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Google Talks About Its Ubuntu Experience 230

dartttt writes "There was a very interesting session at the Ubuntu Developer Summit by Google developer Thomas Bushnell. He talked about how Ubuntu, its derivatives and Goobuntu (Google's customized Ubuntu based distro) are used by Google developers. He starts by saying 'Precise Rocks,' and that many Google employees use Ubuntu — including managers, software engineers, translators, people who wrote the original Unix, and people who have no clue about Unix. Many developers working on Chrome and Android use Ubuntu. Ubuntu systems at Google are upgraded every LTS release. The entire process of upgrading can take as much as four months, and it is also quite expensive, as one reboot or a small change can cost them as much as a million dollars across the company." Bushnell also mentions that Google Drive will soon be available for Linux. Other news out of UDS: there was discussion of a GNOME flavor of 12.10, Electronic Arts reaffirmed that they "won't delay their Windows work for Linux," and Unity 2D is likely to disappear in 12.10.

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Google Talks About Its Ubuntu Experience

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  • Upgrades do suck (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GeneralTurgidson ( 2464452 ) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @07:15PM (#39982043)
    With Linux desktops, it's almost better to reimage them then do a mass roll out of dist-upgrade and pray it works. Even with custom package management, it seems the upgrade scripts can be very buggy.
    • I've been running the Ubuntu upgrades for the past five or six year and for the most part and have very very few problems.

      • Re:Upgrades do suck (Score:5, Informative)

        by Junta ( 36770 ) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @08:03PM (#39982295)

        It does happen though, and quite severely. For example, roundcube got thoroughly busted on an upgrade when using sqlite: []

        This may have bitten debian as well though, so I don't know if Debian fared any better (e.g. the last comment in that bug).

        • I figure, worst case, try the upgrade and if there are problems, do a fresh install then re-install all pps based applications from a backup of the list.

          • I should add, that the only problem I ever had was when one of the repos I needed was off-line during the upgrade, and instead of waiting I told it to continue anyway. It was a mistake.

          • Have a separate (huge) partition for /home.

            Have multiple OS partitions (about 30GB each, give or take).

            Have your Ubuntu on one OS partition.

            Install the latest Ubuntu on another OS partition, fresh or over a dd copy of the old one.

            Switch among them as desired.

      • I've been doing it since 6.0something (for some reason I recall it being something other than 04 but...) and there's been at least two occasions when the "upgrade" failed badly, with a single package upgrade failing and this taking down the entire system.

        One, the most recent, I was able to fix using a second apt-get command (I forget which), but the first completely destroyed the system and I had to spend a day copying data across the network to back it up, before re-imaging the entire computer.


        • by chrb ( 1083577 )

          perhaps migration scripts would be a better approach than simply trusting each package upgrade to never fail...

          That is what do-release-upgrade does. It downloads a migration tarball for the package that you are upgrading to. That tarball contains scripts that are supposed to fix any upgrade issues that can't be (or aren't) handled within the package itself. If you want to see how this works, have a look at the upgrade tarball for Precise []

    • Re:Upgrades do suck (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 12, 2012 @08:16PM (#39982347)

      I jump around distros a lot. But I have had poor upgrade experiences with Ubuntu. Not so good with Fedora either. On the other hand, I have had decent upgrade experiences with openSUSE since they introduced 'zypper dist-upgrade' (not perfect, maybe about 4 out of 5 upgrade seamlessly, including upgrading 2 versions forward.)

      What makes them so different? The package management system? Or maybe just the love and care given it?

      • by inglorion_on_the_net ( 1965514 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @12:51PM (#39986681) Homepage

        What makes them so different? The package management system? Or maybe just the love and care given it?

        I think it's the care and love. It's not just the upgrades to new major versions of the distro, it's also updates within the same major version, and how well things work to begin with.

        Debian and Ubuntu use the same packaging system, and I have had great experiences and terrible experiences with both of them. Ubuntu made a name for itself by providing a very polished, complete experience out of the box. Since then, they seem to have been chasing new features at the expense of quality. I haven't had an Ubuntu install work completely right since 2008 or so. And that's clean installs, I'm not even talking about upgrades.

