Trying out a new way to upgrade Linux Mint in situ while going from 17.3 to 18.1

There was a time when the only recommended way to upgrade Linux Mint from one version to another was to do a fresh installation with back-ups of data and a list of the installed applications created from a special tool.

Even so, it never stopped me doing my own style of in situ upgrade though some might see that as a risky option. More often than not, that actually worked without causing major problems in a time when Linux Mint releases were more tightly tied to Ubuntu’s own six-monthly cycle.

In recent years, Linux Mint’s releases have kept in line with Ubuntu’s Long Term Support (LTS) editions instead. That means that any major change comes only every two years with minor releases in between those. The latter are delivered through Linux Mint’s Update Manager so the process is a simple one to implement. Still, upgrades are not forced on you so it is left to your discretion as to when you need to upgrade since all main and interim versions get the same extended level of support. In fact, the recommendation is not to upgrade at all unless something is broken on your own installation.

For a number of reasons, I stuck with that advice by sticking on my main machine with Linux Mint 17.3 instead of upgrading to Linux Mint 18. The fact that I broke things on another machine using an older method of upgrading provided even more encouragement.

However, I subsequently discovered another means of upgrading between major versions of Linux Mint that had some endorsement from the project. There still are warnings about testing a live DVD version of Linux Mint on your PC first and backing up your data beforehand. Another task is ensuring that you are upgraded from a fully up to data Linux Mint 17.3 installation.

When you are ready, you can install mintupgrade using the following command:

sudo apt-get install mintupgrade

When that is installed, there is a sequence of tasks that you need to do. The first of these is to simulate an upgrade to test for the appearance of untoward messages and resolve them. Repeating any checking until all is well gets a recommendation. The command is as follows:

mintupgrade check

Once you are happy that the system is ready, the next step is to download the updated packages so they are on your machine ahead of their installation. Only then should you begin the upgrade process. The two commands that you need to execute are below:

mintupgrade download
mintupgrade upgrade

Once these have completed, you can restart your system. In my case the whole process worked well with only my PHP installation needing attention. A clash between different versions of the scripting interpretor was addressed by removing the older one since PHP 7 is best kept for sake of testing. Beyond that, a reinstallation of VMware Player and the move from version 18 to version 18.1, there hardly was anything more to do and there was next to no real disruption. That is just as well since I depend heavily on my main PC these days. The backup option of a full installation would have left me clearing up things for a few days afterwards since I use a bespoke selection of software.

Compressing a VirtualBox VDI file for a Linux guest

In a previous posting, I have talked about compressing a virtual hard disk for a Windows guest system running in VirtualBox on a Linux system. Since then, I have needed to do the same for a Linux guest following some housekeeping. The Linux distribution used is Debian so the instructions are relevant to that and maybe its derivatives such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint and their kind.

While there are other alternatives like dd, I am going to stick with a utility named zerofree to overwrite the newly freed up disk space with zeroes to aid compression later on in the process for this and the first step is to install it using the following command:

apt-get install zerofree

Once that has completed, the next step is unmount the relevant disk partition. Luckily for me, what I needed to compress was an area that I reserved for synchronisation with Dropbox. If it was the root area where the operating system files are kept, a live distro would be needed instead. In any event, the required command takes the following form with the mount point being whatever it is on your system (/home, for instance):

sudo umount [mount point]

With the disk partition unmounted, zerofree can be run by issuing a command that looks like this:

zerofree -v /dev/sdxN

Above, the -v switch tells zerofree to display its progress and a continually updating percentage count tells you how it is going. The /dev/sdxN piece is generic with the x corresponding to the letter assigned to the disk on which the partition resides (a, b, c or whatever) and the N being the partition number (1, 2, 3 or whatever; before GPT, the maximum was 4). Putting all this together, we get an example like /dev/sdb2.

Once, that had completed, the next step is to shut down the VM and execute a command like the following on the host Linux system ([file location/file name] needs to be replaced with whatever applies on your system):

vboxmanage modifyhd [file location/file name].vdi --compact

With the zero filling in place, there was a lot of space released when I tried this. While it would be nice for dynamic virtual disks to reduce in size automatically, I accept that there may be data integrity risks with those so the manual process will suffice for now. It has not been needed that often anyway.

Compressing a VirtualBox VDI file for a Windows guest running on a Linux Host

Recently, I had a situation where my the VDI files for my Windows 10 virtual machine expanded in size all of a sudden and I needed to reduce them. My downloading maps for use with Routebuddy may have been the cause so I moved the ISO installation files onto the underlying Linux Mint drives. With that space, I then set to uncovering how to compact the virtual disk file and the Sysinternals sdelete tool was recommend for clearing unused space. After downloading, I set it to work in a Powershell session running on the guest operating system from its directory using the following command:

./sdelete -z [drive letter designation; E: is an example]

From the command prompt, the following should do:

sdelete -z [drive letter designation; E: is an example]

Once, that had completed, I shut down the VM and executed a command like the following from a bash terminal session:

vboxmanage modifyhd [file location/file name].vdi --compact

Where there was space to release, VDI files were reduced in size to return more disk space. More could be done so I will look into the Windows 10 drives to see what else needs to be moved out of them.

