Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Scouting the Upgrade Trail

It's upgrade time. We all know the sensible way to do this is to upgrade sequentially through the version numbers (yawn). However, Ubuntu 9.10 will only perform the in-place upgrade over 9.04 and nothing earlier. If you're still an Ubuntu Badger, Heron or Ibex, you have little choice but to clean-install. Maybe, like me, the time has come to upgrade the hard drive and start-over from scratch with a new file-system and software stack. The in-place upgrade is one thing, a clean install something else. True, there are lots of “Top Ten things to do after installing Operating-System-X” articles around; many give good advice on exactly which repositories to update, recommended programs, codecs, UI tweaks. This list aims to go back to first principles; what to do before you start, during and after...

BEFORE: Plan and prepare

  1. Spring-clean your data files. Backup EVERYTHING you might possibly want to keep before you start. Don't forget all those wee files you downloaded and stashed away in odd folders right throughout your hard drive. Go find. Then, make a list of all your essential day-to-day programs. Skim through your existing panel icons, menus, sym-links and desktop icons.
  2. Find the right ISO image or DVD image to download. Desktop editions contain a different sub-set of programs than server edition. 32-bit is different from 64-bit.  Newer chipsets such as AMD64 or Intel Core2 and i-series may be fine running 64 bit, but not all programs have versions compatible with 64-bit operating system kernels. Check your applications are compatible.
  3. Verify the downloaded ISO image with md5sum before you use it, then verify again any CD or DVD you burn! A bad CD/DVD burn will stop your install dead in its tracks and leave a mess (probably unrecoverable) on your hard disk.
  4. Of course, you've read the  Release Notes to uncover any outstanding issues and possible workarounds, haven't you? It's dull, but necessary; it's a heads-up on those pesky hardware and networking quirks; better to know before you fall in, not after you're in the hole.

    Think about devices - printers, scanners, usb; device compatibility is a hot topic, especially for us cheapskates relentlessly plowing on with vintage kit. It's our badge of honour, right? Go visit manufacturers websites and search the forums for module hints and hacks.
  5. Think carefully about your partitioning scheme. Do you go Default or Custom?
  6. Consider your choice of file-system. I've been stuck on ext3 for a long time now because it's robust and secure and I haven't managed to break it. Ext4 is here, it's stable and noticeably faster. Changing file-system does require destructive re-formatting of existing partitions (remember to back-up data before you begin!). Hints are in the Partitioning Tips panel.

    DURING: Installation 
  7. Run the install. Be awake. Follow the on-screen prompts and do not mindlessly click next, forward or any other defaults without reading each screen and making a conscious decision on all the options. Even if you have done this before...
On successful re-start, having a sparklingly unsullied system, consider:

File and folder permissions: Any move, copy or restore of data into your new install may need you to change the read/write permissions. Root folders (as in the top-most mount-points of partitions) are usually restricted to root permissions with everyone else locked down to read-only or no-access. Good old terminal commands work, if you know what you're doing. Or you could
sudo nautilus
and use the permissions tab within the folder properties to change access rights.

Close the sudo'd  file manager before you move or change any content and especially before you delete any backup copies!

Sound system: OSS, Alsa, PulseAudio? Ubuntu 9.10 now fires up PulseAudio by default. Which now works. Mostly. Except when it doesn't. Depending on what audio card you've got. Try it. Our best wishes, cheers and/or condolences to you. If you have blocky, choppy or no sound at all, you may have to dive into the system services and disable PulseAudio. You could try:
sudo killall pulseaudio

in a terminal session while you try to figure  out which, if any, sound system works.

File sharing: you will need to install Samba filesharing in order to carry on sharing files and folders across a network or with other operating system users.
AFTER - personalising your system

8. Check your software sources list is complete and up-to-date. Find and re-import signature keys if needed. Run update manager - get the latest security updates at the very least.

9. Run the Hardware Drivers application which will scan your hardware and attempt to match to updated drivers (free and non-free). Hardware drivers can be found under System > Administration > Hardware Drivers.

10. Start downloading and installing your favourite programs, packages and themes. Check for the latest versions in the repositories, before you install. Don't assume any saved packages are compatible with a new distro release. This includes applications, themes, media codecs, non-free commercial stuff like flash-players, PDF-readers and anti-virus. Install one at a time and check the install when it's done. It's easier to back out one package at a time (dependencies included). Install a whole stack of packages at once and if something breaks you have a hard time tracking down which one broke your system.

Happy installing!  RC

To obtain the latest distro releases: http://www.ubuntu.com/getubuntu/download
How to burn an ISO image to disk: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/BurningIsoHowto

If you need a longer guide -

Finally, a well laid out third-party guide to Ubunt 9.10 in PDF format:


  1. Robin,
    While doing my spring cleaning, I've found the fdupe command to be quite useful. Thanks for the quide, I'll be tweeting this from @ubuntu-us-ne.
    Cheers! Dave

  2. fdupe: Very useful: quote:
    'Program "fdupes" will run through a directory tree and find all the duplicates by calculating the MD5 checksums and comparing these. This is great, as it means that even if the file names are different, it will find it. It even has a -d switch, which will ask you which file to keep and which to delete.'


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