        Debian stable, for all that their long release cycles are ridiculed, really care about quality control. Basically, the new release goes out only once it has been extensively tested and either all known critical bugs have been fixed, or at least the known bug count for the new release is substantially lower than that for the existing release. Almost as a bonus, their upgrades usually work perfectly, they support a huge number of packages, and they support a great number of architectures. On the other hand, Debian is more a "build your own experience" distro than a "get a polished, complete experience out of the box" distro. I like this, but I certainly see the value of having a complete, polished system out of the box, too.

        Alas, even though Debian has done better for me than any other system I have ever used, even with Debian I have had problems; once, a system wouldn't come back up after a kernel upgrade. Another time, the Exim configuration was broken by an upgrade. Ok, so it's only two issues in over 10 years and hundreds of upgrades, but still, it means Debian is not perfect.

        In terms of packaging systems, I believe Debian was the first to really make automatic dependency resolution and single command distro upgrades work, at least for binary packages. However, the rest of the world has mostly caught up now; some distros use the tools developed by Debian, some use others, like Yum, and as far as I know, they all work. So I really think the difference is in the quality control and the priority it gets. What is the top priority for the people behind the distribution? Is it quality? Is it shipping the new release on schedule? Is it including the latest software? You have to do all of those to an extent to be relevant, but when push comes to shove, I think Debian is one of the few distros that will sacrifice everything to quality: they will delay their release and they will throw out packages that are not adequately maintained. If a distro has different priorities, it is not surprising that quality suffers somewhat.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tough Love ( 215404 )

      With Linux desktops, it's almost better to reimage them then do a mass roll out of dist-upgrade and pray it works.

      Your opinion has been colored by the crap Ubuntu puts out. Try it on Debian, it works. My home server started as Debian Potato with kernel 2.2 and has been upgraded continuously all the way to Wheezy. For most of its life it was my desktop as well as my server. And yes, I run my server on Debian unstable. Just don't let anybody tell you you that re-imaging is a fact of life. Just because Canonical has trouble with it (and Google has major major trouble with it because of certain idiocy I won't get into) doe

      • I've had mixed success with Ubuntu upgrades. About 90% of upgrades work, but I've had to re-image a few times when libc has got borked or when grub suddenly decides to get confused over the order of disk controllers. Sometimes the problems can be fixed, but other times it's just quicker and easier to install from scratch.
      • by DuckDodgers ( 541817 ) <keeper_of_the_wolf&yahoo,com> on Sunday May 13, 2012 @11:22AM (#39986123)
        Anecdotes don't make for good statistical evidence, but I've been using Ubuntu since 10.04 and the four upgrades since then all ran flawlessly.

        Then late last month I was rearranging hardware and ripped the damn SATA connector on my primary hard drive in half, so I had to reinstall from scratch. I had backups, so no data was lost, but when I bought a replacement disk I decided to give Linux Mint a spin.

        I find all this venom between the different distributions disturbing. The free software community makes some amazing cool stuff, and I love Linux and enjoy using it. But it's not hard to understand why corporations with tens of billions of dollars in the bank can invest more in bug-testing upgrade processes than projects backed almost entirely by volunteers (Debian), funded by a relatively small business (Ubuntu), or funded by a slightly larger business (Red Hat). If Microsoft still has upgrade bugs galore, and they have complete control over the operating system stack and are the primary customer of all the PC hardware vendors, it should be no surprise that the free software community does too.
    • I agree that upgrading doesn't work well on Ubuntu. Here is what I usually do: I have to internal drives of the same size. When I have to upgrade, I install the new version on the spare drive and then copy the home folder and various other files from the old drive to the new one. It doesn't work very well, you have to adjust permissions and delete various old settings in .config and other places, but in general it's the easiest way to upgrade in my experience.

      Ubuntu is in dire need of a working migration as

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      Which is incredibly easy to do in a LTSP environment.

      just do a reinstall on the server over the weekend and re mount the User data raid. all done. The 3 IT guys can play nerf wars and eat pizza for the 4 hours it takes.

