Sunday, May 3, 2009

Jaunty Jackalope released; Vista all over again

That's right, I put the release of Ubuntu's Jaunty Jackalope on the same level as Microsoft's launch of Windows Vista. Although Jaunty's release wasn't announced by a troupe of performance artists like Vista, its fanfare-filled launch ensnared many users who were unaware of its development-release instability and widespread incompatibility.

My awareness and rage toward this issue started with a single click. After my package manager had downloaded several updates, I noticed a button above the list of updates encouraging me to upgrade my system to the newest release of Linux. I obliged, just as any inexperienced user would when greeted by a safe, important-looking button.

The enticing Jaunty upgrade button

The installation took two or three hours, and it threw only a single minor error: the incompatible package libphoto (or something like that) wasn't installed. I shut down my system for the night, admiring the cool gradient loading bar before turning off the monitor.

When I booted up the next morning, I chose the newest kernel from the GRUB menu and expected a smooth startup. Instead, I was greeted by a total startup failure. My flashed between a black screen and a black screen with a red bar at the top several times before finally hanging on the glitchy red bar. Every time I tried to boot linux, I would get the same red bar of death followed by a permanent hang. Even if I attempted to fall back to an older version of the kernel, I would get the same result: total failure.

I decided to figure out what had happened and how to fix it, so I fired up Vista (GRUB still worked fine) and asked for help on the official Ubuntu forum. Instead of an explanation and instructions on how to fix my problem, I received this response from an experienced Ubuntu user:

Sorry to hear about your upgrade problems. 9.04 seems to be producing a lot more than its share of such problems (which is why we generally recommend against doing an upgrade).

As to reverting, sorry (again), there's no simple way to do that because an upgrade not only replaces packages it also removes them.

I was shocked. I had often heard tales of the stability of Linux relative to Windows, but now I realized those tales were just myths. I might expect to encounter this problem and response if I was installing Jaunty on an old, obscure, or esoteric system, but I never thought that my 64-bit Intel quad core PC wouldn't be supported by an Ubuntu distribution release.

I then began to notice all the encouragements for Ubuntu users to upgrade to Jaunty Jackalope: Jaunty has a plug on the Ubuntu forum index page, it is the default Ubuntu version for download on, and it also has that tantalizing upgrade button on the Package Manager. However, inexperienced users are supposed to ignore all that and instead ask the advice of an experienced Ubuntu user.

I find this incident startlingly similar to Microsoft's often-mocked Vista advertising blitz. Although Vista and Jaunty were unstable and had many incompatibilities, they were both released with much fanfare, enticing naive users to "upgrade" now. I understand that Ubuntu follows a strict six-month release schedule, but the trust of their users should be more important to them than an arbitrary schedule. On the other hand, Ubuntu could have officially released Jaunty but delayed the push for users to upgrade until after the OS was as stable as its predecessor.

I eventually had to destroy my Linux partition (along with all my data) and start again with Intrepid Ibex from my Live CD. After this incident, I might skip the Jaunty upgrade entirely and wait for the next long-term support release; I'm not anxious to "upgrade" Ubuntu again anytime soon.