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From Feisty to Hardy in one pass back
Previous article: Feisty Fawn, a renaissance view
Next article: Upgrade details from Ubuntu 7.04 to 8.04 view


I have been running the fleet of Thinkpad laptops at home on Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn ever since the last article, and have been thoroughly happy with the performance and reliability in general. However, lately, I started to notice that the Update Manager no longer pulls in any new update. Also, Synaptic Package Manager keeps hitting error 404 (Not Found) when trying to update from the Ubuntu archive servers. Looking more closely into it, I discovered Feisty support seems to have been stopped by Canonical (the Ubuntu originator) and the release has been removed from the main server and all mirrors altogether. To be honest, the Update Manager has been inviting me to update to version 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon all this time, but I remember last year I attempted this only to be told half way through the update that it encountered some kind of error and rolled back. As I did not have time to investigate, I decided to give up at that point. Well, it looks like now I have no choice anyway. Oh well, the Holidays are coming, I might as well take advantage of this break and get on with the update. As I have a number of machines to do this to, I need a most automated, less time consuming solution.

The latest stable version of Ubuntu is 8.04 Hardy Heron. There is a version 8.10 Intrepid Ibex too, but I decided not go for it, as it is indicated by Canonical that 8.04 is the stable long term supported version, and leave 8.10 to the early adopters. You can simply download the desktop CD iso file and write it to the blank CD and that should get you ready for the upgrade (of course, you can do this over the internet, but if anything goes wrong during the upgrade process and you can no longer access the internet, you will be in trouble).

Before relating to my upgrade experience, I thought I might mention a few goals I positively want to achieve in this exercise:

  • I want to preserve the contents, settings etc. on each of the laptops. I have a couple of young daughters who use their Ubuntu laptops actively to surf, email, chat, watch movies etc. (nothing from the Windows camp will let me sleep well at night for this use case, so it has to be Ubuntu!), and do not want them to even know Santa has been to their most prized posessions. In any case, it took me (and them) ages to get the machines customised and personalised, so obviously preserving these settings is of paramount importance
  • I checked out Ubuntu 8.04 running from the CD, and discovered that on an IBM Lenovo Thinkpad, the most annoying problems still not have been fixed, namely the trackpad does not produce the scrolling action of a typical mouse wheel in application scrollbars. Sure, you can fiddle around with the settings to get it to work, but this is exactly what I did when I first installed Ubuntu on these machines, so do not want to have to go through that experience again. Also, a few other annoyances such as machine does not suspend properly when the lid is closed, NTFS partitions are mounted read only etc., all contribute to convince me that I want to find a way to upgrade these machines without wiping out the contents of the existing install.
  • As I have a handful of machines to upgrade, I do not want to have to suck the bulk of the packages down from the internet each time. It is not a problem with the bandwidth, it is simply to do with speed. If I do the upgrade from the CD, it will do it much quicker than from internet download. By default, Ubuntu upgrade happens over the internet, so if I go down this route, I will have to configure the Update Manager to use the CD instead.

Doing a bit of research for the groundworks, I discovered that, unless I do a fressh install, the upgrade path will not be simply from 7.04 to 8.04, but it has to be done as 7.04 to 7.10, then to 8.04 !!. In fact, I discovered this as soon as I stuck the 8.04 alternate CD into the drive (the alternate CD is meant to be used for upgrade instead of fresh installation), that the upgrade program simply bombed out after telling me in no uncertain terms that it will not do it for me.

Another showstopper, which I discovered almost immediately when trying to get Ubuntu to be installed into the existing root partition, in that it insists on re-partitioning my hard drive. It would be nice if there was a way to disable the partitioning step in the installation process. This is not too bad in itself if the partition manager recognised my existing partitions and reuses them. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The Ubuntun installation script makes use of GNU's parted, a partitioning tool, which simply refuses to recognise my existing partitions. I ran parted manually and it kept coming up with the error "Cannot have overlapping partitions" and dies. I have no problem seeing the partitions using fdisk, so the problem is not to do with the partitions, but more to do with parted itself (this bug seems to be confirmed). All my laptops are dual booted between Windows and Ubuntu (still need Windows for Quicken, at least!), and I do not want to destroy the Windows partition, knowing how even more painful it will be to reinstall Windows too!

Well, after having done this exercise four times, I am happy to report that it is possible to upgrade from Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn directly to 8.04 Hardy Heron. The evidence is that I have all laptops up and running, with all settings preserved. In fact, my daughters are happy to have their laptops back with a nicer, quicker, slicker user interface, without any adverse side effects. I will chronicle the necessary steps in the following articles so to not have this article bogged down with too much technical details.

Am I pleased ? Well, some of the laptops are lowly spec'ed (X30 Thinkpad with 0.75 GB of memory), and Windows XP takes a good few minutes to boot up, with a generally sluggish performance overall. As for Windows Vista, forget it. It will not even load into that amount of RAM. On the contrary, Ubuntu 8.04 practically turns this machine into a very usable internet workstation, with slick and responsive overall performance. Flash movies, Youtube etc. ? No problem. DivX, Mpeg4 movies, MP3 playback ? Out of the box support. Skype ? Yes, Yahoo/MSN Instant Messenger client ? Well, Ubuntu has Pidgin, which supports all of these protocols within the same application. The obvious added benefit is there is no need to run or update any anti-virus software (virus on Ubuntu ? What a concept !! 1 ). I think my answer has to be a resounding "Yes".

1 There is no technical reason why a virus can not be written for Ubuntu, there are a million economical reasons why there won't be one in the forseeable future

Previous article: Feisty Fawn, a renaissance view
Next article: Upgrade details from Ubuntu 7.04 to 8.04 view

 by by David at 22 Dec 2008 22:22:18
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