Ubuntu; no thank you

I have been occasionally experimenting with other distros.  It has been a while since I last tried ubuntu, so I decided to give it a try.  I downloaded “ubuntu-13.04-desktop-amd64.iso”, which is the 64-bit installer for ubuntu-13.04.  Its size is 823132160 bytes, and it is intended to be used as a live DVD installer.

As is my usual practice, I installed the iso on a USB drive.  In my case, I used the command:

dd_rescue ubuntu-13.04-desktop-amd64.iso /dev/sdf

which directly copies the iso image over the USB flash drive. This is not what the ubuntu page recommends, but it seemed to work.

The partitioning of the install disk is odd, but perhaps that’s a reflection of how they hyrbidized it so that it could used on a DVD or on a USB.


The USB booted up without a problem.  I tried this on two different systems.

On my UEFI box, I had secure-boot enabled in the firmware.   I inserted the USB, powered up the machine, and hit F12 to get the firmware boot menu.  One of the choices was to boot from the USB drive, so I selected that.

The initial boot screen looked like a grub2 menu.  It gave me a choice of booting the live system or installing.  I booted into the live system.

On an older box, I followed a similar method.  There isn’t any UEFI support on the older box, so it booted in MBR mode.  The first menu was probably from using syslinux.  Again, I chose to boot into the live system.

The Desktop

The desktop appearance was the same on both machines.  I assume that this is the Unity desktop.  There was a column of icons at the left, and a task manager bar at the top.  On my UEFI box, a notice informed me that WiFi networks were available.  I clicked on what appeared to possibly be the network icon, and was able to connect using what appeared to be NetworkManager.  My other box has an ethernet connection so I did not receive a connection prompt on that box.

Looking through the icons, there were a couple for Ubuntu One, which appears to be a multi-media player.  And then there were some LibreOffice icons.  There was also an icon for what appeared to be the software installer, but I would not be using that while running on the live system.

There was also a firefox icon.  That was the only icon that I would have wanted to use.  So I clicked it, and firefox came up.  I do not know which version of firefox.  I looked for the menu so that I could click on “help” and the “about firefox”.  But I could not find a menu.  I tried F1 and ALT-F1, but neither of those brought up a menu.  There was no way that I could find for accessing firefox preferences.  I presume that I could have browsed to “about:config” and turned on the menu bar.  But there isn’t much point in doing that when running the live system.

I’m a command line kind of user.  I have been using unix and linux for a long time, and I do a lot at the command line.  So one of the first things to do with ubuntu was to find a command line.  As already mentioned, the menus don’t offer much.  I could not find a way of starting a terminal from the menus.

Instead, I hit ALT-F2, and that did allow me to type in a command.  Typing “xterm” brought up an “xterm” application.  That allowed me to look around.

Many of the usual linux command line tools are there.  So I could find “vi”, “grep”, “sed” and many others.  However, it seemed clear that this was not a system oriented toward the command line user.

I then ran “sudo bash” to get a root command line.  The command “fdisk” was there, but “gdisk” was not.  The command “efibootmgr” was missing, which seems surprising when I had booted on a UEFI box.

I did not install

After that experience, I decided not to try installing.  The software that I would normally use is probably all available in the repos.  But ubuntu is packaged for a different kind of user.  It did not seem worth the effort of installing and then tailoring to the way that I would want to use it.


About Neil Rickert

Mathematician and computer scientist who dabbles in cognitive science.

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