  • No more Unity 2D? (Score:5, Informative)

    by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @07:38PM (#39982167) Homepage

    OK, I'm not sure I understand the whole "get rid of Unity 2D" thing. As I understand it, Unity 3D means it's accelerated, but VMware and other virtualization environments don't support GPU acceleration for Ubuntu yet, so that leave people who prefer to run Ubuntu in a VM without a GUI. Where's the logic in that? Not even Windows forces you to have a modern video card for hardware acceleration -- if your hardware can't do Aero Glass, Windows just switches it off.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Hadlock ( 143607 )

      I think they mean that Unity isn't going to support legacy (pre-2009ish) video hardware. That makes sense. There's a lot of cool stuff you can do on the desktop, but you need the oomph to push it. At some point you need a cutoff, otherwise you end up making a lot of comprimises to help the perhaps 1-2% of your userbase.

      • Re:No more Unity 2D? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Junta ( 36770 ) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @08:08PM (#39982317)

        His example specifically called out virtual machines. The emulated graphics cards *frequently* won't do what is needed for a reasonable 3D situation. Now there is an emulated path (e.g. at least fedora 17 can do gnome shell in a VM even), but the experience is atrocious (CPU load is massive and that's another thing that is constrained in a VM). Even with my not quite-that-ancient integrated AMD graphics, compiz causes mythfrontend to crawl, whereas it is serviceable without compositing.

      • by JamesP ( 688957 )

        Do you know what makes sense?

        Not wasting time doing graphical gimmicks for a window manager (which will be buggy and slow anyway)

        "to help the perhaps 1-2% of your userbase"

        I think the number is higher, still, why should I upgrade my machine to run the latest versions?

        • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

          My 2009 era netbook is still running 10.04, which is the last version of Ubuntu to have the "best" Netbook Remix (pre-Unity), and will probably continue to run 10.04 until either the battery completely wears out, or the screen breaks. I have a much older 2003 era laptop that runs hardy heron (2008 release) just great.

          Generally I don't recommend upgrading beyond the first LTS release of Ubuntu for your system, especially mobile systems. They just can't handle it. Too much damn feature creep. Really,

      • Re:No more Unity 2D? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 12, 2012 @08:39PM (#39982475)

        This is a UI, not a video game. There's no reason why a UI should require that much oomph to work. At this point if your UI can't run on a decade old computer, that's a pretty good indication that you don't know what you're doing.

        • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

          Which is why they fall back to something like Gnome 3 if the system can't handle it. If you don't like the idea of all the eye candy turned on, you can just default to Gnome 3 and call it a day. I don't know what they call it, but it's probably something along the lines of "opt-out rich computing experience".
          TL;DR they addressed your issues, I don't understand what you're complaining about

      • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        Businesses dont WANT to do a lot of "cool" on their desktop.

        So in other words, Ubuntu has decided that they have no interest in business use of Ubuntu. Got it!

    • Re:No more Unity 2D? (Score:5, Informative)

      by grantek ( 979387 ) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @07:55PM (#39982257)

      Unity3D will still be usable without GPU acceleration, it will use a new software implementation of OpenGL called llvmpipe. llvmpipe is a much better software rasteriser than we've traditionally had, but it's still software which means it's significantly slower than even the simplest of hardware OpenGL implementations.

    • Re:No more Unity 2D? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Junta ( 36770 ) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @08:15PM (#39982339)

      In the Ubuntu case, they are doing the same thing Fedora did in 17. If it can't be hardware accelerated, use the CPU to do the graphics operations. And yes, it is as slow as it sounds, contrary to various advocates swearing it's good enough.

  • by Zaiff Urgulbunger ( 591514 ) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @08:06PM (#39982307)
    The irony for me here is that right now one of the things I'm struggling to get working in Ubuntu 12.04 (64-bit) is the Adwords Editor + Wine; this is *always* a complete pain in the arse, firstly to install, and then later on when you think you've got it working and then it wants to update... and fails.

    The worst thing is, isn't Adwords Editor written with XUL? Shouldn't that make it portable or something? At this point, I'd prefer it was written in Java!
  • Forget Unity and KDE (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Ubuntu 12.04 + Cinnamon. Better than Linux Mint 12, though I'm anxious to see what LM13 will look like.

