Friday, 27 March 2009

Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope - First Impressions and problems

I've had a bit of a love / hate relationship with Ubuntu in the year that I've been using it as my main desktop.

The big problem for me has been the fact that the via_pata driver that they insist on using isn't reliable on my hardware, causing random lock-ups. Not nice that, and certainly not what I expect from Linux.

I've managed to get around it by using an older 2.6 kernel that was patched to use the original via82cxxx module, which is a less than satisfactory solution really (and yes, I'm already using 80 wire IDE cables thank you very much).

With all this in mind it was with some trepidation that I took the plunge and upgraded to the new Ubuntu 9.04 beta. If you want to do this, then simply run update-manager -d and follow the on-screen prompts to upgrade.

The upgrade itself was (as usual) painless, although it did take about two hours for the download / upgrade process to complete. Once the upgrade was complete I rebooted and. . . .

I was faced with a nice, shiny KDE 4.2.1 desktop. There was a problem though, which I discovered about ten seconds after launching Amarok and trying to update my collection. Yes folks, the system locked solid. Trying to launch the old version of the kernel left me without a graphical desktop, so back into the latest kernel and a second attempt to update my MP3s in Amarok - followed by a system lock after a few seconds.

I should be able to get around this problem by recompiling the kernel to allow me to revert to the original via drivers (like I've got the time for this shit. . .). As a last resort (and after consulting my good friend Google) I've added "defoptions=all-generic-ide" to /boot/grub/menu.lst and restarted, which so far seems to have done the trick as I've been able to update my collection without any locks.

I'm going to have to see how well the system holds up. If this sorts it then great, but if not then I'll have to look using a different Linux distro.

. . .

As it turns out this didn't sort the problem at all. Spooling a video to my XBox caused the system to lock solid - so onto Plan B - recompiling the kernel.

There are some pretty straight-forward instructions here on how to recompile the kernel for Ubuntu. One thing that shocked me is just how long it takes to recompile the Ubuntu way. With Slackware compiling a kernel took less than an hour, with Ubuntu? I gave up waiting after a couple of hours. God only knows what it is doing, but it is certainly taking its time about it.

Adding in support for the old via82cxxx module is reasonably straight-forward, and after the compile had finished I installed the new modules, checked the blacklist to make sure that the pata_via module wasn't going to load, rebooted and. . .

No difference. Running lsmod didn't show pata_via, but it also didn't show via82cxx. In fact, I couldn't see any modules relating to the IDE drives. Checking /proc/bus/pci/devices shows that pata_via has actually been loaded. What?

Checking back through the kernel configuration shows why - they've compiled support for pata_via directly into the kernel rather than as a module. Bastards!

After setting it back to being a module (rassen frassen Ubuntu) I did a clean recompile as per the Ubuntu instructions. So now I'm going to spend the morning waiting for the compile to complete, and hoping that the PC doesn't lock up in the meantime.

Fun, I don't think.

*** Three hours later ***

OK, so I've recompiled the kernel, reinstalled it and rebooted and yes! We are no-longer using pata_via, the drive names have reverted from SDxx to HDxx, and hopefully that should be it for the lock-ups.

If (like me) you are using the NVidia drivers then you will also need to recompile the Ubuntu restricted drivers.

One further problem was that the kernel package I'd created never seemed to complete installing (even though it was added to the grub menu and I could boot the system using it). After a fair bit of faffing around I traced the problem to the file /etc/kernel/postinst.d/nvidia-common throwing errors due to the new kernel. To get around this I removed the nvidia-common package, at which point the custom kernel completed installing without any errors, then I re-installed nvidia-common. Easy when you know how. . .

So, what's new? Faster start-ups, at least it seems faster to me. A new notification system (for Gnome at any rate), updated apps, 2.6.28 based Kernel and an awful lot more "polish" to the desktop experience. Oh, and the splash screen is slightly different too.

For those of us using KDE we now get KDE 4.2.1 - which is a seriously nice upgrade to the KDE4 series. One bone of contention over the past couple of years is that Ubuntu's tools tended to be better integrated into Gnome than KDE - but this time round I'd say that both desktops are on an equal footing - and personally I'd say that KDE4 may even have a bit of an edge.

I've been so impressed with the latest release that I've upgraded my Toshiba Satellite Pro from Ubuntu 8.04 to 9.04. This has been, shall we say a time consuming exercise. Firstly I had to upgrade to 8.10 and from there to 9.04. Each upgrade took around four hours.

Upgrading to 8.10 was fine, everything worked without problems, however upgrading to 9.04 killed knetworkmanager. The program launches, sees the local wireless network but won't connect. As the network connection still worked from Gnome I had a search around and found that yes, knetworkmanager is stuffed on the latest KDE.

I finally got the wireless network running from the network pane of the Systems Settings.

One further bonus is that 3D acceleration now works on the laptop's Trident Cyberblade/XP card. It isn't fast, I'll admit, but at least it now works.


Anonymous said...

I have been trying to upgrade to
Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope on my Toshiba Satellite Pro, but I can get it to show a screen resolution above 800x600. Any ideas?

Dennis said...

@Anonymous - I went around and around over that one myself. I finally discovered that I had told the install to not touch grub's menu.lst so it turned out that I was booting the previous kernel. Do a "uname -a" - do you see the correct kernel version? I didn't, but editing menu.lst fixed it for me.