Concerning Libertine and it's status within the Ubuntu Touch OS



  • TL;DR takeaway: for now, keep your tablets on Vivid for the best Libertine experience (until it becomes usable on more recent versions of Ubuntu Touch), but keep your phones updated to Xenial and primarily use them for mobile apps.

    I will preface this post with a series of points which I would argue are very difficult, if impossible, to invalidate. Therefore I hope they can be accepted as consensus, but I am prepared to debate if others have disagreement with any of them, backed up with evidence.

    1. Libertine has an important place within Ubuntu Touch and more widely within portable computing. It permits the use of desktop applications on mobile devices which broaden their utility beyond merely mobile apps. Some would argue that a laptop can more capably run any of the desktop apps and even more besides (where Ubuntu Touch may be limited by it's ARM architecture, or lack of packaging such as snaps, or the confinement of the Libertine container, for example), and this is true. However, Ubuntu Touch nevertheless carries the advantages of solid battery life and the ease of charge. Many laptops cannot run for long away from their chargers and a wall socket, even with settings tuned way down. But a Ubuntu Touch tablet has a hefty battery of e.g. 7280 mAh, no fan or hard disk, and efficient power management due to it's ARM CPU. Furthermore, USB slots are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in public transport and places of business (and these can be relied upon without privacy concerns for charging, if the user sheaths their cable in a "USB condom". Ahem... but seriously, that works.), and a USB cable is much smaller in form than a laptop charger. The tablet themselves are also much more compact and lightweight. And a portable USB battery brick or even solar recharging solutions can be used to charge the device for example at a park bench; therefore one can use a tablet for such applications for longer and in more diverse environments than a laptop.

    2. Phones are not the optimal use case for Libertine. Yes, users can bring a portable mouse and keyboard, but these may be varyingly clunky, not intended to be carried within pockets like the phone itself, and very few of these have a form factor which fits in flush with the phone and a protective case for it. Even if a user accepts these caveats, they will be left with a screen size which is much too small for a desktop app, unless the phone permits wireless screencasting to a monitor (or, more rarely I think, a wired connection). This would preclude truly on the go use of Libertine, and only a subset of Ubuntu Touch devices do permit screencasting; the MX4 phone for example is excluded.

    3. Conversely, tablets are the optimal use case for Libertine. Their screens are sized right, not too far relatively from a laptop screen. Their protective cases often come with a Bluetooth keyboard, and these cases may have stands to prop them up (or else the user can prop them against a vertical surface), approximating the form factor of a laptop whilst adding a touchscreen. The size and touch function together of the screen mean a user may even decide to forgo a mouse, to the extent that the applications they want to use allow an index finger to approximate mouse clicks (and this is an imperfect approximation, but it certainly feels more intuitive than trying to do the same on a phone screen). And as mentioned above, they have strong battery capacities, which always tend to be superior to those of phones. They can even be used with external monitors if this is required, either in a wireless or wired fashion. The strong case for tablets as Libertine devices is reflected in part of UBports' official description of the M10 FHD, "This tablet provides you a great workflow as a portable laptop. Imagine travelling by plane and working on your documents using LibreOffice.". This description is also provided for the M10 HD. I can only presume that the experiences observed on the PineTab and Nexus 7 are similar, or will be at some future date. This is in effect part of a sales pitch by UBports, advocating for the user to acquire a tablet in part because of the superior ability to run desktop apps on them (I'm not saying that UBports will profit from the sale of the devices of course, but you get my essential point here). Note also that the M10 FHD has "promoted device" status, reflecting how much UBports believes in the device as one to highlight for the community.

