3 BIG Papercuts That Need Fixing in Ubuntu

One of the major improvement in the latest Ubuntu, Karmic Koala, was the fixing of numerous ‘papercuts’ – small usability fixes that improve the overall Ubuntu experience for the end user. These papercuts included issues like missing buttons, inconsistent layout, and scary warnings. Thankfully, with the dedication of the Ayatana project members, Karmic shipped with far lesser papercuts than Jaunty.

Karmic is the best Ubuntu till date. Yet, it does little to impress those sceptic eyes with which the world continues to look down upon Linux. Not without reason.

I have used every version of Ubuntu since Feisty Fawn, and in my opinion, there hasn’t been any dramatic, head turning changes in the subsequent five Ubuntu versions, including Karmic. The surprisingly short 6-month release cycle is probably the reason behind this, but the stepwise changes don’t even add up to anything substantial from Feisty to Karmic. If Feisty were a buggy Windows Vista, Karmic would be no better than Windows 7 with a service pack. So basically speaking, Ubuntu is progressing at the same rate as Windows at the moment (recall that the time gap between Windows Vista and 7 is nearly the same as that between Feisty and Karmic). Windows is already big, mature, and wildly popular. It can afford to move on slowly. Linux for desktops is the new guy in the race; it has got to run its feet off to attract attention of the audience (users).

There are a few things about Ubuntu that, in my opinion, need addressing at the earliest. This post highlights those quirks in the most popular Linux OS.

I want to make it clear that this post is only about Ubuntu, even though these points mostly apply to other distros as well. I’ve used about a dozen Linux distros, and I find Ubuntu to be the most usable and promising of the lot. There are a lot of other Linux distro users who hate Ubuntu. That’s a sad thing. Linux is a small community, and if it is to move forward, all its users should unite. Anyway, back to topic.

Password Prompts. Lot Of Them.

Every soul on this planet slammed Vista for introducing the annoying UAC prompts. UAC is sick, but it looks outright lovely compared to what you get in Ubuntu – maddening password prompts for doing anything even remotely administrative. Install a software from Software Center? Password please. Updates from Canonical? Not without a password. Living in a Wi-Fi zone? Enter password after entering password to log in. Want to access a Windows drive? Yeah, password first. The list goes on.

Imagine living a house, where each door automatically locks itself every 10 minutes. All the doors open with one key, and you’ve the key. This house is definitely going to be very secure from thieves and robbers. Even if a thief somehow breaks in, he’s gonna be locked up inside because of the doors. However, the house is going to be a pain in the ass for you too. Here’s an example how :

Your bladder’s about to overflow, but you can’t just leave those last 2 minutes of your favorite TV show. The moment the credits appear, you dash for the toilet. Bu..but wait where’s the key? :-o You left it on the sofa, which is a whopping thirty feet away! You bang and shout at the locked toilet door to let you in. Nothing. And then you pee all over your pants.

That’s how Ubuntu is. It’ll keep you secure, but there’s a price you pay for it.

Now imagine living in another house, where only the front and back doors are auto-locking. There are more chances of theft taking place here, so you’ve kept an enormous Alsatian dog to guard the house.

This house is more like Windows – it doesn’t compromise on usability despite being prone to malware; but with convenient security (the auto-locking doors being the firewall, and the dog being the antimalware) and some common sense from your side, it can be as safe as any Linux distro out there.

What I’m trying to say here is, why do you have to prove your identity again and again to do something on your computer? Entering passwords twenty times a day is no fluke. Just imagine the plea of the guy whose password is “NoOneC@nCr@ckMyP@$sw0rd!”.

Forget about eliminating them, you can’t even reduce the amount of prompts without getting deep into confusing options. Every prompt, that a new Ubuntu user gets, is like a giant papercut that yells at him to go back to Windows. There’s a reason password vaults and password syncing tools are so popular among web-centric people. It’s time Canonical took notice.


Remove those password prompts. Their very existence sucks. Anyone who is paranoid about security can have the option to enable them.

Aversion To Change

The Ubuntu desktop has basically remained unchanged from the very beginning.

