Ubuntu no more?

A little background

Once upon a time, probably back in 1995 I was a comitted RedHat fan. Back in the days when RedHat was proper free software. Then in 2003 when they commercialised post V9, I briefly switched to Fedora. At the same time 64-bit architecture was becoming a thing and unfortunately, 64-bit Fedora just wasn’t terribly stable, so I found myself switching to Gentoo.

Then in 2005 there was Ubuntu, which (subject to experimenting with other distro’s) I’ve used ever since. Indeed I’ve recommended it to many many people over the years and for the most part, I think it’s done a good job.

And now …

After 19 years on Ubuntu, my desktop no longer runs Ubuntu. I’m in the process of migrating everything “off” of Ubuntu. (although this may take some time)
[Indeed, for the first time ever I’m running on a desktop computer that was manufactured in the UK (!)]

Why the sudden change of heart?

Well, not necessarily so sudden. Ubuntu for me has always been partly a least worst option combined with a perception of stability and support. Over the years all three have been eroded to the extent it no longer wins for me on any count.

So what now?

Ironically given some of my historical comments, I’ve switched to a vanilla Debian / Gnome installation. It turns out that Debian with Gnome on top doesn’t exhibit any of the historical issues I’ve had with Gnome on Ubuntu. All of the desirable features I’ve associated with Ubuntu, well, they all seem to be available as a part of Debian.

So I’m no longer working with the least worst option. Debian seems to have all the features I want and see in other distributions. If anything it seems “more” stable than some of it’s derivatives (like Ubuntu) and as for support, well, I’ll come on to that :slight_smile:

The MAIN issue for me however is now clear.
Debian conforms to my definition of free, Ubuntu does not.

Specifically …

Well on the quality front, I’ve been experimenting with Ubuntu and Debian running on ARM64 hardware as both seem to have invested considerable effort into becoming the go-to option for ARM users.

One for me has proven stable, the other problematic.

The other issue is the free thing. With Debian, whereas there is a non-free repository covering software with licenses that are considered not to be Open Source, the distribution as a whole is generally covered by GPL, BSD and MIT style licenses. To that end, within the scope of Open Source, you’re not really limited in terms of what you do with it.

Ubuntu on the other hand give you permission to redistribute unmodified copies of their ISO installer, but beyond that it gets interesting. Turns out that if you want to sell someone a computer that has Ubuntu on it, you need a license from Ubuntu (!)
[this is not selling Ubuntu, this is just selling a computer with a free copy pre-installed]

This to me is a million miles from being Open Source. Well, just to add the context of the license they want to sell you, it’s 50,000 miles away from being Open Source (!)

But …

Yes, I know, there are some wonderful tweaks in Ubuntu that you might lose if you switch to Debian. Well, it would seem from what I can see, over the years they’ve moved away from their own tweaks and instead adopted Open Source tweaks. (or, they’re released their tweaks to the community as Open Source)

  • The Unity Dock! … yeah, they now use the Gnome dock
  • The theme and fonts … yeah, now all available in the Debian repos.
  • Enhanced desktop behaviours … yeah, install gnome-tweaks and gnome-extensions, it’s all there as far as I can see!

Even better, there’s stuff in the Debian repo’s that isn’t in the Ubuntu repo’s. Just simple stuff like, I want to display the CPU temperature in the desktop title bar. On Ubuntu I had to run psensor which is a little cumbersome. On Debian there’s a nice shell extension;

Screenshot from 2024-02-27 10-58-14

Also a nice extension for handling dual screens, which might be there in Ubuntu but it’s not something I’ve seen.

What we don’t have …

Over the years Ubuntu seem to have arrived at the conclusion that they can do it better than anyone else. Some prime examples might include things like Unity. As it turns out, that’s not always the case.

  • In Debian we don’t have frequent prompts for you to “go pro”, which I’ve found is actually putting some “users” off doing updates and upgrades as they think they might be getting a bill for something.

  • In Debian, we don’t need to worry about paying a huge license fee for using the software.

  • In Debian, we’re less likely to be subject to “we can do it better” or “we need this for our cloud initiative” implementations that don’t necessarily align with other distributions or indeed the way we want to work. (netplan anyone?)

  • In Debian, we’re less likely to see the plug pulled on a major project thus causing people who have invested heavily in something they thought was supported, to be left high and dry. (LXD anyone?)


One of the reasons I’ve invested over the years in Open Source is because it is essentially free software. Anybody and everybody can use it. Nobody is going to chase you for a license fee. I’ve seen companies maybe infringe on this a little from time to time and not thought too much of it. My recent experiences however of trying to “push” Linux have made me think that this is way more of an issue than I’d previously appreciated. True Open Source projects deserve a little more help than they’re getting.

What is the primary driver for your choice of distro?
  • Commercial Support
  • Best Experience
  • Open Source Software
0 voters

Many thanks for your helpful detail, as usual.

I’ve been considering Debian for a while and when my new multi-ISO USB arrives I shall investigate thoroughly.
To be fair, many of my criticisms of my Ubuntu computer are mostly about the 3rd-party s/w such as LibreOffice which is becoming a pain with it’s frequent re-formatting, pointless eye-candy and minor bugs. Change isn’t always a good thing.

