Ubuntu is not going to give me a decent desktop OS anymore

I’ve always been an Ubuntu fan for the past 10 years since the distribution came out with the promise of a usable deskto, with a promise of openness, regular releases, great integration between different and separated projects, great vision for world dominance. I loved all of that and I loved the execution, including the latest evolution. I love HUD and how it uses screen real estate, allows me to be more effective at commanding window-based application without having to touch the mouse. I love most of Unity, the dash and the lenses although I don’t use most of it.

Lately I’ve gone from concerned fan to very sad: I’m considering switching to another distribution. What I don’t really like is the lack of investments from Canonical on productivity tools that we live for: an email client and a calendar client. I already ranted about the sad state of free software collaboration tools and unfortunately Canonical decided to invest time and energy in supporting not a desktop for productivity but as a gaming platform, a cloud operating system and a mobile system. Canonical is devoting its engineers to develop things I really don’t care about. All I wanted was a good, solid desktop operating system for my daily computing needs: email, calendar, web browsing, audio/video collaboration tools and a decent way to exchange ‘office’ documents with peopls stuck in 1998 way of producing content. Sadly Ubuntu is not going to provide that in the near future, it even backed out from offering the most basic tools like an email client and a calendar client.

When I look at the alternatives though, I am even more sad and want to cry. GNOME seems to be stupidly following all the things that Apple does, including the obvious mistakes like the broken behavior of ALT-TAB (I expect GNOME developers to invert the way we scroll pages any time now, because Apple did that with absolutely no logical reason). GNOME also lacks a modern email client, addressbook and calendar client, with Evolution being stuck in 1998. And spare me to mention KDE: great technology, just no decent UI for it.

I’m sure Ubuntu will look great in a couple of years on TVs, phones, clouds but all I wanted was my desktop and I fear that for the next couple of years I’ll be stuck with a broken one, being it Ubuntu or Fedora or something else.





  1. “productivity tools that we live for: an email client and a calendar client”

    This is simply not true. You are assuming everyone shares your likes and dislikes. I much prefer webmail (which I regularly access from 3 different computers). I have no use for a desktop email client.

  2. Why not use KDE applications in Unity if you like the UI of Unity, but not the apps?

    I really cannot see what you want coming from anybody. Email is all but dead. Mozilla’s Thunderbird gets little attention from its parent, so Evolution is not the only unloved child.

    People collaborate differently now. Smartphones and tablets have taken over. People can collaborate face to face and in real time as opposed to posting a message and waiting. There is a social cost, loss of freedom and privacy, but people seem okay with being on call 24/7. (I am not in that camp, BTW)

    The desktop computer is still around as are email clients and collaboration software, but they are a dying breed. So do not hold your breath hoping someone to back your idea. They are going where the trend is and I do not blame them.

    There are some distributions that are stuck in the past, but their stock is falling. They have won over some diehards who won’t change, but are getting left behind. But do not count on them to help you either. They are happy with 1998-ish Evolution.

    I do not use Ubuntu. I prefer KDE so am using Kubuntu. I like the UI. It can be tailored to work the way that I do. I love the applications. Dolphin is 100 times better than Nautilus as is K3b over Brasero. I could go on, but will spare you.

    I agree that GNOME is making a mistake, but not in the way that you do. I think that they are not going far enough.

    • I have never appreciated KDE and its applications but it’s a matter of taste, there is little to debate. I’ll give them a second look although the fact that you mention K3b makes me think you and I have totally different needs (I haven’t burned a disk in 8 years). You say email is not dead but then you confirm my thesis that Evolution and Thunderbird are dead in the water (or at least they’re not moving). That leaves us only with Kontact…
      You mention the loss of privacy and control and that’s one of the reasons for my rant: I think that for the free software/open source movement to give up on developing tools for personal productivity is a horrible mistake for the long term vision.

  3. thunderbird is good and gnome-shell or unity shell have a integration for the cloud with gmail and hotmail calendars, this a simply excuse for change your distro but this a good idea, try elementary os or crunchbang , any distro with xfce ? , i am very happy with ubuntu 13.10(fb,twitter,youtube), fedora 19(work) and debian 7(server)

    • @Jesus: I couldn’t care less of integrations with Gmail and Hotmail. In fact, if I cared about those I wouldn’t be talking about the lack of decent open source tools for personal information management. The web solutions are good enough for many people but they come at a too high price for me: lock in and privacy. Not good, and I don’t talk about my privacy only, but that of the people I correspond with and meet: I think it’s not fair to hand their data to Google or Microsoft without them authorizing me. Thunderbird is functioning, I use it as my main client but it has lots of areas that could be improved. My rant comes from the realization that it will not be improved by Mozilla, nor by anybody else; if things go well it will keep being maintained and bugs fixed. Not exactly something to be excited for. Meanwhile Google will keep moving gmail forward and us freedom-privacy-appreciating citizens will be stuck with software developed in the 90s. Too bad.

  4. Basically irregardless of the distro you will generally get the same access to the same tools. So, switching to a different base distro wont help, as Ubuntu has access to most software that is available. If it isn’t in the repos, you can simply install a deb, or add a ppa.

    I also like Thunderbird, but understand that you may have the need for a more robust e-mail client.

    Of course they are working on both a calendar and e-mail client currently. They are built for Unity 8, though and probably wont be available until 14.04 (though you can install unity8 in 13.10, and the ubuntu touch apps, as well)
    They are not ignoring the desktop at all, or those needs. They are building scalable multi-device apps, and working on integrating unity8 with the desktop. So all work done for the phone will benefit the desktop. They use the same backends as the desktop uses. So any improvement to the backend (libraries, etc…) will most definitely benefit the desktop as well!

    Hang in there and try some of the other mail clients, there may be some Java based, cross platform ones that may do what you need for now. Or of course Wine/or VM if you really need a certain program.

    • Indeed, it’s a generalized problem. The reason why I pick on Ubuntu and Canonical is because they are the only ones that pushed the frontier of a GNU/Linux desktop. Since Canonical decided to spread its effort over to mobile I feel left behind. I wish them well and I wish that the development efforts of Unity8 and all the new apps will bring new life to the desktops too. I’m afraid it will take at least another couple of years before the new code will be up to speed with the existing code. That’s why I’m concerned: waiting two years to get apps that are up to the ones I have now… unfortunately I guess you’re right and there is little to do than to wait and see what happens.
      PS I don’t use Wine or any other OS. If I wanted to, I could just buy the original stuff, OS X or Windows, and give up on my freedom-powered desktop.

  5. “What I don’t really like is the lack of investments from Canonical on productivity tools that we live for: an email client and a calendar client.”
    Maybe it’s because they are aware that popularity of desktop email is decreasing and web and mobile mail market share is increasing.

    • That’s one way to look at it. Another plausible explanation is that given the sad status of desktop email clients, people go and use web mail 🙂 In any case, open source and free software have never been about popularity but freedom.