Today I started on what at first looked like quite a daunting task. Migrating from Ubuntu to Mint. This follows on from my whine about Gnome 3 and Unity in “If it Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It”
I’ve played around with lots of distros over the past ten years, but Debian and Ubuntu were the first I felt confident enough about to use on my desktop and laptop respectively when Windows got to the inevitable irrecoverable update. The key for me, I think, was some helpful commentator on a post I made discussing my trials and tribulations running linux on some 5-10 year old PC or laptop asked me if I had thought of trying it on a modern piece of kit. Well, Windows 7 provided me with that opportunity earlier this year, when Microsoft delivered the inevitable irrecoverable update – and I just thought “stuff it, stuff them, let’s go for it” – rather than spend hours trying to put a broken Windows 7 back together again so it could limp along for another couple of years, in the same way XP seemed to on my PC 6 years after I first bought it (that’s the one with Debian on now). I was really impressed at the performance of linux on a year-old laptop. Still am.
Although I’ve played with linux since the late 1990’s. I only started using Ubuntu alongside Windows since I first saw Vista, and started using it seriously at the beginning of this year, when Windows 7 collapsed on me, I switched to Ubuntu completely. I kind of noticed that I was using my 5 year-old laptop with Ubuntu more than my newer year-old Windows 7 laptop – the old one was nicer to work with, and not noticeably slower. I don’t think I’d looked back since then, and was starting to look at ways of sponsoring to put back and maintain something that I was beginning to see was really viable for me as an end user. Since then, I installed Virtualbox, because I wasn’t happy with Wine for running the Windows apps I had invested in and still wanted to use. I was impressed with Virtualbox, and not only did it mean I could run both XP and W7, I could try out a whole range of things on the laptop. I tried check out MeeGo, which never really materialised for the Nokia n900, and wouldn’t work on our Advent MSI Wind-clone. It gave me the opportunity of looking at SUSE, Fedora, with Gnome 3, as well as Debian and Mint, and Ubuntu with Unity. To be fair, I tried Gnome 3 and Unity out on a desktop install as well, but it gave me a look first. I also tried out Open Solaris/Indiana.
I was not happy with Gnome 3 and feel, as I have said elsewhere, that they kind of pulled the rug out from beneath me. I can see why Ubuntu resisted, and rushed the development waiting in the wings out early – it requires much lower specified hardware, which is completely in line with their ethos of recycling older technology. But, it is not a proper GUI, it is far more suitable for a netbook or a tablet than a desktop or laptop. Gnome 3, well, I don’t really know what that is trying to be. It feels a bit like somebody started off thinking Vista was going one way, then got sidetracked by what was happening with Android, and ended up with something that was trying to be all sorts of things, but ended up being less than any one of the things it was trying to be, rather than the sum of all their parts. I feel let down, because it was Gnome that kept me trying with Linux – even when Ubuntu was going through a phase of releasing unstable updates.
Open Solaris/Indiana – nice, but only Gnomely nice, and at the end of the day, I couldn’t do as much with it as Linux, because there wasn’t the extent of software available as there is for Linux. I liked Debian 6, but I am not a purist, and I don’t really care if stuff I want is free or unfree – I just want it there easily available from day one, without having to mess about. I’m happy sticking with debian 5 on the PC I use to hold all the master copies of work and stuff. I worked in IT for ten years, so I am a technical barbarian, I just want it now, and I want it to work, I do not want to spend time hacking things to make them work, I just want to be able to use stuff, and for the operating system and interface to intrude on my life as little as possible. Computers are a tool, not a lifestyle choice. Slash and burn is the best approach to computers, and don’t get too involved along the way.
I liked Mint, but could not see the benefit of using it over Ubuntu. I tried Mint Debian edition, but again, could not see the advantage over Debian. But then the guys at Mint showed they were concerned about their users. They didn’t want to force them to use an interface they didn’t want (which both Gnome and Ubuntu have done by killing off Gnome 2 and by switching to Unity in place of Gnome). No transition, no time for adjustment – just ‘this is it, take it or leave it’. I like KDE, but I really don’t want to work with it, it is like a rich meal, too much of it and I feel sick. LXDE is kind of OK, but getting at my stuff is a bit of fiddle – and I am too lazy to bother with the command line any more. XFCE is better, but i never managed to get to the bottom of why Firefox and Thunderbird kept crashing on my main laptop when I used it. So I went back to Gnome 2.
However, there has to come a time when I will need to upgrade from Ubuntu 11.04 running Gnome 2 in Classic mode. So, I dusted off the old laptop, and started rolling the upgrades from 10.04, through 10.10, to 11.04. Bang! That stuffed it. The wireless stopped working. Nothing I tried worked. I tried going on-line, but even the ethernet connection was dead. So, I tried what people suggested in the forums, using a mounted 11.04 ISO disk for the repositories, but nothing seemed to work. I could not get the broadcom drivers re-installed whatever I tried. And when I did seem to have some success, it still ended up unsuccessful, and all I could discover was that these were switched off at the hardware level, with the bios showing them as enabled, and nothing I could find on the system itself that could switch them back on. Remembering all the hassle I had getting the broadcom card to work originally, before Ubuntu superseded the rather torturous “ndis wrapper” that was necessary to get the thing working in the first place, I figured I had taken Ubuntu as far as it was ever going to go on that machine, which started out around Ubuntu 8.04 I think; upgrading through three release cycles, I guess something has to give somewhere along the line.
