Upgrading to Ubuntu 16.04 – Is It Worth The Effort?

A few weeks ago I updated from Ubuntu 14.04 to Ubuntu 16.04 on my notebook. Was it worth the effort?

My tow main reasons for updating to Ubuntu 16.04 were to run an up to date system and to get rid of a pretty nasty kernel bug for which I didn’t find a fix, I could just get rid of most of the symptoms by clearing the memory buffer in an endless loop. And indeed, after a clean install of Ubuntu 16.04 the kernel bug is indeed gone. But apart from these two reasons I’m afraid there is really very little incentive.

GUI Stability Improved?

One other thing I have come to live in with in 14.04 was that every 4-6 days the GUI became unstable and new windows came up empty. The only thing that helped was to reboot. Also, I would get graphics errors in windows for a second every now and then which went away on their own. It seems this effect was related to the graphics driver as I didn’t see that when I ran my system on other notebooks. Both effects seems to be gone in 16.04 but I noticed that after the same amount of time, switching between windows with Alt-Tab suddenly starts taking half a second and effects when windows open and close become sluggish. That doesn’t sound like much but it feels like an eternity compared to the instant window switching while things are o.k. Again, only a reboot helps. Also, it happened twice in three weeks that characters were not displayed correctly anymore after resume which again results in a reboot to fix it. So while there is some improvement in some areas, they managed to break things in others so I am no better off in this regard as before.

Beware of UEFI

When I first installed Ubuntu 16.04 from scratch I let the installer decide how to create my partitions. I ended up having an UEFI partition and a system partition. Nothing wrong with that in theory and it is actually the recommended setup today. In practice, however, I noticed that the drive wouldn’t boot in my spare computer no matter how I tried to tweak the BIOS settings. As I really depend on my system running on different computers I resorted do the partitioning myself to force the Ubuntu installer to use the traditional and deprecated MBR way of booting the system.

Network Manager Problems After Suspend/Resume

I noticed pretty quickly that sometimes after a suspend and resume the Wi-Fi network would not come up properly, the NetworkManger would not recognize any Wi-Fi networks at all. I realized I was not the only one with the problem and that a restart of the NetworkManager via a script that is run every time the system woke up fixed the issue.

Virtualbox – Mixed Feelings here, too

At least in the past, Oracle every now and then managed to incorporate major bugs in their Virtualbox updates so I stuck with the version 4 for a long time. After installing Ubuntu 16.04 I installed the latest version of Virtualbox 5 and was quite amazed of how much faster the Virtual Machine system has become when transferring data between host and data. In Virtualbox 4 transferring files was sometimes very slow while with Virtualbox 5, transferring files between a Windows 7 guest and an Ubuntu host is amazingly fast now. A major downside, however, is that an Ubuntu 14.04 guest keeps freezing after a while when paused. A Windows 7 guest works without flaws when woken up from being frozen.

The New Software Center

… is probably a step forward but still has some bugs. Not all software can be installed, for some it’s necessary to use apt-get in a shell. Also it has been reported that the software center has a broken .deb install function.

Update Notifications Are Annoying

One thing that massively annoys me is that I get frequent notifications that updates are available. Even switching off the search for updates entirely has no effect, the system keeps looking anyway. At one point I was so annoyed with the notifications I decided to rename the notify-osd binary in /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu to stop the bubbles popping up. If I wanted annoying pop-ups I would have installed Windows… As a consequence all other notifications that I found useful are now also silenced. A bit of a shame.

Firefox Without Bookmark Context Menus

One other thing I don’t understand is why Canonical had to break Firefox’ ability to show a context menu for bookmark entries in the menu when pressing the right mouse button. I find this functionality extremely useful to delete bookmarks I no longer need. Like in 14.04 this prompted me to install a standalone Firefox without Unity integration.

Unable To Delete Files Behind Symbolic Links

In my home directory I’m using symbolic links for directories such as Documents and Downloads that point to directories on an encrypted data partition. Unfortunately, after upgrading from 14.04 to 16.04 I can’t move files to trash anymore in the first directory after the link, they can only be deleted. Trashing a directory behind the symbolic link or single files inside a directory behind the symbolic link works just fine as before. People are speculating about this being a bug anywhere between Gnome and the Kernel but there doesn’t seem to be a fix. Wherever this comes from it was working just fine in 14.04.

The Good Things

On the positive side, as already said above, my kernel bug is gone. Resizing terminal windows now reflows the text, that is a very useful feature I’m really glad about. Also, Virtualbox is much faster now and rearranging windows when adding and removing a second monitor has been improved. Another small enhancement which I find very useful is that Canonical has added an “Open in Terminal” option in the context menu in the file explorer when right clicking on a directory. And a final thing I noticed is that mounted network drives no longer stall the file explorer when network connectivity has been lost. This list might seem short compared to all the issues listed above. On the other hand there are so many things I like in Ubuntu and Unity, but I don’t think it’s worth listing all the good stuff that is not broken.

So What’s My Verdict?

If you don’t have major issues with Ubuntu 14.04 (e.g. things like my kernel bug) there is really no reason to upgrade. I wished Canonical would have put a bit more effort in the past two years to improve Unity’s stability but it seems their work has gone somewhere else instead. On the other hand if you need to install a new system from scratch, there’s no reason to not to use the new version.