Ubuntu: More doomed than ever...

UPDATE: I just tried a clean install of the Ubuntu 8.04 RC build. Setup completed, the system rebooted and I logged into the desktop. I then clicked the Power button in the upper right corner and chose Suspend from the list of options. Went to resume and...wham! Black Screen of Death! On a pristine install with no proprietary drivers (first boot after setup completed). Unacceptable! I consider myself a patient p

UPDATE: I just tried a clean install of the Ubuntu 8.04 RC build. Setup completed, the system rebooted and I logged into the desktop. I then clicked the Power button in the upper right corner and chose Suspend from the list of options. Went to resume and...wham! Black Screen of Death! On a pristine install with no proprietary drivers (first boot after setup completed). Unacceptable!

I consider myself a patient person. When it comes to OS quirks and difficulties, I've put up with more than my fair share. After all, I was an original Windows NT 3.x early adopter (feel my pain), which means I've come to accept that obscure, niche computing platforms invariably suffer from a long list of compatibility issues and functional compromises.

By contrast, I have little tolerance for such quirks or anomalies under more "mainstream" computing environments. A buggy, half-baked device driver might be "de rigueur" for PC-BSD. But produce a similar result under Windows XP or even Vista, and you have the makings of a public scandal.

That's why I simply cannot ignore the ongoing debacle that is ACPI support under Ubuntu. Despite six months of user complaints, dozens of bug reports and one very public scolding (by me), Ubuntu still does not run reliably on notebook PCs.

That's right: The ACPI bug I encountered with Ubuntu 7.10 "Gutsy Gibbon" has been carried over to Ubuntu 8.04 "Hardy Heron." In other words, the suspend/resume "black screen of death" is back, and nastier than ever!

This is unacceptable. Canonical, Ubuntu's publisher, wants us to see their "distro" as a mainstream alternative to Windows. Yet, even as they pile on new features - some of which, like WUBI, are designed to entice Windows users to kick Ubuntu's tires - they blatantly ignore glaring holes in the distro's underpinnings.

To clarify: I installed the Ubuntu 8.04 "Hard Heron" BETA on the same Dell notebook (XPS M1710, nVidia GeForce 7900GS graphics, 4GB RAM, Core 2 Duo T7200 CPU) that I tested Ubuntu 7.10 "Gutsy Gibbon" on last year. Using the default open-source nVidia driver I got an immediate "black screen" upon resuming from a suspend-to-RAM state. Switching to a proprietary nVidia driver left me with a "white screen." In both cases, I had to use the ACPI-override technique (hold down the power switch for 5 seconds) to shutdown the system.

Six months to correct the problem and they still can't get laptop power management right! This is just crazy! If Microsoft delivered anything close to this level of dysfunction there'd be calls for an FTC investigation!

Thankfully, the folks from Redmond got their act together long ago and made Windows work fairly reliably with mobile hardware. In fact, Vista has pretty much perfected the suspend/resume experience (with XP not far behind). By contrast, Ubuntu turns my $3,000.00 USD laptop into a very expensive (in terms of price/performance) desktop. Without suspend/resume, I'm screwed.

The whole situation really does boggle the mind. How Canonical can expect to be taken seriously as a mainstream OS provider when they can't get something as basic as power management working is beyond me. I had high hopes for "Hardy," if for no other reason than I expected my "showstopper" ACPI issues to have been resolved. That Ubuntu 8.04 remains unpalatable because of a stale, well-documented holdover bug from the previous version is really disappointing.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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