Turning off Apport crash reporting on Ubuntu

Last week, I kept getting a multitude of messages from Ubuntu’s crash reporting tool, Apport. So many would appear at once on reaching the desktop session during system start-up that I actually downloaded an installation ISO disk image with the intention of performing a fresh installation to rid myself of the problem. In the end, it never came to that because another remedy produced the result that I needed.

Emptying /etc/crash was a start but it did not do what I needed and I disabled Apport altogether. This meant editing its configuration file, which is named apport and is found in /etc/default/. The following command should open it up in Gedit on supplying your password:

gksudo gedit /etc/default/apport

With the file opened, look for the line with enabled=1 and change this to enabled=0. Once that is done, restart Apport as follows:

sudo restart apport

This will need your account password to be supplied before it will act and any messages should appear thereafter. Of course, I would not have done this if there was a real system problem but my Ubuntu GNOME installation was and is working smoothly so it is the remedy that I needed. The idea behind the tool is that Ubuntu developers get information on any application crashes but I find that it directs me to the Ubuntu Launchpad bug reporting website and that requires a user name and password for the information to be processed. For some reason, that is enough to stall me and I wonder if there could be a way of getting developers what they need without adding that extra manual step. Then, more information gets supplied and we get a more stable operating system in return.

Upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8 in a VMWare Virtual Machine

Though my main home PC runs Linux Mint, I do like to have the facility to use Windows software from time to time and virtualisation has allowed me to continue doing that. For a good while, it was a Windows 7 guest within a VirtualBox virtual machine and, before that, one running Windows XP fulfilled the same role. However, it did feel as if things were running slower in VirtualBox than once might have been the case and I jumped ship to VMware Player. It may be proprietary and closed source but it is free of charge and has been doing what was needed. A subsequent recent upgrade of video driver on the host operating system allowed the enabling of a better graphical environment in the Windows 7 guest.

Instability

However, there were issues with stability and I lost the ability to flit from the VM window to the Linux desktop at will with the system freezing on me and needing a reboot. Working in Windows 7 using full screen mode avoided this but it did feel as I was constrained to working in a Windows machine whenever I did so. The graphics performance was imperfect too with screening refreshing being very blocky with some momentary scrambling whenever I opened the Start menu. Others would not have been as patient with that as I was though there was the matter of an expensive Photoshop licence to be guarded too.

In hindsight, a bit of pruning could have helped. An example would have been driver housekeeping in the form of removing VirtualBox Guest Additions because they could have been conflicting with their VMware counterparts. For some reason, those thoughts entered my mind and I was pondering another more expensive option instead.

Considering NAS & Windows/Linux Networking

That would have taken the form of setting aside a PC for running Windows 7 and having a NAS for sharing files between it and my Linux system. In fact, I did get to exploring what a four bay QNAP TS-412 would offer me and realised that you cannot put normal desktop hard drives into devices like that. For a while, it looked as if it would be a matter of getting drives bundled with the device or acquiring enterprise grade disks so as to main the required continuity of operation. The final edition of PC Plus highlighted another one though: the Western Digital Red range. These are part way been desktop and enterprise classifications and have been developed in association with NAS makers too.

Looking at the NAS option certainly became an education but it has exited any sort of wish list that I have. After all, there is the cost of such a setup and it’s enough to get me asking if I really need such a thing. The purchase of a Netgear FS 605 ethernet switch would have helped incorporate it but there has been no trouble sorting alternative uses for it since it bumps up the number of networked devices that I can have, never a bad capability to have. As I was to find, there was a less expensive alternative that became sufficient for my needs.

In-situ Windows 8 Upgrade

Microsoft have been making available evaluation copies of Windows 8 Enterprise that last for 90 days before expiring. One is in my hands has been running faultlessly in a VMware virtual machine for the past few weeks. That made me wonder if upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8 help with my main Windows VM problems. Being a curious risk-taking type I decided to answer the question for myself using the £24.99 Windows Pro upgrade offer that Microsoft have been running for those not needing a disk up front; they need to pay £49.99 but you can get one afterwards for an extra £12.99 and £3.49 postage if you wish, a slightly cheaper option. There also was a time cost in that it occupied a lot of a weekend on me but it seems to have done what was needed so it was worth the outlay.

Given the element of risk, Photoshop was deactivated to be on the safe side. That wasn’t the only pre-upgrade action that was needed because the Windows 8 Pro 32-bit upgrade needs at least 16 GB before it will proceed. Of course, there was the matter of downloading the installer from the Microsoft website too. This took care of system evaluation and paying for the software as well as the actual upgrade itself.

The installation took a few hours with virtual machine reboots along the way. Naturally, the licence key was needed too as well as the selection of a few options though there weren’t many of these. Being able to carry over settings from the pre-exisiting Windows 7 instance certainly helped with this and with making the process smoother too. No software needed reinstatement and it doesn’t feel as if the system has forgotten very much at all, a successful outcome.

