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Advice Against Upgrading Ubuntu 9.04 to 9.10

Posted: 2009-11-09
From: Mathaba
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9.10 has several issues with newest ASUS laptop UL range, whilst 9.04 works flawlessly on these new laptops

For the average business or personal computer user, Ubuntu is one of the easy to use free Linux operating systems which makes for a much more stable and pleasant user experience than the infamous Microsoft Windows. It thus comes as a surprise, to have a headache with an Ubuntu upgrade.

Having just spent days restoring data due to the impossibility of migrating back the entire Operating System from Ubuntu 9.10 to 9.04, seemingly because the Master Boot Record contains changes in this latest version as well as the home folder encryption system maybe forwards but not easily backwards compatible, I thought it best to write about the experience and save others the headache.
Firstly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with 9.04 (Jaunty) Ubuntu alternate - with the latest updates of Kernel 2.6.28-16 Generic running on a new ASUS UL30A laptop. Everything works - including Wireless WLAN, Bluetooth, OpenVPN, LAN, although Skype video requires a fix due to running upside down, this is the fault of both Skype and the camera being mounted upside down in some laptops, and nothing to do with Ubuntu.

So, why upgrade to 9.10? Well, we did it just because we had already reported on this latest release, which is said to boot faster and have some improvements. Our findings, however, were rather different and we share them here with you.

Readers should bear in mind that we have several linux experts on our technical staff, but this writer is by no means an expert, and writes from that point of view.o 9.04, seemingly because the Master Boot Record contains changes in this latest version as well as the home folder encryption system maybe too.

So what did not work in 9.10?

Below is a list of the issues that were noticed right away, and is by no means exhaustive. Readers should also understand, that this may apply only to the new ASUS laptop hardware, however, ASUS is a very popular laptop computer brand, and as mentioned before, it works flawlessly with Ubuntu 9.04 - throw out Windows Vista and you'll be grateful!

1. Login

Logging in on Ubuntu 9.10 is a very poor user experience when compared to 9.04. Although it is claimed to be faster, we boot at just 34 seconds including login, with 9.04 and we did not notice any speed improvement on 9.10. On the contrary, and what counts is the perception of the user who stares at the screen waiting to become active, the method of progress bar (or rather, lack of it) and the frantic to and fro of an icon and at other times a boring glaring white ubuntu logo on black background, make for a much more stressful and lengthy (if only psychologically) login experience.

Another poor point, is that the username is displayed on the login screen, which could be a security and/or privacy issue. A good thing with Ubuntu 9.04 is that you have to know and type in your username.

2. System Tray

The system tray top left of the display in 9.10 is gray on gray (or grey on grey if you are outside the U.S.) which is very hard to see unless you have true 20/20 vision. Thus the notification of Wifi, Email, Sound, Power etc, is almost indistinguishable without a close focus. On the contrary, 9.04 provides nice colorful (colourful) icons which make for great user experience at a glance.

Another gripe, is that the Email notification and Evolution Mail launcher now contains a drop down with Epiphany at the top (due to being in alphabetical order) so selecting Evolution one has to scroll much further down, on 9.10.

3. Notifications

The notification pop up (new email, wifi connected, etc) is displaced part way down the right side of the screen on 9.10 instead of top right, as it is with 9.04. This is annoying and unexpected, as notifications should normally appear in the corner of a screen, not an undetermined length part way down.

4. Wireless (WiFi) Selection

The Wireless Access Point selection list is another big step backwards in 9.10. Instead of a listing on 9.04 which can be as long as your screen height before scrolling down (if you have enough signals in your area) on 9.10 you only get a few before having to click "more" to slide out the rest. As the signals are not ordered by signal strength, one invariably has to click 3 times before being able to select the Access Point to connect to, which is a waste of time. And, there is that awful grey on grey again, instead of the clear black on light grey in Ubuntu 9.04, and no nice orange colour for signal strength.

5. OpenVPN is broken

OpenVPN does not work in 9.10 with the network manager, however, this could be an issue that can be fixed with the installation of additional components, which is the case too with 9.04. We did not try it so cannot say for sure if it can be made to work or not.

6. Themes, Colours (Colors)

All windows and icons have been drastically changed in 9.10, with what many no doubt may feel is a "spruced up" or "snazzy" improvement. However, what about the great many users of 9.04 who have quickly fallen in love with the simple, clean and clear display of Human-Clearlooks? Why on earth, would that theme, not be made available in the Appearance options in 9.10 so that those great many users could at least maintain the look that they had grown accustomed to in 9.04?

It is always very bad policy and user experience to have to be forced to re-learn or re-focus on changes that are purely presentational, and can confuse, bewilder, annoy or upset users, without making those changes optional. This is something not always easy to do (for example when upgrading a web site) but in this case would be easy. Ubuntu developers are thus also urged to make the 9.04 themes available to 9.10 users, so that the upgrade can be less traumatic.


"Upgrading" from 9.04 to 9.10 can prove to be a traumatic experience, and we see no real improvement in 9.10 that requires us to do so. As with much software development these days (Skype being one example on the Windows platform, and Windows XP to Vista being another example), users are being forced into things that are not necessary and impact negatively upon their productivity and stress levels.

Why change from a pleasant enough login process to one that breaks most of the rules of progress bar design and psychology? Why force users to lose the look and feel of windows and colours that they have grown accustomed to and are not bored with? Why not at least make those changes either optional or maintain them as an optional theme along with the new ones?

Had it been only for the colours and login and not the other technical and possible design glitches mentioned above, we may have stuck out 9.10 and tried to become accustomed to it, but there were immediately too many problems visible after upgrade from a version (9.04) that works perfectly with a new ASUS laptop to one that was in many places broken.

Before upgrading to Ubuntu 9.10 a full back up was made. However, as mentioned above, anything outside the home folder, may have to be very selective if restoring back to 9.04, and the best way we found was to format and reinstall 9.04 again from scratch before migrating back home folder data and settings.

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