Ubuntu 12.04's Great Flaw: No Hibernation Feature

Ubuntu 12.04 is codenamed "Precise Pangolin." But maybe it should be called "Linux that never sleeps." And that wouldn't be a compliment. Au contraire -- the operating system's lack of support for hibernation, or the ability to put the computer to "sleep" using no power, is a major flaw in an otherwise great Ubuntu release. And it doesn't bode well for Canonical's ambitions of conquering the desktop.

To be clear, I'm quite happy with Ubuntu 12.04 overall. It works great and introduces some highly useful new features. But by default, it also does away with the ability to hibernate the computer, a.k.a. suspend-to-disk. The official reason, as explained in the Ubuntu 12.04 release notes, is that "it was found to be unreliable, very slow and confusing to have two suspend modes."

For my money, that's pretty unsatisfying reasoning. Beyond implying that users are too incompetent to be able to handle two different methods of putting their computers to sleep, the decision to remove hibernation altogether instead of making it work better seems like a weak cop-out on the part of Ubuntu developers. By this reasoning, Ubuntu should also do away with wireless networking, 3D graphics and everything else that doesn't always work flawlessly on all hardware.

Indeed, I suppose we should just get rid of X and all that other complicated overhead altogether, and strip the system down to a bash shell. No worries about stability, speed or confusing users with too many options there.

And for the record, suspending to disk has never been unreliable or egregiously slow on either my Dell netbook or homemade desktop. It's not as fast as suspending to RAM, obviously, but in general it works fine. No one asked me whether the hibernate feature was unreliable, slow and confusing.

The Late, Great (Ability to) Hibernate

Fortunately, suspending to RAM still works in Ubuntu 12.04, and hibernation can be reenabled manually without too much difficulty. But the decision by Ubuntu developers to eliminate hibernation mode out-of-the-box in one sweeping move on all systems because it caused problems on certain hardware is a little distressing.

And I write that not just because the missing feature makes my life slightly more difficult, since I rely on hibernation regularly. The change also reflects poorly on Ubuntu's ability to spread open source software to the desktops of the masses. If Canonical is willing to drop functionality that many users rightfully take for granted, it risks squandering some of Ubuntu's hard-won momentum in niches where desktop Linux has rarely ventured before.

After all, it's 2012, and being able to suspend the computer to disk is a pretty basic feature. As I recall, it's been around at least since the days of Windows 95. And although implementing it on Linux may be trickier than it should be due to lack of open hardware specifications and standards, that doesn't mean open source developers should give up entirely.

Granted, many people may not care very much whether they can suspend their computers to disk. These days, when many PCs are left to run 24/7, and when laptop batteries can supply enough juice to power machines in suspend-to-RAM mode for days, the demand for hibernation is undoubtedly less pressing than it was in the past.

But many people, myself included, expect to be able to hibernate their computers -- or at least to have the option to try. And if Canonical is serious about stealing a major piece of the desktop pie -- both among individual PC users and in corporate environments, where it has been investing heavily -- it needs to pay attention to issues such as these.  Stripping basic functionality from Ubuntu is not the way forward.
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