I haz Ubuntu

Posted: January 21, 2011 in Misc.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Ok, that’s just not cool. In fact, I hate this ‘haz’ thing. So, sorry about that. Coming back to the main thing – Ubuntu.

I got this new laptop, a Dell XPS M1330, in August 2008. Like everything, by July 2010 the laptop had become a middle aged, slow and lazy bum. It just went downhill from there. I, like most folks out there, happily moved on to Rags’ new, young, 15″ Dell Studio and the poor ageing fellow was let aside to rot. If things had gone like they do, my beloved laptop would’ve just stayed there in the corner and gotten old till I decided to discard it for good.

But no, this is no ordinary laptop. Unlike most people, this laptop decided not to give up just because middle age had descended upon it. Instead, it decided to reinvent itself in a new avatar and be young again. Young and restless. Boy, was I excited at this pending transformation!

Having once been a trained computer science engineer, and people tell me I was a good one at it, I’d always had a soft corner for Linux. I had fond memories of countless days and nights spent struggling to install Linux on my first PC. Of finding closest match driver sets, building them with strange files replaced based on instructions from some anonymous source on a forum. And the delight of that first victory, when the system recognised my graphics card and showed me the first, most primitive GUI. Only to not support the sound card and extended memory. Ahh.. those nineties were hot. And not just because the temperature was 45C and the only fan in room was pointed at the PC to prevent it heating up.

Anyway, I’d heard that Linux had evolved a lot since then and was much easier to install now. I’d also heard that the prima donna distribution of those days, Red Hat, had now been overtaken on desktops by a new leader – Ubuntu. [Tag 1 starts here. You’ll know what this tag is later] So, I downloaded a copy of the CD image [Tag 1 ends here], burnt it on to a USB stick and got started.

Wait. Before I got started, I backed up over 200GB of data into another drive, thus wasting half the night. And then, I got started.

[Tag 2 starts here. Promise, I’ll tell you later] Used the USB stick to boot the PC and chose (proudly, I might add) ‘Install Ubuntu on this System’. Clicked through another screen, told the installer to use the whole 320 gigs of space I had, provided a username-password combo and waited. Barely 5 minutes and I was on my way to Ubuntu heaven. [Tag 2 end. Promise] Then, it stopped.

About 40% into ‘copying files…’ dialogue, the installer gave an error:

I thought, that’s OK. It’s just a temporary error, we’ll recover. I pressed OK.

Yup, the installer crashed and the system froze. Being a noob at this new flavour of linux (and having forgotten everything I learnt about the old flavours), I new no elegant way of restoring sanity so just did a hard reboot and gave the installation a shot again.

Bang. Same place, same error. No luck. I read the error message properly this time. Disk error, cooler system, … Ok. I brought the USB stick back to Rags’ system, formatted it again, checked for errors and burnt the image again. Also moved the system into the coldest part of room even if it meant a very uncomfortable sitting position for me. Just a small sacrifice, I thought. Restarted the laptop with the new & clean USB stick and held my breath.

Nope. Same place, same error. But it did something different this time. Instead of completely stalling the system after that second error message, the installer recovered enough to tell me it’s now booting Ubuntu directly from USB stick. Good enough. System booted into Ubuntu from USB and I saw that ‘Install Ubuntu’ icon on the desktop. Double click, enter a few details and the setup is a go.

Screeeeeeeech. Same place, same error. And the installation app had hung. Though, the good part this time was that I could use the inbuilt firefox browser to log this error with the geeks behind this distribution, tell them how their high-tech systems were absolutely useless on my gem of a machine and that they could never win the war against MS if the installer didn’t work. Specially, if the installer didn’t work. Seriously, what were they thinking.

So, I spent the next couple of hours, ranting on the bug-boards, rating up this same bug wherever I could see anyone else having reported it and googling & forum-ing desperately to find a solution.

Got a few more ideas and tried them all. The most interesting one – remove all but one memory cards and then try. Some Japanese guy had suggested this one and a lot of people had commented this worked for them. It had to work for me as well. Unfortunately, they were all talking about desktops where removing a memory card is as easy as picking a can of coke from the fridge. I was using a laptop. A laptop that had never been opened before. I wasn’t even sure I could open it and, if I did manage to open it, I could close it. Nevertheless, pumped up with sweat and adrenaline that I was, I grabbed the screwdrivers, opened the back-flap and pulled out one of the two RAM drives. Of course, I had to google a bit before that to confirm what I was pulling out was the RAM and not some other, unremovable part of hardware :) . Screwed the back on and tried the install again. I was confident this time, I had this good feeling.

