Ubuntu 8.04 to 8.10 upgrade.

A lot of commentators in the blogosphere have shown disappointment at the fact that little seems to have changed with Ubuntu 8.10. My answer to them is that in fact a lot has changed, but not much of it is visible. To my mind a lot of these under-the-hood changes have addressed fundamental issues which needed to be fixed as a priority, so that normal users could just get on with the business of using Linux, rather than scrabbling around in config files.

Also, Ubuntu has an aggressive schedule, which means release are made every 6 months. I believe the purpose of the April (.04) releases is to introduce new features, and the October (.10) release is to refine them and fix any breaks. Compare this approach to Windows or Macintosh, where releases are made around every three years, and you can appreciate that releasing little and often means that changes are more diffuse and less apparent.

I performed the Upgrade option from 8.04 to 8.10, as I’d only just installed 8.04 on this machine. If I’d been running it for a year or more, I probably would have done a clean install, just to blow away the crud, but this time I just clicked the button and left it to go. Its a good idea to leave yourself plenty of time for this, not only because downloading the packages can take a while, but also because the chances are that something will break in the upgrade. Its also worth waiting a week or two before upgrading, as that gives people a chance to discover problems and post solutions to them online.

Downloading all the packages took around 12 hours on my crappy connection, so I left it to go overnight. If you do this, make sure you get to the part where it actually says its downloading the package files, otherwise you’ll wake up in the morning with a dialog box on your screen, and zero packages downloaded. Luckily it will still roll back to 8.04 at this point, so its not the end of the world.

OK, so having run the upgrade, the first thing to do is Reboot, and then put all your third party repositories back in place. I did this by opening System > Administration > Software Sources and physically visiting the URIs listed in each place. If there was an ‘intrepid’ directory on the site, I’d change hardy to intrepid in the Edit box. If not, then I’d leave it on hardy. After this, a big global Re-check and Install Updates is in order, just to check you have the latest and greatest of everything. One more reboot and its time to look around. A few things had broken, but first, lets look at the great successes.

First of all I was enormously pleased to see that my Dell Vostro 1400 wireless was working. Properly! I checked in Hardware Drivers, and Windows Wireless Drivers and neither of those were active, so the new kernel was properly supporting my wireless. This, I feel is one of the most important enhancements for the 8.10 release: the more wireless chipsets that ‘just work’ the better the chances Ubuntu will get adopted.

Dual Head also worked. Ironically the previous day I’d just spent a couple of hours trying to get this to work on 8.04, and on 8.10 it worked without any fiddling: just fire up the System > Preferences > Screen Resolution applet and it detects the two monitors and lets you configure them how you wish. They’ve achieved that by doing away with the settings from /etc/X11/xorg.conf. However that meant I had to look elsewhere to get my TouchPad Toggling Script to work.

I hear the Network Manager is a lot better now as it can configure GPRS connections as well as wireless and wired connections. However I’m using wicd for now, so I’ll look at that later. Also of note in this area is that networks configured via NetworkManager are brought up during boot, which is handy if you need to do things from the command line before logging into your desktop.

The Guest Session is interesting, allowing you to lend your computer to someone in a secure manner — all settings are temporary and disappear after logging out, and there is no access to the file system, so theoretically no damage can be done. This didn’t work at first for me, perhaps as a consequence of upgrading rather than installing fresh. Initially I was just presented with a login screen (which clearly a Guest Account shouldn’t need). However, by running the script from the command line

/usr/share/gdm/guest-session/guest-session-launch

I was able to make it work, and subsequently its worked from the button as well.

Another security feature is having an encrypted Private folder set up in a ~/Private directory. This is automatically locked and unlocked as you log in and out. As a sidenote its not entirely secret as the encrypted files can be accessed in your ~/.Private directory (ie with a dot). These can’t be read, but the file names are the same as the unencrypted versions, so best not to call them anything too explicit: secret_plan_to_take_over_the_world.doc for example.

To set this up you have to do some work. Type:

sudo apt-get install ecryptfs-utils
ecryptfs-setup-private

In terms of actual software updates there hasn’t been much as previously noted. GIMP has been upgraded to the 2.6 release which has a much nicer interface. VLC has a facelift, but it seems that some of the video encoding capability has been stripped out. Still trying to fix this. Virtual Box upgraded fine, and even compiled its own modules for the new kernel, so that was pretty seamless. Open Office 3, as noted elsewhere, was skipped in this version, but I’m sure it will be along soon.

Other tweaks: Totem can now play content from the BBC, although most of it seems to only be available in the UK. What’s the point of that? Clam AV is now available, and hopefully they’ll make a decent interface for it soon. And if you could turn on real time on-access scanning at will, that would be cool. Maybe next time.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the way things are going. The whole point for me is to make this easy to use rather than following Vista’s lead into confusing user interfaces and bloat, and the Ubuntu developers seem to remain focused on the things which will help them gain user share.

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