An open letter to Mark Shuttleworth


Dear Mark,

Thanks for creating Ubuntu! Jaunty is the best release yet - stable, fast and full of features, just the way we like it. We particularly like the new notifications and the awesome new Screen tools that have been put in place. But there's one thing we don't like. In fact, there's one thing we think is colossally stupid, and we're hoping you'll give some thought to changing it to something smarter.

That thing is Update Manager's new-found pop-under behaviour. In the old days, a tray icon would appear with a bubble telling users that updates were available. But as of 9.04, that's been dropped in favour of Update Manager automatically appearing on the screen, only to be minimised. The thinking is that this makes Update Manager harder to ignore, presumably because it's more annoying now.

I don't think this will come as a huge surprise to you, Mark, but most people don't like their computer to be annoying. We understand the need to encourage people to install security updates, but getting on their nerves just doesn't seem like the smart solution. It doesn't seem like the Ubuntu solution.

If people were ignoring the system updates bubble, couldn't you just have done something with the new notifications system to make security updates clearer - something like "Critical updates are available for your computer - click here to install them now." Then don't ask any further questions: if they click that, install the updates straight away rather than showing Update Manager.

Or was the problem that the new notifications system just didn't work with the Updates Available bubble? If that was the case, are there any other apps that also relied on bubbles hanging around until closed that don't work as well now?

Microsoft solved this problem by showing a screen during installation that encouraged people to leave "Install security updates automatically" selected, so that whenever people restarted their computer their system would start up with the latest fixes. It's not ideal, particularly in the server world, but it's better than pop unders.

Apple solved this problem by showing a clear dialog on the screen saying that software updates are available. It doesn't hide away, but neither does it show a long list of exactly what's included unless you ask for it - you can just click Install and it does the rest. It's not ideal, but it's better than pop unders.

We're not saying that the Updates Available balloon is the best option, merely that it's a better better option than the pop under window. There could be even better options out there. Perhaps the message should appear as a menu item under Add/Remove on the Applications menu. Perhaps a bar could appear beneath the top panel similar to how Firefox prompts you to install plugins. Perhaps the Shutdown screen should have a message on there saying "Download and install updates before shutting down", similar to Windows XP SP2. Perhaps the solution is just to make the pop under behaviour optional, so that anyone annoyed by it can easily turn it off.

We don't know what the best solution is, but we're willing to bet that other people do. So we're asking you: please have a rethink about the updates system. Please ask the community for ideas. We want to help make Ubuntu better. We want to help make Linux better. Let's work together to make the Linux desktop smarter, smoother, and as irritation-free as possible.



The TuxRadar Team

PS: It's a small point, but the default Hardy wallpaper was awesome, the default Intrepid wallpaper was awesome + 1, but the default Jaunty wallpaper is meh. We're hoping you're saving up the awesome for something truly mind-boggling in Karmic.

PPS: If you're using Kubuntu or Xubuntu this will make no sense to you, but trust us: it's annoying!

You should follow us on or Twitter

Your comments

It's easy to get back to what it used to be

The solution:

$ gconftool -s --type bool /apps/update-notifier/auto_launch false



Why don't you submit this as

Why don't you submit this as a bug to Launchpad? Why bothering the great Shuttle-man with this stuff?

UbuntuRadar? *sigh* Time to



Time to remove from feed reader methinks.

Re: UbuntuRadar


Bug? nah

This is not a bug but works as designed
So you should be better request a feature then place it into the bug place

I run the gconftool via puppet to my desktops-clients and let the update's install ottomaticly

On my servers I only do manualy upgrades in a controlled way

Ok, so I dugg the story ,

Ok, so I dugg the story , cuz I share the pain.
But simultaneously, I don;t think this is the best way to address it.
If everytime someone found an irritating bug they started writing Open Letters, the Bugzilla developers would have no work to do.

