Should the Ubuntu Release Cycle be Cut Back Saturday, Mar 27 2010 

The end of March is near, and in about a month, we will be seeing Lucid Lynx, or Ubuntu version 10.04.

After finally cutting my last machine over to Karmic a few weeks ago (my X60 tablet), I’m wondering if Ubuntu is developing new versions too fast.  I know some may think how can development be bad or too fast.  The answer is simple: stability (or lack thereof).

The main reason why I waited to cut over my last machine was because I was worried about having to tweak my machine so that I could get my tablet functions working.  It took me about an hour to work through, and I got it pretty close to perfect.  (I can’t get one feature, auto-rotation when in tablet mode, which was working in Jaunty to work in Karmic.)  The other reason why I waited was because, aside from a couple of issues, my machine working fine, and I didn’t feel the need to upgrade.  After all, regression sucks.

But I did finally bite the bullet because I noticed my personal T61P at home was running much cooler and more efficiently after I cut it over to Karmic.  I also had a problem with that bone-jarring alert beep occurring on shutdown or when I over-deleted/backspaced (entering one too many of either) in menu dialogues with Jackalope on my X60.  The sound was so annoying I became like a Pavlovian dog; after a few days jumping out of my seat (because of the alert) after beginning the shutdown cycle, I learned to turn off my external speakers before doing so.

So what’s my assessment of Karmic?  Actually, on my personal machines, I have had no major issues with it.  However, after my last cut-over, my feelings are mixed.  I have one issue with Karmic and dual-head mode.  Karmic seems to have better monitor detection capabilities and allows me to extend my desktop over two monitors.  The only problem is that if Compiz is running, X routinely freezes up.  After many months of routine use my X60 (I plug into an X6 multi-base in my office), I’ve had to learn to do things differently.  I have to disable Compiz before plugging into my base.  Not a big deal; however, after many bouts of forgetfulness, I’ve needed to restart at lest two dozen times.

So, for the first time in my computing life, I have decided to run alpha software to see what Lucid Lynx has to offer.  Since I was planning on fresh installs anyway, I decided to upgrade to the 64-bit version instead.  I started off slow.  I put Lucid Alpha 1 on my other Thinkpad (a T60 with integrated graphics).  Amazingly, things worked quite well with little tweaking.  It is alpha software so there were a few glitches here and there, but very minor.  Since it worked so well, I decided to install Lucid on my T61p at home (this one uses NVIDIA graphics); the Alpha 3 was already available, so I installed it instead.  Aside from some issues with the current NVIDIA drivers, the experience has been very positive as well.  I began thinking, Wouldn’t it have been better to hold off on Karmic and wait for Lucid instead?

I also began thinking about Ubuntu’s quick release cycle.  Do they need to release new versions every six months, or should they give themselves more time in between versions to try and release something more refined say once every year?  I’m not a programmer and have the faintest idea what six calendar months equates to in computer software development time, but after using every version of Ubuntu since Feisty Fawn (not to mention several other distros in between), I find myself wondering if it is too much.  Couldn’t the upgrade cycle be cut back to allow for partial upgrades of the current version instead.  For example, instead of going to a new version of the entire OS, couldn’t new versions of apps like Open Office or Firefox be moved into the repos instead?  (I know, things we can, as Linux end users, do anyway.)

Why not give the Ubuntu developers time to work out the kinks and get things more stable?  Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t some off the cuff rant because I am angry or disappointed with Ubuntu.  In fact, this line of questioning is quite the opposite.  Like every good citizen of every country, contrary to what many conservatives in this country believes (they call it unpatriotic), we have a responsibility to ask questions and critique the status quo to see if there is room for improvement.  The only way things stay at the top is if it is willing to adapt and change.

I know.  You must be saying isn’t that what the six month cycle insures.  Well you’re right.  It does insure a new version every six months, and seemingly, a change in the status quo.  The problem is of course time and quality.  Look at Microsoft as a prime example.  Although their release cycle is very slow and not a good model; how many times have they released a sub-standard product because of profit margins?  Vista was a joke because it was poorly designed, too ambitious (in terms of driver development and third-party interest), and was on a timeline that it could not keep up with.  So what did MS users get?  A product that no one wanted to use or move to (like Windows Me).  People were clinging on to XP or jumping ship to Mac and Linux.  I had never seen so many new Macs in my life until Vista was released.  (Which may not be a good thing either…but that’s another post for another time….)

