Updating to Ubuntu 20.04 – The Good Things

Back in 2009, I installed a derivate of Ubuntu 09.04 on a notebook ‘just to try it out’ and have remained with Ubuntu ever since. It was my first Linux I used full time as it was clear to me that closed source software connected to the Internet would not work for me but eventually against me. Over the years, I’ve upgraded to the Long Term Support (LTS) versions 10.04 12.04, 14.04 and finally to 16.04 in 2016. I skipped 18.04, as 16.04 was ‘good enough’ and, as far as the operating system is concerned, I don’t have to live on the bleeding edge. But since Ubuntu 16.04 will reach the end of its support cycle in 2021 and some annoying quirks had never been fixed over the years, I decided to jump on the 20.04 Long Term Support (LTS) bandwagon as soon as possible. After using the new system for two weeks now, it was time to write down the things I like about 20.04 and compare it to 16.04. In a follow up post I will rant a bit about the things that I don’t like, which are unfortunately just about as many.

Instead of just upgrading, I installed the system from scratch to get rid of the ‘crud’ of the past 5-6 years and to do a number of things differently. Overall, it was a 2 week process, from first experiments such as which configuration of the system and home partition to use for the next 4 years and the required changes in the backup strategy.

One system partition, one LUKS encrypted partition for /home

By default, the Ubuntu installer will use a single partition for the system and the home directories. That doesn’t work for me at all since there is no encryption and I can’t back-up and restore the system separately from the data. Both things are a must have for me. On my previous system I had a LUKS encrypted second partition to which I made symbolic links for some directories in my home folder. The home folder itself was file encrypted. So while all personal files were encrypted it was a bit of a kludge. But I have learnt a few things in the meantime so this time around I chose to LUKS encrypt the second partition on the SSD like before but mount it as /home instead of using symbolic directory links. This way, the home directory is completely on the LUKS drive instead of just a few folders. I wished I could encrypt the system partition as well but that’s not really straight forward so far. Also, not encrypting the system partition makes backup and restore the full partition with Clonezilla much faster than backing up a 60 GB encrypted block device.

GUI Improvements

Yes, 4 years make a bit of a difference when it comes to the graphical user interface. Some people say it looks more modern and yes, after a day or two, I now agree. The Gnome 3 desktop looks nicer than the Unity desktop based on Gnome 2. A small thing perhaps but eye candy is important!

The much bigger thing, however, is that the 20.04 desktop is much more stable now. On Ubuntu 16.04 I would have to reboot after 4 to 5 days because the desktop was getting slower or Libreoffice and other applications would suddenly not show some menus anymore. Looks like this nasty effect is gone in 20.04. When writing this, my system has been up for 14 days and except for X11 using more memory over time, things are fine. No hiccups so far. Very nice!

Another major improvement is that when the screen is locked and the mouse is moved, the screen wakes up for just a few seconds and switches to power save mode again. Not so in Ubuntu 16.04. Move the mouse a bit and the screen would stay on when the screen lock was on. I guess I wasn’t the only one complaining but it was never fixed in 16.04. I’m glad this is gone now.

Nautilus File Manger Improvements

When it comes to the Nautilus file manager there is light and shadow. I keep the shadow part for the next blog entry. On the sunny side, however, DAV and SFTP shares are now much better integrated and react much faster now. It feels natural and almost ‘local’ now. Also, I can now directly load and save files from such shares in many applications in which this was not possible in 16.04.

On the previous system, Nautilus had a nasty bug that under certain circumstances one could not copy and paste between tabs in Nautilus anymore. That was a major nuisance. I haven’t come across this issue in 20.04 anymore so it must have been fixed along the way.

Firmware Updates

Earlier this year I experimented with firmware updates and fwupdmanager. This piece of software is a relatively recent development but was never backported to 16.04. In 20.04 it’s included in the basic installation.

XMPP Messenger Improvement – One Step Forward – One Step Back

When it comes to instant messaging I was kind of stuck with Pidgin on 16.04, which unfortunately seems kind of abandoned. There are other native clients but again, they required a newer OS version. With 20.04 I’ve abandoned Pidgin for good now and had to choose between the feature rich Gajim with a somewhat dated user interface or the much lighter Dino instant messenger with a user interface that fits into a GUI of this decade. For the time being I’m using Dino and live with its shortcomings. Beauty beats functionality. For now at least.

