host and guest OSes in virtual boxes.

Unless, the folks at Ubuntu and GNOME come to their senses, and do not get blinded with the acceptance of lower standards by the masses, the odds that Linux which as the successor of Unix managed to remain our workhorse for almost half a century will become a second class citizen, have just dramatically increased! I can not imagine anyone who will not notice that on neither incarnation of the two toy-like Linux desktops one can almost never be sure which workspace is currently active, not to mention the fact that in the new environments we completely lost the ability of tracking where our applications reside without the unwelcome distraction from our work while clicking around the magic screen corners, sides, and behind background hidden transparent workspace panels. And last but not the least, unlike in GNOME's shell, on Unity most of the icons in the application launcher dock do not provide the <Ctrl+N> option, for an application to be opened in a new window, which complicates the aspect of controlling workspace even more.

Even if they make all the suggested improvements, without an independent task-bar on each workspace, it is simply inconceivable how one could efficiently control hundreds of simultaneously opened applications and data views in these two new Linux desktop environments. It should be pointed out that GNOME's vision with some thought on utility of workspace management wins hands down over Apple's like neatness which by the way in Unity turned rather ugly. Be it as it may, the shift to flattening the hierarchical top-down view of work environment is a dumb decision for anyone who uses the computer for more than browsing Internet, maintaining contacts with friends and perhaps to amuse themselves with entertainment available on the cloud. We are far from the times when computers will do all the work, as kids may have come to understand a Star trek vision of "finger-pushing computing".

 

Mouse clicks in some applications often become totally insensitive

There may be a problem with GUI event / signal mechanism. Mouse click sometimes freeze, most often this happens in Text Editor (GEdit) when you try to highlight the text, and subsequently move or delete it. What is strange is that this happens consistently only over certain lines or segments of text. To force it to work, you have to keep mouse clicked over the text that blocked the mouse clicks for very long time periods (up to 10 seconds) and repeat what you wanted to do in the first place. Moving a cursor and splitting up a line, usually renders a more acceptable delays and editing screw-ups during cut-n-paste like operations.

This sure looks like a GEdit bug, however the same happens in other other applications most notably when you try to highlight a text in FireFox. This started to happen already in Maverick, however in Natty it seems to be much worse!

 

Selecting, setting or switching GUI shells should be better exposed to the user

Ubuntu should make users aware that there is a way back to the old ways if they didn't like the experience in half broken Unity. This is why I include the following description of what you can do to switch between different screen managers.

First step to switch GUI shells is to open Control Center by clicking System Settings on Shutdown Menu. However depending on which display manager you are currently running this may not be always possible. GNOME3 shell for instance has a bug in this area and selecting System Settings from pull down User (Shutdown) Menu menu will not do anything. In this case you should start it up by finding the appropriate application by searching for System Settings or execute either gnome-control-center or gdmsetup commands from a terminal.

In Unity or in GNOME3 shell you can always find your program by typing application names in search fields on the applications panels. Following is the example from Unity, where I searched for names starting with the letters "sy":

You can always find your program by searching the applications panels

Following is the example of few things that show you how to switch between different display managers (shells). These examples are from Ubuntu Classic, where all works as it should:

First stet to switch GUI shells is to open Control Center by clicking System Settings on Shutdown Menu In Control Center you select (click) Login Screen to open Login Screen Setting window Display manager choices

Indeed, you set up the desired display manager (shell) on Login Screen Setting window, by choosing it from the session pul-down menu, where you can select either Ubuntu Clasic, or to run Unity you should select plain Ubuntu. Providing you installed GNOME 3 shell, your choice will also be Ubuntu GNOME shell desktop.

 

Conclusion
Undesirable improvements and unaddressed letdowns

Just like a few releases back, when I noticed that somebody decided to "improve" aspell by violating the most cherished Unix/Linux property, namely the one providing a backdoor to configuration management via simple text editing tools from simple text terminals, and made disappear the local ascii aspell dictionary files where one could manage additions and corrections of mistakenly added misspelled words, so too "current improvements" resemble the work of people without much appreciation for our traditions and impeccable consistency with which Unix managed to stay light years ahead of all the competitors for half a century, that is until now!

Besides, as is evident from the mouse button sensitivity problems manifested in cut-n-paste mouse-event notification or signalling as well as persistent problems in notification area, the newly emerging young computer professionals on both side of the divide do not seem to have solid command of the inner-workings of possibly one of the most promising GNOME technologies, namely, the famous and fantastic GObject, which brings object orientation virtually down to the assembler level, and in this area beats hands down all the competitors who built their OSes as well as basic GUI assembly blocks and libraries in either C++, Objective-C, Java or in any other programming language for that matter.

There seems to be little interest of fixing problems, while everybody is focused on brain-numbing and perhaps even damaging tablet and phone technologies that offer little more than convenience for computer illiterate audiences. All major players in desktop software industry seem to be vastly influenced by the lowest possible common denominator in technical competency and standards by the trends that drive the mass production of huge quantities of useless apps, by which their acceptance and popularity are measured. I do not mind, if development and interest go in the direction where things seem to be in large demand and enjoy vast popularity, but not on the expense of quality, efficiency, productivity, knowledge and other professional needs, that drive the development in the first place.

However, how useful for the public which is the basic resource for organizations such as OSF is the software that is sifted through some corporate sieve, and which if at all useful, becomes the property of some proprietary establishment, while the majority of small useless crumbs are allowed to fall through into the vast Internet space. It looks that GNOME 3 shell and Unity, which let's be honest, is a twin copy of that latest GNOME concoction are assembled from such crumbs, while the true goodies, which kept Linux above all its competitors and on which the foundation for GNOME and Gtk rest in time will only be understood by the big brother - the maker of supercomputers. Linux and its public property will be robbed again, only this time there's nothing left behind but brainless apps that adorn the tablets' and phones' displays. Is this the end of Linux dominance as the best environment for the most advanced computer professionals, who as many pundits are correctly pointing out, are not targeted by Ubuntu? It's not Ubuntu dummy! Its GNOME which was the last and the most valuable Linux asset and which just got a lot dumber and useless.

How little professionals and pundits who write about the latest developments in Linux desktop arena understand the background and implications of these developments is apparent when considering how often the latest changes of desktop designs are ignorantly brushed away as not important, which they back up by pointing to a plethora of other desktop environments from which we can choose. The trouble is that almost nobody seems to understand, the importance of GNOME foundation on which rest many different segments of Linux stalk of programming languages and other applications. GNOME is the true unifying factor and guardian of inter-language compatibility the, true common denominator for almost all possible compiled as well as interpreted computer languages available on Linux. Who will take its place if they really manage to screw it up? I do not want to submit to some Java or C++ crap and subsequently to Qt. Besides even these software platforms rely on GNOME's C based GObject libraries. How, nearsighted must be all those developers who are actively tearing apart the very fabric of Linux and at the same time can not live without Python and its dependency on GNOME/Gtk stuff? No, losing GNOME on Linux simply is not an option!


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©2011 Igor H. Pirnovar (HiBiTek: GNOME/Gtk+/GObject Project).
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