    4. Libertine unfortunately regressed in Ubuntu Touch's jump between Vivid and Xenial, for various reasons. VLC is a strong piece of evidence for this. Before with Vivid, it's menus would layer on top of each other in such a fashion such that Xth menu view would totally obscure X-1th menu's view... which is what you want, because each new menu screen is fully viewable and interactive. Also, you can return to X-1th menu's view by simply closing the Xth, very intuitively. This is completely lost in Xenial, where X will partially obscure X-1, and in so doing X itself will be partially obscured offscreen, with no ability for the user to drag it back into view. This also renders the menu screens partially non-interactive. In short, these windows are not "free-floating". Users can overcome this setback by forgoing the GUI and using CLI config settings, but does everyone want to have to do that? The answer is definitively "no". Such behaviour is also evident in many other programs. Now, let's turn to LibreOffice. All of it's constituent programs "just work" on Vivid, being easily launchable and as responsive as one observes them to be on a desktop or laptop. But not so for Xenial. Logs reveal segmentation faults which prevent some of the constituent programs from launching. Some do launch, and may even allow a sibling to be launched (e.g. launch Writer, then go to File -> New -> Spreadsheet to launch Calc in a roundabout way... maybe, if you're lucky). But different users on different devices have different experiences, with the one constant being that on Xenial, it doesn't "just work" as it did on Xenial. Similar segfaults are observed in other programs, too. Therefore, sadly the sales pitch mentioned in point 3 has been invalidated by the user experience in Xenial, and it will remain invalid unless either users choose not to update or a future update past Xenial corrects for these problems.

    With all of those points put together, I would therefore have to advocate that a user considering purchasing a tablet should consciously and deliberately install Vivid for the Libertine experience (and I caveat that this might not even be possible for the PineTab, having likely been developed with Xenial in mind from the outset, and in any event it is currently designated as an experimental device). This would be strengthened if they already have a phone (or a Raspberry Pi, I suppose? Need to think about where this fits into the paradigm) on Xenial, which won't be used for Libertine generally speaking anyway, but more for the mobile apps due to point 2; in this case they would not need an up-to-date experience on the tablet if they consider the desktop apps to be more important for it. They would also then have a small number of pre-installed core mobile apps for the tablet as of Vivid OTA-3, but no OpenStore access, and the legacy browser which in some respects itself saw regressions in the form of Morph browser (but that's a tangent and more relevant for a different line of discussion). They would nevertheless have to be conscious of the fact that the legacy browser is a less security-oriented experience than Morph. Also, the Vivid repositories sadly would not have anywhere near recently updated packages as can be observed in more recent versions of Ubuntu/other Linux distros, but this is another consequence which would have to be accepted. Whether or not the UBports development team and foundation agree with me on this line of advocacy, I hope that the community recognises that this is the most sensible thing for the Libertine experience. I have done this with two M10 tablets (in tandem with more up to date phones) and I have never had reason to doubt my choice in this regard. And I also hope that, recognising these deficiencies observed in Xenial, that the team can target these as they move us toward Focal aka 20.04. It's my understanding that the main thing holding Libertine back is having to move from Xmir to Xwayland. Once that and some other fixes are done, we will hopefully no longer have to use a version of Ubuntu which has been abandoned for over 4 years at the time of writing just to have a usable experience, and have solid and functional desktop app use in a stable release of Ubuntu Touch.



  • There is lots to unpack in your post. And I am very ambivalent in positively advocating using an out of support OS for a device connected to the internet.

    But the only thing I will mention is that if someone purchasing a PineTab would want to use desktop applications on it, they could, in the short term, be better off installing one of several desktop Linux distro's available for the platform. Maybe even dual booting with UTouch.



  • I would also caution people to not use the internet where possible for the container, and only with care for when it is unavoidable. The main use case I see for Firefox in such a scenario would be to directly download files to an SD card, for example for locked, premium podcasts; and that's nullified if people are content with using an X86 machine to do this and load the podcasts onto the tablet. It's entirely possible to use VLC, LibreOffice and other useful programs offline. That should remove the ambivalence, I think. In an ideal world I wouldn't have to advocate for this, but Libertine seems to have been de-prioritised ever since Xenial was released for Ubuntu Touch, so again it comes down to user priorities (and this is aided if they run multiple devices for different use cases.).

    That's true, I had forgotten about the adaptability of the PineTab for other operating systems, not being reliant on an Android subsystem as the M10 pair and the Nexus 7 is.

    Also, it's kind of sad to see a downvote for the initial post. If you disagree so strongly, whoever you are, wouldn't it be more constructive to verbalise why?



