Sunday, May 01, 2011

Life with Linux

I've been using Linux since the summer of 2007, and so far, I've enjoy the trip.  I've managed to get through all the bumps, too.  Today, I'd like to share with you my experience upgrading from Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat to 11.04 Natty Narwhal.  They are the same operating system based on Linux, but the desktop interface is very different from 10.10 to 11.04.

I started with an online upgrade through the Synaptics Package Manager.  Synaptics prompted me with an opportunity to upgrade my system as soon as it became available on April 27th.  I discovered that trying to upgrade on the first day was a bad idea, even on a fast connection.  So I waited until Friday and ran it late that night.  Then I saw download speeds often approaching 2.2 mbs, but averaging around 1.4 mbs.  That took about 30 minutes for the download to complete.

Then the packages were unpacked and installed.  Synaptics will provide a good progress indicator showing how much has been done, how far there is to go and prompting for any input required.  That took about an hour.  There were about 1800 packages to download and install.

Once all the packages are installed, a clean up operation runs to detect software that is no longer needed or supported, and then the user is provided with an option to remove them or keep them.  I removed them.  When the cleanup completed, I was prompted to reboot my computer.  This is always the most exciting part because I've been waiting for the reveal of the new experience.

On reboot, I was presented with this: grub>.  This is a problem that I had not encountered in any previous upgrades.  After doing some research I found the documentation I needed.  that I could use a live CD to reinstall GRUB so that the bootloader could find the operating system and the kernel needed to start up properly.  Then entire operation (sans downloading the live CD) took about 15 minutes and some cautious typing to do.

First, I booted my computer to the GNOME desktop with the latest live CD for Ubuntu.  Then I started a terminal.  Setting that aside, I opened the hard drive to locate the UUID number.  The UUID is assigned to a partition when formated and makes different hard drives easier to distinguish.  Once I had the UUID displayed, I could enter the following command inserting the UUID where "XXX" appears:

sudo grub-setup -d /media/XXXX/boot/grub /dev/sda

This command reinstalled GRUB with the proper settings to the correct folder.  I used sudo to assume root privileges when I run the command that follows. "grub-setup -d runs the setup and the path that follows tells where to do the install.  "/dev/sda" names the drive.  In Windows, drive C is the boot drive and if you look at the drive through the BIOS of your computer, it will usually be SATA 0.  In Linux, drives are numbered a, b, c, and the drive letter isn't as important as the UUID.  Linux will map the UUID to the drive letter as need, but when GRUB looks for the files needed to boot, it goes by the UUID.

Then I rebooted my computer.  As the computer booted, I watched as the BIOS loaded and instead of getting "grub>", I got a blank splash screen, which I think I'm going to change later on, and then the login prompt for my desktop.  What a relief.  Documentation is king.  The lesson in this story?  Make sure you have a live CD ready to go before you do an upgrade.  You just might need this.

Some of you might also be familiar with GNOME.  GNOME looks a lot like Windows and has some similarities to the Mac interface as well. There is something like a start menu, icons on your desktop, and when you open folders, you get square windows with icons therein.  While Unity offers that, one big difference is the Launcher.  The Launcher usually stays hidden until you need it.  But when you need it, just move your mouse over to where it will appear.  Mine is on the left side so when I move my mouse over there, the Launcher slides into view from the left and allows me to pick the application I want with my mouse.

I can customize the applications that appear there by right-clicking on one at a time and clearing the check next to "Show in Launcher."  If I want to add items to the Launcher, I click on the Ubuntu button at the top-left corner of my screen, search for the application I want, then drag the icon for that application to the Launcher to the position I want it to appear.

So far, I'm enjoying the new experience of using the Launcher and I'm planning on test driving it for a couple of weeks. If, in the end, I find that I don't like it, I can still go back to GNOME and use that as my default.

If you don't have Linux installed, but want to try it out, you can download the Live CD and boot from it to test it out.  You can get it here.  Remember, when you run the live CD, you can test it out without making any changes to Windows on your hard drive.  When you're done, just reboot the computer by clicking on the power button in the upper-right hand corner of your screen and selecting "restart".  During restart, the CD will eject and you will be prompted to press Enter.

If you want to install Ubuntu over Windows or Linux, be sure you have backed up all your data.  Ubuntu will import your users and their data into new folders during the install, but you must follow the prompts closely to do that.  If you want to try an install, it is best to do it on a spare computer first.  That's how I got started.

I hope you find this information useful and look forward to your comments.
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