@Markske, @Raseel

Markske is right: this isn't a bug, it's by design. A slightly unusual design that we clearly don't agree with, but still by design.

Raseel: "the Bugzilla developers would have no work to do" - Hah! Yes, you're absolutely right. We wouldn't want to put GervM out of a job ;)

sudo aptitude safe-update

Maybe I am paranoid, but I use aptitude's safe update feature in Hardy. This means the little red arrow always says that I have updates to install. No big deal in Hardy, but would this means I have an annoying pop under all then time in Jaunty?


Well, you could just disable the feature if you aren't using it. I sure did on my Jaunty HTPC after the shitty popunder minimized XBMC and screwed with the screen resolution.

For the record...

I prefer the option Jaunty has taken as opposed to the alternatives you suggest. The change does smack of a solution in search of a problem though.

Thanks to the first commenter for the CLI solution. :)

Still love Jaunty though

I'm not a big fan of the new solution, personally I can't see why it needed changing in the first place.

However Jaunty is still a great distro and I absolutely love it.

How do I...

Hi, this is OT, but how do I upgrade my Ubuntu 9.04 RC to final version? Thanks - sorry I'm noob.

I might believe you if it were TRUE !

I don't know where you get the idea that 9.04 is the bee's knees. It is impossible to have it properly display on the desktop as there are graphic problems associated with Intel.

What ever happened to KISS and if it ain't broke don't fix it ???

If I were coming to Ubuntu brand new I found this crappy product I would be straight back to M$.

It is a case of MUST DO BETTER it this is to be accepted as a proper OS

Re: How do I...

When you run Update Manager (System > Administration > Update Manager), it will update you to the final Jaunty without a problem. In fact, you may already have updated yourself and be running the final version now!

For those who are whining...

Ubuntu is a big distribution. It's the face of Linux for many people, and more then that, it's pretty, efficient, and powerful. Stop whining about 'UbuntuRadar' (though I do like that name :D) and go do something worthwhile with your time if you really don't like it.

Also, a similar letter should be written to those who disabled ctrl-alt-backspace in Why?!

my opinion that ubuntu

my opinion that ubuntu should do some changes even big ones in normal releases to see how they go and how people like them. And the LTS should give more attention on the average users

Taking control away from the user

I use Linux because I like some control, disabling Ctrl/Alt/Backspace and the update pop-up are likely to drive me away from Ubuntu :(

Re: Taking control away from the user

Umm the ctrl-alt-backspace is a feature in Xorg 1.6 not just Ubuntu.
To enable the old way open up xorg.conf:

sudo gedit /etc/X11/xorg.conf

and add:

Option "DontZap" "false"

under the heading:

Section "ServerFlags"


re the ctrl-alt-backspace

lots of chatter on the fedora forums about it as well.with lots a speculation on there reasons lots of juicy rumours too:lol:

Here's a thought

What about.....

No pop-up windows or bubbles what so ever. At all!

Re: Re: Taking control away from the user

@Comhack | April 30, 2009 @ 10:54pm | "Umm the ctrl-alt-backspace is a feature in Xorg 1.6"
Euuuuh... Isn't the most recent version of Xorg 7.4? Never understood 'Buntu's xorg numbering....

Re: Re: Re: Taking control away from the user

Actually xorg is 7.3. Xorg-server is at 1.6.1 and the one that made the changes. It is not Ubuntu numbering that is different. I personally use Archlinux which is more up-to-date than Ubuntu. Thats how I know about the 1.6.1 issues. Thanks

Xorg-xserver 1.6.1

Actually most newer distro releases have this version as well. I do not understand why xorg is 7.3 and xorg-server is at 1.6.1 but thats just how it is. Its the newest version so its not Ubuntu's fault. If anything compain to the xorg mailing lists if you have a issue.


What I want to ask Mark ...

... is whether he had given serious thought to customizing KDE as the default desktop for Ubuntu? If not 10 releases ago, would he consider it now as GNOME-based Ubuntu is not making any serious dents into Windows market (yet.)