I’m a huge advocate of the FOSS ethos but I wouldn’t consider myself Stalmanist so I’m not sure I disagree with Cannonical charging a license fee for commercial laptop/PC sales, depending of course on the conditions of the license because it would (if I’m understanding it right) still be open source software and make no difference to the end user, so long as it comes free of the sort of malicious code, spyware, covert telemetry etc pervasive in MS Windows why not, Cannonical have invested a lot of money in the Linux ecosystem which we all benefit from, so why should anyone who has not invested a penny be allowed to sell it without giving something back, maybe I’m completely missing the point so I’m open to changing my mind, but that’s how I see it on the surface

Mm, so Debian do not charge for their work. It’s all donated freely in the name of Open Source. As I understand it, Ubuntu take a combination of raw Open Source packages and maintained Debian (Open Source) packages, to produce the Ubuntu distribution.

(so the vast majority of the code and investment comes from 3rd parties)

Looking at the OpenSource.org FAQ;

However, note that commercial is not the same as proprietary . If you receive software under an Open Source license, you can always use that software for commercial purposes, but that doesn’t always mean you can place further restrictions on people who receive the software from you. In particular, copyleft-style Open Source licenses require that, in at least some cases, when you distribute the software, you must do so under the same license you received it under.

i.e. if you got it for free, when you give it away, it must still be free. So you can charge for copying it, or charge for installing it, or charge for associated services, but not for the ‘actual’ software. (depending on the ‘actual’ license for the specific bit of software)

So OpenSource software can be sold, however requiring people to sign a contract and pay £50,000 before they can then give that software away (after installing it on a computer) would seem to be questionable under Open Source licensing (?)

So whereas selling a “pro” version (which I believe they do) which contains advance patches and additional non-free software (which I believe their pro version does) sounds like a great business model. Just charging for other people’s software under the terms of Open Source licenses … I must admit it’s not what I had in mind when I started (freely) contributing to Open Source software projects.

In terms of the end-user … what happens when you want to sell your computer with Ubuntu still installed on it?

Are they charging for the software? Or is the charge for the extra support they will be providing for security,compliance certification,trouble shooting etc. that they will provide.

With regard the original post I moved from Ubuntu to Debian based distro’s when the unity desktop was introduced and agree with what you say, I don’t think I have missed out on anything. Ubuntu do like to view themselves as slightly separate from the rest of the open source distros.

Are they charging for the software?

Well, that’s a good question, not sure the answer is clear.

So whereas they can offer and charge whatever they want in terms of additional services, the issue seems to be that they are imposing their own (new) license conditions on software that already has license conditions imposed on it by the actual authors. (i.e. effectively overriding the license conditions provided by the GPL)

This new condition seems to require fronting huge amounts of money before you can supply a single pre-installed machine. So, given they say you have to pay the money in order to give the software away, does that constitute charging for the software?

Under the GPL, distro’s are provided AS-IS, so there doesn’t seem to be a “requirement” for any vendor to provide security, compliance, certification etc. (or at least as I understand it, not yet and not in the UK)

Either way, once they’ve published an ISO, it’s out there. The cost to them should not change based on what a third party does with it (?)

There was a not dissimilar issue recently with Redhat and CentOS. I’ve heard it said that Redhat escaped licensing issues by funding and providing a free version of their distro (i.e. CentOS), however after discontinuing CentOS there was a question over whether they were complying with the GPL.

Ubuntu do like to view themselves as slightly separate from the rest of the open source distros.

It would seem so. When pre-installed Linux boxes come (it’ll happen one day…) it’ll be interesting to see whether they’ve licensed themselves out of the running for distro of choice …

Ok, a first look at “MP-Linux” running on an RPi5 … what you see + three VS Code sessions and a browser with 35 tabs open … eating a little over half the memory with no swapping … :slight_smile:


I’ve been thinking about replacing a mini-PC with a RPI5. How do you think yours would do transcoding videos (ideally, I need it to run Myth-TV)

(sorry if this is off topic!)


Currently I wouldn’t recommend an RPi as any sort of media player. If you run one of the Android ports I think you can get perfect 1080p with no frame drops, but with any of the generic OS’s like debian or even Raspberry Pi OS, it does drop frames at 1080p. (which means it’s going to be hopeless for 4k videos)

IF you just want to transcode, I just installed “handbrake” and I downloaded “Big Buck Bunny” and set it off converting H.264 into an MKV. Averaging 15fps @ 1080p which all things considered doesn’t seem too bad. It’s hammering all 4 cores tho and the load average is up at 9 … however I’m still able to type this and response is still reasonable.

At that load it’s probably drawing 11 or 12 W. On my other desk I’ve just rebuilt an AMD Phenom 6-core box with 16Gb of RAM, 2x2 TB HDD and a 128G SSD. It’s idling at 100W (!)

So, RPi will take some beating in terms of price and energy consumption for the power. From what I can see on YouTube decent mini-pc’s seem to be up in the 30W range … I saw one quoted recently based on a low power Celeron with a comparable power draw, however performance was ~ half an Rpi5.

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Great info, thanks… I’ve not considered the frame rate I use now - although i know prefer low res for general TV and movies.