Well, Lucid is still in alpha and we won’t know how good it is until it is finally released in April.  So far, aside from moving the minimize, maximize, and close icons from the right side to the left, a la Apple (something that can be easily moved back), it has been very positive and promising.  The load times seem to be faster–although nowhere near ten seconds–so far I’ve been averaging about 30-35 seconds to working desktop, and I do like the new themes and splash screen they’ve installed.  I do like the fact that the apps seem to have finally caught up; all of my favorites, Firefox, Thunderbird, Kompozer, etc. are there in their newest versions (sans the Gimp…it is in the repos and can be easily installed).

I look forward to when Lucid is finally released in a few weeks, and regardless, I will be a happy Linux user.  But while using whatever version I finally decided upon come that time, I will still be pondering whether Ubuntu could benefit from a slightly less ambitious release cycle.  Cutting edge is good…bleeding edge…not so much….

HP Mini-Note 110: Installing Ubuntu Karmic & Wireless Issues Tuesday, Dec 29 2009 

I have been monitoring the traffic on my blog and noticed an increase in interest in my post about helping my student install Ubuntu Karmic on her HP Mini-Note 110.  Apparently there are quite a few people who are experiencing problems installing Karmic on their Mini-Notes.  One issue that seems to be common is the Broadcom wireless card not working properly.  (Actually, the problem is getting the right driver installed.)  I don’t own a Mini-Note and have worked on only one, so my experience is limited.  Regardless, I have decided to share my sole experience in hopes that it can help any of you who are experiencing problems.

I want to be clear.  I am not a Linux/Ubuntu expert, and what I share here is based on my acquired knowledge (which isn’t a lot) and experience.  I do own a Dell Mini-9 which uses the same Broadcom card as the HP Mini-Note (as far as I know) and so have had to troubleshoot similar issues.  I don’t want to sound ominous; however, please use my suggestions at your own risk.

First of all, let me give you a list of hardware and software I used for the install.

  1. A 2 GB Kingston DataTraveler USB thumb drive,
  2. An ISO image of the Ubuntu Karmic (9.10)–I used the RC version of Karmic which may be the cause of the wireless issues,
  3. Unetbootin installed on a box–you will need this to make the bootable thumb drive,
  4. An active LAN connection,
  5. and the A/C adapter for the Mini-Note.

Step 1: Make a bootable thumb drive using Unetbootin.

  1. First, download the latest ISO image of Ubuntu onto your computer.  (You can copy it anywhere you want; I usually copy directly to my desktop.)
  2. Second, install Unetbootin.  If you’re using Ubuntu, you can find the package in the repos.  (Sytem > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager.  Search for Unetbootin, mark it for installation, and then install).  From the terminal, type: sudo apt-get install unetbootin.  If you happen to be using Windows, shame on you.  Nah, just kidding.  Install the package from this website.  I haven’t done this for a while, but I believe you install it by either running the program when you download it, or you can launch the .exe file after you download it.
  3. Once you install Unetbootin, place your thumbdrive into an available USB slot.  Launch the program.  In Ubuntu, from terminal, type: sudo unetbootin, or via the GUI by going to Applications >  System Tools > Unetbootin.  The app should launch and you will see the following below.

    Unetbootin

    Choose the second option: Diskimage.  In the dropdown box, choose ISO image since that is what you have.  Then, click on the browse button (the square box at the end with the ellipsis inside of it.).  Find your ISO image.  Insure that the Type at the bottom is set to USB Drive.  Also, insure that the correct drive is selected (it should say something like /dev/sdb1).  If you have more than one thumbdrive installed, make sure that you choose the correct one.  To make things simpler, I would suggest unmounting and removing all other unnecessary thumbdrives.  Click OK and wait.  The install shouldn’t take too long.  Once it is done, follow any instructions and remove the thumb drive.

