Ubuntu 17.10 (Artful Aardvark) operating system comes with a major change, it no longer includes Ubuntu’s Unity desktop shell as it has been replaced with Gnome 3 (3.26.1 to be precise). There are many reasons behind this, but the most obvious one is that Ubuntu has failed to get its ideas accepted into the GNU community.
To their credit, over the years, Ubuntu developers have come up with fresh ideas that’re worthwhile (Upstart, Mir, Snappy etc). It is just that ideas along isn’t always enough to change a community, especially if one desire to make a fundamental shift, which is what Mark (Shuttleworth) always wanted, whether he wants to admit it or not, and in such a context, one also requires a wide acceptance of the structure that lies beneath those ideas. In other words, in my opinion, through its (Ubuntu) influence over Upstart, Mir, Snappy etc, Mark was bringing in into the GNU community the idea of the importance of the individual, rather than the idea of the importance of the community over the individual (this is an idea that has been implanted by the Catholic way of thinking since the days of Christ, which has been under heavy attack ever since the late 15th century. Clueless people, even historians, usually refer to this era a period of ‘renaissance’, but it was nothing but an era of power transfer, from the Catholic church into those who’re still very much in control of the world as a whole, as of today, and the type of damage they’ve caused is immeasurable. They’ve gained world power simply through their ability to create ideas that are abstract. That’s as far as I’m willing to go), a key ideological belief most hardcore GNU developers (especially those with the GNOME ‘mentality’) & philosophers such as Richard Stallman, posses. This doesn’t mean those people have to be Catholics or religiously related in such contexts, I’m simply pointing out to the fact that the way they think has been largely influenced by the cultural aspects of Catholicism.
In any case, this is what I believe Mark meant when he said that he couldn’t help but admire the writing of James Madison, especially when he said ‘…Ambition must be made to counteract ambition…’ (source: Mark Shuttleworth – On balancing economic power in the FLOSS ecosystem). This quote is an important one, because it basically outlines Mark’s ambition & his belief system in general. In different words, Mark is simply saying that there’s nothing to be afraid of giving way to a little bit of competition (encouraging the idea of giving way to individual greed = individualism) within GNU & should it looks like things are about to get out of control, then ambition (individual greed) can always be made to counteract ambition — the balancing act. But this is not how the hardcore GNOME developers operate. As I’ve said, their motto is that the community (=’them’, those that make the decisions, not necessarily you or me the average end-users) comes first, the individual second. As a ‘proof’ of my judgment, let me quote a few words of Rirchard Stallman. This is from the movie ‘Revolution OS’ (this is a documentary about GNU and the ‘Linux’ operating system):
“…When I was a kid and when I went to school the teachers were trying to teach us to share. They said ‘if you bring some candy, you can’t eat all yourself, you’ve got to share it with the other kids’. But now the administration says teachers should be teaching kids to say yes to licensing. You bring some software to school, ‘Oh no! don’t share it! Sharing means you’re a pirate! Sharing means you’ll be putting in jail!’. That’s not the way society should work. We need the good will, the willingness to help other people, at least when it’s not too hard, because that’s the basis of society… people are making a profit from making free software, but for another the freedom to have a community is more important…”
(Richard Stallman – https://youtu.be/jw8K460vx1c?t=3767)
You can twist these quotes anyway you like, but in my humble understanding, individuals like Mark Shuttleworth and Richard Stallman and their contributions in general simply shows us that the battle that started off in Eastern Europe around in the end of the 15th century between the Catholic church & the ‘internationalists’ (=individualists — individualism was introduced only to break the power of established cultures, not only in Europe, but all around the world as a whole. Individualism, or this idea of an individual that is defined as to exist independent of the ‘outside world’, is nothing but an absolute lie, yet another abstract idea) is still going on. It’s just my gut feeling. People like Richard have been accused of being communists, but they are not, they are simply a generation of individuals who have been raised in cultural backgrounds that have been influenced by Catholicism, that’s all there is to it.