  • Not to be mean about it, but I'd say your advice and request are absolutely terrible. There is not really any available device that would benefit from using the outdated and unsupported UT OS, and it would be a serious waste of time to any of the UT developers to try and accommodate this as well. UT native apps running on Xenial will give you way better of a tablet experience than Libertine on Vivid ever will.
    If running desktop Linux apps on a tablet is the priority then the very best way to do it is by using a standard Linux distro on an x86 tablet - I have done this a lot myself - generally running standard Ubuntu with Gnome 3 DE, or by using Xubuntu with the Onboard osk, and Touchegg multi-touch gesture configuration app - and I've set this up on a Dell 7140, Dell 7275, and Samsung Slate 7. The experience on the Dell 7140 has been best out of all these.

    Best regards,
    Steve Berson



  • @TartanSpartan I think it might be worthwile to have Videos of this difference in UX. I mean the X+1 menu story. A video of the device (not a screencapture) might make it clear for (new) developers what was once possible vs today. I never had a M10 and I can't really picture in my mind what you are describing. I understand that its hard to translate menus into a touch interface without writing a new UI. It might help to have that documented



  • Steven, I appreciate you couching your words to avoid offence, but I disagree on your points.

    @TotalSonic said :

    There is not really any available device that would benefit from using the outdated and unsupported UT OS, and it would be a serious waste of time to any of the UT developers to try and accommodate this as well.

    You seem to be implying that I suggest that the developers to go back to the old way of doing things, that is to support Vivid which is a version several years out of date (and which was so even up to the point of UBP OTA-3), which would be akin to keeping a zombie on a life-support drip. That is not what I suggested. My desire is in line with what many other users desire, and what the developers have promised, that with a switch from Xmir to Xwayland among other improvements will return all applications within the Libertine container to full functionality. So going with that route is surely not a waste of development resources, and is within the stated roadmap of development. At that point, there will be both a fully featured Libertine container, and the full suite of UT native apps; perhaps even by then a more fully realised Anbox experience? On the other hand, if you're suggesting that Libertine should just outright be abandoned, well the apps are still exposed in the new OTA-12 drawer and (only some) still launch, which suggests that the developers are not looking at just abandoning this useful application container after users have enjoyed using it for several years.

    @TotalSonic said :

    UT native apps running on Xenial will give you way better of a tablet experience than Libertine on Vivid ever will.

    This seems like an apples and oranges comparison. I think there's value to be had from being able to use spreadsheets on the go, or to design a presentation, or to write up a nice document with a word processor (show me any UT native app for word processing which comes close to the functionality of Libre Office Writer). Clearly UBports would agree, given the pitch for the M10 FHD as "This tablet provides you a great workflow as a portable laptop. Imagine travelling by plane and working on your documents using LibreOffice.". and also it's "The tablet to travel with". That's still up there on the link I cited above. I also recall an independent article strongly advocating for the compact and lightweight form factor of the tablet in laptop configuration, over a bulkier, heavier, noisier, more expensive and less portable in terms of power delivery actual laptop. This was emphasised in the ease of transporting the tablet via carry-on luggage. If I ever find the article again, I will link to cite it. Another fun use case for Libertine is audio editing with programs such as Audacity. Now, this isn't a pure "tablet experience" paradigm, but feels to me like a hybrid, offering portable desktop apps and also great UT native apps (when Libertine gets the dev love it deserves, that is, that's when we expect both of the aforementioned to have equal priority). That in my view would be one of several criteria for the OS to be truly convergent.

    Anyway, I recommended that users would be catered for the UT native apps by having an up-to-date, Xenial phone, and this could leave space for a tablet which can run Libertine. It would indeed be a bit of a waste to only have a tablet, just for Libertine under Vivid and missing up-to-date native apps.

    @TotalSonic said :

    If running desktop Linux apps on a tablet is the priority then the very best way to do it is by using a standard Linux distro on an x86 tablet - I have done this a lot myself - generally running standard Ubuntu with Gnome 3 DE, or by using Xubuntu with the Onboard osk, and Touchegg multi-touch gesture configuration app - and I've set this up on a Dell 7140, Dell 7275, and Samsung Slate 7. The experience on the Dell 7140 has been best out of all these.

