Get off my lawn.

Friday, November 28, 2008

To/From Ibex

Whenever a new version of Ubuntu comes out, I usually write some kind of post about it after I upgrade, talking about it. In every case so far, the upgrade brings new functionality, better ease-of-use, a cooler-looking user interface, and other minutiae that no one really cares about, but still represents progress.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I installed the latest Ubuntu, Ibex (8.10), on my big supercollider machine in my house. I use that machine mostly for audio recording. It has an M-Audio sound card with variable sample rate, 12 in/outs, gold-plated connectors, 2ms latency, etc. In the world of "Machines in my Basement", this one is fairly important, and one of the cooler ones.

Before doing the upgrade, I took the opportunity to move my home directory to a separate physical partition on the drive. Having done this, I highly recommend it, since now I can upgrade the OS without touching the data in my home directory (read as "pretty much everything but the OS and applications").

Having done that, on to the upgrade. I did a clean installation on the non-home partition, formatting the partition first.

The installation started out smoothly enough, then stopped with a message:

Unable to copy files. It may be that your CD-ROM is defective, or your CD burner is defective, or your machine has overheated, or is running in a hot environment. Also, you could have burned the CD you're installing from at too high a rate. That can cause problems. You might want to burn another one at a lower rate.

...or something like that. Huh? What a weird error message. My interpretation:

Unable to copy files. You may be installing this OS in a jungle, or on a machine that should probably be thrown away. That's probably it. Either way, it sucks to be you. If the problems I've mentioned aren't the cause of this problem, well..... Go away and burn a CD, and take your time doing it. That may take your mind off the fact that your new OS installation isn't going so well. Sorry about that. Please don't be mad at us.

It sounded like a tech-support guy with no answers, trying to get someone off the phone. (Like those nice people who work for Embarq in residential DSL support.)

No other options were available to me, so I did as the message suggested and burned a CD on another machine at the slowest possible rate, to really bake those files into the plastic. (Rule #1 with Linux machines: NEVER EVER have just one machine. You'll need a second machine for emergency support at some point.)

With my new fully-cooked/half-melted CD in the drive, I attempted the installation again. This time it worked without any complaints. It was able to copy all of the files, and the installation completed successfully. I guess that error message was helpful after all.

Having completed the installation, I booted into the new OS. Here's what I found:

. The new "Ibex" wallpaper looks bad. It's as if someone got a monkey to stand next to a concrete wall, and then smashed into the wall with tractor, crushing the monkey against it. Then they came back a few weeks later after things had dried, hosed the broken bones, hair and teeth off the wall, and took a sepia-toned photograph of the crime scene.

. There's a new "Guest" account, which is great if you have a coffee shop or something where people want to come in and surf the web in style while enjoying a $4 latte. Except the window manager was using some crappy-looking theme from 1998, so it wasn't that stylish.

. Audio is completely broken. I couldn't get anything related to audio to work at all, ever, under any circumstances, unless I used mplayer from the command line to play movies, or jackd to play "pro" audio stuff.

. Shortcut keys still don't work. Starting with 8.04, all of the shortcut keys I defined in System/Preferences/Shortcut Keys
stopped working. I had to manually define them in the GConf editor, or use UbuntuTweak to do it. This was broken in Ibex too.

. I found out that there's no SMP real-time kernel support, so even if the audio worked, it wouldn't work as well in Ibex as it did in Hardy.

Last night, I downgraded. It took about 45 minutes to put the old version back on, get it configured the way I want it, and get the machine back into a useable state. Audio is working fine again, all my stuff is there, and I'm happy with it. Thank God for separate home partitions.

I guess this Ubuntu release is intended more for mobile users, and there are some improvements in the UI, but it didn't constitute an improvement for me. I guess this is still a sign of progress... When the OS gets to the point where it works great and an upgrade offers little to no benefit, you could say it's getting pretty good and hard to improve on.

Dang... I sound like a fan boy.


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