For a Linux distribution that focuses on user friendliness, it does surprise me that Linux Mint offers no seamless upgrade path. In fact, the underlying philosophy is that upgrading an operating system is a risky business. However, I have been doing in-situ upgrades for both Ubuntu and Fedora for a few years without any real calamities. A mishap with a hard drive that resulted in lost data in the days when I mainly was a Windows user places this into sharp relief. These days, I am far more careful but thought nothing of sticking a Fedora DVD into a drive to move my Fedora machine from 14 to 15 recently. Apart from a few rough edges and the need to get used to GNOME 3 together with making a better fit for me, there was no problem to report. The same sort of outcome used to apply to those online Ubuntu upgrades that I was accustomed to doing.
The recommended approach for Linux Mint is to backup your package lists and your data before the upgrade. Doing the former is a boon because it automates adding the extras that a standard CD or DVD installation doesn’t do. While I did do a little backing up of data, it wasn’t total because I know how to identify my drives and take my time over things. Apache settings and the contents of MySQL databases were my main concern because of where these are stored.
When I was ready to do so, I popped a DVD in the drive and carried out a fresh installation into the partition where my operating system files are kept. Being a Live DVD, I was able to set up any drive and partition mappings with reference to Mint’s Disk Utility. What didn’t go so well was the GRUB installation and it was due to the choice that I made in one of the installation screens. Despite doing an installation of version 10 just over a month ago, I had overlooked an intricacy of the task and placed GRUB on the operating system files partition rather than at the top level for the disk where it is located. Instead of trying to address this manually, I took the easier and more time-consuming step of repeating the installation like I did the last time. If there was a graphical tool for addressing GRUB problems, I might have gone for that instead but am left wondering at why there isn’t one included at all. Maybe it’s something that the people behind GRUB should consider creating unless there is one out there already about which I know nothing.
With the booting problem sorted, I tried logging in only to find a problem with my desktop that made the system next to unusable. It was back to the DVD and I moved many of the configuration files and folders (the ones with names beginning with a “.”) from my home directory in the belief that there might have been an incompatibility. That action gained me a fully usable desktop environment but I now think that the cause of my problem may have been different to what I initially suspected. Later I discovered that ownership of files in my home area elsewhere wasn’t associated with my user ID though there was no change to it during the installation. As it happened, few minutes with the chown command were enough to sort out the permissions issue.
The restoration of the extra software that I had added beyond what standardly gets installed was took its share of time but the use of a previously prepared list made things so much easier. That it didn’t work smoothly because some packages couldn’t be found the first time around so another one was needed. Nevertheless, that is nothing compared to the effort needed to do the same thing by issuing an installation command at a time. Once the usual distribution software updates were in place, all that was left was to update VirtualBox to the latest version, install a Citrix client and add a PHP plugin to NetBeans. Then, next to everything was in place for me.
Next, Apache settings were restored as were the databases that I used for offline web development. That nearly was all that was needed to get offline websites working but for the need to add an alias for localhost.localdomain. That required installation of the Network Settings tool so that I could add the alias in its Hosts tab. With that out of the way, the system had been settled in and was ready for real work.
In light of some of the glitches that I saw, I can understand the level of caution regarding a more automated upgrade process on the part of the Linux Mint team. Even so, I still am wondering if the more manual alternative that they have pursued brings its own problems in the form of those that I met. The fact that the whole process took a few hours in comparison to the hour taken by the in-situ upgrades that I mentioned earlier is another consideration that makes you wonder if it is all worth it every six months or so. Saying that, there is something to letting a user decide when to upgrade rather than luring one along to a new version, a point that is more than pertinent in light of the recent changes made to Ubuntu and Fedora. Whichever approach you care to choose, there are arguments in favour as well as counterarguments too.