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Help Me Stay on Linux - Maybe a New Distro?

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
Hello OCN. I really need your help - or at least to see if I'm not alone here... I know this is a long post, but I wanted to get these issues out in the open to see if anyone shares them or has any solutions. Ultimately, I would love to continue using Linux as my primary OS, but I need to either solve these in Ubuntu or pick a new distro.

I have been using one Linux variant or another for almost 15 years. First I used RedHat, then Debian, and currently Ubuntu. I am a software engineer and quiet adept in programming, computers, Linux, etc. Over the past couple years, I have become increasingly frustrated with Ubuntu. It seems that every version they release is plagued with bugs - and pretty major ones at that. I know not all of them are Canonical's fault, but it is their decision to release what and when they choose. Ubuntu does not backport many fixes and each version introduces regressions. Here are some of the problems that affect me and the relatives I support:
  • Many common printers that used to function perfectly in Ubuntu 10.10 no longer work in 11.04 and 11.10. (ex. HP LaserJet 1020). Several different drivers were tried. The download from HP refuses to install because of an error.
  • Very poor multi-screen support. Dual screens kinda work with TwinView or AMD's equivalent, but it is clear that the desktop environments were built with a single screen in mind. KDE has several bugs related to multiple screens. With more than two screens, it would keep crashing. Changing number of screens after setting your desktop up requires you to purge KDE settings manually before the desktop will load successfully, etc. Three screens are only supported with a "hack" called Xinerama. In that case. desktop effects are not supported and there are screen draw issues and other problems.
  • Don't get me started on Unity. I don't necessarily think it's bad for a novice user, but I don't know many advanced users who like it. The showstopper for me is that it breaks "focus follows mouse" by putting the menus always at the top of the screen.
  • With the Ubuntu 11.10, Gnome 2.x has been phased out. I can understand that, but Gnome 3 doesn't seem ready as a replacement. I like some of the design ideas in Gnome 3, but important features are missing. For example, I used to like monitoring my system usage and temperatures at a glance in the panel. There is no more panel. It does take slightly longer to switch between apps or maximize windows. This isn't a big deal, but every little inconvenience adds up when using a computer all day. Gnome 3 really isn't set up for multiple screens at all. It is buggy, doesn't lock the screen when it should, the icons in the notification area are cumbersome to find and click, and I can't figure out how to just see my buddy list or bring up an IM conversation window without many steps. The speed is ok, but they are dumbing things down and have removed features. I guess this really isn't Ubuntu's fault.
  • For the past year and a half, there has been a bug (I think with compiz) where the Gnome user interface feels sluggish. This varies based on system hardware, but both AMD and nvidia systems are affected. This bug is epitomized when you run glxgears and the gears barely move but the terminal reports 5000fps. Scrolling lags way behind my mouse movements and simple desktop effects like highlighting icons takes about a second to occur. With compiz disabled, the system feels snappy again and everything works as it should, but it also doesn't feel like a modern operating system anymore. The compiz version from 2 years ago didn't have this problem. It was reported then and not yet fixed. It happens to every computer I have or have set up on varying configurations (AMD desktop, Intel/Nvidia laptop, integrated graphics, discrete GPU, etc.). These are modern, powerful systems like my sig rig. This makes using my computer painful for long periods. You know something's wrong when I boot into Windows and the snappiness feels like a breath of fresh air.
  • KDE doesn't suffer from the above compiz bug, but KDE just seems bloated and more sluggish than Gnome overall anyway. I keep wanting to like KDE and I try it every year, but I keep switching back. Sure there are bugs too, but it's the laggy feeling that's the worst. My sig rig is powerful enough to overcome this lag, but I had to stop using KDE because it would crash with three screens, dual GPUs, and Xinerama.
  • There is definitely very little GPU acceleration in applications and we seem to lag way behind on multi-threaded transcoding apps. Avidemux kinda works, but there always seem to be bugs with it or the resulting files - and not every codec is multi-thread aware. I haven't found anything that supports hardware transcoding. Native Flash 11 is an improvement, but it's no where near the speed and smoothness of Flash on Windows when playing videos. Maybe HTML5 to the rescue?
  • Transferring files on my local (gigabit) network is quite slow with CIFS (kernel smbfs). I have tweaked some kernel variables and improved it somewhat (which I shouldn't have to do), but I max out at 20MB/sec. Windows doesn't have this problem.
  • I have occasionally had static and stuttering when playing audio. I think this was a pulse problem and may have been fixed, but pulse has seemed very buggy since it came out.
  • Most everything I try to get working takes a LOT of effort, research on Google, tweaks, workarounds, etc. just to get to a starting point. I thought Ubuntu was supposed to "just work"?
  • Ubuntu 11.10 desktop install CD won't even boot on a Llano platform. If you install from the "alternate" disc, Xorg won't load when you next boot. You just end at a blank screen and can't even get to a terminal. Ubuntu 11.04 doesn't have this problem.
  • I haven't found a good video player for Ubuntu. VLC used to be my favorite, but lately there is a bug related to VLC and the VA-API library or something that causes VLC to segfault when playing videos with hardware acceleration enabled. Disabling hardware acceleration causes playback to be a bit less smooth not to mention that it utilizes my CPU that could be kept free for other tasks.
  • I've never been able to get vsync working in Linux. I get screen tearing artifacts all the time, all over the place. It's worst on my Linux HTPC.
  • The stock Ubuntu kernel uses a very general, all-purpose configuration with not too much emphasis on interactivity. I know they are trying to balance many factors and it's not that bad overall, but users want excellent interactivity and "snappiness" on a Desktop. They would gladly sacrifice a little throughput efficiency for zero lag. Windows is not without its problems in this area, but it's better than Ubuntu. I currently run a custom compiled zen kernel with the ck patch to remedy this though that's not something a typical user would want to do. Without my custom kernel, music will skip while I'm running Folding@home in the background (nice level 19) for example.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. If you've made it this far, thanks for reading!