Post-upgrade Actions

Just because I had a working Windows 8 instance didn’t mean that there wasn’t more to be done. In fact, it was the post-upgrade sorting that took up more time than the actual installation. For one thing, my digital mapping software wouldn’t work without .Net Framework 3.5 and turning on the operating system feature form the Control Panel fell over at the point where it was being downloaded from the Microsoft Update website. Even removing Avira Internet Security after updating it to the latest version had no effect and it was a finding during the Windows 8 system evaluation process. The solution was to mount the Windows 8 Enterprise ISO installation image that I had and issue the following command from a command prompt running with administrative privileges (it’s all one line though that’s wrapped here):

dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:NetFX3 /Source:d:\sources\sxs /LimitAccess

For sake of assurance regarding compatibility, Avira has been replaced with Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security. The Avira licence won’t go to waste since I have another another home in mind for it. Removing Avira without crashing Windows 8 proved impossible though and necessitating booting Windows 8 into Safe Mode. Because of much faster startup times, that cannot be achieved with a key press at the appropriate moment because the time window is too short now. One solution is to set the Safe Boot tickbox in the Boot tab of Msconfig (or System Configuration as it otherwise calls itself) before the machine is restarted. There may be others but this was the one that I used. With Avira removed, clearing the same setting and rebooting restored normal service.

Dealing with a Dual Personality

One observer has stated that Windows 8 gives you two operating systems for the price of one: the one in the Start screen and the one on the desktop. Having got to wanting to work with one at a time, I decided to make some adjustments. Adding Classic Shell got me back a Start menu and I left out the Windows Explorer (or File Explorer as it is known in Windows 8) and Internet Explorer components. Though Classic Shell will present a desktop like what we have been getting from Windows 7 by sweeping the Start screen out of the way for you, I found that this wasn’t quick enough for my liking so I added Skip Metro Suite to do this and it seemed to do that a little faster. The tool does more than sweeping the Start screen out of the way but I have switched off these functions. Classic Shell also has been configured so the Start screen can be accessed with a press of Windows key but you can have it as you wish. It has updated too so that boot into the desktop should be faster now. As for me, I’ll leave things as they are for now. Even the possibility of using Windows’ own functionality to go directly to the traditional desktop will be left untested while things are left to settle. Tinkering can need a break.

Outcome

After all that effort, I now have a seemingly more stable Windows virtual machine running Windows 8. Flitting between it and other Linux desktop applications has not caused a system freeze so far and that was the result that I wanted. There now is no need to consider having separate Windows and Linux PC’s with a NAS for sharing files between them so that option is well off my wish-list. There are better uses for my money.

Not everyone has had my experience though because I saw a report that one user failed to update a physical machine to Windows 8 and installed Ubuntu instead; they were a Linux user anyway even if they used Fedora more than Ubuntu. It is possible to roll back from Windows 8 to the previous version of Windows because there is a windows.old directory left primarily for that purpose. However, that may not help you if you have a partially operating system that doesn’t allow you to do just that. In time, I’ll remove it using the Disk Clean-up utility by asking it to remove previous Windows installations or running File Explorer with administrator privileges. Somehow, the former approach sounds the safer.

What About Installing Afresh?

While there was a time when I went solely for upgrades when moving from one version of Windows to the next, the annoyance of the process got to me. If I had known that installing the upgrade twice onto a computer with a clean disk would suffice, it would have saved me a lot. Staring from Windows 95 (from the days when you got a full installation disk with a PC and not the rescue media that we get now) and moving through a sequence of successors not only was time consuming but it also revealed the limitations of the first in the series when it came to supporting more recent hardware. It was enough to have me buying the full retailed editions of Windows XP and Windows 7 when they were released; the latter got downloaded directly from Microsoft. These were retail versions that you could move from one computer to another but Windows 8 will not be like that. In fact, you will need to get its System Builder edition from a reseller and that can only be used on one machine. It is the merging of the former retail and OEM product offerings.

What I have been reading is that the market for full retail versions of Windows was not a big one anyway. However, it was how I used to work as you have read above and it does give you a fresh system. Most probably get Windows with a new PC and don’t go building them from scratch like I have done for more than a decade. Maybe the System Builder version would apply to me anyway and it appears to be intended for virtual machine use as well as on physical ones. More care will be needed with those licences by the looks of things and I wonder what needs not to be changed so as not to invalidate a licence. After all, making a mistake might cost between £75 and £120 depending on the edition.

Final Thoughts

So far Windows 8 is treating me well and I have managed to bend to my will too, always a good thing to be able to say. In time, it might be that a System Builder copy could need buying yet but I’ll leave well alone for now. Though I needed new security software, the upgrade still saved me money over a hardware solution to my home computing needs and I have a backup disk on order from Microsoft too. That I have had to spend some time settling things was a means of learning new things for me but others may not be so patient and, with Windows 7 working well enough for most, you have to ask if it’s only curious folk like me who are taking the plunge. Still, the dramatic change has re-energised the PC world in an era when smartphones and tablets have made so much of the running recently. That too is no bad thing because an unchanging technology is one that dies and there are times when big changes are needed, as much as they upset some folk. For Microsoft, this looks like one of them and it’ll be interesting to see where things go from here for PC technology.

