Vaidas Jablonskis bio photo

Vaidas Jablonskis

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I will try to be open minded here as much as I can. I am a huge fan of rpm-based Linux distributions, such as Fedora and CentOS/RHEL. They are super clean, stable, predictable. Usability is great too.

I don’t care about care that Fedora comes with Gnome3 by default and some say that Gnome3 sucks is unstable and usability is terrible, but I like it. All I need from desktop environment is to be able to quickly launch my favourite applications, gnome-terminal, Google chrome, xchat and audacious without touching my mouse. Gnome3 does that extremely well.

But I am here to talk not about desktop environments. Let’s talk about running Ubuntu Linux on servers, either in the cloud, physical boxes or on your workstation as virtual machines.

I have to admit, I am not familiar with Ubuntu/Debian Linux distributions as much as I am with CentOS or Fedora. I have been running the latter two on servers for quite a few years and they are perfect.

So why Ubuntu Linux, if I love rpm-based distros and they’re so perfect? Well, things surrounding me and requirements change and that is a good thing. They say that sysadmins or operations people in general hate when stuff, which has been working for ages, change, but I love it.

If you don’t like something, change it and if you cannot change it, then change the way to think about it.

– Mary Engelbreit

In the very near future I will manage Ubuntu servers across the globe for a very cool startup in London, so I have started looking into Ubuntu more closely and with much more open mind than ever before. My first impression was “WTF? Who built this damn thing?”

Let me rant about Ubuntu disastrous parts, what’s wrong about it and how to fix it.

My journey started a week or so ago, first I span up an Ubuntu 12.04 Vagrant box and started looking into the operating system. What interest me is the kernel, packaging system, service management and other bits.

The out of the box kernel build didn’t seem that much different, compare to CentOS 6.3 for instance, so I am not worried about that for now.

The next thing which is important to me is packaging system. First there is a dozen different commands to do basic package management, like apt-get to install packages, apt-cache to search, dpkg to do other stuff and so on. Why cannot be there a simple tool installed by default? Why do I have to install some tools like aptitude just to make it more usable. The next disastrous element of packaging system is services being started automatically after a package is installed. Why in the hell would anyone want that? Please if anyone knows a good reason, tell me, but don’t waste your efforts by saying bullshit like “oh it’s really convenient, you don’t have to do it after blah blah”. That might be okay for noobs or people with Hemispatial Neglect syndrome.

More ranting about packaging. This thing is so annoying that I don’t even want to think about it. It is this all interactiveness during package installation. Come on, please stop making packages that suck and make my terminal pink or whatever is the colour of that stupid terminal-based prompt. What’s more funny is that if I  turn this interactiveness off, some packages fail to install. WTF Ubuntu?

Services. Cannonical did a great job for developing Upstart, a SysV init system replacement, but they forgot one simple thing - a tool which allows you simply do “ sshd off". Or in other words - easily enable/disabled services startup on boot. Instead what they did was "invented" a gazillion different ways to achieve that, but none of them is as simple as just a single command. But seems that Cannonical is planing to move to systemd in the future, so that's going to be solved hopefully.

Of course, there are many other minor things which makes Ubuntu a strange place to me, but that’s probably just a personal preference, so I will not go into details.

Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distribution after all and I think it deserves it. Cannonical marketing is pushing Ubuntu really hard out into the wild. There is a huge and growing user base and it’s growing. But most importantly, there is an LTS edition, for people who need to run the internet :-)

So think about it, are there any alternative to Ubuntu really (I am not talking about fat-rich corporations)? Fedora - it’s a great distribution, especially for developers, backed by a very successful company, but it lacks long term support. It comes out every half year and its lifespan is very short. CentOS - it’s great too, but there have been some issues with “cloning” RHEL 6.x major release, it took CentOS people quite a long time to do it also it’s based off of a commercial OS, which means one can never know when Redhat is going to close the tap. They already made some changes to the way rhel kernel is packaged and released as a source RPM, just to screw Oracle, but at the same time they screwed others too. There is Suse Linux which I do not know much about, seems that Germans are crazy about it so ask them.

What is left at the end is Ubuntu. Despite the fact that there a number of freakingly wrong things about it, I am going to use and give it more love. I am sure I can adapt pretty quickly and work around some annoyances.

Here are some tips for people who feel the same way how to “fix” some of the issues I talked above.

  • Prevent services from starting post package install. Create /usr/sbin/policy-rc.d file with content and make it executible.
# cat /usr/sbin/policy-rc.d
exit 101
  • Disable interactive packages installation (if you know a way how to configure this without being prompted for a selection, let me know). Run the below command and select noninteractive and then critical, which means that it will only prompt you for the most life-critical input.
# dpkg-reconfigure debconf

If you know a tool which would allow me to enable/disable service startup on boot, also if you have some cool tips how to make Ubuntu more sysadmin-friendly, let us know in the comments below.

And finally, trolls and flame warriors, don’t waste your time on flame wars here, no one gives a shit about it.