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The Case Against LTS on the Desktop

The Case Against Ubuntu (and LTS in General)

This thread is intended to generate discussion and give you something to think about. I’m not right, you’re not wrong, nor are LTS distributions “bad”. To get some specificity, the case against LTS is on the desktop, with a dedicated graphics card and modern (current or last generation) hardware. If you have a ThinkPad X200 and want to run Debian Jessie then you go right ahead, baby, no one is going to stop you.

“Why do you hate Ubuntu?”

Let me preface this by saying that Ubuntu was the first Linux operating system I used in 2011 or 2012. I still use Ubuntu to this day on a few servers and a laptop. I get paid to support software running on Ubuntu servers. But, in my opinion, Ubuntu has repeatedly dropped the ball on their releases. I have struggled to get the OS running on 4th Gen Core i5, 4th Gen Core i7, 8th Gen Core i7, and 3rd Gen Ryzen processors. I have struggled to get graphics working for NVIDIA 900, 1000, and 2000 series cards and AMD RX 500 series cards. Anecdotally, here are some of the issues I’ve encountered:

  • Black screen at LUKS encryption password entry
  • Failed login (login accepted, screen goes black, asked to login again)
  • nomodeset and other non-n00b friendly commands required (even in $CURRENT_YEAR)
  • No graphics after nvidia-drivers installed.
  • No network after update
  • apt is locked on a fresh install, have to reboot and delete the lock file in order to complete updates (unacceptable)
  • No graphics after update
  • No touchpad after update

The list goes on, that’s what I can remember off hand. This ranges from Ubuntu 16.04, Ubuntu 18.04, and Ubuntu 20.04. Prior to that my Linux desktop existed in virtual machines.

Long Term Support is the antithesis of modern hardware. But, you know what, that’s okay. The point of LTS is, well, “long term” support.

Recently I started asking myself: Why am I seeking long term support for my operating system that is going to run new, leading edge hardware? Why am I constantly fighting up hill to have a modern, sleek, bone crunching system? I didn’t have an answer. I had maybe a soft spot for Ubuntu because nostalgia? Google and Facebook used it, and they know what they’re doing, right? :wink:

Enter the bl(reee)eeding edge distributions. The distributions that offer a kernel just late enough at install that your hardware should™ work out of the box. With minimal intervention. Trust Me™, I’m an Expert™. Once you get your OS installed it will be ready for whatever you throw at it, no kernel configuration or driver maintenance required.

I Heard Bleeding Edge is Unstable!

Yes, you did hear that. But you also heard Ubuntu was stable and approachable for beginners, yet you had to run these crazy commands at boot to get it installed and run over to a console to install the proper kernel and drivers for your graphics. Looks like we were both lied to. And I HATE liars.

The instability from the Reeeding Edge distributions comes from several sources. Before I knew what was what, I blamed the distribution and developers. However, I’ve noticed I tend to shoot myself in the foot. A lot. I think I enjoy it, I don’t know. But, the point is, after I’ve set up a system and left it the fuck alone, rarely have I had an issue that wasn’t self inflicted.

Sometimes, though, package maintainers and developers miss something or create a bug and SHTF. You get FUBAR. This is often prevented by reading the “news” of your distribution before running any updates. Some times, right there on the page, there is a heads up and a remediation for any issues that are forthcoming. So bookmark or alias the news sources and check before doing any updates!

I Have to Read? Seriously???

Here is where I step off my soap box (in a minute) and let you do the talking. Yes. You have to read. Before you kick and scream and go back to fixing your fresh Ubuntu install, let me ask you this: Why are you using Linux? Are you using Linux to never use your computer? Just install it and be done with it? Or are you using your computer to tinker, learn software engineering, change the world, build new cutting edge infrastructure, or something else I’m making up to pull at your heartstrings so you ignore the bias in my question?