Migrating to Windows 10

While I have had preview builds of Windows 10 in various virtual machines for the most of twelve months, actually upgrading physical and virtual devices that you use for more critical work is a very different matter. Also, Windows 10 is set to be a rolling release with enhancements coming on an occasional basis so I would like to see what comes before it hits the actual machines that I need to use. That means that a VirtualBox instance of the preview build is being retained to see what happens to that over time.

Some might call it incautious but I have taken the plunge and completely moved from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10. The first machine that I upgrade was more expendable and success with that encouraged me to move onto others before even including a Windows 7 machine to see how that went. The 30-day restoration period allows an added degree of comfort when doing all this. The list of machines that I upgraded were a VMware VM with 32-bit Windows 8.1 Pro (itself part of a 32-bit upgrade cascade involving Windows 7 Home and Windows 8 Pro), a VirtualBox VM with 64-bit Windows 8.1, a physical PC that dual booted Linux Mint 17.2 and 64-bit Windows 8.1 and a HP Pavilion dm4 laptop (Intel Core i3 with 8GB RAM and a 1 TB SSHD) with Windows 7.

The main issue that I uncovered with the virtual machines is that the Windows 10 update tool that is downloaded onto Windows 7 and 8.x does not accept the graphics capability on there. This is a bug because the functionality works fine on the Windows Insider builds. The solution was to download the appropriate Windows 10 ISO image for use in the ensuing upgrade. There are 32-bit and 64-bit disk images with Windows 10 and Windows 10 Pro installation files on each. My own actions used both disk images.

During the virtual machine upgrades,most of the applications that considered important were carried over from Windows 8.1 to Windows without a bother. Anyone would expect Microsoft’s own software like Word, Excel and others to make the transition but others like Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom made it too as did Mozilla’s Firefox, albeit requiring a trip to Settings in order to set it as the default option for opening web pages. Less well known desktop applications like Zinio (digital magazines) or Mapyx Quo (maps for cycling, walking and the like) were the same. Classic Shell was an exception but the Windows 10 Start Menu suffices for now anyway. Also, there was a need to reinstate Bitdefender Antivirus Plus using its new Windows 10 compatible installation file. Still, the experience was a big change from the way things used to be in the days when you used have to reinstall nearly all your software following a Windows upgrade.

The Windows 10 update tool worked well for the Windows 8.1 PC so no installation disks were needed. Neither was the boot loader overwritten so the Windows option needed selecting from GRUB every time there was a system reboot as part of the installation process, a temporary nuisance that was tolerated since booting into Linux Mint was preserved. Again, no critical software was lost in the process apart from Kaspersky Internet Security, which needed the Windows 10 compatible version installed, much like Bitdefender, or Epson scanning software that I found was easy to reinstall anyway. Usefully, Anquet’s Outdoor Map Navigator (again used for working with walking and cycling maps) continue to function properly after the changeover.

For the Windows 7 laptop, it was much the same story albeit with the upgrade being delivered  using Windows Update. Then, the main Windows account could be connected to my Outlook account to get everything tied up with the other machines for the first time. Before the obligatory change of background picture, the browns in the one that I was using were causing interface items to appear in red, not exactly my favourite colour for application menus and the like. Now they are in blue and all the upheaval surrounding the operating system upgrade had no effect on the Dropbox or Kaspersky installations that I had in place before it all started. If there is any irritation, it is that unpinning of application tiles from the Start Menu or turning off of live tiles is not always as instantaneous as I would have liked and that is all done now anyway.

While writing the above, I could not help thinking that more observations on Windows 10 may follow but these will do for now. Microsoft had to get this upgrade process right and it does appear that they have so credit is due to them for that. So far, I have Windows 10 to be stable and will be seeing how things develop from here, especially when those new features arrive from time to time as is the promise that has been made to us users. Hopefully, that will be as painless as it needs to be to ensure trust is retained.

A few more shell commands

Here are some Linux commands that I encountered in a feature article in the current issue of Linux User & Developer that I had not met before:

cd --

This returns you to the previous directory where you were before with having to go back through the folder hierarchy to get there and is handy if you are jumping around a file system and any other means is far from speedy.

lsb_release -a

It can be useful to uncover what version of a distro you have from the command line and the above works for distros as diverse as Linux Mint, Debian, Fedora (it automatically installs in Fedora 22 if it is not installed already, a more advanced approach than showing you the command like in Linux Mint or Ubuntu), openSUSE and Manjaro. These days, the version may not change too often but it still is good to uncover what you have.

yum install fedora-upgrade

This one can be run either with sudo or in a root session started with su and it is specific to Fedora. The command performs an upgrade of the Fedora distro itself and I wonder if the functionality has been ported to the dnf command that has taken over from yum. My experiences with that in Fedora 22 so far suggest that it should be the case though I need to check that further with the VirtualBox VM that I have created.