Solving an upgrade hitch en route to Ubuntu 10.04

After waiting until after a weekend in the Isle of Man, I got to upgrading my main home PC to Ubuntu 10.04. Before the weekend away, I had been updating a 10.04 installation on an old spare PC and that worked fine so the prospects were good for a similar changeover on the main box. That may have been so but breaking a computer hardly is the perfect complement to a getaway.

So as to keep the level of disruption to a minimum, I opted for an in-situ upgrade. The download was left to complete in its own good time and I returned to attend to installation messages asking me if I wished to retain old logs files for the likes of Apache. When the system asked for reboot at the end of the sequence of package downloading, installation and removal, I was ready to leave it do the needful.

However, I met with a hitch when the machine restarted: it couldn’t find the root drive. Live CD’s were pressed into service to shed light on what had happened. First up was an old disc for 9.10 before one for 10.04 Beta 1 was used. That identified a difference between the two that was to prove to be the cause of what I was seeing. 10.04 uses /dev/hd*# (/dev/hda1 is an example) nomenclature for everything including software RAID arrays (“fakeraid”). 9.10 used the /dev/mapper/sil_**************# convention for two of my drives and I get the impression that the names differ according to the chipset that is used.

During the upgrade process, the one thing that was missed was the changeover from /dev/mapper/sil_**************# to /dev/hd*# in the appropriate places in /boot/grub/menu.lst; look for the lines starting with the word kernel. When I did what the operating system forgot, I was greeted by a screen telling of the progress of checks on one of the system’s disks. That process took a while but a login screen followed and I had my desktop much as before. The only other thing that I had to do was run gconf-editor from the terminal to send the title bar buttons to the right where I am accustomed to having them. Since then, I have been working away as before.

Some may decry the lack of change (ImageMagick and UFRaw could do with working together much faster, though) but I’m not complaining; the rough of 9.10 drilled that into me. Nevertheless, I am left wondering how many are getting tripped up by what I encountered, even if it means that Palimpsest (what Ubuntu calls Disk Utility) looks much tidier than it did. Could the same thing be affecting /etc/fstab too? The reason that I don’t know the answer to that question is that I changed all hard disk drive references to UUID a while ago but it’s another place to look if the GRUB change isn’t fixing things for you. If my memory isn’t failing me, I seem to remember seeing /dev/mapper/sil_**************# drive names in there too.

You always can install things yourself…

With Linux distributions offering you everything on a plate, there is a temptation to stick with what they offer rather than taking things into your own hands. For example, Debian’s infrequent stable releases and the fact that they don’t seem to change software versions throughout the lifetime of such a release means that things such as browser versions are fixed for the purposes of stability; Lenny has stuck with Firefox 3.06 and called it Iceweasel for some unknown reason. However, I soon got to grabbing a tarball for 3.5 and popped its contents into /opt where the self-contained package worked without a hitch. The same modus operandii was used to get in Eclipse PDT and that applied to Ubuntu too until buttons stopped working, forcing a jumping of ship to Netbeans. Of course, you could make a mess when veering away from what is in a distribution but that should be good enough reason not to get carried away with software additions. With the availability of DEB packages for things like Adobe Reader, RealPlayer, VirtualBox, Google Chrome and Opera, keeping things clean isn’t so hard. Your mileage may vary when it comes to how well things work out for you but I have only ever had the occasional problem anyway.

What reminded me of this was a recent irritation with the OpenOffice package included in Ubuntu 9.10 whereby spell checking wasn’t working. While there were thoughts about is situ fixes like additional dictionary installations, I ended up plumping for what could be called the lazy option: grabbing a tarball full of DEB packages from the OpenOffice website and extracting its contents into /tmp and, once the URE package was in place, installing from there using the command:

dpkg -i o*

To get application shortcuts added to the main menu, it was a matter of diving into the appropriate subfolder and installing from the GNOME desktop extension package. Of course, Ubuntu’s OpenOffice variant was removed as part of all this but, if you wanted to live a little more dangerously, the external installation goes into /opt so there shouldn’t be too much of a conflict anyway. In any case, the DIY route got me the spell checking in OpenOffice Writer that I needed so all was well and another Ubuntu rough edge eradicated from my life, for now anyway.

When buttons stop working…

One of the things that stopped working as it should after my recent Ubuntu 9.10 upgrade was the Eclipse PDT installation that I had in place. Editing files went a bit haywire and creating projects had me pushing buttons with nothing happening. Whether this was a Java or GNOME issue, I don’t know but I found it happening too on openSUSE 11.2 (there should be more on that distro in a later entry). That was enough to get me looking again at Netbeans.