Step 2: Installing Ubuntu onto HP Mini-Note

  1. Plug your newly created Live thumb drive into a USB slot on your Mini-Note 110.  Power it on.  As soon as the BIOS screen appears, press f10 to change the boot order.  Using the arrow keys, choose to boot from your USB drive.  Choose the default image and Ubuntu should load.  If you want to play around before you install Ubuntu permanently, you can run a live session.  (I did have some problems with the Broadcom card, so I wasn’t able to get very far during the live session.  As soon as I launched Firefox, the system froze and/or crashed the X session.)
  2. From here you can double-click the install icon on the Dekstop.  Make sure you have plenty of battery left or plug in your A/C adapter; the install can take a long time.  You will be prompted to answer some questions.  All are pretty self-explanatory.  However, when you are asked how you want to partition your hard drive, you should spend some time determining how you will be using your netbook.  You can install Ubuntu on the entire drive, or you can install it side-by-side with your original OS.  In many cases, the pre-installed OS will be Win XP.  If you need XP for any reason, you may want to choose the side-by-side install.  This  will partition your hard drive evenly between XP and Ubuntu.  You can actually manually partition your hard drive and give one partition more or less space.  It takes a little more work, but you can customize as you see fit.  Since I don’t need XP, I would just install Ubuntu on the entire drive.  (Although, I would consider setting up a Home partition.  See this helpful blog for more information on the best method for partitioning your drive.)

Step 3: Installing the Broadcom STA Proprietary Driver

  1. After you have successfully installed Ubuntu.  You will be prompted to restart your computer.  Make sure to remove the thumb drive when prompted.
  2. Next, once your system has rebooted, connect you live wired connection to the Ethernet port on the Mini-Note.  All I did to get the Broadcom driver to install properly was run an update (System > Administration > Update Manager).  There will quite a few updates to install, so this step may take awhile.
  3. After you run the update, you will undoubtedly be prompted to perform a restart.  Do so.
  4. Once the system restarts, log in, and then choose System > Administration > Hardware Drivers.  You should see a something similar to the following.  Yours should show the Broadcom STA driver however.  In my the following example, you see the NVIDIA driver listed because it is the one I use on my trusty Thinkpad.

    Proprietary Hardware Drivers

    If you don’t see the driver listed, follow the suggestions from the above mentioned blog.  Although the author’s blog deals with Ubuntu on the Dell Mini 9, the steps for installing the Broadcom driver should work on the Mini-Note too.

  5. You should be home free from here.  Disconnect your wired LAN connection and test your wireless card.  You should be able to connect to all open and encrypted networks.  (My Dell Mini can connect to WEP, WPA and WPA2 encrypted networks.)

Good luck!  I hope this helped…

*By the way, have you ever wondered what the numbering convention is for Ubuntu?  The first number tells you the year, and the second the month it was released.  Since Canonical has promised to release new versions every 6 months, you will usually see version numbers ending with .04 and .10…since the official cycle began on October 2004 (although, there has been at least one version that went beyond the 6 month cycle–6.06).  So Lucid Lynx, which will be released in April of 2010, will be numbered 10.04 (or 2010.April).  It will also be designated LTS…more on that another time…

Karmic on a HP Mini-110: Murphy’s Law at Work Thursday, Dec 17 2009 

So my former student who was interested in Ubuntu came to see me Tuesday morning.  In her hands was a small, pink neoprene sleeve.  “I’m ready.  Can you install Linux on this?” she said as she passed me what she was carrying.

I unzipped the sleeve and found a pink HP Mini-Note 110 inside.  It still had all the static-charged plastic coverings on it.  I quickly searched the hardware support site on Ubuntu.com to see if there were any known problems with the Mini-Note.  I was happy to find the following entry: “The Karmic version “just work” with almost everything supported without tweaking. Wired nic works nicely. Sound works nicely. The “windows” key however does not work anymore, and the built-in SD card reader has no available driver.”  I asked my student if she needed her SD card reader.  “What’s that?” she said…so we continued.

“This will take about an hour and half or so,” I said to her confidently.  After all, I have successfully installed all the different Ubuntu variants, Geubuntu, Elive, Puppy, Damn Small, SuSe SLED 10, OpenSuSe 10, Moblin, and gOs on various boxes without a hitch numerous times (well, DSL and Puppy did give me a little trouble).

