Upgrading to Gutsy

It's that time again. Ubuntu 7.10, code named "Gutsy Gibbon" came out last week, and so it was time for me to upgrade all my systems. So here is my report.

In the past, Ubuntu upgrades have been a pretty hit and miss process. Earlier releases involved manually editing your sources.list file and running apt-get commands in a particular order. The last upgrade, however, was a much less painful procedure, and this one followed in its steps. However, it still wasn't nearly as seemless a process as I would have liked.

Currently I have 4 machines running Kubuntu Linux: my home desktop, Sarah's desktop, my laptop, and my work desktop. So far I have upgraded my home and work desktop and done a clean install on my laptop. Sarah's desktop will also be a clean install when I get around to it, because she's still on release 6.06, which can't be upgraded directly.

First, I'll start with the good news. I experienced no hardware problems whatsoever when upgrading. Everything "just worked" after the upgrade. This was no surprise on my home desktop, which is now using a wired LAN connection and has no exotic hardware. It wasn't a big surprise on my work desktop either, as the only weird hardware that has is the tri-head display setup, the configuration for which should have carried over from before the upgrade. With my laptop, however, I was pleased to discover that the integrated Broadcom card now works without NDISwrapper. Kubuntu's new restricted driver manager allowed me to automatically download and install the binary firmware the card needed to run, and after that it worked perfectly. The process was entirely graphical and consisted of just a few clicks. No fuss, no muss!

Now the bad news. While the laptop install was pretty smooth, the desktop upgrades weren't that great. My home desktop just had a slight hicough, as the installer bombed out after complaining that it couldn't verify the gutsy-security repository. This was easily fixed by commenting that repository out of my sources.list and re-running the upgrade. After that, the only problem was that the entire process was really slow and required sporadic user interaction. That part actually caused the upgrade to drag out over the entire day, as I would answer one prompt, go away for two hours, come back to another, and so forth. However, it wasn't as bad as the last upgrade.

My work desktop, on the other hand, was a huge pain. The system functioned properly once I was done, but it was way harder than it should have been. But on the up side, the dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and gigabit LAN with a fiber connection made things pretty fast.

Basically, my problem was that the upgrade tool just kept crashing and hanging. For instance, I had to kill it after it spent over half an hour configuring an OpenOffice package. This might have been due to our internet connection going down briefly, but it's hard to say for sure, as I the upgrade tool wouldn't give me any terminal output at that point. After that, I had another, similar, hang, followed by several crashes. The one crash which kept recurring turned out to be caused by the mono-xsp package. Apparently, when the install script tried to shut down the service, the xsp script in /etc/init.d was bombing out with an invalid file descriptor error. This, in turn, was killing Adept. To cut a long the story short, I forced the upgrade on xsp, ran dpkg --configure -a a few times, and everything was eventually fixed. But it was an ugly, command-line intensive process.

Going back to the brighter side, I'm liking Kubuntu Gutsy so far. It's not a radical departure from Feisty, but the changes I've seen so far are nice. I've already mentioned the restricted driver manager, which is great. The boot time seems to have dropped noticably as well. They've also switched from Konqueror to Dolphin as the default file manager. I didn't care for Dolphin when I had tried it in the past, but it's starting to grow on me. It has the features I use on a regular basis and is certainly less complicated than Konqueror.

Another little nicety is that they've moved to a KDM theme with a user list. I believe that, in the past, KDM themes didn't work correctly with user lists, but it seems that that's no longer a problem. I always liked that feature - it just makes the login a little more personal, I think, what with the little avatars and such. It will also be nice for when I migrate my mother's system from Xandros 3.0 (hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time) to Kubuntu. Having a list of usernames means one less thing to remember.

Lastly, I see that they've added Strigi as the default desktop search engine. I don't have any experience with Strigi, but I have had some not-so-great experiences with Beagle. In particular, it has a tendency to just hammer your system, sometimes causing serious drag. It also generates pretty large indexes. I've read that Strigi is supposed to fix both of those problems, but haven't used it long enough to say for sure.

The one problem I have with Strigi is the user interface. To call it "spartan" would be an understatement. It's a browser-based interface that makes Google's front page look lavish. Honestly, it feels like the UI is an afterthought. Compare this to Kerry Beagle, which is simple to use, but very pretty and very functional. Hopefully there's a Strigi front-end someplace that's comparable.

So, to summarize, Kubuntu keeps getting better. It's evolution is gradual, but visible. We'be certainly come a long way from release 5.10, which I thought was pretty good at the time. Now if only KDE 4 was done....

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