Ubuntu X.org Guru Calls for Desktop Help

Nov 25, 2009

Bryce Harrington is agonizing over the nontrivial task of delivering a working X server for Ubuntu. On the Ubuntu desktop mailing list he speaks of a flood of bug reports and appeals to improving the situation.

The X server must ideally cooperate with with open and closed ATI, NVIDIA and Intel cards, but not forget those from smaller providers, a fact that becomes most noticeable to users when they're sitting in front of blank screens instead of the desktop. The call for help from Ubuntu users keeps coming to Harrington as bug reports on Launchpad.

Now Harrington is calling for help himself. His graph of bug reports for Karmic Koala in recent weeks "literally went off the chart," which prompted him to recommend concrete steps to avoid future X.org problems.

Where do these bugs come from? The increase in bug reports is for Harrington not so much an indicator that X.org is qualitatively poor, but that lately more users are reporting bugs. Some of the bugs are truly emerging from the new GDM2, the dynamic kernel module support (DKMS) and upstart, which most recently took over coordinating the Ubuntu boot process. The new features didn't cause altogether that many new bugs so much as make existing ones worse, although there were enough stable release updates (SRUs) to deal with the worst cases.

Suggestion 1: hold off on upgrades. Harrington offers the possibility for the future of waiting for the first wave of patches to come in before having the update-manager recommend upgrades to users. At least users who are trying to keep their systems up to date can then enjoy some stability. He suggests the same for LTS as for Lucid.

Suggestion 2: a new testing model. The volume of bug reports is also causing Harrington headaches in terms of his workload. He's had to concentrate on Ubuntu 10.04 for time and personal reasons, even though X.org work is still continuing on the current Ubuntu. Although he'd like to be conservative with X.org, major changes to the X infrastructure are probably needed. HAL will be dropped, Radeon is getting kernel mode setting (KMS), and NVIDIA and ATI driver installations are being rearchitected. There is also a move underway from -nv to -nouveau+kms drivers.

Harrington therefore suggests putting together a desktop testing team, with "a smaller number of people who just
commit to running the same sequence of test steps say once a week." The results will then clearly show where improvements and degradations are emerging. Once the number of successful tests starts decreasing is when bug reports should be written at high priority so as to fix the problems. For Harrington, the solution would be better than filling an already overloaded bugtracking system.

Will this help? Harrington's idea makes sense if indeed a fixed release cycle doesn't allow a large spectrum of users to test the system effectively. To find bugs at all, the project needs tons of users testing the finished Ubuntu. Harrington thus wants new users and early adopters to take a crack at it so that the general Ubuntu user will have an SRU to work with.

Experimental users are responsible themselves for moving early to a "stabile" Ubuntu version. New users don't notice any problems because they don't run into them, or when they do, they currently send in bug reports and repair their systems via updates. Better yet, they uninstall Ubuntu and revert to Windows/Mac or another Linux version. As it currently stands, the Ubuntu project in the worst case might run into both scenarios.

In view of these changes, the project has to ask itself, however, "is it really impossible to thoroughly test the Ubuntu version to avoid these problems before its release?"

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  • Switching distributions?

    All the major GNU/Linux distributions are popular because they are good, switching to another because one has a few bugs is futile.

    Next to Ubuntu I am also a Debian fan, but in my case Debian testing and stable run worse then Karmic. In fact I have yet to encounter a single bug in Karmic.
    That's not because Ubuntu is better than Debian but because Debian was just unlucky on my system this time and Ubuntu wasn't, some day it will be the other way around and switching to Fedora isn't going to solve the issue because it might be next.

    In my opinion ALL operating systems around are bad, some are just worse at some places than others.
    One of the reasons you choose GNU/Linux is because you know what the developers intentions are and it has a transparent development system, one of the results of a system like that is that once in a while you will hear a hacker cry out for help.
    If that happens you have the ability look if you can help the guy in any way, that's the nature of the beast.
  • Half the speed, double the pleasure

    Do we really need a new ubuntu version every 6 months? I would be more than happy with one version a year, if it means it has been properly tested and works!

    Karmic is too buggy for my taste. (try the evolution mapi support if you want to cry)

  • article

    PS. - Nice article by the way.
  • Linux is crap

    Linux seems fixated on a stable desktop, while the "other" vendors are concentrating on productivity/entertainment applications.

  • Details on these issues...

    Are there articles somewhere with details on all of these issues. I am like some of the other posters. I have upgraded Ubuntu 9.10 on two machines and installed Kubuntu 9.10 fresh on two machines and Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10 on a netbook. None of them have had any major problems. If theres some specific hardware config causing these issues I'd like to know before I suggest Ubuntu to others. I have it running on Nvidia and Intel graphics and a Eee PC (with whatever graphics it comes with.) My Intel graphics based machines have improved in performance. I'm not saying there aren't problems. But I'm just curious as to who is actually seeing them and how none of this turns up with the beta releases.
  • exactly

    i'm helping bryce i moved to debian
  • I have a great idea

    De-brand Ubuntu as being a stable operating system when it is shipped with unstable software. That, or stop shipping the distribution with broken software and focus on building off of mature code.
  • @redmond

    If people say Linux is crap they are telling lies (not fud, fud is about "doubt", that is, what YOU are doing).
    What's the truth, then? That there are bugs in X.org (and other places in linux). That's not different to Windows or OSX. The difference is in how we (the community) deal with them. We do so in a timely way, and first of all, we don't hide them. The result is that Linux has LESS bugs than Windows or OSX, because while Microsoft and Apple play to hide them, we FIX them.
  • Don't use Ubuntu, Kbuntu, etc.

    There an easy way to avoid the many regressions caused by Ubuntu's Upstart. Don't use Ubuntu. Use something like Debian testing instead. I do. And I'll never go back to Ubuntu.
  • Ubuntu community test effort?

    Probably in addition to betas and release candidates, Ubuntu could somehow organize a testing community?

    Take a look at Mozilla's bugzilla for example. There are lots of volunteers who do nothing more but check new bug reports for a trivial things like "dup" or "insufficient information" or "already fixed" or "works for me". FireFox developer this way get much less of a stress on their workload.
  • I seriously don't understand

    I seriously don't understand from where people get these issues. Really. SInce the launch of Ubuntu 9.10, i have installed Ubuntu on more than 50 machines. Also before that i made some beta installations. Many of them were laptops. Just a few minor glitches here and there and that too 1 out of 10. What kinda hardware people are using i wonder?
  • New code has bugs... period

    Any new code has the possibility for bugs. Most bugs of any significance in an Ubuntu release get ironed out within about a month after release. Compare to Windows, where the popular sentiment is never to install a new version before SP1, or OSX, where a major data-wiping bug existed in Snow Leopard until the second point release. Also, Karmic isn't an LTS release. If you really want guaranteed rock solid stability above all else, only go from LTS to LTS, or better yet, run Debian Stable.

    For the record, I've performed both an upgrade from 9.04 to 9.10 and a clean install of 9.10, and both went flawlessly.

  • Scary

    What a scary report for Ubuntu which is said by many to be the most polished Linux distro. why then when the Windows Mac people say Linux is crap some say it is fud?
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