VirtualBox Improvements

Virtualbox has also seen some improvements along the way. The most important one for me is the better USB3 support. I do have a couple of applications running in VB clients that require direct USB connectivity to external devices. I had a bit of trouble with some USB3 devices in 16.04 and a somewhat older Virtualbox version and always had to connect them to USB2 ports or use cables that downgraded connectivity to USB2. With the current version of Virtualbox this is fixed, I now enjoy USB3 speeds in guest machines.

I also learned how to save the state of a running machine instead of shutting a VM down when I didn’t need it for some time and I’ve figured out the keyboard combination to switch between the host and the VM. This would have already worked in my Ubuntu 16.04 installation but I only figured it out when I started to experiment with the update. I count it on the positive side, nevertheless.

One thing that the update has definitely improved is that the keyboard shortcut to switch between windows (Alt-Tab) does no longer interfere with the host’s dash. So I can now use Alt-Tab to switch between windows in a VM guest, escape to the host by pressing the right Strg button and then Alt-Tab again to switch between windows on the host. All without touching the mouse!

Printers and Scanning

HP always had good Linux drivers for their printers and scanners. In Ubuntu 20.04 this is integrated out of the box, the OS recognizes my Wifi based printers and scanners without installing drivers. Also XSane no longer appends a small pink stripe at the end of pages if I scan them from the automated document feeder, which is another major plus!

Feels Good Now!

So far, so good. After using the system for two weeks now, I am at the point at which it feels that going back is not an option anymore. But all is not well, there are also some things that are actually a step back after the upgrade. I’ll get to that in the next post.

6 thoughts on “Updating to Ubuntu 20.04 – The Good Things”

  1. Great review, but I have a few comments/quesions.

    Do you like the GNOME3/Unity-style desktop? I’ve never been able to get used to it. I always end up using more traditional style desktops on my Linux systems. These days, I’m use “xfce”, via the “xubuntu” distribution (xfce can, of course, also be installed on a normal Ubuntu installation by adding its packages).

    I’m surprised you’re using the bundled VirtualBox package. VirtualBox updates very frequently, so Ubuntu LTS releases very quickly fall behind. On my systems, I follow the instructions on the VirtualBox web site (https://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Linux_Downloads) to add Oracle’s master repository to my system, so I get the latest updates as they are released.

    1. Hi David,

      as far as the desktop is concerned: I like the Dash on the left and I guess I wouldn’t worry too much if it is Canonical or GNOME3 style. I also like GNOME3’s look and feel in general in Ubuntu 20.04. But I really need the ‘desktop’ for my files and folder which breaks with the GNOME3 approach. If things become intolerable, I am glad there is xfce and other desktops, or even go to the other end of the spectrum and go for KDE. So there are many possibilities 🙂

      On Virtualbox: My approach to it is to download it / update directly from Oracle but not to use their ‘apt’ integration. As you rightly say, the bundled version in the OS is not updated anymore and after 4 years it would be hopelessly out of date. On the other hand, I don’t go for ‘apt’ integration because every time the system updates I’m bothered with installing an update of the ‘guest additions’ in each VM. Also, updates do tend to break some things every now and then, at least they did in the past. So I am somewhere in between so I can choose between stability and having an option to upgrade. Going to Ubuntu 20.04 has required and given me a good reason to go to the latest VB version, so that was a good thing (but of course not directly related to Ubuntu 20.04 itself).

      Cheers,
      -Martin

  2. Hi Martin,
    Very interesting post. One question though – why did you choose virtualbox over kvm/qemu and virtmanager? Any technical reasons for this (performance, something that wouldn’t work otherwise, etc.)?
    Regards.

    1. Good question! Last time I checked, only Virtualbox could do the resize window in real time. I use KVM/quemu/virtmanager for VMs on my server and I’m quite happy with it. But that was missing so far 🙂

      1. Ah, I see, then have another look. I have my server VMs in KVM, but also Win10 with virtmanager or virtviewer on my Linux PC (Ubuntu 18.04) and the dynamic scaling with window re-size is working for me for all of them. It can be turned on/off with View -> Scale Display.

Comments are closed.