Yesterday morning when I turned my PC on it refused to let me into Windows.  It got as far as the logon screen and then rebooted itself.  It took until this morning to figure out what the problem was – the USB wireless dongle had come loose and the dodgy hardware connection was causing Windows to panic.  Aww… poor Windows… can’t cope with stuff…

Anyway, a byproduct of that temporary glitch was that I started looking into getting Linux working again.  I say again, it wasn’t actually broken before.  I had installed Ubuntu 6.10 Edgy on the PC over a year ago and never really used it because I couldn’t get it to recognise the wireless dongle I had.  However, having got Windows back online with a CAT5 cable I decided to see if I could persuade Ubuntu to go online too.  And that’s proved to be a mammoth operation, and I’ve got little work done today so far.

The first hurdle was to get Ubuntu to use the ethernet connection to access the internet.  Now, I wouldn’t call myself a hard-core geek.  Maybe a soft-core geek.  Whichever, I have never really played with Linux much before, and it’s all still rather foreign to me.  Last time I tried to get it online I spent ages looking through forums randomly typing commands into the terminal to try to get it to do things, and had no idea what any of the commands were.  I have a feeling that probably contributed to the difficulty I had today trying to reverse whatever it was I did last time, which I’ve completely forgotten.

In the end I think I managed to completely remove the wireless driver and all reference to there being a way onto the net via a wireless network.  I think.  A little more tweaking and gentle prodding finally yielded some positive results – Firefox jumped into life and started showing web pages!  Hoorah!!

Of course, that wasn’t quite enough.  6.10 Edgy is actually quite old now, and I needed to upgrade to the latest distribution.  Now, on most other operating systems this means buying the install CDs and either wiping your hard disk and starting afresh or upgrading your old system to the new one.  But because Linux is open-source it’s all free to download.  It’s like upgrading from Windows XP to Vista over the internet, or even Mac OS X Tiger to Leopard.  It’s a pretty hefty operation.  And it wasn’t working.

Ubuntu has a clever little system for installing software.  Rather than going to the provider’s web site and downloading an install program, all the available software is available from a central list, and you just click it to install it.  Ubuntu takes care of giving you the most up to date list of programs, downloading all the files needed for the software and installing it for you.  Nice.  Except that for that to work it needs to know where to look to find all these programs, and that’s what wasn’t working for me.  Neither could it upgrade the main Ubuntu installation, because none of the upgrade files appeared to exist online for it to refer to.  I would type in ‘sudo apt-get upgrade’ and it would complain that all the files it was looking for were not there – all of them gave a 404 error.  A quick check in Firefox showed that it wasn’t lying – the files really weren’t in the place it was looking.

After a lot of searching on various forums I found that the Edgy files had been taken off the servers because it was old and not supported any more.  That makes sense I suppose.  And after all, I didn’t want to upgrade to Edgy, because that’s what I already had.  I wanted to upgrade to Feisty, which is the latest release at the moment.  Finally I found someone telling me that to upgrade to Feisty I needed to change the locations in /etc/apt/sources.list to point to Feisty instead of Edgy.  Sounds simple?  Yeah, I thought that too.  I did manage to find someone’s blog post that went through it step by step though, giving the process of updating the sources.list file, so I did that.

Thankfully at that point it all started to work.  Or at the very least appear to work.  The apt-get update command found all the files it was looking for, and going back into the System Updates screen showed a whole list of updates that weren’t being shown before.  To begin with it tried to persuade me that I needed to upgrade to 6.10 Edgy, which was actually what I already had, so I cancelled that and went back and told it to upgrade to 7.04 Feisty.  Right now it’s downloading all the files, which is all very positive.  It hasn’t complained so far, it’s found all the source files it needs, and it’s connected to the internet.  Good stuff.  Whether it finishes the installation without any problem is another matter, but since the whole process could take a couple of hours I’ve got time to spare.

This all begs the question – “why do I need Linux?”  Am I turning into a geek?  Well, not really, because I was already almost a geek.  Almost.  I still wouldn’t call myself a geek really, not in the truly geeky sense.  I still have no idea what most of the commands are that I’ve been typing in, nor what their effect has been.  And it’s not like Ubuntu is going to become my primary operating system either, because it’s on the wrong computer.  If I installed it on my Mac it might be a different matter, but then I wouldn’t be using my Mac.  I like my Mac.  It’s fun.  In all honesty Ubuntu (if it works) will probably only get used for testing purposes so I can check that web sites look all right on Linux machines.  The plan will be to set up a VNC server on it so I can remote desktop into it from my Mac.

There is one quirky little thing about Linux I just find hilarious though, and that’s the command ‘sudo’.  I’ve no idea what it’s meant to mean, but as far as I can tell its main function is to override various security measures.  For instance, if I wanted to edit a system file it wouldn’t let me, unless I sudo it.  It’s like the following conversation between me and Ubuntu:

“Do something.”

“Hah, no chance.”

“Sudo do something.”

“Oh, all right then.”


Phill · 18 September 2008 at 3:17 pm

[Re: Sudo — Obligatory XKCD Reference:

Sudo is basically a way of running commands as someone else – in this case, the root (admin) user. In Ubuntu, by default the root user does not have a password, preventing anyone from logging in as root (so no-one can actually hack your computer as root).

So, when you need to run a command as the root user, instead of logging in as root you can just run ‘sudo’.

To be honest, Matthew, I think it would have been better for you if you’d blitzed your old Linux installation and started afresh. A lot has changed since Edgy!

I’d suggest simply downloading the latest CD and installing from that, rather than try to upgrade each package over the ‘net.

I don’t think you’d done much with your installation to start off with so blitzing it and reinstallation wouldn’t be much of an issue!

Matthew · 18 September 2008 at 6:59 pm

Yes Phill, I think you may well be right. In fact, the more I poke around the more likely it is that a complete reinstall is still the best option. Having spent all day upgrading 6.10 to 7.04 the update manager is now telling me that I can upgrade again to 7.10, but the Ubuntu web site tells me that the latest distribution is 8.04. I’m certainly not planning on waiting around while it upgrades itself a further two times!!

Time to burn myself another CD then…

Hertzsprung · 8 October 2008 at 8:11 pm

Feisty’s a little old now, though it’s what I use, and I’m wussy about doing full version upgrades (because I’ve never done one that hasn’t broken). Gutsy Gibbon and Hardy Heron have since come out, and Intrepid’s release is imminent as well 😉

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