Updated: December 22, 2017
What if the results in your recent reviews are a result of changing your test laptop from Lenovo G50 to LG RD510? This is a very smart question that one of my readers asked. What if some of my findings are indeed hardware dependent?
My first argument is that products must be resilient enough to account for variance in hardware. My second argument is that my test methods are consistent. My third argument is that it's no so much that things don't really work in recent Linux distributions, it is that they do not work consistently. If the same thing works with one distro and does not work with another, it's not the hardware. All that said, I decided to test Ubuntu 14.04, which I found to be amazing in all scenarios, on the LG laptop. Let's see what gives.
To begin with, if you've followed my reviews, you will know that I've deployed Trusty on multiple systems. It's one of the most versatile distributions ever released, and it's the pinnacle of what Canonical achieved, before it all went downhill. My history with Ubuntu 14.04 covers a lot, including but not limited to:
An Ultrabook machine with UEFI, used a production system.
A very nifty multi-boot setup on a laptop with SSD.
And I DID test it already on the LG machine long time ago too!
Now, on top of that, I crowned it best distro of 2014, and it's one of the rare few distros I use seriously on production systems. At the moment, this highly prestigious award goes to only one other distribution, and it also happens to be in the family. Yes, you guessed it right, the second Tux spin worthy of mention happens to be 2017 spring crop of Kubuntu, the sweet and mighty Zesty, which I found to be nigh perfect in every regard. But let's move on, shall we.
This one was quick and painless. Clean initial boot, no text noise. Fast, responsive desktop. The new kernel and five revisions of LTS improvements also help make Trusty sleeker and more stable than it was a couple of years ago. Very neat and elegant. The installer also looks better, and it responds more quickly. Just a delight.
Better than Aardvark in every aspect
So, this may read like a proverbial slaughter, and it is. But it's not just Ubuntu Aardvark. It's the entire crop, mostly Gnome systems, like Fedora 27 for instance. We're talking years worth of regressions crammed into the Linux desktop. The damage also affects Kubuntu 17.10, too. But then, if you think I'm negative or unjustly anti-Gnome, you might want to read my review of Antergos, an Arch-based distro no less, which still got pretty good grades and behaves quite respectably on this 2009 machine. Or for that matter, another gem and total surprise was the less popular Mageia 6, which delivered a fresh, solid experience.
Wireless worked in both bands. Bluetooth, check. Samba sharing, yup, and it was fast, both the initial connection and the overall throughput. Printing, again, no issues with either the Samba printer or the Wireless device.
You get all of it, Windows Phone, Android, iPhone, no problems.
The codecs are there, no errors, no bugs. Rhythmbox is pointless, but at least it did what it should, and you get system integration without any extras or hacks.
Updates were offered right away, in a clean, consistent manner. USC is lightyears ahead of Gnome Software. It looks better, behaves more professionally, offers more relevant results, and it just has the feel of a proper store. This includes extra software as well as additional drivers. No problems whatsoever.
Usability & fonts
Trusty is so much better than any recent Gnome. To begin with, you do not need half a dozen extensions to be able to use the desktop. People mistake aesthetic minimalism with functional minimalism. Gnome destroys the desktop by providing a bland and useless interface. You need two extensions to be able to install extensions, and then two or three others plus a couple of programs to get basics like window buttons, a panel, show desktop shortcut, and more.
Trusty has none of those issues, and you can create files with a right-click in the file manager. There are tons of options, so you can configure the file manager, which is not the case with the abstract monstrosity that is Files recently. Normal-sized window borders, good layout. Excellent fonts, sharp and crystal clear, best in the class.
You can also choose custom locations and any which file for your wallpaper, which is not the case in recent Gnomes. You can show your desktop without any hacks. You can hide the Dash if you want. Superlative search capabilities. The good ole Ubuntu when we all had a dream.
Excellent. Even with Nouveau, there were no stupid color issues the way you get in these new distributions. Nvidia drivers installed without any problems. Fn keys all work. The webcam also works nicely, and it comes with the correct theme, matching the desktop layout. The only real bug here is with the suspend & resume functionality, but that's neither a new thing nor an exception. Both the boot sequence and the shutdown remain clean, without any silly artifacts, even with the Nvidia drivers in place. Ubuntu, somebody I used to know.
Resource usage, performance
With default kernel 4.4 in place, you do get some noticeable improvements. Compared to what we had about two to three years ago, memory utilization is much better, at only about 500 MB, almost three times less than most current Gnomes. Idle CPU figures are about 6-7%, again better than most Gnomes. More importantly, the system feels snappy and responsive, far beyond the age and wear of this laptop. Fewer CPU spikes, less lag. Only under heavy load you notice that this isn't the best of breeds, and it's been about eight years since this laptop first saw light. But it is decidedly fresher than most recent Gnomes, and somewhere in between Kubuntu and Xubuntu Aardvark. Yup.
Extra software & customization
It was also quite fun customizing things, because you don't need much. I did configure several new PPA and added Papirus and Numix icons. Here, I had my one and only app crash throughout the entire session, and it was apt not being able to install the Numix White icons package. Broken, so apt quit abnormally, and Ubuntu complained that it had encountered a problem.
I also installed some additional programs - VLC, GIMP, Steam. Both Skype and Chrome were manually downloads, but they both will configure their own repos, too. In the end, it's a delightful little setup.
No, it is not me. Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr shows, once again, that it is the undisputed king of professionalism and quality, and it is the best Ubuntu ever made. What happened more recently is just slow asphyxiation of enthusiasm and happiness. So there you have it. The same laptop, the same user, the same method, a different distro.
After testing this system, I am amazed by how much the recent editions have regressed, across the board. Stability, performance, overall quality, fine details, hardware support, even the basics. Better yet, not only is Trusty better than all these other distros, it's also better than its former self! It has improved - less memory, less CPU, more stability! And all these other distros ... Well. It is appalling and alarming. It is disheartening. You can read those reviews and weep. One thing is sure. Aardvark and friends take the entire distroscape back to 2005. Question asked, answer provided. See you around.