Recently, I became very annoyed at Ubuntu. The plan for the next version of Ubuntu, “feisty”, is to include the binary graphics drivers that we all know and hate by default. Ubuntu has done a great job of creating the impression of a community-driven grass-roots distribution, which has left me feeling somewhat sold out and while it’s not outside the wording of the Ubuntu licensing policy it feels like it’s outside the spirit.

Now, in general, I don’t have a huge issue with people needing firmware or binary drivers. There is a vast amount of hardware out there, specifically the current crop of video cards, which just won’t plain work with the free drivers. It sucks, but that’s life: I would prefer someone with an nVidia laptop to use a non-free driver and be able to use a free software OS, than for them not to be able to use the OS, particularly where the hardware cannot be replaced. (There are ways of changing this situation, but they mostly related to purchasing, I think).

But, there is a huge difference between giving someone enough information to make an informed decision about their system or automatically installing a non-free driver where you know the computer won’t operate without it (very few cases), and this new policy of defaulting to the binary drivers. That’s too much. Putting commercial application installers into the desktop was bad enough too, though.

Problem, though: where do I go? As I see it, I have these options:

  • Fedora. Similar level of polish to Ubuntu, better in some ways, worse in others. I strongly dislike rpm-based systems, having never had much good experience with them, but their “freeness” is pretty strong – modulo a few small pieces. This seems the obvious place to go.

  • Debian. Less polish than Ubuntu, but somewhat similar under the hood (less similar these days – different init, etc. – but still .deb based, which is good). Similar “freeness” to Fedora, they prefer not to have GNU documentation but that likely isn’t an issue for me. More of a problem is the lack of up-to-date software in the stable distribution. I run it on my servers, so I guess I should try it on the desktop.

  • gNewSense. The new Freedom-enhanced Ubuntu. This would be the obvious choice, but it’s very new and I’m not sure I trust it. It’s not a current version of Ubuntu, which means there would be little reason for me to run this compared to Debian, and I’m not totally convinced that technically they know what they’re doing (esp. since they’re rebuilding large parts of the archive). Reports of key pieces of software (for me) not working 🙁 I don’t really trust the security situation, either.

  • OpenSUSE. Eh. Same reservations as Fedora; doesn’t really seem to have the same commitment to free software. I could be wrong, though.

  • Other distros listed by GNU – two seem Fedora derivatives (with no removals), another is a Debian derivative. Doesn’t seem to be any good reason to look at these.

That’s all I could think of off the top of my head. None of them are necessarily hugely appealing alternatives, but I’m almost certainly not sticking with Ubuntu (even though I can remove/ignore all the crud they want to throw at me). I made a list the other day of all the stuff it does which annoys me:

  1. messing with the stock GNOME desktop – messing with the default Nautilus setup is an obvious example, but it’s not the only one;

  2. sticking commercial app installers in the Add/Remove Programs: no thanks;

  3. moving to an installer which you can’t use to upgrade machines – with a six month release cycle, this is nuts;

  4. Launchpad. Good grief that thing sucks – I’m sure if you use it on a daily basis it makes sense, but I’m apparently registered twice on that piece of shit and under both profiles it says “Alex Hudson does not use launchpad”. Great. It then asks me to guess which e-mail address it has for me, in order to claim my identity. I’ll just repeat that: it wants me to figure out which address it has for me, even though I’ve never used it. I mean, christ.

  5. Advertising for commercial support and “the official book” built right into the desktop. Can I remove it? Hmm, no.

I guess maybe Ubuntu has like til Christmas before it gets blown off my laptop, and that’s only because I’m busy.