  • Ads in the desktop (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Requiem18th ( 742389 ) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @10:19PM (#39982823)

    The last update to Ubuntu brought advertising into my desktop. I tried to search for an application and the unity dashboard presented me with music albums from the music store.

    Fucking hell.

    I understand if they pack rhythmbox chokefull of advertising for their music store. I would hate it but I'd at least understand it. But when the simple task of starting an application, the most basic task of graphical shells, is used as an opportunity to advertise to me, I've had enough.

    That's jumping the shark twice.

    I already ditched Ubuntu for LinuxMint in my desktop but used Ubuntu in my media center. I'm changing OS next time.

    • Ads? ADS? Say it ain't so. Ubuntu was my main OS since Dapper, but Unity moved me to LinuxMint Debian and KDE. Now that I've heard about this, I'm not even going to bother checking out their new releases in virtualbox.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      try this patch ... sorry, the lameness filter doesn't allow it. oh well,

      basically /usr/share/software-center/backend/channel_impl/


      comment out "self._append_banner_ads()"

      and in
      from if (not pkgname in self.cache

  • I haven't looked back. I pretty much follow Google's model for my primary desktops (home and work) -- I stick with the LTS releases, and transition several months after the new LTS comes out. In the interim, I load up the non-LTS releases in VMs or on secondary machines to try them out and get a feel for what's coming in the next LTS release.

    Have to say, I'm not a Unity fan so far. I've been using GNOME up until now, but will likely transition to KDE when I upgrade to 12.04. KDE does seem to be a resource p

    • I've been using GNOME up until now, but will likely transition to KDE when I upgrade to 12.04. KDE does seem to be a resource pig, but hey RAM is cheap these days, all my desktops have at least 8GB.

      Try XFCE (via Xubuntu). Looks like Gnome2, and is not a resource hog.

      • Yeah, that's my fallback option; I've tried Xubuntu off and on in VMs going back to around 9.10, and it seems reasonable. But I like some of what I see in KDE, so I'm willing to make a go of getting up to speed on a new DE. If KDE pisses me off too much, I'll go with XFCE instead.
  • Ubuntu Sucks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ilikenwf ( 1139495 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @12:03AM (#39983189)

    Just because Google uses it doesn't mean it's any good. I'm not being a troll here - if you'd try a distro other than Ubuntu, you'd find that Ubuntu isy really, really bad, bloated, and slow. Yes, there are other distros that are equally as bad or worse, but there is an abundance of distros that far exceed what Ubuntu provides.

    I'd suggest Archlinux myself, or plain old Debian if you want something that's stable and easy. Arch has rolling updates meaning you don't have milestones - packages just get updated as they get changed by their developers, so no real upgrade hell there. Debian is rock solid (more than Ubuntu), and is great for servers and everything in between - it's the right balance of coddling/ease of use and stability, without the bloat and crap.

    The real issue with Ubuntu's serious suckage is that it's been made too corporate, and has been hijacked by a corp. While other distros are funded and run by corps, they tend to keep the spirit of open, nonintrusive, non ad-based OS'es going instead of forcing changes, ads, and other BS (like Unity) on their users without any real notice. They also don't make people so unable to fix their own problems by coddling them with a GUI for everything.

    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      while I am no fan of ubuntu its hard to argue with a system out of the box installing in 20 min with just about everything you need, you cant even get debian to a installed command line in that amount of time, and those of us with shit internet access dont want to spend a day and a half for all the "bloat" that comes on a normal live cd these days

      then OMFG theres the video situation, if you dont mind the piss poor slow freetard solution your ok, but if you want to install nvidia or ati on debian prepare for

    • Arch breaks often in it's update and is seriously not recommended in production environments.

      Second debian though.

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      If you want a change of speed, use XFCE (or LXDE) as desktop and you will notice a serious increase of speed.

      I use openSUSE, not known for its light weight. I run XFCE and get very good speeds on it. Obviously I can run XFCE programs as well as KDE and GNOME ones or any other type.

