Ubuntu 12.04 Alpha 2 Review: Unusually Bug-Ridden

Ubuntu 12.04 "Precise Pangolin" Alpha 2 is here and we are yet another release close to perhaps the most important Ubuntu ever. I have been using Ubuntu 12.04 ever since its first alpha was released and I have been closely following the developments. At the moment, Ubuntu 12.04 is far from stable in my netbook. It seems unusually bug ridden.

Ubuntu 12.04 Alpha 2 Review

Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin Alpha 2 Review
Ubuntu 12.04 Alpha 2 was released nearly a week ago and since then I am seeing a constant stream of positive reviews about it from every corner, which was quite amusing. For me, Ubuntu 12.04 Alpha 2 was perhaps the most messed up Ubuntu development release to date. It seems to harbor plenty of bugs. I agree to an extend that any early development release is supposed to be like that, but I have been testing alpha and beta releases of Ubuntu for a long time now and I believe this is one of the worst I have tested so far.

I had recently upgraded my Ubuntu 12.04 to latest Unity 5.2 and I think, many of the bugs are caused by that particular Unity update. But I am not going to PPA purge it since those updates are going to arrive in Ubuntu 12.04 sooner than later.

The Bad Bits:

Top Panel is Dead
I installed all the recent updates, upgraded to latest Ubuntu 12.04 Alpha 2, and restarted the machine. I was in for a shock. Top panel seems to be not working anymore. I restarted again with no avail. I tried restarting Compiz, still nothing happened. Unity without a working global menu is such a pain to use.

But luckily, all of the Unity keyboard shortcuts were working just fine. I could just press F10 and access almost anything in top panel. I realized that top panel is not really dead, its just that top panel is not responding to mouse clicks. It was a real pain in the neck anyway.

Misbehaving Launcher
The second misbehaving aspect of Ubuntu 12.04 is its Launcher. Unity 5.2 update is supposed to make it more useful in every sense. But it is hardly so. One of the features enlisted in the Unity 5.2 update was the following.
  • To invoke the launcher, you now need to push against the left of the screen, rather than hover for X seconds. No more hitting the back button in Firefox and having the launcher pop up in your way.
But what's actually happening here is, Launcher just won't appear when you press against the left side of the screen (while a window is in full screen). Of course there are other ways to do it like hitting the Super key or Alt + F1 for example. But that's not the point. Launcher hide/unhide behaviour definitely needs improvement. (Update: Oh well! It seems like Mark Shuttleworth is planning to completely ditch dodge windows functionality)

Compiz Instabilities
As much as I love Compiz, it can become a pain very fast too. At the moment, almost every action ends in a Compiz crash which makes the whole system pretty unusable.

Alt + Tab Not Working
The advent of Unity has changed everything. Bottom panel is not there anymore which made "minimizing windows" action pretty useless. Alt + Tab action, which was reworked for Unity, grew into prominence. Anyway, it seems to be broken in Ubuntu 12.04 Alpha 2. Initiating Alt + Tab gives you just the windows open in the current desktop (I hope this is not a feature).

The Good Bits:

Quicklists Support Arrived

Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin

Finally! quicklists are here. Quite a number of decent quicklists have been there since the first Unity but this is the first time I am seeing anything like it in default Ubuntu. It is a nicely implemented feature and I hope a lot of people find it useful.

Other Minor Improvements

ubuntu 12.04 changes
  • Launcher Icon Size can now be changed easily from Appearance window.
ubuntu 12.04 launcher behaviour
  • Behavior tab lets you decide Launcher behavior.
Boot Time Improvements
I did some pretty basic tests on how fast Ubuntu 12.04 Alpha 2 is booting up when compared to Ubuntu 11.10 and the results are somewhat inspiring. Ubuntu 11.10 seems to take around 35 seconds to boot in my netbook while Ubuntu 12.04 Alpha 2 took only 28 seconds to boot. That is a difference of good 7-8 seconds already!

But 28 seconds is still a far cry from the stated goal of below 10 second boot time. Also, these tests were done in a single core Intel Atom processor powered netbook. Those stats might be a lot better for Ubuntu 12.04 Alpha 2 in a more "standard" device, I think.

Battery Consumption has Improved
Another crude test and another win for Ubuntu 12.04. When compared to Ubuntu 11.10, Precise Pangolin seems to consume slightly less battery, which is a welcome development. I hope more improvements come in this direction.

A lot of things are broken in Ubuntu 12.04 "Precise Pangolin" at the moment. But there is no need to panic, it's just an alpa release and things will improve over time. And may be, a broken development release is a blessing in disguise after all. I mean, a lot of important changes are definitely on its way and that might just be the root cause of all the trouble. 

Update: A good part of this article was written right after the day Ubuntu 12.04 Alpha 2 was released and an update has fixed most of the issues we talked about in the post above, especially regarding the launcher and top panel. But since this post is about Ubuntu 12.04 Alpha 2 release specifically, I won't be editing anything out.