Bamm. Same place, same error. Whaddapieceofshit this software is. Who cares how good the OS is when the installer itself is corrupt. I cursed myself, the OS, the geeks behind it, everyone even remotely related to Linus and the heating behind my back making me sweat so bad. Nothing worked. Another try resulted in the same error. I gave up. It was already 8AM so I snuck back into bed for a few minutes of warm hugs before Rags got ready and went off to work and I dozed off into Ubuntu 10.10’s nightmare world.

Woke up at 1PM to see a mail on the phone from one of the bug reporting forums I’d posted on last night from a certain Manfred Hampl. He suggested I do an MD5 checksum on my installer image. Apparently the log files I had attached said some of the installer files were corrupt so that could be an issue. I was like – who ever does a checksum? In any case, the same USB stick was running the OS smoothly when booted directly, so nothing was evidently wrong. Snooty geek bozo!

I decided to try installing one final time before giving up and going to Dell’s factory fresh Windows installation. And just for the sake of Mr. Manfred’s ego, I decided to do a checksum as well. Hmm.. I was wrong. The installer disk could have a wrong checksum and still boot. The geek was right. I downloaded a fresh copy of the installer image, did a checksum to ensure it was fine, burnt it onto the USB stick and tried again. The last final try, I promised myself, before giving up on Linux for ever.

In under 10 minutes, my cranky middle-aged laptop had turned into a spanking new Ubuntu powerhouse. The installation was a breeze. Those geeks behind this distribution, I tell you, they’re geniuses. That damned windoze asks more questions and takes much more time to install and is not half as fast or neat as this. I loved it.

I also loved the fact that in the last 12 years that I had been away from Linux, it had gone from me struggling to even get the GUI started to having an integrated installer, automatically supporting all* hardware (including those soft touch media controls on the frame) and having all my favourite apps – Tweetdeck, Chrome, Firefox, Dropbox, Skype.. I’m lovin’ it.

What I liked even more is that this distribution now supports just about all of my windows keyboard short-cuts. Of course, the window buttons on left-top instead of right-top will take getting used to but, being a keyboard person, I don’t even use them much. I’m in love.

As you can see from the previous 3 paragraphs, I’m loving my experience with this new old OS so far. It may not always be so. Like all relationships, this too may come to an end. I may realise that reinventing yourself in middle age may make one feel young but does not always lead to the same kind of happiness that that first love of youth brought. I may even realise soon that I don’t like being young anymore and want the dependable sloth of middle age and, thus, revert to windoze. Or maybe I’ll decide that even with new clothes and new attitude, this newly young laptop is still no match for the really young Studio 15. It may happen, but it shall not be in vain. This (re)discovery of Linux shall stay with me. It shall remind me that one should not stick to old impressions for too long. People change. OSs too. And once in a while someone can change enough to go from a scrappy defiant Red Hat to a fresh and beautiful Ubuntu.

There. That’s the brief of how my new encounter with Linux began. Will try to update once in a while on how it goes along, how long it lasts and our frequent, unavoidable, quarrels. Till then…

Cheers!


Still wondering about those tags? Here you go:

If you only want to know how to do a quick & easy Ubuntu install on your system, go to read the section enclosed by the first tag I pointed out above, the one in blue. Now, before burning the distribution onto a disk, do a Chksum and confirm that your copy of installer is correct. For Ubuntu 10.10, you can find the checksums here. If the checksums match, burn the copy onto a disk and go back and do as specified in tag 2, the red one. Congratulations.

*: ‘All’ has an asterix for a reason. My wifi card wasn’t supported. And once I searched online, I learnt that a lot of people have problems with Broadcom’s wireless cards as the company didn’t provide any drivers for linux till late. That wasn’t my problem. My problem was different and the solution was tucked away somewhere deep and took me a couple of hours to reach it. Apparently, the flavour of linux that I downloaded has a very stable and bug-free kernel: 2.6.35-22-generic. But, being a windoze user, first thing I did after the installation was to go to the Update Manager and update all packages. This updated my kernel to 2.6.35-24-generic, which has an unresolved bug that doesn’t let the wireless card work properly. So, after a few attempts at trying to go back to the old kernel, compile a new set of drivers and sundry other attempts, I just took 10 mins to reinstall the OS and had it working like a breeze :)
No other issues in the installation. At all.

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