A few notes on Ubuntu 11.04

Right off the bat, I have to say that I’ve been using 11.04 on one of my computers since one of the earliest alpha releases, so I’ve had the opportunity to watch it mature.  It’s something I often do – pick one computer, and use it to test out the new versions of ubuntu, upgrading the packages daily to follow along with the progress of the development. It’s usually a rewarding process, and I enjoy fixing bugs and learning how the operating system components fit together.

This was one of the few times that it was a disappointment for me.

Normally, I’ll start the process a month after the newest release, spending about two months using highly unstable versions, which then improve over time so that nearly all of the bugs are gone about a month before the official release.  This time, the release has come and gone, and my computer still doesn’t feel particularly useful.

Unlike the majority of Ubuntu users, I’m not using the default Ubuntu with Gnome window manager (or is it unity, now?), but rather KDE + Compiz.  Unfortunately, while the KDE version of Ubuntu (Kubuntu) doesn’t appear to get nearly as much attentention from the devs, it usually does march in lockstep, giving reasonable releases that come together at the last minute.  Unusually, compiz just never did come back together for me.  Perhaps it has to do with the upgrades to the xorg packages, but something is just not right when using compiz.

The symptoms are frequent restarts and crashes of the windowing system, in which the CPU usage of compiz soars to 100% and fails to respond to anything short of a the “killl -9” command.  Unfortunately, that makes compiz totally unuseable.  Ironically, it seems to happen only when closing windows, which seems like a strange place for a bug.

The workaround, if it’s actually a work around, is to completely disable compiz, which means switching back to the default KDE window manager.  Fortunately, it’s stable, so at least I can use the computer.  Unfortunately, I find Compiz to be a significant boost to my productivity, with the rotating cube desktop, the scale plugin, etc.  All of those things really make the experience on the computer, so turning all of them off it just unapealing.

In any case, for now, I’ll be staying with 10.10 on my laptops and production computers until compiz is fixed, with the possibility of jumpping straight to 11.10 as soon as that begins if I see compiz gets a bit more of the attention it deserves.

Your milage may vary, but 11.04 isn’t likely to make an appearance on my main computers anytime soon.

6 thoughts on “A few notes on Ubuntu 11.04

  1. In my experience, compositing has always been unstable under KDE as you described.

    Right now is the first time EVER I have had compositing work without eventually eating the CPU and turning itself off. This is thanks to KDE 4.5.5 and from what I gather the problem occurs again in 4.6.x, which explains your problems.

    That said, I do not use Compiz but the KDE built-in Desktop Effects, which I believe do exactly the same thing.

    Its annoying as KDE just seems to have been in a permanent unstable state as long as I can remember (at least with nVidia), but Gnome just doesn’t function how I expect and everything else feels to primitive, so KDE is my only option.

    Thing is though if 4.6.x has these problems, Kubuntu really should have stayed with 4.5.5 as standard with 4.6.x as an option. I am the first person to choose cutting edge, but that really should not be the case for a standard install unless its confirmed stable.

    • That’s interesting to hear. I haven’t had problems with composting in KDE in a long time, though I’ll admit that it was variable depending on the video card. (Problems persisted on the intel drivers long after the NVIDIA drivers stabilized, but even those problems have been gone for a year or two now..)

      I have to admit, I really don’t like the built in KDE desktop effects – I’ve always found them to be clunky compared to compiz. In fact, I’d rather not have any effects than use them.

      Anyhow, I really haven’t had a lot of problems with the Nvidia drivers, and KDE has been pretty stable for the most part, since 10.04, so perhaps it’s also hardware dependent. What Video card are you using? Perhaps there just isn’t enough testing being done on that particular card.

      Cheers, and thanks for the comment!

      • I used an 8600GTS and now GT 240, the problems were the same until they magically disappeared when I updated to KDE 4.5.5. Could be a problem with the Mandriva versions I suppose as 4.5.5 is from a third-party repository (though that would seem odd that third-party works better than official).

        I always thought it was weird compositing had so many problems yet OpenGL applications still worked fine, made me suspect it wasn’t the drivers.

        This was all with the KDE desktop effects though so maybe its those that were the problem, had I used Compiz it might have been fine but I always found it tricky to get the configuration right, so stuck with what was already there.

        I am considering a switch to Kubutu which is how I stumbled onto your blog, but I aways have problems with vi in Debian not working with the arrow keys properly which puts me off. I expect basics like that to work from a stock install and it never does.

        • That’s really a different experience than I’ve had. I’m sure there are some great lessons to be learned here. At any rate, I think compositing has been really stable on the standard Nvidia drivers for at least a couple of years, although my experience with the desktop effects from KDE have been poor at best.

          If you’re going to try Kubuntu, I suspect that Kubuntu 10.11 + compiz window manager running over the nvidia proprietary drivers is probably the most stable configuration I’ve come across to date.

          I will, however, admit that I don’t use vi – but I haven’t had problems with the arrow keys. My pet peve is that I have 3 different Kubuntu 10.11/compiz computers, and each one behaves slightly differently on the command line, so it’s entirely possible that for many people vi does work correctly – but something is fishy in the config files in you home directory. You might try creating a new home directory or moving out the vi files and starting “fresh”. That tends to work well for me when things just fail out of the box.

          Good luck which ever way you decide to proceed!

          • The problem with vi has always been on fresh installs on various machines, that is why its so weird.

            I have never tried it with an existing home directory except going from Mandriva to Mandriva which never caused a problem with vi (although has broken KDE before having to wipe the .kde/.kde4 directory).

            One of my worries migrating is going from Mandriva to Kubuntu, will it break with my old home directory and will it have all the software I had before? I would think it would have more pre-compiled software available, but you can never be sure.

            I have always been one to try bleeding edge software (though I would prefer not to for KDE just sticking to a stable version) as for a lot of software it means new functionality. Kaffeine was a biggie at one point (still trying to get DVB-S2 working) but that happily compiled on its own without needing to upgrade KDE itself.

            Naturally I prefer not to have to compile at all as there always a chance of an error 2 you can’t solve.

          • I really can’t speak to vi, but it does sound weird to have different behaviour for different machines. Does vi have a hardware dependent behaviour? I wouldn’t have expected that.

            As for home directories, I’ve gone from Fedora to Ubuntu to kubuntu without breaking home directories, though eventually I’ve found that it’s worth starting over – sometimes old setting are preserved long after they’re necessary. (eg. Openoffice used to be one of those programs that benefited from deleting the ~/.openoffice directory.) But, regardless, I’ve never heard of a home directory being screwed up by changing distributions. If anything, most linux programs are too conservative about overwriting changes there.

            Anyhow, if you dual boot mandriva/ubuntu and point both to the same home directory (assuming you have it on a separate partition), You could test out both. I don’t see any reason to seriously worry about making a mess of a /home/ partition when testing distros that way.

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