Enterprise Software

Windows XP SP3 vs. Ubuntu upgrade to 8.04

So a few friends of mine have all suffered from the Windows XP SP3 update plague that has rendered some machines in need of a complete re-install and some just acting as if they have been infected by some form of PC-West-Nile. So instead of making fun of them for once again getting pimp-slapped by Microsoft, I thought I would try to suffer their same pain by updating my primary machine (currently running Ubuntu 7.10) to Hardy Herron 8.04.

I have done plenty of googling to see what kinds of issues that I would come across (since this is a major update) and really didn't find much that would scare me from making the jump. And even if I did suffer some pain I knew I had a back up of my machine via a LiveCD. So if all went kaput, I could just toss in the LiveCD and reinstall my working machine (don't ya love Linux?).

So I followed these steps:

  • Ran sudo update-manager
  • Updated my machine to make sure I had all the latest 7.10 software
  • Clicked on the Upgrade button
  • Went to do something productive

Well, at first look, the ugrade went very well. The machine booted up to X, I logged in, got on-line, and did most everything I always do. Very quickly, however, I hit a snag. I always set up my personal machines with two drives: An OS drive and a data drive. The data drive, as you can assume, holds all my data. I have data from years ago on said drive. But once I tried to access that drive I found it not accessible. It didn't take me long (after running the "dmesg" command) to find out that drives were now labeled differently in 8.04. Instead of /dev/hda or /dev/hdb, I was seeing /dev/sda and /dev/sdb. So I figured it was just a matter of remounting the drive with the new mapping. No such luck. No matter what I tried, the drive wouldn't mount. So I figured up gparted only to find out that, according to the upgraded Ubuntu, the partition table on the drive was corrupted.

It turns out not to be the truth. The partition table on the drive is fine. But for some odd reason the upgrade process fubar'd the udev system. Udev? What is udev you ask? The udev system allows a dynamic /dev directory, and it provides the ability to have persistent device names. It's a complex system that is supposed to create a simplistic user experience with devices. In normal circumstances, this system works like a charm. For instance, on my laptop, anytime I insert a disk I will see a new directory appear in /media. Most times the disk will be labeled /media/disk. If the disk was created with a name, that name will appear in the /media directory. This system normally works. But when udev itself is broken...well...you see where that leads.

I did spend a good amount of time looking up the udev problem. Ubuntu now also labels disks with UUIDs. I even tried getting the UUID of the drive, but to no avail. Ultimately it required a complete re-install. But interestingly enough, the install of Ubuntu 8.04 didn't work. Every time I attempted an install it would install and then, upon reboot, it would stop at Busybox. What is Busybox? Busybox is a small application that contains a bunch of common UNIX utilities. Basically it is a tiny distribution that is aimed at embedded systems. So, why is my installed Ubuntu system booting to this? This was apparently a bug in the 8.04 Alpha 4 stage. The workaround? Go into the BIOS of your computer (F2 at boot), then go in Integrated Peripherals, and then change SATA Mode from IDE to RAID.

And this is supposed to be the Ubuntu to bring all users to Linux? Now certainly I can understand these sorts of bugs in Alpha and even Beta releases. But in a public release? Sorry. And this bug made it to Kubuntu as well. I finally had to drop back to 7.10 to get Ubuntu (actually gOS) installed on my machine. Now, granted my machine was built from scratch and it's 64 bit (although running in 32 bit mode) hardware. But if 7.10 didn't have any problems...dot...dot...dot...

So back to the title of this blog. As you can see I had just as many problems as the XP SP3 users had. Now to be fair to Ubuntu, I wasn't just updating packages, I was upgrading an entire distribution which has always been flaky at best. So I have to wonder, when a distribution upgrade is almost always the WRONG way to go, why is it even an option? I would like to see the distro upgrade banished until such a time when it can be, well, successfully done. Until then, force people to install from scratch. I think most can agree the experience is ALWAYS better.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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