Updated: November 10, 2017
Fresh start. A new alphabetic series, a new desktop environment. With the unfortunate demise of Unity as its user interface, Ubuntu has now embraced Gnome 3 as the thing what users ought to experience when they use this operating system. I find this quite troubling, and with a heavy heart, I am commencing this review.
But perhaps not all is bad. This is an opportunity for Canonical to revitalize itself, to show a bold new face and take us forward. After all, the Linux desktop has been stagnant for a good few years, and a radical initiative is needed. Perhaps this might be the beginning of that adventure. Perhaps not. Let us explore.
My test box is the old LG RD510 laptop, which comes with a dual-core processor, 4 GB of RAM and an Nvidia card, all dating back to 2009. This is my current test rig now that my Lenovo G50 is having funky read-only NVRAM issues, but the challenge is no less ... challenging. In the previous few reviews, we've seen that distros struggle with this ancient hardware just as blithely as they struggle with the UEFI-powered 2015 machine.
The desktop looks like any which Ubuntu we've seen in the past few years. A dock on the left, a modified version of Dash-to-Dock, which is mandatory in making Gnome 3 actually usable. Either that, or the even more advanced Dash-to-Panel extension. This is an attempt to retain the familiar, and at a first glance, it looks all right.
No more fancy lens and scopes, you get standard Gnome search, and it's reasonable enough. The fonts are also very good - the best any Linux distro offers at the moment, with proper size, color, crispness, and quality.
Wireless, fine. Bluetooth, also fine. Samba sharing, meh. It works, but it takes about fifteen seconds to open the share, with the mandatory password nonsense of course, and then every subsequent connection is as slow. In Unity, this was instantaneous, no more than half a second. So we have some stupid regression. And just as Ubuntu was starting to regain some of the quality that it lost since Trusty. Overall, Zesty was reasonable, but predictably, no distro can maintain the same quality for more than one or two consecutive releases max. Printing worked ok, both Wireless and Samba.
Stupid. Even Fedora now plays MP3 songs out of the box - but not Ubuntu. You need codecs, and the music player - Videos by default, go figure, even though Rhythmbox is installed and available - will tell you it cannot find any. With a full-screen sadface nonsense. What is this crayon kindergarten stuff?
Rhythmbox remains pointless, of course. Try to play a song, it opens, lists your entire music collection, focuses on the first entry it has found and not the file you chose, and then, proceeds not to actually play it. No music integration in the system area either, this particular Gnome extension is not there by default. And later, when we test smartphones, we can expect a segfault. I promise.
Then, I really started using the desktop. If you think Unity is not a good desktop choice, then Gnome notches it down even further. We have a dire combination of Canonical trying a new desktop environment fit, which is bound to bring issues on top of any short-release inter-LTS Ubuntu release, with the dreadful UI deficiencies of Gnome, making this possibly the least friendly Ubuntu desktop in a long time, if not ever.
For example, Files. No right-click new document option. Retarded. This is 2017, not some pseudo-touch workshop. If you increase the icon size in the file manager, which you can do with the mouse scroll, desktop icons will ALSO grow in size to match the file manager choice. You end up with icons either too small for use inside Files or huge desktop icons. Files also does not have any configuration options - the little cogwheel that should allow us to do this, the one whose absence I mentioned in the Fedora 26 review, means you cannot change single/double-click mouse settings, sort things in a different way, and many other things every single other desktop and file manager offer by default.
Then, Gnome 3 is uglier than Unity. Neither win any great contests, but it just feels rougher now than it was only six months ago. Files again, the address bar. Too thick, does not sit that well inside the window border, feels almost like an afterthought of design.
I actually had to leave the house, so I powered down the live session - it wouldn't exit using graceful means, so I had to hard press the button and kill it - and when I fired up the distro the second time, I discovered still more inconsistencies. One login - it wasn't automatic on my first attempt, it was now. Second, Samba. It didn't ask for password this time, but it was just as slow as before, and only intermittently would it quickly open one of the folders inside the directory hierarchy. The Wireless icon was a question mark for about 10 minutes before it sorted itself out, although I did have network connectivity the entire time.
File copy animation is ugly and intrusive, just like the overall file manager design and the use of the window bar for whatever actions. Funny, because supposedly it saves space, but then Unity had its Mac-like global menu, and we don't get that anymore.