“Why so long?” she responded.  I went on to explain that I had everything set to install Ubuntu; however, that I wanted her to try a live version first.  I also wanted to test for any problems and run an update before I sent her home.

All things considered, I expected the install to be fairly quick and easy.  I should’ve known better….

When the live session finished loading, everything looked okay.  I clicked on the Network Manager applet to test the wireless capabilities.  Although the hardware switch showed that the wireless radio was on, the system didn’t recognize it.  I immediately suspected a Broadcom driver issue–call it intuition.  Before I went any further, a system window opened.  It automatically recognized that there were propriety drivers available.  Of course, the only one listed was the Broadcom STA driver.  I happily enabled it and within a few seconds, was able to get on to the campus’ wireless network.  Great, I thought, smooth sailing from here.  I launched Firefox, and as soon as I did the system froze.

I shut everything down and started a new live session, enabled the Broadcom driver, and launched Firefox again.  And guess what?  The system froze.  “Why is it doing that?” my student asked with a hint of agitation in her voice.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll figure it out.”  After three more failed attempts, I began to get a little nervous.  I suspected that I could probably get further if I did an install instead of trying to troubleshoot the wireless card in a live session  But since it wasn’t my netbook, I didn’t wan to render it unusable for any prolonged amount of time, so I decided to do something I had never done before, a dual-boot install.  I figured if anything went wrong enabling the Broadcom driver, my student would still be able to use her computer until I figured out how to fix the problem.

So I began.  After going through the install wizard, I sent my student off to study for her exam.  I hit “Install,” and I went to a meeting.  When I got back to my office about 45 minutes later, I was happy to see that everything went seemingly okay.  I began the shutdown process.  I pulled my Unetbootin thumbdrive from the USB slot when I was instructed to and waited for the system to shut down.  When it restarted, Grub came up fine.  I decided to test XP, so I launched it first.  Everything looked as expected, so I logged off and rebooted again.  Grub came up fine, but this time I launched Karmic.

I was relieved to hear the familiar sounds of drums and the sight of the Karmic splash screen.  As soon as the desktop came up, I went to work on the Broadcom driver.  I waited a minute to see if the system would recognize the Broadcom card; it didn’t.  I ran the Hardware Driver utility and was disappointed to find no available proprietary drivers.  My student, who had returned to my office, looked concerned.  “Is everything okay?  Is it done?  Why is it taking so long?”  After some explanation, she calmed a little.  I pulled my wired connection from my Thinkpad and plugged it into the Ethernet port.  Immediately, the system recognized the connection and established an IP address.  I looked for the driver again.  This time, it was there.  I enabled it, pulled my wired connection, restarted the wireless radio (it was smart enough to shut down when it realized there was a hardwire connection), and connected to the campus wireless network.  I ran ifconfig from a terminal, and saw an IP address.  Relief.  I crossed my fingers and launched Firefox.  It opened fine.  Just to be sure, I navigated to a couple of webpages; I felt more relief when it did without issue.

“Almost there,” I said to my student.  I launched the Update Manager.  Since the image I was using was the Karmic RC (which was probably the culprit for the aforementioned problems) there were over 200 updates.  I ran them and restarted the system.  I crossed my fingers again and hoped that the wireless card would automatically connect…it did.

Before my student left my office, I installed the Compiz Config Manger and the simple version (CCSM), so I could configure Compiz.  After all, she wanted the cube.  After some quick instructions on how to use the managers, I set her virtual desktops and the cube.  She thanked me and promised to go home and test everything out.

When she left, she was smiling.  She told me she would let me know if there were any problems.  It’s been a couple of days and so far, I haven’t heard from her.  I guess things are going well.  I’m glad.  For a minute, I thought I was going to lose a convert.

It really wasn’t a bad install.  Only a few minor problems.  I just wished things went a little smoother for my student’s sake.  You should’ve seen her face when I opened a terminal session.  Just goes to show that you can never get too cocky.  I’m glad I was able to figure things out, but the experience was a nice reminder to always expect the unexpected.  Good old Murphy is always lurking around a corner…waiting to strike.

*For a how-to on this install, please go here.