Ubuntu seems like it is a freight train barreling ahead (to somewhere) without regard for any of the stops along the way. I'm not sure I can stay along for the ride, but the thought of going back to Windows after 10 years turns my stomach too. Is there another distro that is perhaps better for me and doesn't have the problems above? I'm willing to switch to an entirely different OS like BSD or something, but I do always need the latest hardware support so I think I'll have to stay on Linux for that. The most important things to me are:
  1. Good multi-screen support (3 screens)
  2. Snappy user experience with no lag (equal to or better than Windows), high interactivity
  3. Less buggy or fewer major bugs that affect everyone
  4. Able to watch fullscreen videos smoothly (Flash too if possible)
  5. Multi-core aware, multi-core transcoding, GPU transcoding if possible
  6. Supports my main apps: Chrome, Geany (or other IDE), music player (currently Audacious), IM client, Office suite
  7. Supports newest hardware quickly

The really sad thing is that I mainly only use my work computers for a web browser and IDE and I'm still frustrated by the user experience every day. Do you have problems with Ubuntu or Linux in general too? Do you have any solutions to the above issues? Any suggestions on a distro to switch to? Thanks OCN!
post #2 of 22
Well written and well thought out. +rep. As for your problem, have you tried Pinguy OS? I believe it's a spin off from Ubuntu but I've never loaded it fully onto my system so not sure.
post #3 of 22
Have you checked out Sabayon Linux? I can't speak for all the features, but it was one of the only ones I found that would work with a mobile broadcom chipset in a friends laptop. She had updated to a newer version of Ubuntu and I couldn't get the wireless going to save my life despite trying everything like the firmware cutter and long lists of specialized instructions. I used Sabayon and a simple modprobe command took care of it. That makes me think you may find better driver support there.
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post #4 of 22
I have an issue with the hardware support. As well as the fact my hardware support I do have seems half-assed.

