Monday, November 03, 2008

The case of the Irritating Ibex

This past weekend I decided it was time to do maintenance and updates on my test systems. Both the notebook and the desktop are setup dual boot with Ubuntu being one of the operating systems. Both were running 8.04 which had been upgraded from 7.10. The 7.10 -> 8.04 upgrade had gone flawlessly on the notebook, but on the desktop (after an over the network upgrade), Ubuntu decided that my wired Ethernet adapter did not exist. After RTFM'ing noob (searching the internet) I had resolved the problem. I figured this time it would have to be better.

(For those that don't know, Ubuntu's current practice is to name releases in alliteration with animal names. Hence the 8.04 release was "Hardy Heron" and the 8.10 is "Intrepid Ibex").

I started by reading the upgrade readme available here. It seemed that I was going to be OK going to 8.10, as my video card is an nVidia FX 5500 which is not on the list of cards for which support for 3D was mysteriously withdrawn. It claimed that my card would be upgraded to the 173 or 177 driver (whatever the hell that meant). So I started both the Desktop and the Notebook upgrading. There was a simple, well documented procedure to tell the 8.04 LTS version that it was OK to upgrade to a non-LTS new version, and they were off and running.

Painless, right? Ubuntu has a fairly well deserved reputation as being easy to install and working on a lot of platforms (as they are not obsessed with not shipping non-free binaries - hence they have a 3D driver for nVidia included). However, this upgrade was worse than the last one. It installed that new "173" driver for my nVidia card, then promptly told me that it wasn't working.

So, be sure that there is a supported nVidia GPU in the system. Check - I did that before installing. Duh! Like I would wait until after the install to check that. OK, next - ensure that the nVidia device files have been created properly. Great! We'll do that! Uhm, how do we do that? Now, I know that on Linux and Unix IO is almost always to a file but what the heck am I supposed to do to check that they were created correctly? Maybe this should offer to fix it for me? Oh, wait - they have a link to the nVidia Readme. Or not. Instead just a vague reference to consulting the nVidia Readme and not a link. Where is this mystical file? Wait, this was just a less snotty way of saying "RTFM noob" wasn't it?

Even worse, on my system I could not even read the dialog as it was positioned off to the left so far that half of it was not even on the screen and it could not be moved (sync problem - it would not sync properly to my 20" 1600x1200 panel). I had to use a different screen just to read the message. Once I clicked OK, it would then show me some options. One of them was something about fixing the problem and reconfiguring. Great! I figured I don't know enough to boot to a console and go edit or some shit, so I would let the GUI do it. That worked great if what I was looking for was a blank screen. However, I was figuring even the normal drab brown Ubuntu default desktop would be better than a blank screen.

I gave up, and decided to try a different video card (an nVidia 6800 GT I had laying around). After finding that the new card took more power than my supply would put out (yes, the power supply actually emitted an over current alarm - a loud screech!), and finding out that the only bandaids in the house were some Disney ones (I always get cut plugging and unplugging molex connectors), I put the old card back in. I figured - I will just update the Windows XP partition and give up for now and re-install Ubuntu from CD (which I had downloaded).

I had already set XP to "standard VGA" in preparation for swapping cards. Since I didn't really end up swapping I just updated XP to the latest driver for the 5500 FX from the nVidia site. That was easy, just run setup. I then thought, well - one last try for the current Ubuntu install. Wham! It came up correctly. No warning about video not working, checking for supported GPU's or running sudo someshit.conf. It's up!

About this time I decided to check the notebook. It had survived the update pretty well. It has no sound now, but otherwise it worked. In fact, it has "some sound". The Ubuntu "enter your ID" sound works, and so does the login sound. But no apps can play sounds. Flash can't, and even the audio configuration applet only plays beeps. I give up on that one for now.

I then wanted to compare round-tripping some docx and xlsx files through OpenOffice with the latest Ubuntu. Whups! 8.10 comes with the 2.4.x branch and not the new 3.0.x series. I went to go upgrade, but Ubuntu won't upgrade it until 9.04. So I thought, the Backports - that'll have it. Apparently I am too early for that. So I went hunting on the internet and found this. Read it and weep. Weep for the "setup.exe" that I downloaded and installed in moments on the Windows XP partition. Apparently to install this Deb package I need type about as much text on the command line as this blog. I think I'll just go play with Open Office on Windows, Ubuntu had sapped enough productivity already this last weekend.

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