Lately, in Australia, couple of guys took vanilla KDE4 installation and showed it to general public on the street touting it was "next version of Windows". Well, most of the people seeing it said it looks good and is a "better windows" :-) There's some video on youtube but I don't remember the exact link.

My point is, GNOME is too Mac-like and sadly, that does not seem to cut too much cheese with the Windows crowd. Evidence? Look at all the remixed versions for netbooks. They look completely alien to a new user. Customizing KDE would have a big advantage of giving a Windows-like look by default.

And no, Kubuntu is not what I mean. Kubuntu is just an olive branch to the KDE users. Kubuntu is NOT given as much attention as the default GNOME-based Ubuntu.

Small stuff

Don't sweat the small stuff ....and its all small stuff (from a book so famous I can't remember its name). Anyhow, when I see comments like this you just know that Ubuntu has delivered something really awesome. Like yourselves, I can't find anything of substance to criticise in this release - its so good you'd have thought it was their next LTS release!


On the Update Manager window:
Yes, this should totally be a notification instead. I'm guessing they did this for jaunty because Notify OSD doesn't support interactivity with the notifications (yet).

On Ctrl + Alt + Backspace:
Imagine what it would be like if Windows and OSX had key combinations that killed X. There would always be internet trolls (and others) who would trick inexperienced users with it. In order for Linux to behave like a consumer grade operating system, this mode was chosen. If you're a power user, you can still re-enable it using methods described above.

Not a problem for me...

I always put the updates on straight away anyway. Having the update window open automatically saves me a click. However to suit everyone it'd be best if you could choose how you'd like to be notified.

Anyway, Jaunty is great - UbuntuRadar? What about Ubuntu Format - I'd buy it.

what awesome new screen tools?

The post says, "and the awesome new Screen tools". What are they referring to?

I also dislike the new

I also dislike the new Update Manager behavior. It is indeed annoying and intrusive.

general thoughts

Hi all - god dont you hate that - look people as someone who has been using abusing and generally enjoying all flavours of linux rather than the continual striving to get a windows box to actually do what and when I want it to - listen - ubuntu isnt the best at being linux but it is linux at its best, giving you all a chance to think another way challenging your idea of what a computer should be for.
9.4 represents a big set of improvements in technical terms from boot time processes to eyecandy even in gnome which is tired.
9.4 is the best chance to get an MS user to look at linux - recently I have set 3 laptops all fairly new, for people who want a secure - pretty - way of doing things, no-one was disapointed and shockly everyone got the whole SUDO thing these people where just average jo users no gurus.
Next step slax

that doe's sound rather annoying

I don't see these pop up problems you're talking about

What am i doing wrong?

I know this is by design,

I know this is by design, but why not just let the user worry about when to update his/her system.

@squiddyatwork It's 9.04,

It's 9.04, representing 2009-04, April 2009.


@Anonymous Penguin above
Ivory tower syndrome? What have you contributed lately? Which idea or code segment did you submit that was turned down?

I don't understand why

I don't understand why everyone is so annoyed by this. Plus, I can see that this would actually result in a lot more updates from computer noobs as you have to remember that the average computer user probably doesn't know about, or care about OS updates, they certainly don't on Windows.


I use Hardy (in fact it's the main o.s., since it's user friendly in a shared pc).
This UM issue is a non-issue since it's just a setting 'ticked' in its proper place in gconf-editor.
I'm a Linux 'newbie' and we overlook the o.s. tweaks on purpose so to get used with the basics, but I thought you guys would know better...:=)
Anyway, gconf-editor is a basic settings tool ubuntu users should get used to, so this issue has the merit to bring it to light.

