Canonical displays controversial 'ad' in shell update prog

Ubuntu once again courts controversy, but alternative commands are available

Updated Some Ubuntu users are not happy at receiving a promotional message at the command line when upgrading their systems.

As we described last week, Canonical's "Ubuntu Pro" support offering for its Linux distro is now free of charge for up to five machines. If you update your machine from the command line with the apt command, you get an unsolicited ad for the scheme – and some users are not happy about it.

There are complaints on Reddit, Mastodon, and on the company's own StackExchange site AskUbuntu.

This is far from the first time Ubuntu has faced such discontent. Last time, it was a promotional message on servers' login screens that caused complaints. This was merely some text added to the /etc/motd file (that is, Message Of The Day), but one cause of upset is that it fetched the information from online – in theory, that might fail or cause unanticipated network access.

A decade before that, it was Amazon listings in search results and fishing for donations on its download page.

The new message appears if you use Ubuntu's simplified apt front-end to the underlying Debian Advanced Packaging Tool, although as we mentioned while looking at some Debian derivatives, Debian itself has now adopted the apt command. If you prefer, the older apt-get, and apt-cache commands are still there in both Ubuntu and Debian, and they won't show the message. They're a better choice if you're scripting the operations, too.

Although this is not what anyone outside the company expected, for years there's been a warning if you redirect the apt command's output:

WARNING: apt does not have a stable CLI interface. Use with caution in scripts.

For what it's worth, the Reg FOSS desk doesn't really feel that this counts as advertising. The message is informing sysadmins about a free service, which is worth having if you have to keep a few old machines in active service. If you don't live online, you might have missed the news, and it is something worth knowing about.

If you like the simplicity of using the apt command but are irritated by such things, there are alternative wrappers around the underlying APT package-management system. You could install aptitude, which used to be Debian's recommended "high-level" wrapper around the APT toolchain.

There are more modern alternative options out there, too. One is Wajig. Its documentation can tell you more about what it can do – including managing daemons, showing logs, and more.

Another option is the Nala package manager, which brings some of the extra niceties of Red Hat's dnf command to Ubuntu and its relatives. Nala can do multiple downloads in parallel, check for faster mirrors and more, and its output uses more formatting for increased readability.

Both of them are implemented in Python – which might add to their appeal to Pythonistas, and makes it easier to see how they work under the hood. ®

Updated to add:

A Canonical spokesperson told us: "This is a news element that Canonical uses to share relevant information in users' apt outputs. We're very happy to get feedback, though, and intend to work up a one-command way to disable news, for those users who would prefer not to see this kind of text in their apt outputs in future."

A Reg reader also claimed they were also seeing the messages in the output of the apt-get command.

The Canonical spokesperson said of this: "I inquired and it is visible for some users. That wasn't intentional, and we're fixing it now."

They said an updated version of news will be released the week commencing October 17 "that will only display in apt output – and will also have a command to disable news in apt output, so no news, including this message, appears in apt output."

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