The worst thing is - no suspend option. Not for your user, not when you click the shut down icon. The laptop power button does nothing. I had to open the power management tool and configure the function, and even then, it didn't really do as promised. The laptop never went to sleep. It just got stuck in some odd black-screen state.
At first, the installer took ages responding, and nothing else would really work while it tried to figure itself. Grub-mount was taking 100% CPU, and about 10 minutes later, the system recovered, and I was able to proceed with the setup. Classical Ubuntu stuff here, no surprises. A simple slide show, with a bombastic promise of greatness including stuff like Spotify, which doesn't work in Linux as it cannot read local files. It just feels like an empty message now. The passion is gone. This is Canonical going through the motions.
Time to try to enjoy myself. A clean splash, good. No auto-login even though I did click the relevant button. Wrong English locale, even though I did select US as my preferred language and keyboard. Then, as this laptop carries some eight years worth of legacy, the desktop looked awful, completely borked. I had to delete all my hidden directories in some way related to Gnome and start a fresh, clean session. The Wireless configuration as well as keyring information have been preserved. Not sure if the former is part of the current setup or the goodies in my home directory.
I wanted to update the distro first, to make sure early release bugs were ironed out, except there were no updates available whatsoever. The system also did not prompt to install proprietary drivers. Software is largely pointless, too abstract and bland, definitely not as good as USC, which was the golden highlight of Linux, when Canonical even tried to set its shop and get you to use an online account to buy and enjoy things. Ah the memories, before the zealots destroyed the one distro that had a whiff of professionalism about it.
You need to enable the Partners repo if you want extra stuff like Steam. Skype is not there, yet. Chrome is also a separate download. Drivers wise, I did get the microcode but not the Nvidia blob out of the box.
To give you a few more detailed about this step, if you search for drivers, it gives you the Software & Update tool. Only it opens the main menu and not the detailed subsection you need. Counter-intuitively, you need the program menu to find it and launch it, or the little drop-down would-be global menu but not global menu really, and then it will have its plethora of tabs and options, the way it was in 2012 and never ported to this new touch-bullshit Gnome 3 look.
Are you wondering about that blue color? Stay tuned.
The driver installed just fine. After reboot, you get the Nvidia splash twice, but at least it seems to work fine. The laptop was hot and noisy, but we will discuss performance a little bit later.
Gnome strikes again! Remember the Korora color issue, where screenshots had some weird transparency, alpha whatever? It's here, too. The screenshots come tinged blue where they definitely had a distinct red channel available in the desktop itself. This might be part of that night blue nonsense light that seems to be so popular now, as if to make people's eyes less weary or something. Or just a stupid bug. This is so sad.
Where's the red channel? Or whatever? More nonsense that makes me wanna slit my GNU wrists.
To make things even more amateurish, the top panel and the dash are transparent, so if you change to a light-colored wallpaper, including the very default set available with Aardvark, you end up with barely readable text.
To make it even MOAR worse, the color issue only happened while I was running Nouveau. Oh humanity. With the Nvidia drivers in place, I had my colors back as they should be. I'm looking up and down my review, trying to figure out what's the most consistent way to tell this compelling story, and it's just so messed up, it's like trying to put together a piece of paper that has gone through a shredder, twice.
Another element of stupidity is that you don't get any "Show desktop" button anywhere. And Dash to Dock does not support it, so you will need to create one of your own, as I've shown you in my guide, or use the superior Dash to Panel, which does offer this basic functionality, but first defeat the default dock, as it cannot be removed in a trivial way. The year is 2017, and you cannot minimize all open windows with a single click of the mouse in the Gnome desktop. Right.
Canonical is giving the user one last hug before boarding the bus forever.
Problems abound. It takes a few seconds to figure out that you don't really manage extensions the way you expect. The Ubuntu Dash is a customized version of the classic Gnome D2D, but you govern it through the system settings menu, similar to Unity. If you want to do it the regular way, you'll hit a few problems. One, Ubuntu Dock never really goes away, even if you disable it and/or disable all extensions, and you can only superimpose the standard D2D over it. If you want to use D2P, then you will end up with TWO docks, one on the left side and one at the bottom or wherever. Always at least two, so you must use either D2D or UD, and add your own Show desktop button. I am truly and deeply wondering why I'm even testing Ubuntu 17.10, but perhaps it's better that I tell a story than bury this fiasco silently.
