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Ubuntu 13.04: A Tale of Two Upgrades

Notice the lack of "Close", "Minimize" and " Maximize".

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aGNUdomain/ — As my partner in crime Ant Pruitt told you earlier, Ubuntu 13.04 has recently been released. However before you jump in with both feet, I will offer you a tale of caution. After hours of waiting for the upgrade files to finish downloading, I was left with one functional computer and one non-functional computer. While I am enjoying Ubuntu 13.04 there are some glaring issues that need to be fixed.

Last fall my wife Melissa came to me and said she needed a new laptop. For years she had been mostly content to either use my laptop, my desktop or her Android tablet. Because she used these devices, she was completely comfortable operating in a Linux environment. So we decided to purchase a brand new laptop from System76, a company which specializes in custom-built laptops running the latest versions of Ubuntu. Down the road, when it comes to upgrading that laptop to a newer version of Ubuntu, we can use the operating system’s built-in upgrade process. The only addition to this process will be the optional download and installation of a small System76 driver package for things such as the volume keys, located on the keyboard.

So the System76 upgrade went as smoothly as I expected, with the worst part being the long wait for my abnormally-slow internet connection. I was instantly impressed with how Ubuntu 13.04, nicknamed Raring Ringtale, brought with it a more-polished UI and a snappier user experience. Expectations rose quickly as I hurriedly kicked off the upgrade on my elderly, yet reliable Dell XPS M1530.  This trusty Dell laptop is no stranger to Linux. When I purchased it in 2008, Dell sold it with Ubuntu pre-installed. I have never had many problems with past Ubuntu installations, so what came next was jarring.

Upon rebooting into Raring Ringtale it was immediately apparent there was a problem with the display settings. The initial login page was skewed and items on the screen were often twice the size they should be. Once I logged in, I was greeted by a console with multiple display configuration errors. Still skewed and larger than normal, the desktop experience was even more broken than I could imagine. The unity launcher refused to load, applications could only be launched via terminal (which I had to open with the Ctrl+Alt+T shortcut), and windows could only be closed by pressing Alt+F4, since the window manager refused to load as well.

Notice the lack of "Close", "Minimize" and " Maximize".
Notice the lack of “Close”, “Minimize” and “Maximize”

Since I couldn’t operate in Unity, I decided to open up Terminal, uninstall Unity and install Gnome instead. While this fixed most of the issues, the notable exception being the 800 x 600-style display, I wanted to get back to the fully-functional Ubuntu that I have known and loved for years. So I went to the Internet for help.

All seems well, except the forced 800x600 display size
All seems well except the forced 800×600 display size

Some quick Google searches on my wife’s laptop resulted in a revelation. Even though a broken Unity was the symptom the problem, the root cause was actually my Nvidia drivers. A bug related to Nvidia’s proprietary graphics drivers and the Linux kernel was discovered in the beta testing for Raring and was even mentioned by well known Linux advocate Ken Starks of Reglue. The biggest symptom of this bug is the inability for Unity to launch. Given that Ubuntu defaults to Unity for window management this was a major bug. Regardless, Canonical decided to soldier ahead to a finalized release without integrating a fix. The result was a lot of shocked users, including myself. While many helpful users offered up their advice for fixing the problem, I found that the easiest solution was to simply do a fresh install of Ubuntu 13.04.  After 8 more hours of downloading, installing and configuring, I was left with the snappy and pretty 13.04 that my wife was currently enjoying. All was not well, however.

Even with a fresh install of Ubuntu 13.04, there were some issues with popular applications. A Google Chrome bug affecting 13.04 prevented new installations of Google Chrome. While this does not affect those who upgrade on a computer where Chrome is already installed, those who want to put a fresh copy of Ubuntu 13.04 on their device will be frustrated. Comments in the official bug report do offer some solutions. While the Google Chrome installation does not work, you can install Chromium from the official Ubuntu Software Center. There is also a fairly easy command line workaround which will trick your system into believing that the missing dependency is actually present. The last option is to wait until Google releases a fix in the next revision of Chrome, supposedly due out later this week.

Dependency error when trying to install Chrome on Ubuntu 13.04
Dependency error when trying to install Chrome on Ubuntu 13.04

Is Ubuntu 13.04 worth your time? Not yet. If you’re perfectly happy with an earlier version, especially a Long Term Support version, I would stick with that for the time being. This latest version of Ubuntu looks and feels very nice when it works, but it is still too buggy for daily use if you require a stable system. After a month or so it is quite possible that all of the growing pains of Ubuntu 13.04 will be worth the upgrade, but not yet.

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