Have to disagree

I think the new approach is great. Everyone posting here is a poweruser/ubergeek; take a look from a casual user's point of view. When I first installed 7.04 for my mom I showed her the update icon and explained why it was important to keep up-to-date. Three months later I visit and she's got hundreds of updates available. Never did it once.
These "human beings" that Ubuntu wants to cater to need a bit more of a nudge than a little icon in the tray. That's the Ubuntu (and Gnome) way, reasonable defaults that are best for most users. The rest of us can manually disable the pop-under (see first post) and there's no harm no foul.

Theres a release after 8.04 ?

My experience with 8.10 left me scarred and feeling violated in my bathing suit area.

Other than performance and subtle conveniences in existing standard applications, what or at what point should I give 9.04 a go ?

Not as bad as focus stealing

Tappy, tappy tappy, <Do you want to disconnect?>

`eh? No I...`


disable trackpad while typing


Ubuntu is meant to be simple and easy to use

Well, since I don't use Ubuntu (used Kubuntu for quite a while but the Kubuntu Jaunty release drove me away, but thats a story for another time) I don't realy know this "feature" but Ubuntu was meant to be simple and easy to use. Thats also why they chose Gnome because although KDE is somewhat more powerful it also is more complex and compared to Gnome not always that straight forward.
So lets think about the Ubuntu target group: Ubuntu should be easy, pretty, etc. so I quess the target group might include people that are not to familiar with computers eg are not aware the update are actually very essential for any piece of software. So creating a rather annoying method to remind them to install the updates is actually very clever since it's most certaintly more annoying when something goes wrong because of a missing update. Ubuntu wants to appeal to people that just want a nice working system but don't realy know too much about computers.
I'd realy feel much safer knowing there's this annoying feature that will ensure my grandmother will also install the updates. (Matter of facts my grandmother does not have a computer, but this should serve as an easy if-then example)
And to all that are starting to feel annoyed be these features: Well maybe you are just not in the Ubuntu target group anymore! It's not possible to create one OS for everybody, and Ubuntu chose a long time ago for whom they want to create their OS. Well up to now it didn't seem that clear but it's becoming clearer after every new release. And I do not think Ubuntu is going to change it's goal or at least i hope so. Ubuntu wants to become a wide known alternative to OSX or Windows. To do so they will have to implement certaint features that will annoy "powerusers". (k, maybe poweruser is the wrong word but I'm sure you get the idea) So by complaining about such stuff you just prove that you actually got no idea whats going on: Neither what Ubuntu's goal is and why it's good and also will help other distros, nor how linux based systems work. Allthough there's this "feature" there's most likely always a way to deactivte it. Some easier than others but it's there! And if they become too many, well you got to change distro. Arch, Fedore, Mandriva . . .. just check out Distro Watch but please stop whining!

Dell 1010 mini

I would love to see Ubuntu come out with a version that works with the Dell MINI 1010. I just purchased one and had to get a XP one as there were no Linux one available in Baton Rouge,La. I though no problem; I will just duel boot and install Linux. Well no cigar. I have tried every Linux distro I can get my hands on and none of them work with the 1010.
Alot of research later and I discover that the problem is the graphics chip set in the 1010. No one has developed a driver for this chip set. Dell has one (and they just came out with the Ubuntu version of the 1010); but it is not available for public consumption even if you have a 1010 with XP on it.
I bet there are several thousand 1010 users out there just waiting for something besides XP to use on there 1010.
I have three systems that duel boot Windows and Linux and would like to add Linux to my new netbook. But I have a feeling its going to be a long wait. If ever. fdalbor

Why the current method is bad

Particularly to Anonymous Penguin and Johnh:

1) Pop-up windows that aren't initiated by the user are simply bad design. Nearly every modern web browser has a built-in pop-up blocker for this reason. It doesn't matter whether you're a new user or a power user, if your computer does something unexpected, something you didn't tell it to do, it's unnerving, and forments distrust in the system. The user should feel in control of his system at all times, regardless of his level of experience.