A new repository for GNOME 3 Extensions

Not before time, the GNOME project has set up a central website for GNOME Shell extensions. It seems to be in the hands of extension developers to make GNOME 3 more palatable to those who find it not to their taste in its default configuration. If you are using Firefox, installation is as easy as clicking the ON/OFF icon for a particular plugin on its web page and then selecting install on the dialog box that pops up. Of all the browsers that you can use on GNOME, it seems to be Firefox that is only one that has this ability for the moment. The website may have the alpha legend on there at the moment but it works well enough so far and I have had no hesitation in using it for those extensions that are of interest to me. This is an interesting development that deserves to stay, especially when it detects that a plugin is incompatible with your version of GNOME. Currently, I use GNOME 3.2 and it pops up a useful menu for deactivating extensions when the desktop fails to load. That’s a welcome development because I have had extensions crashing GNOME 3.0 on me and running the GNOME Tweak Tool on the fallback desktop often was the only alternative. GNOME 3 seems to be growing up nicely.

Seeing how things develop

One of the things that I do out of curiosity and self-interest is to keep tabs on what is happening with development versions of software that I use. It is for this reason that I always have a development version of WordPress on the go so as to ensure that the next stable version doesn’t bring my blog to its knees. There have been contributions from my own self to the development effort, mainly in the form of bug reports with the occasional bug fix too.

In the same vein, I have had a development version of Ubuntu installed in a VirtualBox virtual machine. There have been breakages and reinstallations along the way when an update results in disruption but it is intriguing too to see how a Linux distribution comes to fruition. In the early days of Karmic Koala (9.10), everything was thrown together more loosely and advances looked less obvious. It is true to say the ext4 file systems support was already in place but the interface looked like a tweaked version of the standard GNOME desktop. Over time, the desktop has been customised and boot messages hidden out of sight. Eye candy like new icons and backgrounds have begun to entice while other features such as an encrypted home folder, Software Store and Ubuntu One came into place. Installation screens became slicker and boot times reduced. All of this may seem incremental but revolutions can break things and you only have to look at the stuttering progress of Windows to see that. Even with all of these previews, I still plan to do a test run of the final revision of 9.10 before committing to putting it in place on my main home PC. Bearing the scars of misadventures over the years has taught me well.

Windows development is a less open process but I have been partial fo development versions there too. In fact, beta and release candidate installations of Windows 7 have convinced me to upgrade from Windows XP for those times when a Windows VM needs to fired up in anger. A special offer has had me ordering in advance and sitting back and waiting. With my Windows needs being secondary to my Linux activities, I am not so fussed about taking my time and I have no intention of binning Windows XP just yet anyway.

The trouble with all of this previewing is that you get buffeted by the ongoing development. That is very true of Ubuntu 9.10 and has been very much part and parcel of the heave that brought WordPress 2.7 into being last year. Things get added and then removed as development tries to fins that sweet spot or a crash results and you need to rebuild things. It is small wonder that you are told not to put unfinished software on a production system. Another consequence might be that you really question why you are watching all of this and come to decide that what you already have is a place of safety in comparison to what’s coming. So far, that has never turned out to be true but there’s no harm in looking before you leap either.

Mucking about with WINE

It was the prospect of having Photoshop Elements going on Linux that got me thinking about working with WINE. The cause of that was Elements’ inability to edit, create and save files to a VMware shared folder. As it turned out, there was more to my WINE adventures than getting Elements working. Because I was in learning mode, those adventures turned out to be messy ones with WINE getting uninstalled and reinstalled a number of times. For the last of these, I forced matters by installing from a DEB package rather than going through Ubuntu’s normal channels. The openSUSE journey was a bit more orderly and that VM option remains if I want to go experimenting more.

Along the way, I got the Windows version of Opera going as a test. When trying out WINE in former times, I never tried installing applications into it like I do now. I don’t know if this was because I hadn’t made an important connection or that wasn’t the way that things used to be. Flushed with the success of Opera, I went further and discovered that Dreamweaver 8 and Altova’s XMLSpy 2007 Professional work without my breaking a sweat. Photoshop Elements was another story and one that I have told before. Apple’s iTunes was another thing that I tried but without success, even with a useful guide on Wine Review; for some reason, I’m having trouble getting the installation to complete successfully. I think that I’ll leave my tinkering at that for now but my general impression is that WINE works well these days, even if there is the odd crash or inexplicable disappearance of an application window. The latter happened with Dreamweaver and XMLSpy and I needed to log off and back on again to clear the slate for further progress.