Breaking Ubuntu (again)

I have a talent for breaking Linux, especially the versions installed on my own PC. If there’s even the slightest chance of me changing something in the build that will screw it up, terminally, then that’s what I’ll do.

Take Sunday for instance. I was a little hungover from my over-indulgence the evening before – that Duvel is wicked stuff. Anyway, I was in no fit state to do anything too vigorous so I decided that it might be a good idea to upgrade my Linux box from Feisty Fox to Gutsy Gibbon.

In order to do this I had to merely, theoretically, click the “upgrade” box in the Ubuntu update manager. This seemed to work fine – for a while. It correctly downloaded all the files it needed to and began the upgrade process. Unfortunately, while it was updating tzdata (whatever that is) it stopped. There were no error messages, flashing lights or other warnings that anything had gone wrong – the whole process just ground to a halt. I left it overnight to see if it would restart on its own accord, but that was an entirely foolish notion.

The next day I rebooted the thing. Naturally, the whole installation was then completely stuffed. It wouldn’t boot up due to the partially updated nature of the OS. Unfortunately I’d also previously broken the Linux installation on the alternate disk in this machine – by running some very silly chmod commands in terminal. I had no bootable OS on my PC.

Even more unfortunately the DVD player on the PC was also playing up. It often refused to work and caused the machine to hang. Thankfully I managed to fix that by opening up the box and fiddling with a few cables – must have been a dodgy connection somewhere.

I decided that I needed to get a new installation DVD, so I headed down to WHSmith to get a Linux Format CD. The latest one only had Xubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fox) but I figured that this would do, and I could then just upgrade it afterwards. As you’d expect with me, I had even more issues. For some daft reason I could not get the Xubuntu installer to partition my disks – either of them. It refused to format existing partitions with ext3 and sometimes complained about not having sufficient permissions to mount one of the disks.

Unperturbed I persisted and managed to get the disks partitioned, but only by having to do it manually using gparted and by putting the swap space in the first partition. So, thinking I’d fixed it I carried on with the installation.

How wrong was I? Once the installation finished, and I rebooted, Xubuntu wouldn’t start properly. Something was wrong with X and it wouldn’t load the xserver. FFS! Thankfully, I also had a Gentoo installation DVD from a previous version of Linux Format.

I decided to give that a go. It didn’t like installating with the GTK installer so I tried it with the terminal version instead. You need to answer a few more questions to install Gentoo, and I thought I’d had it all figured out but it turns out that I’d also manage to fluff up this installation too – it also refused to launch X, even though it told me that X11 was installed correctly. Bollocks it was!

Ever the optimist I’d been downloading Xubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) on our laptop while all this was going on. I figured I could use it as a fallback option, and I needed to. All I had to do was burn it onto a CD and I could install from that. But it turns out that Windows XP doesn’t know how to burn a CD from an ISO. How is that even possible? I can hardly believe that Windows doesn’t ship with any tools to do this, but apparently it does. I downloaded some freeware from Tucows and carried on with my little Linux Odyssey.

Thankfully this new installation attempt went without a hitch. Xubuntu partitioned my disks OK this time and installed in hardly any time at all. It booted straight into the a rather nice-looking installation of XFCE and gave me a little poke to install the non-free driver for my nVidia card – which I did and rebooted. It still worked on the reboot (surprise!) and I was now able to get back into my PC.

Luckily I save all my photos and music onto an external drive, so I haven’t lost anything important. I think I’ll stick with Xubuntu for the time being, because I’m considering buying a lovely new iMac at the weekend to replace my ageing PC.

In the meantime, I’d recommend turning off and removing Compiz before upgrading from Feisty Fox. I don’t know for certain that this is was killed my box, but it’s the only “unstable” bit of software I had installed on there and it’s probably better to take a safety first approach, especially as there are plenty of other people having problems with this upgrade.