Reading is part of the job. You left Windows because of $X. I bet if you did a bit of reading on the release notes, $X would have been avoided (don’t taze me, bro). What about that web server? You’re reading some notes about environment variables, concurrency, proxy passing to a port, etc. So, is a bit of reading going to kill your initiative and incentive to run something that will likely be more robust and stable than what you’re using now?

I Don’t Believe You.Gif

“But, if I did, what are my options?”

You have several:

  • Arch Linux
  • Manjaro (based off Arch Linux)
  • Solus
  • Debian SID
  • OpenSUSE Tumbleweed
  • FreeBSD*
  • Gentoo**
  • Void
  • NixOS

“FreeBSD? Gentoo? Are you f’in serious?”

Yes :upside_down_face:

FreeBSD works on a sync model similar to Arch Linux and Gentoo. FreeBSD also has more up to date packages when compared to Debian, CentOS, and Ubuntu. Gentoo, if you so desire, can have latest upstream and experimental packages, making it a perfect bleeding edge distribution. Debian SID is so edgy I’ve almost bled out, so YMMV on that one. I used it on a laptop with Intel Graphics and Intel WiFi and It Just Worked™ out of the box.

Most people are intimidated by the Arch Linux wiki and the Gentoo documentation. I find that most people aren’t comfortable with taking notes or critical thinking, because they’ve never learned how. Trial and error is part of the gig. I think if you’re going to dedicate some time to learn and are willing to try, it will be impossible to fail. Most people want an instant fix or a quick solution, but most of the time those are an illusion. I hate to keep coming back to my Ubuntu example, but it takes minutes to install and seconds to break. Whereas with Arch or Gentoo, it may take an hour to install, but you’ll have a working machine that likely outlasts your hardware.

I mentioned earlier that if I “leave my system alone” it doesn’t break. That’s not saying I don’t have anything installed:

  • Vim
  • Golang
  • GCC/G++
  • Docker
  • LXC
  • KVM
  • KVM Utils
  • JetBrains Toolbox
  • Git
  • Postgresql
  • MySQL
  • VMware Workstation
  • LibreOffice
  • NodeJS
  • Ruby
  • AWS-CLI/SDKs
  • Kubernetes development tools
  • Firefox

Just to name a few things.

Final Thoughts

Agree? Disagree? Disagree but are willing to try? What do you say?

I still believe that Debian and Ubuntu are viable for servers and application stacks. But I’ve recently changed my tune about running them as a desktop.

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I like your post. Essentially you wanted to give the reader something to think about and you’ve achieved that. Most opportune, btw, as I’m in the process of installing Funtoo (a Gentoo derivative) but keep stumbling on a package that is required for Mate but is effectively banned from the Funtoo tree for some reason or other.

(it now appears the offending package is being “released” and I should be able to build Mate again)

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Oh, nice! You can’t spell Gentoo without F.U.N. :smiley:

Good luck! Hopefully you gain something from the experience.

I was (and still am, in a lot of respects) a HUGE Debian fan. I ran it on my main desktop for a long time. But with my new GPU it was ridiculous to get a working desktop and constantly failed with other packages. Ubuntu had problems, some equal and some different. Now that I’m on a rolling release distribution I’m finding the headaches have all but gone away. I even replaced the distribution on my laptop with a rolling release.

Servers are a mixed bag, per use case.

Interesting. Sounds like a bit of a pickle lol. This is where the news/sources become vital. It’s an ongoing, continuous education process I think.

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Interesting thread, last couple of weeks i have been playing with various distro’s with a preference for rolling and more optimized compiler flags.
Base is Fedora plasma which is rock solid but there was a nagging feeling there was performance to be gained or a sense of boredom/urge to tinker.

Anyway i tried several rolling distro’s and i might have found a candidate(spoiler it’s gentoo).

