Monday, April 28, 2008

Broken wing: on upgrading to Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron

This past weekend I upgraded from Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) to 8.04 (Hardy Heron). Right off the bat I encountered an unexpected hitch. Previously I had upgraded by using the Alternate ISO. This serves two purposes: 1) Normally on the days immediately following an Ubuntu release, the package servers are choked by users doing automatic upgrades, but the ISOs are available from bittorrents, which thrive in this type of situation. 2) I have multiple machines to upgrade, so it makes more sense to download once and upgrade many.

Unfortunately, my attempt to upgrade from the CD, and only the CD, failed on a package related to nvidia-glx, according to the logs, though according to the output presented directly to the user, the failure occurred because of "obsolete or locally installed packages, unofficial repositories, or [something else]". I had already moved all my third-party repositories out of sources.list.d. I then decided to allow the upgrade process to access the latest packages on the net, only to discover to my horror that I would still wind up downloading 500 MB of packages from thu Ubuntu repositories, essentially negating having downloaded the 600 MB ISO. The download actually occurred fairly quickly, even over my DSL connection, but the installation and configuration took well over an hour.

After rebooting, I was greeted with the login screen, on which my laptop's trackpad caused the mouse pointer to go crazy any time I attempted to move it. (Note, this is probably due to my Xorg configuration which is set up for both one and two monitors, but it pisses me off because it didn't do this before.) After logging in, compiz started fine and the desktop seemed to be peachy. The actual process of logging in seems to take just as long as it did in 7.10, and that blasted trackerd still crushes system performance immediately upon login by riding the hard drive harder than a bucking bronco as it indexes the hard drive.

I did what I normally do upon finally getting control of my system: firing up Firefox. I was presented with a Firefox 3 prompt informing me that I had about a half dozen plugins incompatible with Firefox 3 beta 5, and if I would like to proceed, I would need to click the button that would disable them all. "No problem," I thought, "I'll just go back to Firefox 2." I did play around in Firefox 3 for a bit and tried it out to see if it was as fast and slick as I had heard. Generally, I had to agree it was a good browsing experience, but utterly worthless with no support for critical addons like bookmarks, CookieSafe, and Zotero. When I had my fun, I used aptitude to install Firefox 2 and fired it up. Well, I quickly discovered that about the only thing left of Firefox 2 was its bookmarks. All of my cookie settings were gone, and no plugins were running on it at all. When I went to the Addons menu, I discovered I was unable to re-enable any of the plugins. After digging around the net and many searches, I came up empty handed with a working solution and wound up having to delete my Firefox profile and starting afresh with Firefox 2.

To skip ahead, I later learned once Firefox 3 is launched, it will render a profile backwards-incompatible with Firefox 2. At least, this is the case for Ubuntu 8.04. According to Paulo Nuin, this is not the case for Windows. (Which probably grates on me more.) So for Ubuntu users running into this problem, back up what Firefox data you can (bookmarks, etc.), rm -rf your profile, and start again in Firefox 2. Then make sure to set Firefox 2 as your web browser in the Preferred Applications menu, and only launch from launchers connected to Firefox 2. In fact, you may want to apt-get remove Firefox 3 all together.

After that, there was the problem that my fonts looked like trash in the gnome-terminal, and also for certain pages browsing with Firefox 2 (presumably those calling on system fonts because their font was not explicitly set). I double-checked that I had "Subpixel Smoothing" checked in the GNOME fonts dialogue in the Appearance application in the Preferences menu. Then I had to do some digging around the Ubuntu forums to find other people who had this issue. I came across some threads that suggested setting the DPI in the about:config of Firefox to 96, but this wasn't much of a help. I finally came upon this post that gave directions for reconfiguring the fonts using dpkg-reconfigure. Restarting Xorg and firing up the gnome-terminal, I was relieved to see that the fonts were finally rendering with antialiasing. I felt the terminal font still looked ugly--much taller than in 7.10--so I wound up setting it to Lucida Sans Typewriter.

Firefox still rendered terribly for some pages (really poor kerning), particularly on Twitter. The only other obvious thing to try would be to set the fonts. I almost without fail use defaults so I hated this option, but I set all the fonts to Bitstream fonts, restarted Firefox, and finally the troublesome pages were readable again. I breathed a sigh of relief.

A few peeves remained. For one, only one program could make use of the soundcard at a time--no good! I went into the sound and disabled ESD, but that still didn't do it, so I had to set all the sound devices from Autodetect to ALSA, which finally allowed for multiple sounds at once. Of course, not being content, I decided to fiddle around more, and instead re-activated ESD and set the devices to use ESD. This led to a horrible out of control spiral as gnome-sound-preferences proceeded to consume every bit of the 2 GB of RAM in my laptop and crawled out into the swap space, sending my system thrashing horribly until I could kill the process. I have no idea what that was about but it was terrible. I immediately reverted everything to ALSA. Lastly, my compiz settings weren't entirely preserved; particularly, the hot corners that I had for the Scale plugin weren't available anymore, and it took me a while to actually figure out how to set them again, completely missing the fact that the little screen icons were indicating that's how I was supposed to set hot corners. In 7.10, there was just a simple dialogue box that said in words "Screen" or something like this. I'm sure this was changed to a picture of a screen for usability, but it had the opposite effect on me.

So this is where I stand with Hardy Heron today. I still consider Gutsy Gibbon the greatest release of Ubuntu, and Hardy Heron as a significant backslide. In fact, I can't believe Hardy is going to be a long-term support release, particularly in light of the Firefox 3 fiascos. How do they plan to support a beta version of a web browser for three years? Plugins such as Zotero already require newer versions of Firefox 3 because fixes have been implemented. What other plugins are waiting for Firefox 3 to solidify before converting? I dunno, it just seems a poor choice to have that as their default browser, given that the web browser is now the most critical piece of user software.

I'm skipping this release for all my other machines and holding out for what I hope will be a much better release in 8.10. Best of luck to you other brave souls moving to this lame bird that is 8.04.

No comments:

Post a Comment