Stupid colors. Stupid top bar button. So sad.
But wait, it gets worse. The system search gives you all sorts of interesting suggestions, including outdated, deprecated and incompatible extensions, neither of which you can install anyway as the system is missing chrome-gnome-shell, yes it is for Firefox, and you need to install it manually first. Some of the extensions won't install at all, and you can repeat the process in Software as many times as you want.
You can keep repeating this process as many times as you want.
Ubuntu ships with a new system settings menu - similar to the one introduced in the most recent Plasma 5.11 edition, and also similar to what Windows 10 does. Kind of old is the new old thing. Not sure which one is superior ergonomically, but overall, it's laid out nice and useful.
Well, now I finally had my codecs. Rhythmbox predictably died when trying to play songs from phones. This has been around for ages. And no, don't tell me to submit a bug report. This should be part of the distro release QA. What QA? Indeed. Am I the only person who actually gives a shit?
[ 383.865772] rhythmbox: segfault at 30 ip 00007fafcc03fe36 sp 00007ffd20b4fc70 error 4 in libmtpdevice.so[7fafcc033000+15000]
HD video was okay. No complaints here.
Both Android and Windows Phone worked fine. No worries.
The basic set is fairly lean but decent. Firefox and Thunderbird combo, LibreOffice. You also have Rhythmbox, Transmission, and then a few other utilities. Nothing too cardinal or exciting.
Webcam, good. Bluetooth, as I've mentioned earlier, good, and here's a screenshot! Fn buttons also worked fine. Now, suspend, another story. You can suspend, but you will never get your session back. This has been around since, you guessed it right, 2009, ever since I got this laptop. Even sooner, because I searched for the specific error message and found a few "won't fix" bugzilla entries dating back to 2007. How very sad.
The actual error is related to ATA link reset, which seems to be related to hotplug functionality. Technically, I don't care. I just want my laptop to work, and it seems that no distro can manage a 2009 machine, nor the 2015 UEFI machine, there will be always be something to blame rather than fix problems.
Another sore spot. I already did test Gnome on this machine, including a decent Antergos and not so decent Korora. Here, we have a new record for CPU hunger. About 15% easy, and it shows. The desktop is more sluggish than other distros I've tested on this machine. Memory usage is similar to Antergos at about 1.1 GB.
It's been a long time since I've had a desktop really go wild with crashes, but Ubuntu 17.10 excels at sucking. I had no less than three different things segfault in the span of about half an hour, including but not limited to Rhythmbox, MTP and one more I don't remember right now. At least the error reporting tool (apport I think) is nice.
I wanted to improve the looks a little bit. This one is relatively easy to do. The one thing Ubuntu does not lack is new themes and icons, and you can set them up without too much hassle. I went for the Papirus icons I'm using in Kubuntu Zesty. Fonts require no tweaks, which is good, or perhaps the only thing that is really awesome in this release. I also added several new extensions, like music integration, plus new extra software, and Artful Aardvark had a semblance of normalcy about it.
Ubuntu 17.10 Artful Aardvark is definitely one of the worst releases ever - among the few distros that I actually consider worth actually using to begin with, and probably the most underwhelming Ubuntu ever released. If Canonical really wants to revive the desktop, then it must ditch Gnome and go with Plasma. Otherwise, it's just going to be one long, neverending disaster of apathy, mediocrity and self-delusion. Fonts are the only thing that works well in this release.
Everything else is just awful - a sad live session that showcases nothing, Samba regressions, Nouveau color fiasco, application crashes, botched extensions mechanism, a neutered and counter-intuitive desktop, and the list goes on. You've read the review, no need for me to repeat itself. And the simple reason for this is Gnome. But then it's up to Canonical to do things right. Only can you really blame them for not trying? They wanted to make Linux big, but the so-called community took a proverbial dump on them. The only reason why anyone even remotely cares about Linux desktop is Ubuntu, and now it's not even that. Ubuntu is tired. The old passion is gone.
The only salvation is to reboot the whole thing. Plasma. Hopefully, come April 2018, there will be one LTS and it will be running KDE, and it will be called Ubuntu. At the moment, we're back in 2005 or so, when Ubuntu just started. Maybe other DE flavors will be better. 1/10. Hardly worth testing. You might be luckier, but if it comes to luck and not professionalism, you might as well not bother. Dedoimedo regretfully approves this review.