It all started when my Hardy Heron (8.04) installation became increasingly sluggish. But then, you never know what the reason is for sluggishness, i.e., especially browser usage, typing something in the browser window and then needing to wait for the letters to be rendered. So I upgraded to what I thought was the next release, Jaunty Jackalope (9.04). The first massive problem was that I simply could not get Internet to work. That was a frustrating time, covering several hours, into the night as well, desperately trying to figure things out. Eventually everything worked OK, i.e., I managed to connect to wireless, etc, which had not been possible before that. No idea why it didn't work and no idea why it ended up working, since I tried dozens of different (occasionally conflicting) solutions found on-line. In the end, I followed some instruction telling me to remove the Network Manager and configure everything from the command line, which is what made it all work, I think.
Then... suddenly, a week or so later, I experienced a massive hard disk crash. Couldn't even restart the system, file system checking began at some point, then stopped at 65% (which took about 20 minutes to get to each time, sigh), then switched to the command line, which basically is the Ubuntu way of saying: "Good luck, buddy." Desperation ensued. Was all my data destroyed for all eternity? (Interestingly, the only thing I cared enough about to save was the IntelliJ plugin I've been working on, since everything else is backed up on one or more of several servers.) Still, big inconvenience.
The worst of it was, I couldn't start up the system at all. And my knowledge of the innards of Linux is not very large, so I feared making things even worse than they were. Plus, I had sessions and trainings to deliver which, without a laptop, would mean... puppets and mime as the cornerstone of my presentations, maybe. Well, something had to be done.
Then I discovered something called "Ubuntu Steunpunt" in Holland/Belgium. "Steunpunt" means "support". Ubuntu Steunpunt are a group of volunteers who are spread all over the Dutch/Belgian map, so you can find the closest ones and contact them. I did that, to three local addresses I found, all of them responded, over the next few days. The first of the three phoned me up in a matter of hours and told me I should simply reinstall Ubuntu. Probably I'd then be able to save my data. But I had no installation disk! But the volunteer support guy did, so I caught the bus to his (remember, random stranger) place, he gave me the disk, plus we rode into town to buy an external hard disk so I could back up all my data (which I did, successfully), after which he stepped me through the installation process and everything else related to it. I took up about half his Saturday, while the other two (remember, volunteers) also offered to provide me with an installation disk if I stopped by to pick it up.
So, that's the worst and the best of Ubuntu—when things go really wrong, Ubuntu really isn't a consumer product. It's then, suddenly, a very technical product that you need deep knowledge to fix. Reinstallation isn't automatically the first thing one thinks (or even should think) of, at which point anything you do potentially worsens the problem. That's the worst of it. The best of it is the volunteer support groups out there, who exist in real life beyond the mailing lists. Plus, there's someone out there I met who I now owe a beer for all the great help he provided! And now I am using the latest version of Ubuntu, 10.04, Lucid Lynx, which is going very well indeed, so far...