Then someone might ask, if the community comes first, not the individual, then why these hardcore GNU guys always ferociously defend individual liberties against privacy infiltration and such like? It’s already explained by Richard in the above quote, but I’ll give my short answer nonetheless. They defend these ideas not because they are individualists, they’re simply defending their version of the individual (not an abstractly defined one, but rather a one that is inevitably a part of the whole — community).
If you’re new to all this (‘free software’, ‘GNU’, ‘Linux’, take your pick), then I highly recommend that you watch the ‘Revolution OS’ documentary. To make things easy for you, here, I’ve embedded it into the article:
So anyway, this is why I think Mark, or Ubuntu’s contributions in general, were not that welcome at the end. Fundamentally, this is what I believed that forced Ubuntu to let go of Unity (Upstart, Mir and the rest with it). The hardcore GNU developers simply didn’t like what Mark was suggesting in subtle gestures for they belong to philosophically different ‘worlds’. In my view, the whole ‘Free Software Movement‘ was a response to the growing (back then) technocratic elite power that today has grown and have the potential of creating a technocratic tyranny that is previously unheard of, just the same way Donald Trump was a response for ‘their’ ever growing political power. I won’t go into any more details than this, mostly because the western readers just don’t get what I write, because when I get too political or philosophical while writing a review, they think I’m stepping outside the context.
It’s either that I’m an idiot (the most probable cause) or they simply have been indoctrinated through ‘education’ not to see the interconnectedness of things. Either way, I’ll stop here, so let me come back to the Ubuntu 17.10 review. Before I begin, below is a summary of the hardware I tested it on:
Intel Core i7-5500U, Hybrid GPU Setup (Intel Broadwell HD Graphics 5500, Nvidia 920M), 4GB RAM DDR3, Hybrid Permanent Storage Setup (Seagate 5400 RPM, 500 GB rotational disk and a Kingston 24 GB SSD), Qualcomm Atheros AR9565 Wireless Adapter, Realtek RTL8111/8168/8411 PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet Controller, Realtek ALC3236 Sound Card, LED Display (1366 x 768 resolution, 60 FPS/HZ). It's an Asus laptop (F302LJ-FN024H).
Please also remember that I’ve installed Ubuntu 17.10 into the ‘test’ partitions that I’ve set up in my rotational disk which is where I always install the ‘Linux’ operating systems that I review (and not on the faster SSD drive where my primary operating system is installed). Otherwise performance related data such as boot-up times etc will be misleading. Secondly, I measured the performance related data (boot-up times, memory usage, power usage, shutdown delay etc) before touching any of the original settings of the newly installed OS. The only manual change I made was enabling the user auto-login which I always do in other instances as well, and added the system monitor app icon to the ‘Dash’. As for the comparison, I’ve compared the performance of Ubuntu 17.10 with Ubuntu 17.04.
I usually start off the reviews by talking about what’s new about the Installer, GRUB & the Boot-Logo. However, since there’s no major changes in any of them (plus, I didn’t encounter any issues while using them), I’ve decided to skip it all and dive into the Desktop straight away.
While Ubuntu has been forced to let go of Unity and fully adapt GNOME 3 in its place, it has nonetheless, been able to retain the basic desktop user interface of unity. How have they done it? Well, they’ve enabled ‘Dash’ (application ‘dock’ in GNOME 3 that shows your favorite and currently running apps) to always to show on the desktop, have added Minimize & Maximize buttons to the application windows… that’s pretty much it I guess.
Has it worked? Yes, I would say.
That said, GNOME 3 (3.26) does not share the ‘vision’ of Unity. Therefore, things like menus don’t necessarily integrate well into the desktop when compared to the original Unity desktop. For instance, when you right click on an app icon on the ‘Dash’ you get a ‘massive’ context menu, as shown below:
These are of course not huge concerns and Ubuntu developers might even ‘fix’ them in the future, but still, it kind of takes away the wholeness or the overall look-n-feel of the old Unity desktop. Other than that, I’m quite satisfied with what they’ve done with such short notice.