In both openSUSE (NB version 6.5) and Ubuntu (NB version 6.7.1), I plucked the default offering of Netbeans from the respective software repositories and added the PHP plugin in both cases. Unlike when I last gave the platform a go, things seemed to go smoothly and it looks to have replaced Eclipse for PHP development duties. Project scanning make take a little while but it’s far from annoying and my earlier dalliance with using Netbeans as a PHP editor was stymied by performance that was so sluggish as to make the thing a pain to use. Up to now, Netbeans’ footprints when it comes to its use of PC power never was light so I am wondering if dual-core and quad-core CPU’s help along with a copious supply of RAM. Only time will tell if these inital positive impressions stay the course and I’ll be keeping an open mind for now.

Rough?

Was it because Canonical and friends kept Ubuntu in such a decent state from 8.04 through to 9.04 that things went a little quiet in the blogosphere on the subject of the well-known Linux distribution? If so, 9.10 might be proving more of a talking point and you have to wonder if this is such a good thing with the appearance of Windows 7 on the scene. Looking on the bright side, 10.04 will be an LTS release so there is some chance that any rough edges that are on display now could be resolved by next April. Even so, it might have been better not to see anything so obvious at all.

In truth, Ubuntu always has had its gaps and I have seen a few of their ilk over the last two years. Of these, a few have triggered postings on here. In fact, issues with accessing the BBC iPlayer still bring a goodly number of folk to this website. That may just be a matter of grabbing RealPlayer, now helpfully available as a DEB package, from the requisite place on the web and ensuring that Ubuntu-Restricted-Extras is in place too but you have to know that in the first place. Even so, unexpected behaviours like Palimpsest seeing every partition on a disk as a different drive and SIL Raid mappings being seen for hard drives that used to live on the main home PC that bit the dust earlier this year; it only happens on one of the machines that I have running Ubuntu so it may be hardware thing and newly added hard drive uses none of the SIL mapping either. Perhaps more seriously (is it something that a new user should be encountering?), a misfiring variant of Brasero had me moving to K3b. Then UFRaw was sluggish in batch but that’s nothing that having a Debian VM won’t overcome. Rough edges like these do get you asking if 9.10 was ready for the big time while making you reluctant to recommend it to mainstream users like my brother.

The counterpoint to the above is that 9.10 includes a host of under the bonnet changes like the introduction of Ext4 hard drive formatting, Xsplash to allow the faster system loading to occur unseen and GNOME 2.28. To someone looking in from outside like me, that looks like a lot of work and might explain the ingress of the annoyances that I have seen. Add to that the fact that we are between Debian releases so things like the optimised packaging of ImageMagick or UFRaw may not be so high up the list of the things to do, especially with the more general speed optimisations that were put in place for 9.10. With 10.04 set to be an LTS release so I’d be hoping that consolidation is the order of the day over the next five or six months but it seems to be the inclusion of new features and other such progress that get magazine reviewers giving higher ratings (Linux Format has given it a mark of 9 out of 10). With the mooted inclusion of GNOME 3 and its dramatically different interface in 10.10, they should get their fill of that. However, I’d like to see some restraint for the take of a smooth transition from the familiar GNOME 2.x to the new. If GNOME 3 stays very like its alpha builds, then the question as how users will take to it arises. Of course, there’s some time yet before we see GNOME 3 and, having seen how the Ubuntu developers transformed GNOME 2.28, I wouldn’t be surprised if the impact of any change could be dulled.

In summary, my few weeks with Ubuntu 9.10 as my main OS have thrown up no major roadblocks that would cause me to look at moving elsewhere; Fedora would be tempting if that situation were to arise. The irritations that I have seen are more like signs of a lack of polish and remain peripheral to day-to-day working if you discount CD/DVD burning. To be honest, there always have been roughnesses in Ubuntu but has the lack of sizeable change spoilt us? Whatever about how things feel afterwards, big changes can mean new problems to resolve and inspire blog posts describing any solutions so it’s not all bad. If that’s what Canonical wants to see, they might get it and the year ahead looks as if it is going to be an interesting one after a recent quieter period.

A use for choice

After moving to Ubuntu 9.10, Brasero stopped behaving as well as it did in Ubuntu 9.04. Any bootable disks that I have created with it weren’t without glitches. After a recent update, things got better with a live CD actually booting up a PC rather than failing to find a file system like those created with its forbear. While unsure if the observed imperfections stemmed from my using the RC for the upgrades and installations, I got to looking for a solution and gave K3b a go. It certainly behaves like I’d expect it and a live CD created with it worked without fault. The end result is that Brasero has been booted off my main home system for now. That may mean that all of the in-built GNOME convenience is lost to me but I can live without the extras; after all, it’s the quality of the created disks that matters.

K3b