For the end user, the only change between the two desktops is the wallpaper. 5 upgrades,and all I get is a new wallpaper? Wow. Linux sucks. That’s what he’s gonna think.

When Windows 2000 users saw XP, they did a “wow”. When XP users saw Vista, they did a “wow” (the OS was problematic, but it looked a thousand times better than XP). When Vista users saw 7, they did a “wow”.

Users expect to see changes when they upgrade their operating systems. Not drastic changes, which throw everything out of place, but subtle, noticeable changes that they’ll appreciate. When you’re downloading hundreds of mega-bytes to get a new Ubuntu version and all you find is a new wallpaper, you’re gonna be disappointed for sure.

I’m not saying there is anything fundamentally wrong with the Ubuntu desktop. It’s simple and uncluttered at best. But it’s not like the ultimate layout of the universe. I’m sure there can be other layouts which will appease users much more than this. Experimenting is no taboo, especially when you’ve a relatively small user base and frequent releases.


Move around things a bit. Bring in some gloss. Throw in a dock. Surprise your users. Some won’t like it, but I’m sure many will appreciate it.

The 6-Month Release Cycle

Canonical has made it a point to release a new version of Ubuntu every 6 months, no matter what. And so it happens – a new Ubuntu is out every 6 months, with subtle improvements over it’s predecessor and with about a dozen bugs that weren’t there in it’s predecessor. My question is, why? We’re talking about one goddamn operating system here, not a web browser or an antivirus. Even a company as big as Microsoft took two and a half years to release Windows 7, which many consider as a mere refinement of Vista. And it had taken five years to release Vista, which, despite being a flop, was a huge step in the right direction for Windows.

On the other hand, Canonical, a far smaller organization, keeps churning out one new Ubuntu after another as if someone’s compelling it to do so. No wonder there is always some glitch or the other with the OS.

  • Canonical has to officially support 3-4 versions of Ubuntu at any given time. Right now, Hardy, Intrepid, Jaunty, and Karmic are all being supported. And we’re not even taking the Ubuntu variants into consideration!
  • Every new version of Ubuntu ships with numerous bugs, courtesy of hasty engineering, which are then addressed with huge updates over the upcoming days.
  • People have no choice but to upgrade to newer Ubuntus, as the latest software versions are only made available with a new version. This makes the entire point of releasing LTS versions totally useless, as they don’t run the latest software.

One might argue that the Ubuntu release cycle intends to follow the GNOME release cycles (for good reasons), and to include the updated versions of all included software. That brings me to my biggest disappointment with Canonical – it doesn’t push major point upgrades of the included software to the current Ubuntu version. For example, if you’re using Karmic with Firefox 3.5, and version 3.6 is released meanwhile, you won’t officially receive the upgrade until Lucid Lynx comes out. If Firefox 3.7 is released two days after Lucid, you’ll have to wait for Ubuntu 10.10 (M…. M….) to use it. I’m yet to understand why this happens (enlighten me if there is any reason for this). Talking about new GNOME versions, I’m fairly sure they can be pushed to the current version through ‘service pack’ like updates.

Full credit to guys at Canonical for maintaining the rigorous release cycle, but let’s do everyone a favour and release new Ubuntu versions once every year. Use the six-month cycle for pushing service pack updates, which can include new GNOME versions and other bug fixes. And, please, push new software releases to the current Ubuntu version instead of waiting for the next version.

Keep Those Papercut Fixes Coming!

Having said my heart out in the above lines, I must not also forget to congratulate the Ayatana project for what it’s doing to improve the Ubuntu experience. I’m positive that the Ayatana members will keep fixing all those minor quirks in Ubuntu.

I care for Linux

Do not take me as a Linux hater. I love Linux. I love Ubuntu. I adore the openness about it. I want it to be a viable alternative to Windows and OS X. But after using it for a couple of years, I’m starting to get upset by the slow pace of its development. All those annoyances, that shouldn’t have been there in the first place, continue to ship with every new Ubuntu. All I can do is to hope for the issues to be addressed, so that I can start using Ubuntu full time without having to go back to Windows.

What problems  do you have with Ubuntu? How do you think it can be a better OS? Share in the comments. :)