The Developer’s Cry

Yet another blog by a hobbyist programmer

Hardy Heron: Quite Hard

The latest buzz in Linux land is the new stable (or Long Term Support) release of Ubuntu, also known as “Hardy Heron” or plain “hardy”. Upgrading should be a breeze, but it still cost me a few hours of sleep as it wasn’t until 0:30 AM before I got the stupid thing to work. I am generally content with Ubuntu and I have seen systems where it just works, just never with mine. My main frustration is that the same issues were present 2 years ago, and haven’t been fixed.

OK, Let’s do a network upgrade; open the software update manager and it shows a new distribution release is available. Click “Upgrade”.

A dialog window opens and it shows it is going to upgrade the system. Click to continue. The window goes blank. Nothing happens. I wait. There are no progress bars, nothing. It just hangs there doing nothing. Eventually I xkill the blank window and kill its left behind siblings from a Terminal window. Any non-power user would give up at this moment. I remember this headache from the last upgrade, and decide to continue in console mode with apt-get dist-upgrade.

The command-line method isn’t all that bad, except that it runs into a dependency problem at one point. I use dpkg -i --force-overwrite for one package and apt-get -f install gets it going again.

The upgrade process retains most settings, but sadly, it resets my dvorak keyboard to qwerty and I can’t type a single command anymore until I hook up an old qwerty keyboard that I have lying around. Now, how to set the console keymap to dvorak again? It was something with loadkeys or so.

To my surprise, X-Windows starts, but sadly only in 800x600. Again, to my surprise, a nice monitor config app pops up and I select my monitor brand and model (well, almost the right model. You know how they list 12 different models but never the exact one you own) and the 1440x900. The screen switches resolution and I click to accept this rez—at which point it switches back 800x600 (!)
I zap Ctrl-Alt-Backspace out of X and restart it. GNOME does not come up. My custom wallpaper is there, that’s nice. Nothing else works, not even Ctrl-Alt-Backspace. I hit the reset button on the PC and pray it will boot Linux at all.

It does boot and after wrestling my way out of gdm (I hate that thing, it keeps coming back when you try to exit it) I am back on the command-line to reconfigure X, but first I put an exit 0 in /etc/init.d/gdm to shut it up.
I run nvidia-xconfig but afterwards, X does not start! No screens found. So, I move the backup xorg.conf.backup file back, and when I try it, X runs in a nice high resolution. Yippee!

My brief moment of joy is soon over. When I open a Terminal window, I can’t type a single command. WTF?! I play with the keyboard typematic rate settings, but it doesn’t help. Oddly, there is a an option in some tab in the keyboard config utility that makes your keyclicks respond dead slow. For some strange reason, this option has been turned on. (I wonder what the use of this option is, why would anyone deliberately want to break the keyboard like that?!) Uncheck the option, and I can TYPE again praise the Lord!!

I like using a VGA font in the Terminal window. Oddly, the font file is still present in the fonts directory, but the system isn’t using it. I run mkfontdir and xset fp rehash and I got my favorite font back.

My MP3s are stored on a disk that is behind a IT8212 controller (not in raid mode) that Ubuntu does not include in the kernel. Consequently, I always have to build my own kernels only to include this one module that enables Linux to access my MP3s. It is annoying, especially because Ubuntu configures the kernel to include nearly everything (ever seen a desktop system with an InfiniBand adapter??) but not the module that I need.

Building the kernel takes a long time, but afterwards it does work. One thing that also works better now is sound; I suffered from stuttering sound every now and then and this appears to have been solved in newer kernels by the snd_rtctimer module.

So much for the upgrade process. What else is new in Hardy? I haven’t seen much of it, but … Firefox 3 is nice. It is beta, but they say it is fast and has a smaller memory footprint than Firefox 2. I was happy to see that Flash works right out of the box.
I was less happy to see that the bookmark sidebar has gotten more ugly.
Speaking of ugly, I have album art icons on my MP3 folders in nautilus. This used to look quite nice, but it doesn’t look as good anymore. You can tune it a bit in the Preferences, but somehow it just looks worse.

Anyway, overall I’m very happy with Ubuntu. I just wanted to show that it is not always as easy to work with as they say. Remember, Ubuntu is Linux for human beings. And I am only human, after all.