2) Pop-under windows (which the new method actually uses) are worse. They have all of the problems of pop-ups, but they open beneath all other windows. A user that has a particular application open much of the time (such as a web browser) may not notice that its even there.

3) Because the user has no control over when Update Manager will decide to open on its own, it may occur at an inconvenient time. Users close inconvenient windows. And if Update Manager is closed it will not open itself again until a new critical update is released, or a week later -- and furthermore there are no reminders during this time that updates are available. This means your grandmother who closed the window that opened on its own because she wasn't sure what it was but was sure she didn't do anything to open it won't have any indication that updates -- including critical updates -- are available for up to a week. How, exactly, does this (especially when coupled with #2) translate into new users updating their systems more frequently?

The developers (and Mark Shuttlesworth himself) have stated that their decision to change the method by which users are notified of updates had more to do with cleaning up the notification area rather than because there was a problem with the previous method of notification, though they also thought that the notification icon wasn't noticeable enough to new users.

As to the former, while it's entirely true that the notification area in Windows is a junkyard, this isn't true of Linux. I rarely have more than three or four icons in the notification area at any time. And if anything belongs in a notification area, it's a *notification icon*. The new OSD notifications are nice, but are designed for transient alerts ("Connected to the network" or "Battery low") rather than persistent notifications, such as the availability of updates.

If the developers want to clean up the notification area, they should communicate with the few application developers whose applications place unnecessary icons in the notification area, such as VLC and Amarok. (What's the point of minimizing an application to the notification area, anyway? Isn't that what the Window List applet is for?) And if they want to make the availability of updates more noticeable for critical updates, they should pair the regular notification icon with periodic OSD notifications.

For example, if non-critical updates are available, the notification icon should appear (as in previous versions of Ubuntu). If a critical update becomes available, the notification icon should appear as the red down arrow, and an OSD notification should appear briefly every hour or so (preferably configurable by the user) until the critical updates are installed.

The current method is simply bad design, and the level of experience of the target user has nothing to do with it.


I don't think that this issue deserves an open letter.

It's fixed easily by typing this into a terminal:

1) gconftool -s --type bool /apps/update-notifier/auto_launch false

2) gconftool -s --type int /apps/update-notifier/regular_auto_launch_interval 1

Et voila!

Also you might want to include version info for the updates:

gconftool -s --type bool /apps/update-manager/show_versions true

Very Annoying lately

Maybe it's just my bad attitude, but I have been most annoyed by update manager since I installed 9.04 on my laptop. I can hardly wake it up from sleep mode without having to interact with the stupid update manager springing to life. I'm aware that it can be disabled. But that's the mantra of spyware, norton's, and microsoft: hunt it down, try to destroy it, don't worry it'll be back in five minutes to bug you again, are you sure you want to do this, no sorry that's a security violation -- can't let you do that dave. One of the main reasons I use linux is because I hate dealing with that every 2 seconds. If I wanted to do a bunch of administration to keep the update manager in check, then I'd probably be installing my own updates manually anyhow. This is very annoying for people who just want to get in and check their email without being hassled. Thanks for ruining my day, update manager, now I have to go find a new distro. Maybe you can pick a day of the month to do these all at once, then you can be just like your big buddy Bill.


"It's a small point, but the default Hardy wallpaper was awesome, the default Intrepid wallpaper was awesome + 1, but the default Jaunty wallpaper is meh"
IMHO Jaunty wallpaper is not bad. Also, uh... Who leaves default wallpaper on anyway?

It's horrible...

I concur. Jaunty is brillant - but this single misfeature is bugging the hell out of me. There also doesn't appear to be a way to revert to the old behaviour from Settings in Update Manager (where you'd expect it to be).

The current pop-under behaviour feels very Microsoft to me - an in-your-face annoyance that's getting in the way. The red arrow was fine and should at least be an option, in the user interface, neither mind any 'gconftool' twiddling.

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