      Putting things in memory (like cache for your browser) also helps.
      If you must absolutely use KDE or GNOME, see at least that you turn off all the "My-First-Desktop" settings.

    • by allo ( 1728082 )

      Ubuntu is a really nice 6 monthly debian release, just do not use the ubuntu-desktop but kde or gnome or whatever else. The Crap is centered around unity, so do not use unity and the software-center, and you do not notice the sucking parts.

    • Xubuntu works fine for me right now, but out of curiosity, could you or someone else recommend an alternative to Xubuntu 12.04? Most of the other distros I know (except Mint) seemed to be a bit hard to install. I'm looking for:

      • Long-term support (3 years or longer) or very stable rolling releases
      • Huge repository
      • Packages that are as up-to-date as possible
      • Easy, graphical installation on multi-boot system
      • Fast, lightweight, but still prefeably optimized for newer systems

      What would you recommend?

  • This (boring) video says more about Google and its parasitic nature than it does about Ubuntu. You'll probably want to save yourself the time and pass on it. The most noteworthy piece of information I got out of it was this: Google's internal apt repos blacklist certain packages for reasons of privacy. As the speaker mentions, many of these packages phone home, and that's unacceptable to Google. Also, no coredumps/automated bug reports will make it out alive because "who knows what's in them".

    And Google
    • Also, no coredumps/automated bug reports will make it out alive because "who knows what's in them".

      Less idiomatically, the problem is that a lot of things can be in them which shouldn't be distributed outside the company. Two broad categories would be proprietary company data and proprietary user data. I don't think users of Google products would be happy if we were sending out core dumps containing proprietary user data whenever some program crashed while that data was in core. So we don't.

  • and Goobuntu (Google's customized Ubuntu based distro)

    I'm not sure you can call it a distro, as it (correct me if I'm wrong) was never distributed. And from the looks of it from videos released by Google, it appeared to be merely Ubuntu with a "Goobuntu" splash screen. So, secondly, I'm not sure changing the boot splash qualifies it as a distinct distro in its own right.

  • by excelsior_gr ( 969383 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @08:02AM (#39984985)

    I have been using computers for about 15 years now and here are my thoughts concerning OS updates and (to a lesser degree) updates in general:

    I try to avoid updates like hell.

    More often than not, an upgrade will tend to make the system slower, influence your user experience by changing the way you do stuff (for no apparent reason), and break things. So unless we are talking about an update that adds important functionality that is worth the risk it comes with, it just won't come anywhere near my system(s). Obviously, this way of filtering updates lets (most) security updates pass for machines that are online. I put really important systems on an air-gap network.

    The above also means that UI (or similar) updates are straight out. No UI is flawless. No OS comes complete with the functionality you wished for. Once you set up a system and adjust it so that it won't (badly) suck, then chances are that you will be finding ways to add functionality using 3rd party software, learn how to do things someone decided you are not supposed to (also known as "hacks" for you youngsters) and in general bring it to a state that you are more or less happy with.

    They why, oh why, do you have to go and mess it up?

    I'm not saying that I don't use the new stuff, but usually such new experiences also come with new machines that (in general) get fresh installations of the latest versions of everything that is needed. I found this to minimize the pain and time wasted, and most importantly, it puts you in control. If you perform a casual update and things go awry, then it is highly probable that you will be wasting time on trying to fix it, while you should be paying attention on more important things.

    • by allo ( 1728082 )

      you're speaking like a typical windows user.
      update? oh no, it will break things, try to detect my pirated software and make everything slower.

      the typical linux user is more like:
      upgrade? cool, new features, more stable software, better drivers.

      • you're speaking like a typical windows user.
        update? oh no, it will break things, try to detect my pirated software and make everything slower.

        the typical linux user is more like:
        upgrade? cool, new features, more stable software, better drivers.

        and then the linux user wanders off and starts working on the dependecy graph.

  • Hypocrisy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by StripedCow ( 776465 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @08:35AM (#39985159)

    Love the joke at 7:30: they're blocking Ubuntu packages that phone home, since they cannot afford to let work-data leave company premises... however, they CAN use Google Drive.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.