Skip to main content

Ubuntu 7.04 Alpha 5+ - Updating experiences

I'm writing about how Ubuntu handled an automatic update the week of March 5, 2007. These days the process of keeping your system up to date has evolved considerably so that it is very easy to stay current with fixes and security updates. Essentially your distribution runs a background process with an associated desktop applet that keeps tabs on any updates to your distribution, and alerts you when updates are available. You can then determine if you wish to install them or not. The most important reason for having this feature is security upgrades. Windows in particular has made the importance of this feature quite clear over the years.

Upgrading is not always straight forward. Again, Windows proves the point, most notably with XP SP2. Many IT shops refused to push out SP2 because it broke one or more key internal applications. As an example of this, up until mid-2005, when I still worked for SAIC, SAIC refused to fully install SP2 (although, oddly enough, Lockheed/Martin, to whom SAIC served as a subcontractor on a major program, had no such issues and installed it on all their machines).

Linux distributions have also had upgrade issues along the way. In Ubuntu's case there is the notable failure during an upgrade of xorg.core in Ubuntu 6.06 that broke the X desktop. The disruption was limited in scope and a solution quickly provided. I've not heard or read of anything of that magnitude since. But the ghost of that incident was briefly resurrected last week when I attempted to update a number of packages, three of them related to the X windowing system.

Early last week Update Manager presented 17 new updates, three of them related to X11: x11-common, xorg, and xserver-xorg. These updates were trying to repair the following problem: "revert the "fix" to validate_nice_value, which in fact broke it completely." I was able to install all the packages except those three. When the update manager attempted to update x11-common, the following dialog was displayed.

There was no way to satisfy the dialog. No way to change the value, to move forward. If you canceled the dialog, it resulted in the update being aborted, as shown below. I was never able to install the packages.

Patience, especially in testing, is a virtue. I waited for the solution to be pushed out to the update servers. By Friday the files had been removed, and a new major update was made available (with 149 new updates to existing packages). Fortunately, the update problem was such that the flawed packages would not even install. Regardless, this incident raises in my mind issues of quality control and process. The X subsystem can't be rendered inoperative because of an update mistake, especially for novice users.

All Linux distributions, because they depend upon X, suffer from the same problem; if X fails, there is no other way to correct the problem except from the command line. For seasoned users this is not so much a problem as an aggravation. For novice users or users not used to the command line, this is a real show-stopping problem. I've had similar issues with Suse 10.1 and 10.2, where my dependence on nVidia and ATI video driver kernel modules causes X to crash when the kernel is updated and the video driver module is no longer available on reboot.

I know what to do when this problem occurs, but I said it then and I'll say it now: X needs a fall-back video mode built into the X server that it uses if it fails to successfully boot based on xorg.conf values. Canonical dreams of 'selling' Ubuntu to novice and non-Linux-technically savvy users. Until Ubuntu addresses this issue, it will never be ready for those types of users. Ubuntu needs to be resilient and to degrade, not to be fragile and crash. And in the mean time, folks need to find out what happened (again) with the process producing X updates.


  1. They're working on it :) See:


Post a Comment

All comments are checked. Comment SPAM will be blocked and deleted.

Popular posts from this blog

cat-in-a-box channels greta garbo

So I'm sitting at my computer, when I start to notice a racket in back. I ignore it for a while until I hear a load "thump!", as if something had been dropped on the floor, followed by a lot of loud rattling. I turn around and see Lucy in the box just having a grand old time, rolling around and rattling that box a good one. I grab the GX1 and snap a few shots before she notices me and the camera, then leaps out and back into her chair (which used to be my chair before she decided it was her chair).

Just like caring for Katie my black Lab taught me about dogs, caring for Lucy is teaching me about cats. She finds me fascinating, as I do her. And she expresses great affection and love toward me without coaxing. I try to return the affection and love, but she is a cat, and she takes a bat at me on occasion, although I think that's just her being playful. She always has her claws in when she does that.

She sits next to me during the evening in her chair while I sit in mi…

vm networking problem fixed

Over the weekend I upgraded to Windows 8.1, then discovered that networking for the virtual machines wouldn't work. Then I tried something incredibly simple and fixed the problem.

Checking the system I noticed that three VMware Windows services weren't running; VMnetDHCP, VMUSBArbService, and VMwareNatService. VMware Player allows you to install, remove, or fix an existing installation. I chose to try fixing the installation, and that fixed the problem. The services were re-installed/restarted, and the virtual machines had networking again.

Once network connectivity was established there was exactly one updated file for Ubuntu 13.10, a data file. This underscores how solid and finished the release was this time. Every other version of every other Linux installation I've ever dealt with has always been succeeded by boatloads of updates after the initial installation. But not this time.

Everything is working properly on my notebook. All's right with the world.

sony's pivotal mirrorless move

I'm a died-in-the-wool technologist, even when it comes to photography. I have always been fascinated with the technology that goes into manufacturing any camera, from the lenses (optics) through the mechanical construction, the electronics involved, and especially the chemistry of the film and the sophistication of the digital sensor. It's amazing that the camera can do all it's asked of it, regardless of manufacturer.

Of all the types of cameras that I've really taken an interest in, contemporary mirrorless (again, regardless of manufacturer) are the most interesting because of the challenging problems the scientists and engineers have had to solve in order to build a compact but highly functional camera. In particular I've followed the sensor advances over the years and watched image quality climb (especially with μ4:3rds) to exceed film and rival one another such that there's very little difference any more as you move from the smaller sensors such as 4:3r…