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An upgrade too far

Ubuntu

I should work for the Canonical QA team. Whenever I do something on an Ubuntu based machine, hell brakes loose.

Here I am, working on my LTS 12.4 machine, when suddenly I notice that an upgrade to a new LTS is being proposed. Weird, I thought, as 12.10 isn't a LTS. But I couldn't resist, as I got daily errors on my desktop and upgraded, only to find myself in a far worse unstable situation. So I decided to opt for the upgrade to 13.4, hoping this would fix some of the obvious bugs. Alas, something with the nautilus upgrade must have been corrupted, as my new desktop was completely unworkable. Crashing window managers, slow Xorg and worse of all, USB didn't seem to work.

This is probably not even the fault of the people at Ubuntu or Canonical. This is a workstation that has been upgraded from Dapper Drake onwards, and which contains a horrible Nvidia card which is hardly supported anymore by the nvidia/nouveau drivers.

I decided to bite the bullet, and to completely wipe my installation, and reinstall Debian 7.0 aka Wheezy from scratch. Luckily, I had my /home on an separate partition, so the upgrade path would be minimal. Top of all, it seemed that Wheezy had the nvidia-legacy-173 driver, which worked like a charm with my video card.

A default Debian desktop is still crude and spartan, so there is some more work in order to obtain a nice looking graphical environment. The Adwaita/Cupertino theme offers a nice mix of OSX and Elementary components which can compete like that with an Ubuntu setup. And yeah, Gnome-shell is a breeze to work with in comparison with Unity.

Quantal

Ubuntu

Whatever. No more upgrades for me - I decided to stick with LTS editions only. This is going to be so much fun in 2013... I hope that by then I'll get a new desktop - my new distribution will be based on Debian stable or CentOS.

Precise

Ubuntu

It has become a habit that I blog about the Ubuntu upgrade of my desktop, but this year I haven't found the time to do it on a timely manner.
Precise got announced as one of Canonicals best finished products ever, which did me upgrade some days before the official release. How did the upgrade go ? Not so good.

Basically, it bugs the hell out of me that Canonical still cannot refrain itself from messing with the end user settings. This upgrade wasn't any different. Disabling features like Ctrl-Backspace-Delete, the URL paste in Firefox with the middle-mouse button are some of the know stuff.

Some of the nasty upgrade bits :

  • I forgot to pin nvidia-173, so it got removed and as it isn't part of Precise's multiverse (nvidia-current creates high kernel load); my X-config was foobarred. I just gave up and switched to Nouveau.
  • Contrary to a lot of people, I do not find Unity and Dash to become more and more user-friendly with every release; they are working more and more on my nerves. I've tried to install MATE, but there's something broken with the nouveau config, it seems.
  • the upgrade died on my netbook, due to a foobarred /var/lib/dpkg/status
  • the upgrade foobarred my bcm4314 wireless card config on my netbook.
  • the root filesystem gets marked dirty as some processes don't get stopped at shutdown, resulting in a 10-15 second penalty at the next boot.

In the end, I got everything rather quickly in a working state, but I find upgrading and fixing desktop software even more boring than watching the 3456332th episode of Neighbors, just to mention something...
The whole experience has convinced me that I'm not fitting in Canonicals 6 month upgrade process anymore, so I'll probably switch to the LTS release cycle, or to a Debian stable or CentOS based desktop in the future.

Oneiric

Ubuntu

I noticed that the upgrade for Oneiric was available, so I decided to jump in & upgrade my Ubuntu machines. It has become the habit that I encounter all weird stuff & errors during such upgrades, but that's something specific to me, it seems ;)

On my desktop, I returned to the installation program 2 hours later after I started it, only to find a black screen with a mouse pointer. No possibility to restore the screen, so I had no other choice than to kill X, and resort to command-line mockery. I've learned by previous experience that rebooting the machine or restarting X at this point lead to major mayhem on my desktop, so I entered 'dpkg-reconfigure -a' to complete the setup, which it actually did, to my big surprise.

Since Natty, there has been much turmoil on the internetz about something Canonical enforced to the enduser, called Unity. I have skipped this enforced desktop in the past by reverting to the Gnome legacy mode, but it seemed that this was completely foobarred in the current Gnome3 in Oneiric. So what has a man to do in a completely changed environment ? Adapt. I decided actually to try out Unity, and lo and behold, it was actually quite usable. Unfortunately, Unity does not support gnome applets, but I resolved this by running Conky, which adds extra panache to the desktop experience.

There are off course still quirks in Unity. Mocking around with the Compizconfig settings can ruin your desktop experience, although not so disastrous as in Natty. On my netbook, Unity refused to start up, leaving me only with a empty wallpaper. I resolved this by setting the LIBGL_ALWAYS_INDIRECT=1 envvar in my .bashrc.

We'll see how this Gnome3/Unity combination goes. If it really turns out to be an atrocity, there's always KDE or XFCE to revert too...

Natty

Ubuntu

I've upgraded my machines to Natty, the latest (I avoid greatest with a reason here) Ubuntu release. As usual, upgrading Ubuntu is putting 2 steps backwards, and 3 steps forwards, and this release is not different :

- on my desktop, I got the usual crap with the Nvidia driver, but it seems that I'm getting more and more experienced in getting this fixed. One issue remains, and that is that the screen is garbled when resuming the computer. Restarting GDM fixes this temporarily. Will get fixed by the next kernel update. Also Grub config got updated, resulting in a incompatible framebuffer setting for my NVidia card.

- For one or other reason, my (personal) sane scanner config got reset, resulting in lots of trouble when scanning in some documents. After resetting all to gray-and-white, everything worked again. Why is an Ubuntu upgrade messing around with user settings, is completely incomprehensible to me.

- On my netbook, the desktop got upgraded to Unity. Now, there's a bunch talked and written about Unity, resulting in avid haters & lovers for this desktop environment. I find Unity pretty okay wrt features (it reminds me a bit of Ubuntu Netbook Remix, which I was quite fond of). However, the thing is slow as a dog on low-end machines (as netbooks - opening the so-called lenses is enough to hang my Sammy netbook) and sometimes it takes ages to start up.

Also, it is heavily integrated into CompizConfig, which means that

  1. my whole Compiz configuration got changed,
  2. Fiddling with Compiz settings is enough to render your whole desktop unusable

The upgrade to Unity marks a first stage in the major upcoming changes for the desktop for Gnome users. I'm not sure if I'm willing to follow either Canonical or the Gnome folks into their direction. I hope Unity gets mature during the Natty release. If not, XFCE might become a serious desktop environment alternative...

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