First off Solus: It is nice and snappy and has good optimizations and most packages i use are available.
But there were some caveats and problems I encountered. The installer is dog shit if you have more than one disk or have existing partitions or any preferences when it comes to installation. I had to pull all my drives to be able to install it because i did not want to install grub on the nvme drive with win10.
Recovery options are shit and i’ve seen it break itself with updates and incorrect shutdowns. Also i don’t like the attitude of the devs, i think they’re undermanned. Can’t recommend it really.

Opensuse Tumbleweed, excellent recovery options and decent optimizations with LTO etc. But they really want you to use btrfs for that, sure i’ll give it a try, and it lasted a day before the swap partition got corrupted for some reason. Had to turn it off in fstab otherwise it would hang a good long while during boot. Very good installer though and perhaps the swap on btrfs thing was a fluke.

Funtoo, Gentoo without the hassle of compiling a kernel but added confusion with mixins which don’t really serve a purpose imo. Easier to install but not everything works, stuff failing to compile etc. Same thing as Solus, they are undermanned but very nice dev’s and community on their discord.

Which brings me to Gentoo which i’ve been playing with and it’s fun and very flexible. Stable too and very snappy to use, found some nice stage4’s to play with and learn my way around and ended up with something that works well except a problem with Lutris and Battle.net. But that was the only thing other than some tweaking to do with fonts. I’ll probably end up doing a clean install though to totally make it my own and just pick some stuff from the unofficial stage4.

For the Arch gang, not really interested i’ve run it a lot in the past ten years but always end up moving away for various reasons.

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I’d also argue that Ubuntu sucks for a beginner to learn linux, and that there are much better ‘new user’ distros to get into.

First the tutorials for written for it are often out of date and not relevant to the current version. Things will have changed slightly causing hangups if you try to follow it. Googling “how to install $SOFTWARE” will often return results from as far back as version 12.

Second, the push for snaps seems a strange choice to me. Theres a distinct push for containerization and modularity but leave people without the underlying knowledge of how things work. What seems easy just becomes a headache later when you have to troubleshoot some quirk but have no idea where to begin. I have fallen into this trap myself with docker.

Third, other distros such as fedora and manjaro have become increasingly more versatile and fairly stable over the years. So much so that they rival something like ubuntu in many regards. Their documentation is also pretty good. I often find myself using the arch wiki for tutorials and info even though I’m using ubuntu.

Ultimately I dont think ubuntu is the ideal pick for a newcomer anymore. The other options out there make compelling arguments for people to learn with. I think if you picked another distro to start with you’d be better off overall because of it.

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At least Mint is keeping that Snap from being default for things. I like Mint Cinnamon a lot, so I hope it stays nice. For installing software, mostly I either add PPA for like LibreOffice and a few others, grab .deb for like XnViewMP, or tarball for Blender. It helps that my dad used Linux for like 30 yrs so he can help me if I get stuck on something. But mostly it just works and is very nice. :slight_smile:

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I stick with ubuntu based things because its the animal I know the best. If I use a linux distro on the desktop its almost always mint cinnamon or mate.

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I can second this. I have noticed that it’s easier to find up to date documentation/software instructions on Fedora VS. Ubuntu.

While I have used Linux almost daily for 5 years, I’ve hardly done anything outside of a web browser. I know maybe… 12 commands? When things break I just re-install.

From my perspective as a noob, upgrades have been far smoother on Fedora and provided a much more stable over-all experience.

I list Fedora only because it’s the only other distro I’ve used besides Ubuntu. That said, from my narrow list of experience, I can concur with OP that Ubuntu is no longer the go-to choice for beginners.

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This is a can of worms I didn’t want to open in the OP, but I find this baffling.

I have three experiences using snaps:

  • Installing Spotify before there was a web client (yes, that long ago). The GUI never came up and would just crash or freeze.
  • Removing from Ubuntu 20.04, at which points my fonts changed to some ancient Serif.
  • Installing a tool to publish in EPUB and PDF, which repeatedly told me dependencies were missing when trying to publish to EPUB (isn’t that the point of snaps?)