Multi-screen has always bothered me, specifically on my laptop when I had it hooked up to my monitor.

Flash support is quite obnoxious. I can't watch multiple tabs on youtube without it freezing...

Linux on my netbook wasn't nearly as fast as my nlited XP install plus some other mods I can't mention because of TOS...the only one that came close was LXDE on top of a custom compiled kernel with the BFS scheduler.

I have a longer list but yes I have quirks with it too. But look it is a tool, some people let Linux become some sort of cult or lifestyle, use Linux for what you need it for, and anything you can't bridge the gap with windows.
post #5 of 22
Thread Starter 
Thanks for your thoughts guys. I am looking into Sabayon and Pinguy as you suggested. Has anyone had experience with Pinguy?

I don't view Linux as a "religion". I just want to use what works best for the job. For gaming I use Windows and I have used Linux for work and general computer use for many many years because it was fast and had far less problems than Windows. It also "made sense" to me the way that Linux was designed and there was a logic and ease about it. I'd say that if Linux (or perhaps just Ubuntu) loses its speed and reliability, it is far less appealing.

On a side note, after I wrote the OP on Windows, I booted into Linux and the nvidia driver froze when Xorg was loaded so I was just staring at nvidia logos filling the screens. A few hard resets fixed the problem, but that's the type of stuff I deal with every day now
post #6 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by klaxian View Post
On a side note, after I wrote the OP on Windows, I booted into Linux and the nvidia driver froze when Xorg was loaded so I was just staring at nvidia logos filling the screens. A few hard resets fixed the problem, but that's the type of stuff I deal with every day now
It sounds like windows will suit your job requirements right now

On a serious note it may be the nvidia drivers need updating to work with the new Ubuntu kernel...If you can try a reinstall of the nvidia drivers...

I suggest Opensuse or CentOS, I prefer those, they are stable, mature and have long life cycles.
post #7 of 22
Thread Starter 
Thanks. I'll check out OpenSuse and CentOS too. I am reading about Linux Mint Debian Edition right now.

I could write a post with all the problems I deal with on Windows too, but OCN doesn't have enough room

I have tried all different versions of the nvidia drivers on my sig rig including the stock one from Ubuntu 11.04 repos, Xorg/edgers & updates, and manual install from the nvidia web site. Anything newer than the one from the Ubuntu repository doesn't allow Xorg to start at all with my multi-GPU setup on 3 screens. Thanks for the idea though.
post #8 of 22
Hmm. It may just be the half-assed multi-monitor support in linux...hmmm try Opensuse they have always had better support for my graphics cards than Ubuntu. Their KDE setups seem snappier and more responsive than Kubuntu as well..
post #9 of 22
I didn't see you mention ArchLinux in the list of distros you've used but with the experience you've listed it seems like a really good choice for you especially with the level of customizability as well as their constant update system -I know there has to be a different name for that- adds to the full experience for me and I absolutely love running Gnome 3 with the distro. YMMV But I HIGHLY recommend at least taking a look at it?
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post #10 of 22
If you really want some customized to squeeze every once of power out of your computer I suggest Gentoo (rolling-release source) or Arch (rolling-release binary). I suggest Gentoo because if you do a non-testing rolling release, amd64/x86 instead of the ~amd64/~x86 it is a very stable system and allows for only the stuff you want and need.

However if you don't feel like having to configure everything and want a better alternative to Ubuntu I have tried Linux Mint and find that it is a better user experience. Especially if you want it to work out of the dvd .ISO install it has codecs support galore along with alot of top needed programs off the bat. Also is still Gnome 2.x instead of Gnome 3.x which I cannot stand.

I would say stay away from Fedora and SUSE. I have a NASA competition project and the dev-kit we have to use is based on SUSE and I have found that SUSE is very buggy and not so great design with the KDE GUI they use. I would say stay away from RPM distro's.... I haven't used Fedora since they dropped the core out of the name.
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