    For one thing, I can't find any availability for the three tablets you cite on Amazon. For another, I search "(tablet name) price" and I see they vary from £599-999. This is far in excess of what many users would be willing to pay to have desktop apps on a tablet; at that range most would probably reconsider to go for a mid to high-end laptop. By contrast, I parted with £140 including shipping for my most recent M10 HD tablet (which included a superior storage of 32GB, compared to the original M10 HD Ubuntu Touch 16GB edition). A protective case with keyboard and then a mouse on top of that would probably only go to £60, so you're looking at £200 all-in. So much more appealing of a price, wouldn't you agree? For a very reasonable desktop apps experience (under Vivid Libertine, for the time being) which isn't losing out much on that provided by these high-end X86 tablets (and I can state that because I've seen videos showing how the X86 tablets do desktop apps). The Nexus 7 and the Pinetab (leaving aside the fact that the latter will likely never have a Vivid build, for understandable reasons) are also very economically priced, reinforcing the great niche which a Libertine container has for a portable desktop apps experience.

    @doniks said :

    @TartanSpartan I think it might be worthwile to have Videos of this difference in UX. I mean the X+1 menu story. A video of the device (not a screencapture) might make it clear for (new) developers what was once possible vs today. I never had a M10 and I can't really picture in my mind what you are describing. I understand that its hard to translate menus into a touch interface without writing a new UI. It might help to have that documented

    I could do this soon, easily enough, yep. For the reasons you suggest. Albeit I do think many of the developers do understand what the issues are, given their comments about them on Git. But users would also benefit from a clear illustration of the regressions.



  • Sorry that I did not really read all posts in their entirety but I guess I kinda get the gist of it? 😅
    I think Libertine should still be a vital part of UTs future and it will get better once xwayland works and actually, apps that supports wayland will run natively. I don't expect every software will be available with flatpak/snap/appimage so LIbertine can still be a good alternative. I would say that Libertine will be actually usable for everyone once Wayland/XWayland and Ubuntu 20.04 are implemented in UT and with the momentum of development on desktop apps adapting to mobile. I don't use Libertine myself but I really think it can still be useful for me in the future.



  • @TartanSpartan said in Concerning Libertine and it's status within the Ubuntu Touch OS:

    with a switch from Xmir to Xwayland among other improvements will return all applications within the Libertine container to full functionality.

    Well, it's not like Xwayland is a silver bullet that will guarantee that there are no bugs and give you an awesome user experience right out of the gate 😉

    I could do this soon, easily enough, yep. For the reasons you suggest. Albeit I do think many of the developers do understand what the issues are, given their comments about them on Git.

    Awesome! You know, sometimes developers disappear and others show up. It's a community and not a life sentence.



  • @doniks Yes I know it's not a silver bullet, but that's why both times I mentioned it, it was alongside "other improvements" which will give the full experience. For example I should think the segfaults mentioned above might need other fixes. And yep, the run of an individual developer in this community can indeed be transient in nature.



  • @TartanSpartan said in Concerning Libertine and it's status within the Ubuntu Touch OS:

    I think there's value to be had from being able to use spreadsheets on the go, or to design a presentation, or to write up a nice document with a word processor (show me any UT native app for word processing which comes close to the functionality of Libre Office Writer). Clearly UBports would agree, given the pitch for the M10 FHD as "This tablet provides you a great workflow as a portable laptop. Imagine travelling by plane and working on your documents using LibreOffice.". and also it's "The tablet to travel with". That's still up there on the link I cited above.

    I do not contest that many in the Foundation will agree that Libertine adds value. I do feel however that too much weight is placed on pronouncements in the device descriptions. The description for the tablet sounds more like 'marketing speech' that has been retained from the Canonical days to me. I don't object to it, but I don't see in it any promise of perpetual support either.

    Concerning Libertine, the hope was that by highlighting its availability there would have been community members willing and able to step up and contribute bug fixes and features to the code. Unfortunately that does not seem to have happened to the degree that would have made an impact. After the switch to Wayland we might have another opportunity to see this hope realized.

    I also think that pronouncements in Q&A's or on Social Media regarding Libertine should not be taken as hard promises at this time, but more as declared intents based on best effort. Until such a time as a team can be formed around the maintenance of Libertine, similar to what has happened for Dekko2 and is now coalescing around Podbird, I don't see how much progress can be made.


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