I also like most of the new wallpapers that have been added, they look nice.
As mentioned earlier, Ubuntu 17.10 now features GNOME 3.26.1 release. One of the major changes is the completely rearranged ‘Settings’ window. Previously the settings were accessible through a grid of icons. In this release they have been completely removed and been replaced by a sidebar. Do I like it? Yes.
There are few other subtle changes present in this release. I’m not going to talk about them because the GNOME team has created a short video that vividly explains what’s new in this release, so here it is:
The Software has failed in two previous releases (if I’m not mistaken) while trying to install proprietary ‘deb’ packages. So as a ‘test’, these days I just make sure to install one or two proprietary ‘deb’ files to see what happens. Luckily in this release everything seems to be working quite well. I tried installing Google Chrome & Skype, both succeed without any issues.
Adobe Flash & Skype…
The internet is steadily moving away from Adobe Flash, and almost all the websites that I usually browse have switched to HTML(5) for displaying video content, therefore its (Adobe Flash) importance has dropped significantly from my point of view. Anyway, in my previous reviews, I’d install Google Chrome (because that’s the only way ‘Linux’ users can obtain an up-to-date Adobe Flash these days) and manually enable Flash on websites that I frequently use, such as on YouTube to test its performance. However, it seems that even YouTube has disabled support for Flash playback now. But I did manage to visit a website or two that still use Adobe Flash to display its content, and even on them I had to manually enable (‘allow’) Flash on those websites. At the end however, Flash has worked without any issues under Google Chrome.
As far as Skype goes, Microsoft has introduced an updated Skype UI with many improvements. I downloaded the ‘deb’ package, got it installed in no time, and made 2 calls (each one lasted about 15 minutes), once with the video feed disabled, once it enabled. On both occasions Skype worked extremely well. And, unlike in Ubuntu 17.04 where I had to manually tweak the settings a little in order to get its system tray icon to work, this time around, it all worked without any user intervention.
As far as applications are considered, Ubuntu 17.10 comes with GNOME 3.26.1 and its application set, Rhythmbox 3.4.1, Firefox 56.0, Thunderbird 54.2.0, LibreOffice 5.4.12, Kernel 4.13.0 and runs on the Wayland protocol.
As always I took great care while measuring the performance related data. As soon as I was finished installing the operating system, I boot into it for about 5-6 times for letting things to settle down. And then, while coming up with average values for Boot-up Times, Memory Usage and Shutdown Delay, I took 5 samples. I also ran the ‘System Responsiveness’ test twice, and only ran the power usage test once because the application that automatically measures it takes lots and lots of sample and thus is very accurate.
As you can see, compared to Ubuntu 17.04 that featured the last Unity desktop, Ubuntu 17.10 that features GNOME 3.26.1 is about 35.6% slower to boot! I have not looked deep for finding answers to be honest, but this is an increase that is easily felt. Also remember that these are readings from a slower rotational disk, not on an SSD.
Ubuntu comes with its own boot-up times optimization tool called ‘ureadahead’ that can significantly improve boot-up times, especially under rotational disks. Just to make sure that this increase is not caused by its absence, I looked for it in the boot-services and actually found it. So no, this increase is not due to its absence.
While Ubuntu 17.10 is slow to boot, memory consumption-wise, Ubuntu 17.10 is actually slightly lightweight, about 3.6% ‘leaner’, compared to Ubuntu 17.04.
CPU Usage (idle)
When I did not interrupt the operating system by running any user applications or by interacting with the computer, for long periods (anywhere between 10 seconds to 20 seconds+) the CPU usage was set around zero. Well done!
Why is this important? Well, due to many reasons (bugs in applications, viruses etc), even when a user is not interacting with the operating system, applications may continue to use CPU unnecessarily. In severe cases, this can not only decrease the performance & the efficiency, it can also, say on a mobile computer, reduce the battery life as well.
Power Usage (idle)
While measuring the power, I set the screen brightness to its maximum value, turned off screen dimming & automatic screen turning off, screen locking and any other such setting that could get in the way. Wi-Fi was turned ON (connected to my wireless router) and Bluetooth turned OFF. I also had my USB optical mouse attached to the laptop as well (this is my usual setup for measuring the power usage). Then I executed the ‘powerstat’ app, got out of its way, and let it carry on its duty.
As you can see, compared to Ubuntu 17.04, Ubuntu 17.10 was 2.5% less efficient, nothing significant, though.
Here’s the original output of ‘powerstat’:
Then I installed ‘TLP’ (a power usage optimizer,
sudo apt-get install tlp, then just reboot) and it was able to reduce the power usage by about 1.9 Watts which is roughly an impressive 23% decrease!
This is no surprise because on almost all the occasions I’ve installed TLP, it’s been able to reduce the power usage and take it into this ‘territory’ (including under Ubuntu 17.04). With the laptop battery fully charged, the brightness setting set around 17-20% (I hardly go above 40% percent), with some light web browsing, watching a movie & a couple of videos in VLC (yes, I manually installed it), a bit of writing, I was able to get around 4 hours and 36 minutes of battery time, before the battery reached 10%. Excellent!
Hardware Recognition & Stability
Ubuntu 17.10 was able to correctly recognize & configure almost all of my hardware devices. On certain ‘Linux’ operating systems, my touchpad doesn’t work when waking up from Sleep-mode. It just requires a manual tweak on the Kernel driver to work properly, it’s just that most distributions aren’t aware of this issue. Those that are ‘aware’ of it make sure to add the tweak while compiling the Kernel. Luckily, with recent versions of Ubuntu, including 17.04 & 17.10, it works perfectly well.
Bluetooth adapter somehow gets automatically turned ON sometimes (not a big issue, and can be fixed by editing a configuration file). Also, Ubuntu by default comes with the open-source driver for my Nvidia 920M GPU. I rarely need it, and in almost all occasions I’m quite happy to run the lower-end Intel HD 5500 for it meets my needs. But for the sake of my readers, I just make sure to install the proprietary Nvidia GPU driver (if it’s easily obtainable on the distribution that I’m testing) to see how the operating system performs under it.
Luckily, Ubuntu comes with an easy to use driver installer GUI for this. So I opened it up and installed the available proprietary GPU driver (384.90) for the Nvidia 920M. It worked perfectly fine, except that after installing the driver, user auto-login stopped working, thus I had to manually enter the password before I can log into the desktop. I’m not certain where the issue is, maybe it’s with
lightdm (login manager. Update: As pointed out by the reader ‘Hud’ in the comments section, Ubuntu 17.10 actually uses GDM), or Wayland (display protocol) or with the driver itself, who knows. I also tried enabling the PPA for GPU drivers and installed the latest open-source counterpart, but the issue still exists.
This however is not a major issue anyway, and I’m sure it’s fixable (by editing
lightdm GDM’s configuration file for Nvidia for instance). Other than these, I’m quite satisfied with the overall hardware recognition under Ubuntu 17.10.
As for stability, I was met with an irritating VLC related issue in Ubuntu 17.10. Sometimes when I play a video in fullscreen and try to reach the control-buttons that are hidden, all of a sudden the whole system gets stuck. And the only way out of it is to forcefully reboot the computer. Luckily, out of instinct, I changed the ‘Video Output’ to ‘Xvideo output (XCB)’ and that completely solved the situation.
As for app crashes, I’ve been using Ubuntu 17.10 for about 8 days at least, and I’ve so far seen only a single app crash that is minor in nature. All in all, Ubuntu 17.10 feels quite stable.
In many ways, the real strength of an operating system can be measured by observing how it manages its most weakest points. For instance, when it comes to responsiveness, the main storage device can be considered as the weakest point, because compared to other devices involved, it is one of the slowest components. Therefore, when that device is stressed out heavily, the way in which the operating system responds in order to maintain the responsiveness, is usually an excellent indicator of how well it is optimized to deliver the best possible responsiveness.
So with that in mind, what I usually do is simple. I copy a file (usually about 1.5 GB to 2 GB) within two locations of the currently logged in user’s Home directory. And as soon as the file copy starts, I try to execute few programs from shortcuts and by searching in the start-menu (if such functionality is available) to put more load on the hard disk drive. At the same time, I also make sure to try to play a multimedia file and try to open a folder that contains a reasonable amount of files/folder in it, using the file manager. And then I observe the following details.
I try to see whether the cursor loses its sensitivity (its fluid motion), from all the programs I tried to open how many were actually opened before the file copy finished, whether the multimedia playback was heavily interrupted or not and lastly although I don’t necessarily put a whole lot of importance, I also try to see if the file manager was able to open the location without a huge delay (after all, by then, the main storage is in a quite stressed state).
So how responsive was Ubuntu 17.10?
Well, at first it sucked! Some of the applications I tried to open were only opened after the file copy job was finished, but VLC wasn’t even able to play the multimedia file (until the file copy was over), and even gave me a ‘not responding’ warning. I then turned OFF the laptop computer and then turned it back ON and re-ran the test. This time too the results were identical.
This time, even ‘files’ (file manager) gave me a ‘not responding’ warning while trying to open the ‘
/usr/bin‘ folder (which holds a reasonably large amount of files).
However, since I’m experienced with these type of situations (I’ve been performing this test on many different GNU/Linux operating systems) and especially under Ubuntu, I’ve seen such horrible ‘results’ sometimes when ‘CFQ’ I/O scheduler (a core utility that’s in control of read/write operations of your disk drives) is put in charge, although, under certain different distributions & even in older Ubuntu releases ‘CFQ’ has performed extremely well (hey, don’t give me that look, I don’t know everything! 😉 ). So I checked to see whether ‘CFQ’ is the default I/O scheduler, which it was, then I changed it to ‘deadline’ (Ubuntu comes with 3) re-ran the test (yes, I ran it twice). So how was it this time?
(Note: The above image is only an illustration)
Marvelous! All the previously existed sluggish performance had simply vanished. Not only almost all the applications got opened, VLC too was able to quickly open the multimedia file & play it without major interruptions, ‘files’ also was able to open the location (with a little delay of course). Cursor sensitivity was also excellent. If I have to give it a number, responsive-wise, I’d give Ubuntu 17.10, 4.2 out of 5.
Compared to Ubuntu 17.04, Ubuntu 17.10 is about 5% slow while shutting down, but that gap is nothing. They both shutdown within 4 and half a second which is very fast.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve been using Ubuntu 17.10 for more than a week now. Compared to Ubuntu 17.04 it is a bit slow while booting, yet slightly lightweight, very responsive (again, I had to manually tweak the I/O scheduler to make it responsive), power efficient, shuts down fast and is very stable. Even though there is no Unity desktop shell anymore, they’ve tweaked GNOME to look a lot alike as well. So all in all, I’m quite happy with this release.
That said, I’ve been using KDE plasma desktop that came with Manjaro 17.02 for the past few months, and I’m beginning to love KDE more & more. One of the reasons why I was forced to look for an alternative was because of some of the limitations of the GNOME desktop (I’m not going to go into the details since I’ve mentioned some of the these reasons in my other reviews). Therefore, despite my judgement derived from this Ubuntu 17.10 review, I’ve decided to switch to KDE (well, for now at least).
But I wanted to stay closer to the core Ubuntu platform, thus I’ve chosen the old girl, Debian, Debian 9 (‘Stretch’) KDE edition, to be precise. I’ve already downloaded it and going to give it a go. That said, if you’re an Ubuntu fan, and want to try out the 17.10 release, then why not, it looks good to me. If interested,make sure to read the official release notes first and then download the ISO file from Ubuntu’s official download page. Well, that’s about it folks, good luck and thank you for reading!