More ubuntu

I’ve given up on feisty. I’ve blogged several times now about my failure to install it properly. Today I gave it another try and partially succeeded before failing again.

I read somewhere that you can bypass the scanning the mirrors problem by disconnecting the network cable. You see, running ifdown eth0 is not good enough because ubuntu tries to outsmart you with its network manager. It’s becoming more and more like windows. The assumption that the user is a complete idiot now dominates the whole installer. Anyway, unplugging the network forces ubuntu to acknowledge some hard reality.

So I ended up with a bootable ubuntu system this time (misconfigured and all). Great, only the network still didn’t work properly. For some reason some stuff loads in the browser (e.g. google) but most stuff does not. So I was in the weird situation that I could google for my problem, get a lot of hits but unable to access any of them. So I spent the whole morning booting windows and ubuntu repeatedly. Each time in windows I tried to get some answers (no network trouble there) and in linux tried to mess with the ubuntu networking subsystems.

I failed. After the fifth time I just decided not to bother anymore. Obviously ubuntu has some weird bugs in their network layer that I do not encounter with older versions or with windows. From what I googled I learned that there are many unrelated problems related to networking in ubuntu. I now strongly suspect the dns related behaviour of my cable modem is the cause. Replacing the modem might solve my problems. But then again it might not. It’s a motorola cable modem and there is no question about the quality of the firmware being particularly sucky. I have to reboot this sucker quite often and already have decided to never ever buy anything with motorola firmware embedded again. Without a working network, ubuntu is basically not very interesting. Can’t run updates or install software. If anyone has a proper solution, I’d be interested to hear it.

Part two of my misery started when I started messing around with gparted. Basically I removed the linux partitions and then decided to give back the space to the ntfs partition. At this point it started to throw very scary messages at me about my ntfs partition halfway through resizing it. For about 15 minutes I was assuming it had foobarred the partition table (very depressing even though I have back ups). Finally after a reboot the ntfs partition showed up fine in gparted (unmodified) and it even mounted it without being asked (really annoying feature but welcome in this case). Next problem was booting it. I relearned a few lessons about mbr there (fdiks /mbr helped me out a few times when I was playing with slackware ten years ago). Basically the fix in windows xp is running fixmbr from the windows rescue console. Until you do that, you are stuck with a broken grub that points to a deleted partition. For legal reasons (I assume) gparted and grub lack the feature of undoing the damage to the mbr.
It took me about half an hour to figure that out and I’m now running my old windows desktop again.

So I have three conclusions to add to my review a few weeks ago:

  • The networking subsystem has huge compatibility issues that likely affect many users. From what I encountered while googling, I learned that there are many different issues. The fixes I tried didn’t work which suggest that these many issues are different from my specific issue. Not good. The same modem and pc have booted older ubuntu releases (dapper) so it is a regression! My modem is quite common so likely thousands of users are affected.
  • Gparted has some nasty issues and should not be used to resize ntfs partitions. You will risk losing all your data. I guess any partition resizer is better than none but this crap should not be put in front of end users.
  • In this form, ubuntu is guaranteed to cause lots of users to have a very negative introduction to linux.

I will try a future version again. For now, I’ve had enough.

3 Replies to “More ubuntu”

  1. I finally tracked down the network issue: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=395712

    Basically my NIC is a SIS190 that comes with my motherboard. The forum topic is about a guy which more or less exactly has the same problem. Apparently it is a driver issue. There’s several suggested fixes involving patching the driver. I’m not going to even try that.

    BTW: I did manage to get the wireless network working now (impressive given depressing stories of people not getting WIFI to work).

    That means I can try another time and this time get past the installation. I’m planning to do this soon. After install, I hope that an update will get me a newer kernel version. A quick google check revealed that there has been some activity on the driver so maybe my problem has been addressed.

  2. I read all your Ubuntu installation rants and I must say I’m quite amused, especially with this one. Elsewhere, you’re complaining about having to use the command-line, here you’re suddenly accusing network-manager of doing its job. I don’t know where your usability expertise comes from, but unplugging the cable is in my view actually a better choice for users than `ifdown eth0` (at least on laptops where the cable is easily accessible). Elsewhere, you’re expecting the installer to auto-detect everything, here you’re accusing Linux of “becoming more and more like windows.” Elsewhere, you bitch about the lack of ntfs read support, here you complain that ntfs partitions are auto-mounted. Funny, don’t you think?

    It’s time you filed some bug reports and talked to developers. Merely installing Linux to rant about it without using it won’t get you anywhere. $300 video card my ass, have I got a suggestion for you: Why don’t you consider switching to Macs instead of just “drooling over” them in stores and write about the fun you had? Though I don’t promise I’ll read those posts.

    BTW, I use neither Ubuntu nor OSX.

  3. Thanks Andre

    You have to realize that my various Ubuntu reviews are usually several months apart; this one is from May 2007. I’m planning to do another review on the now wubi enabled 8.04 when it comes out. A priori I hope/expect my display to finally work correctly out of the box (recent X changes should address that); the soundcards (yes plural) to be configured correctly and hopefully the kernel to have that a fixed driver for my NIC.

    The problem with the network manager is that it only works in the most basic usecases and becomes an obstacle in more complex ones. In my case it screwed up big time and was basically unusable. That’s not a driver issue but poor UI design. I basically had to fight with it in order for it to use the right network interface and settings.

    That would have been easier with good old fashioned configuration files (though hardly userfriendly). My main gripe with Linux (and admittedly Ubuntu is doing better than average) is that somehow I always find myself on the command line fixing stuff that should have just worked. Whether it’s the sound card, the network or my display (or all three last time I tried), something always goes wrong.

    I’m all for user friendlyness but not for hiding problems & required complexity which seems to be the Ubuntu approach. The provided configuration tools in 7.04 were totally inadequate for fixing display, network and sound card settings. I admit, I tend to whine a bit but the reality is simply that it wasn’t working and it could not be fixed from the supposedly friendly and easy to use UI. That’s relevant information to anyone considering to install Ubuntu.

    This goes against the common linux propaganda that things are OK and ready for ordinary users. Mark Shuttleworth of Ubuntu is much more realistic about this BTW and readily admits in interviews that things are probably not that nice yet outside controlled circumstances where you can control hardware config and have pro sysadmins on standby (like in a corporate deployment).

    Filing bug reports is something I always consider. On the other hand, I know my comments are fairly useless to developers without detailed analysis of what went wrong and the ability to reproduce for them. Basically me filing bugs on the linux kernel would require quite a bit more work from my side (no time and patience for this).

    The reason I haven’t switched to macs yet is that I’m quite happy running my open source apps (eclipse, cygwin, firefox, etc) on windows. At this point the only commercial software dependencies I have left are games. Linux sucks for games and Macs aren’t much better. At best you can sort of run some games at reduced performance.

    BTW. I wasn’t bitching about NTFS showing up but about GParted crashing halfway and presenting me with (incorrect thankfully) messages about it having eaten my partitions. It’s nice that they support NTFS but until they iron out shit like this I would recommend against using this to resize actual partitions with it.

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