Saturday, 22 March 2008

Ubuntu upgrade

No sooner is Ubuntu up and running than I spy that the beta of Hardy Heron is available. I've finally got a nice stable system, I've found all the bits and pieces I need, I've customised it just nicely. There's no point in upgrading for the sake of it, is there? Errm, well yes actually, there is - because I can!

Thankfully, Ubuntu's update manager works pretty seamlessly - select your updates, click install, away it goes. For anyone not familiar with Linux, installation of software is (by default, at least) from centralised Ubuntu package servers, which means a) no hunting round the net for compatible downloads, and b) a damn big download pipe. It's one of the few places on the net where I actually get some use out the bandwidth I pay for. For Hardy, the total download was around 780MB, taking a mere 20 minutes. It wasn't all that long ago when I'd wait that long for a single MP3. The installation itself was pretty straightforward too - should the distribution be about to overwrite config files that you may have changed manually, it'll pop up a window allowing you to do a diff and check out the differences, then either accept one of the versions or try and do a merge. An hour or so later, Hardy is installed and ready to go.

Admittedly there's nothing incredibly exciting about Hardy, the most noticeable change for me being the inclusion of Firefox 3 beta 4 as standard. This is a pretty bold move by Ubuntu - unfortunate in that a significant number of my add-ons (Foxmarks, Gmail Manager, All-in-One gestures) aren't yet compatible. However, Hardy does also bring with it a new Screen Resolution app, which may go some way to assuaging my complaints about getting the basics right. It's nice to know that the Ubuntu community is taking my opinions seriously.

The worst sin commited was the sudden non-workiness of the good old wireless card, and the fact that the ndiswrapper solution that did the job last time failed to revive it. With a bit more poking around, I resorted to retrying the kernel's b43 restricted driver and b43-fwcutter package, which also didn't work until I downloaded the updated 4.80 firmware from Suddenly, a flash of light and the wireless card is on. Hooray! Unfortunately though, still no actual sign of a network connection, with ifup reporting errors whenever I tried to bring up eth1. In a wireless-less mire, and sick of going over the same web pages, I was about to give up when a random webpage pointed me at using dmesg to examine the kernel ring buffer. This threw up a whole lot of interesting information, showing that the wireless card was being seen but also being disabled. It also included a helpful line that pointed out that there was still a need to actually press the button on the front of the laptop to enable the wireless. Despite the light already being on, I thought there was no harm in it - and whaddya know, wireless, pure sweet digital-air goodness. As an added bonus, it also appears to be rock-steady, certainly a lot more stable than it was under Gutsy (or Windows for that matter).

Today's last deposit into the bin of knowledge - another thing that stopped working was my configuration for tapping the corners of the touchpad to go back/forward when browsing. I had the synaptics driver set up (in /etc/X11/xorg.conf) to send events 6 and 7 from those taps, which worked with Gutsy. The simple, but ultimately confusing, solution under Hardy was to change this to events 8 and 9. Ours is not to reason why, but it works.

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