I am never* going to use snaps. Ever*. It’s slow, bloated, broken software. Having a mainstream operating system move to using that as its main package management? Lol, bro. What are you even doing.

* Obviously shit changes and in 50 years if snaps are as reliable as pacman or apt I’ll use it.

The container hype train is something I don’t understand, and I work with containers every day. “Just deploy once!” is after you’ve scripted out your image and built it the way you want. Why not just, you know, write scripts to provision your servers?

Yeah, yeah, repeatability and utilization, calm down. It’s still a bandwagon and most people using containers don’t need 'em. Not everyone is Netflix and Google.

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I think this is an unfortunate habit that windows teaches users. Where its often faster/easier to reinstall than it is to solve the issue. The problem with that line of thinking is its always going to be faster to reinstall if you never bother to learn how to fix anything.

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I really don’t understand containers. My dad doesn’t even use them for stuff. Just put things locally unless you need to have a VM for it.

Separate user space, shared kernel space. That’s a pretty high level overview but should be accurate regardless of the platform.

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Without getting too deep, as to derail the OP, I’ve kinda given up on having a career in tech. I actually attempted to go back to Windows this year, but found it to be less stable and just plain infuriating to use. Gnome has flaws, but it far outshines the Windows UI. IMO

Theres a use case for it, as there is for snap. The problem lies in understanding what that use case is and if it makes sense for you. Often times people use both snaps or containers where its not necessary. I like to use flatpak from time to time, but obviously I only use it where I dont have access to a package in a native repo. Ubuntu seems to want you to use snaps before packages.

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Linux only started in 1991 and only then as a replacement kernel (0.01!) for Minix. If your Dad was using Linux since that time, he must be an academic as it took some years before the Linux kernel made some waves outside that world.

Wait, wasn’t that introduced in Unix, some 40+ years ago? :wink:

Well, counting other UNIX types too, lke since 1986 he said. :older_man:
But first RedHat he said he used in 1999.

My first introduction to Linux was Caldera (remember that? :astonished: ) around 2001-ish. Never got it to install on my AMD K6-2 with just 64 MB RAM. Even after upgrading with a 128GB stick, it still didn’t wanna play. Tried RH8 later, that one worked fine, save for the dependency hell rpm caused. :frowning:

Not sure how you were having so many issues with Ubuntu LTS unless you were trying to run it on newly release hardware. Funny enough though, I was running 18.04 for a while when Navi came out as it was the only officially supported distro at the time. Was fun to install since Navi wasn’t in linux-firmware yet so I had to use a different GPU to install the OS and manually add the firmware, then swap the card back in.

Anyways being on LTS doesn’t really matter to the average user, just upgrade with each major release. The only real difference is how long it’s supported but again that doesn’t matter if you’re upgrading to newer releases.

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For the last few months my machines have been in a rare state of congruence. My desktop, laptop, work horse server and router are all running ubuntu 20.04. I just finished migrating my router and server from 16.04. This will last until October when my I upgrade my desktop to 20.10. My laptop gets upgraded on the first point release of the new lts. Hopefully I won’t even have to think about upgrading my router and server until 2024. The temporary shared library version match removes a frequent pain point.

And if the 6 month release schedule is not quick enough for you, nothing about the LTS versions stops you from using newer third party repositories, compiling from source or using a newer kernel version.

The market share of 16.04 on actual desktops must be vanishingly small at this point.

From the Ubuntu Wiki:

We define the LTS to be:

  • Enterprise Focused: We are targeting server and multiple desktop installations, where the average user is moderately risk averse.

and clearly state that it is not:

  • Cutting Edge

In a nutshell, the LTS version of Ubuntu is — and has always been — meant for enterprise use, not personal use. It is neither intended nor “designed” for bleeding-edge systems.

Yes, yes you do.

The case against LTS on (modern, personal) desktops was made in the official documentation with its inception in 6.06, and has been there ever since. If you’d read the docs you could have saved yourself a whole pile of grief. :wink: Ubuntu LTS is not for you.

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