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A fundamental flaw has dogged Ubuntu through the years and there is still no sign of it being resolved. Misbehaving applications are one of the first hurdles that an operating system must overcome. Microsoft Windows endured mountains of criticism in its early days for allowing badly written applications to bring the whole OS to its knees.
Linux is, in most circumstances, very resilient in handling problematic applications and Ubuntu is no exception to this. These problems are “water off a ducks back” for Ubuntu and the operating system will happily continue doing its thing when an app freezes or crashes.
The problem comes in when Ubuntu hands over full control of the keyboard and mouse to a full-screen application which subsequently grinds to a halt.
The app is clearly stuck but the OS seems to be oblivious to the problem. Ubuntu will continue displaying notifications for received chats and emails but the user is helpless because the application has become solely responsible for any input. The operating system is obviously still running properly in the backround but you are out of options; pull the plug and restart.
At one stage, Ubuntu used the standard ‘ctrl+alt+backspace’ shortcut to kick you back to the login screen but this has since been removed. While you can re-enable this functionality, it is not an ideal solution because you may have other applications running in the background which don’t deserve to be killed.
All you need is a way to get back to the desktop to sort out the problem.
The issue has been raised time and again on Ubuntu Brainstorm and solution #1 suggests having a keyboard shortcut that will release the keyboard/mouse lock and exit full-screen mode. This is probably the most effective way to solve this long standing issue.
I use Virtual Box extensively and the keyboard and mouse can be unlocked by simply pressing the right-ctrl key. This passes the handling of any further input back to Ubuntu and it means that I never need to leave full-screen mode with my Virtual Machine.
If Ubuntu had this functionality natively it would solve the problems described above and open new possibilities for how we handle full-screen applications. This is especially useful in an operating system with multiple desktops as we could have a full-screen application running on each desktop.
With Ubuntu switching to Wayland as of version 11.04 this is an opportunity to address an issue before it becomes entrenched in the new system design.