So, I ran a Mint 11 disk, and at least the ethernet interface was working. But still not working with an Ubuntu 11.04 boot disk. So, I decided to download and install Mint 12. So far so good, it is even allowing me to upgrade from Ubuntu 11.04 (although hopefully retaining all my files and stuff, but losing the old Ubuntu configuration). Let’s see how it goes….
… a couple of hours pass …
Well, here we are.
Ethernet all fine, but no wireless at first. Had to fiddle a bit to get the Broadcom wireless to work, but not a big deal. When I tried to select it, a box came up telling me there were third-party drivers I needed to load. I now know this was a red herring, as this puts it into the state Ubuntu was in when the wifi failed – and this puts it into the state that all the forums advise uninstalling when the wifi fails on the Ubuntu 11.04 upgrade. I did try it that way, and lost the wireless option completely. So I uninstalled, and did what I had tried with ubuntu before – load the bcm installer via synaptic, which also loads the fwcutter driver, rebooted, then held the wireless button firm when it came up, and sweet as a nut, the blue light came on this time and connected me straight away using the original settings. Neat.
The upgrade worked, although there’s no sign of VirtualBox any more. Stellarium is still listed, but so far hasn’t fired up. Libre Office seems to work quite quickly. The way Gnome seems to work in Mint 12 looks OK, although I have lost my previous configuration. I had Gnome set up to look like a Mac. Gnome in drag, if you like. But, it is now a bit boring. I don’t get the nice top menu bar the way I am used to, with all my most used apps pinned to it. Nor the old menu system at the top. It is accessed like Windows, from the button left. It is OK, and unlike KDE, it isn’t vague with bouncy selection arrows and stuff. I reckon I can work with it. Half the repositories come up as failing, so I’ll need to figure out what is going on there. The most irritating thing so far is Google isn’t available in the list of search engines – and despite what the web page that comes up when you look for how to install other search engines (Wikipedia & Amazon are NOT search engines, so making them the defaults is just daft) tells me – there is no obvious way of setting up Firefox to use it. Silly.
Gimp works, Stellarium still not coming up. Update worked, VirtualBox & Chromium installing OK. All looks promising.
Then I pressed the infinity button top left hand side – wow! that threw me a curve-ball. Suddenly I’m into full-on Gnome 3 without expecting it. and my two open apps are sitting there in their own little boxes. So, I clicked back into WordPress, and tried the alt-tab. Yay! Mint fixed this. I can tab between open applications. Not so much to ask, is it, eh? Looks like with a bit of tweaking, I have the makings of a workable system again. Thank you to all the people at Mint!
Stellarium, I found, didn’t work because it was on the menu having been left behind from Ubuntu – it wasn’t still installed. But is available in Synaptic. Looked at Software Manager, and it looks nice. Chromium comes up with the tabs I open when I shut down on Chrome in Ubuntu still open. So, any software that is re-installed looks like it retains the original settings. No sign of the VirtualBox VM’s. And Stellarium still isn’t coming up despite being installed now…
Biggest problem I found was that the repositories were all buggered. They had loads of crud in, all ticked, and when I tried to download updates I got loads of errors, mostly to do with Ubuntu repositores called ‘Lisa’ that couldn’t be found, but also Failed/Ignored Translation packages on repositories it could find. I found a thread on mint, where somebody had a similar issue, and it sounds like an issue when migrating from Ubuntu to Mint. So, I copied the ‘vanilla’ set of repositories, and that worked to the extent that it found the repositories all the repositories, but still failed/Ignored half the translation packages. Some were marked “en_NZ”, but some were just “en”. Then, when I tried to set the server from Main to local, Australia (obviously) was the one recommended (there is none listed for NZ), and when I selected it and refreshed the repositories, all the stuff I had just got rid off was back! Commented out, only with duplicates for the entries I had just replaced with. Bah!
And Stellarium gets me to a splash screen, and no further. But, most annoying thing is I have lost my Administration and Preference tools. I really liked them. Now I have Applications & Places, and under System Tools there’s very little, and under “Other” is just about everything I tend to use, or ever installed or tried out on Ubuntu, including Synaptic, and just about evrything apart from Open Office & Gimp.
So, upgrading works, but it is beginning to look to me like what I have ended up with is a slightly dysfunctional system. So, I will have to go right back to square one, and re-install from scratch. Which is OK, I have it all backed up, I know how to get the wireless working. I can migrate everything from my live laptop across to the old one running Mint, including getting it to run the VM’s before I do, and then start looking at upgrading the live laptop.
But what a pain, that Ubuntu and Gnome are forcing me to have to do this. I have better things to do. It does not leave me with a warm fluffy feeling about Linux anymore. It certainly makes me think the next computer will be an 8GB i7 running OSX, rather than Windows or Linux, with VM’s for the Windows and Linux apps I want to run.
To be continued…
(my other whine about Gnome 3 is here)
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