Simplicity Is the Ultimate Sophistication

Originally coined by Leonardo da Vinci, later accepted and implemented by Steven Paul Jobs as part of the Mac OS X credo. In the advent of Ubuntu’s shoddy release called Xenial Xerus and its heavy repercussions on Linux Mint 17.3, I decided to revisit this beautiful maxim. I do not intend to go on another rant, yet the need and willingness are definitely there.

The new Ubuntu 16.04 LTS breaks many things, as have observed Roger from Dedoimedo and my father (both highly influential figures to me). The problem though is not that it breaks things. Rather, that the things broken severely cripple user-experience and Long Term Support releases should display improved reliability from the get-go. I was honestly looking forward to 16.04, since 14.04 had been a decently solid release. Now, I have no intention to even touch (as in, the ‘touch’ Unix command) Xenial Xerus. Ubuntu’s new release painfully shows a couple of things that are wrong with Ubuntu and potentially with the whole of the GNU/Linux ecosystem:

  1. Catering to too broad an audience makes the operating system unsuitable for any single individual. This is one of the major problems with Windows and seeing it happen to a GNU/Linux distribution pains me.
  2. Diminishing quality of the base installation. I agree it’s completely impossible to please everyone (see, point 1.) and I am not expecting every piece of software in the repositories to work flawlessly. However, if parts of the base install don’t work as intended, although they clearly did in past releases, one really starts to wonder about quality assurance…
  3. Lack of consistency between flavors of Ubuntu. The point was originally made by Roger from Dedoimedo. Until personally tested, it is not clear whether each flavor of Ubuntu will support our hardware equally well. In former times I used to think that the major difference between flavors was merely the selection of apps and the desktop environment. Guess I was wrong. This is slightly off-putting, because it means there may be a lack of sync between developer groups responsible for each flavor.

Point 1. is a philosophical issue and cannot be treated in terms of good and bad. Unfortunately, the mythical End User, much like Big Foot has never shown itself, so an educated guess is all we can bargain for. Points 2. and 3. display symptoms of improper management. I myself had problems with Lubuntu 16.04 shortly after release. Some directory paths were already restructured for the upcoming move to LXQT, though PCManFM was still looking for the wallpaper in the defunct LXDE directory. Amending the issue took me approximately 5 minutes. In all seriousness, how difficult can it be to configure the wallpaper properly out-of-the-box…?

The beauty of an operating system is defined in two things – A) it looks just about right (clean, clear and non-intrusive design) and B) things just work (minimal, yet functional setup). Ubuntu would have far less problems if the developers focused more on getting a small subset of simple apps and scripts to work and NOT change them for the sake of change. Building up from a solid base is much easier to carry out afterwards. Many other GNU/Linux distributions suffer from similar problems, though not all of them. Somehow I never had issues with Manjaro XFCE, even when using development snapshots. I reckon keeping it simple at the core eventually pays off.


One thought on “Simplicity Is the Ultimate Sophistication

  1. it was xubuntu (7.10) that finally got me away from my last windows installation. honestly, i think it couldve been the best version of ubuntu ever. ever since then theyve been addicted to the absurd, but mostly theyre chasing dollars (and therefore fads.)

    i think ubuntu started out with admirable intentions. theres never been any kind of consistency in what they do or try to achieve, except for the fact that they have to (being a commercial venture) try to make money doing it. imo theyve failed at everything except popularity: for whatever inexplicable reason, they still have that. but i think they did deserve it, at one point.


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