Dreaming of a Smooth Upgrade

Oneiric means of or relating to dreams or dreaming. I had to look it up, and the reason I did so was because the latest release of Canonical’s popular Linux distro, Ubuntu, is called Oneiric Ocelot.

I made the jump to Ubuntu in July 2008 with Hardy Heron, and for the most part, I’ve been satisfied with it.

That is, until the time comes for an upgrade. The Ubuntu release schedule has been a model of regularity since I switched, the x.04 version dropping in April, followed by the x.10 version in October. They’re now up to 11.10 with Ocelot, which is very impressive.

I had been humming along with Maverick Meerkat (10.10) since I got a new Dell laptop late last year, but as new versions came out, I began to wonder how long Meerkat would be viable for me. The updates had slowed down, with most of the development going to newer releases.

Plus, the pull of shiny new things became a bit unbearable.

I had a plan, which was to stay one release behind the latest version. So, when 11.10 (Ocelot) dropped, I went to upgrade to 11.04 (Narwhal).

Because Narwhal isn’t the latest version, I had to create a live USB of it to upgrade, rather than using the built-in upgrade function. No worries.

The upgrade went fine for the most part. After a while, I was able to boot Narwhal and begin adding back software that didn’t upgrade.

I’d heard that Unity was a jarring experience for longtime Ubuntu users, and sure enough, it was. Very. Even finding critical stuff like the system control functions is an adventure.

Anyway, I worked my way into a fully functional install, and then, at some point, I decided that bumping to 11.10 would be a good idea.

It wasn’t.

I should mention that I’m sick and not really in any condition to be making decisions. It must have been the cough medicine talking.

After the upgrade finished, I got a blank screen on restart.


I wasn’t completely desperate initially because I’ve been here before with 9.04, i.e. Jaunty Jackalope and with Meerkat when my Dell E6410 had Intel video driver issues that prevented it from being used without an external monitor.

You read that right. My so-called stable install of 10.10 only worked in the dock, attached to a monitor.

So, yeah, I’ve had a rocky past with Ubuntu upgrades.

Anyway, this felt like an Xorg issue, so I took the laptop out of dock. Sure enough, the display worked, but the keyboard was possessed. I’d type something, and only a few characters would register. After some angry key-punching, I finally logged in and got it going. I updated the system, restarted, then attached it to the dock, and everything seemed hunky dory.

Then I hit a random freeze, did a hard restart and boom things went haywire. When I rebooted, the top and side Unity panels were gone, which left me with precious little functionality. Basically, I was stuck; even with the Terminal, I couldn’t get Unity restarted.

Now, I’m really hosed.

My choices were pretty limited, since Ubuntu doesn’t have a graceful downgrade option. I tried a fresh upgrade of 11.10, then a new install of 11.10 and finally a new install of 11.04.

None really worked that well. The 11.10 installs had the same issue with no Unity panels; 11.04 worked fine until I installed Compiz and tried to resize the ridiculous 48×48 icons Unity uses. It froze, and I was back in the no panels oblivion.

So yeah, maybe it’s Compiz, but at this point, I’m pretty annoyed with Ubuntu, having lost essentially two days to messing with it.

Luckily, thanks to Unetbootin, it was easy to create bootable USB images so I could fail over and over.

As usual, I complained on Twitter, and luckily, Bill Taroli (@btaroli) had a suggestion: Fedora.

At this point, I was already pondering Fedora or Mint as an option. Fedora is my first RPM-based distro in a decade, but so far, it’s been fine. I’m only through the install and the updates, and even so, there have been issues.

So, I’m kind of stuck. I can start over with a new distro, or try again with 11.04 (or maybe 11.10) minus Compiz. I’ve pondered running Gnome 3 instead of Unity, but that opens up even more upgrade questions.

The problem is that Linux is, and will continue to be, a chore to run for every day for regular people. I’m not a regular user, and I constantly run into issues that require time investment to resolve. I can’t imagine how any distro could pass the Mom test, and yet most of the development work seems to go into making Linux easier to use by emulating features from OS X and iOS, e.g. the move to Unity is a direct result of OS X features.

That’s not to say there aren’t active distros for power users out there. Projects like Gentoo and Slackware carry the flag for hardcore Linux power users.

So why do I still run Linux given the effort? Fundamentally, I believe in open source and support it, and I (mostly) enjoy the challenge. It keeps me sharp.

Still, I wonder how any distro can hope to gain widespread adoption, given how difficult it is to run Linux as a primary OS.

Thoughts or suggestions for my problem?

Find the comments.




  1. Yes. Always, always, ALWAYS try the live CD first to make sure your hardware will work ok before you install.


  2. This isn’t a case of the hardware alone. I actually think it’s fine. I believe my troubles are caused by software and configuration conflicts. I guess the fresh install is a must every time now, assuming I stay w Ubuntu.

    Fedora is installed, but I haven’t made a decision yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *