a view into the sordid life i lead

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Ubuntu woes and wins

Ok, my ubuntu install florked on me a week back. The Xserver died with a "bus error". The fact that I'm running on an AMD64 with an ATI Radeon X600 video adapter may have had something to do with it, or the fact that i installed a whole bunch of crap.

Anyway, I'm treating it as a learning experience, and documenting some of the stuff that I forgot to earlier (obviously because it's going to happen again and I'd rather not spend this much time again). I have a Synaptic USB wireless dongle. It cost $20 bucks 3 years ago, and still functions beautifully. The fact that my computer is 40 ft from my router/cable modem makes it almost necessary, until I get down to the CAT5 wiring that I've been putting off in my house. Anyway, getting the wireless USB thingie to work was (I vaguely recall) quite easy with my first Ubuntu install. But given that I'm essentially a doddering, senile 34 year-old, I've completely forgotten how I got it working. Thank the blue 4-armed Gods that Google exists, and I can type something like "ubuntu wireless usb dongle configure" and get a list of places that might give me something vaguely related to information I'm looking for!

The exact steps to my new install and getting everything working:

  1. Re-install Ubuntu. The install process was hampered by the fact that I already had an installation. The weird thing is that X again barfed on me. So ...
  2. "sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg" to set the video driver to VESA instead of the automatically detected ATI. There was something a bit goofy with the keyboard configuration, which caused pagedown and any of the arrows to register as a space or enter (i.e., the default button was selected by pressing them). So, reboot, re-run the reconfigurator, and back to the xserver configuration window. This time, instead of using the arrow keys to select the video driver, I hit "v", and got to VESA. Whoopie. Select the defaults for all the other q's and dropped back to shell. Run "startx", and we're in business. I'll have to download the ATI proprietary driver later (see further down).
  3. The fact that the wireless USB dongle is not detected right off is a bit of a pain, since I need to install all the updates, get the wireless drivers, etc. But thanks to my wife's trusty Powerbook, I can share the wireless connection through ethernet with 3 clicks. Man the Apple guys did a good job on OSX. Ubuntu is a distant second to the ease of configurability of OSX. I love OSX, but that's a fetish story for another episode.
  4. Weirdly, just plugging in the ethernet cable did not get the connection going. But a simple "ifdown eth0" followed by an "ifup eth0" went out and got a DHCP address from the Mac and I could ping google.
  5. Security first. I figured that running the system update would be the wisest thing to do before installing any drivers of any sort, since things might get overwritten. So, on to 160 packages of Software Updates (which equates to a cup of chai, some boingboing, some and some, or 35 minutes). Interestingly, the majority of the time was occupied with OpenOffice updates. Remind me to uncheck those in future when time is of the essence!!! With so much surgery it's probably best to reboot (yeah, it tells you that you should, but *I'm* telling you, so shut up and reboot, ok?! sheesh!)
  6. Next step, get the right repositories for the easy update stuff (automatix, easy-ubuntu, etc.). Automatix is first, since it does a boatload more. So, do the stuff at
    # sudo vim /etc/apt/sources.list
    add "deb dapper main"
    get, install and verify the public keys for automatix
    # sudo apt-get update
    # sudo apt-get install automatix
  7. Now we actually want the stuff that automatix is peddling, so:
    # automatix
    The "don't install libdvd-css" stuff I ignore. I'll probably have the FBI, CIA, RIAA and MPAA all knocking on my door, but heck, I need to be able to rip my DVDs damn-it!!!
    Automatix is pretty cool and, as the name suggests, automatic. Just does it's thing with little user intervention: only asks for what it should install in a nice GUI. The best part is that it's AMD64 compatible right off, so the initial pain that I had of finding the right repositories, installing each module, finding out that 64-bit dependencies were missing, recompiling, and head-bashing is gone. They really should provide automatix as part of the standard Ubuntu install, or at least provide it as a download! There's a project called aptoncd, which is still under development, but does show a lot of promise. Hopefully it'll be released soon, since it's a pain to do all this via downloads every time!
  8. So, what to install. I don't need the PPP stuff (no dial-up in quite a while), or MSN stuff, or Swift (browser). But everything else is a check. This is a lot of stuff to be installed, and this means some more surfing, twiddling, and general mucking about. At least it does not require much thinking. The ongoing display in automatix is nice tho' - it tells you what it's doing and gives you a ncurses progress-bar. The fonts package is HUGE (32MB), and may be something that you opt out of initially. You can install it later by re-invoking automatix. But then again, so is the Sun Java stuff (22MB), and that's basically essential.
    Automatix takes some time. Ok, it takes a lot of time. I had lunch and had a long chat in the time it took for the install to complete (more than 90 minutes). This is why a downloadable automatix with all packages would be very nice.
    A few potential problems to deal with:
    The DVD Codecs did not load for me. The message I got was "try again later". Ok, I will.
  9. Once Automatix has done its thing, install EasyUbuntu. This is for the stuff that Automatix left out: ATI/nVidia configuration is tops on the list for me. Installation details are on the EasyUbuntu site. The thing about the ATI driver is that even after it's installed (and it could be installed by getting the ATI drivers directly from you need to run the aticonfig script (I spent 3 hours rebooting and changing xorg.conf like a moron when all I needed was the following one liner). So, after installation, run
    # sudo aticonfig --initial --input=/etc/X11/xorg.conf
    And that does everything necessary. It's worth looking at the xorg.conf file to see exactly what the difference is. Essentially the original VESA driver flags are retained, but the installer adds a list of aticonfig-xxx entries for Devices, Screen, and Monitor.
    A reboot is necessary for the ATI drivers to come online.
  10. There are still commonly used apps out there that are just not 64-bit ready. Most importantly Flashplayer (for youtube, google video, yahoo video, porn, etc.), and Skype (for screwing the telephone company). To use these apps, there's a need to do a linux32 workaround - essentially running the 32-bit applications via the linux32 stack, instead of the default linux64 stack. Ubuntu provides (automatix installs) linux32, which can be run as:
    # linux32 ./firefox32
    Automatix appears to do most of this, but firefox32 is still something that needs to be installed manually. Here's a helpful site to deal with the 32bit apps running on AMD64
  11. There's a list of apps that are installed by Automatix that may or may not be worth your while. There's a wonderful list at list called Essentials, 2006 Edition (which I think I've blogged about before). I wish Automatix provided a way to configure the list of applications to install. This would provide a way for different people around the world to create their "perfect Ubuntu" lists. So, get DemocracyPlayer, KTorrent, and K9Copy. Takes some time since the KDE libs have to be installed. A bit of a pain since there really should be gnome equivalent apps that run just as well, but there aren't. Just live with it!
  12. Ok, now back to the wireless USB dongle issue. The Synaptic dongle uses the Prism chipset, so the Linux wireless drivers work just fine and dandy. The linux-wlan-ng driver is essential, and installed via
    # sudo apt-get install linux-wlan-ng
    This will install the drivers and create the /etc/wlan directory. The wlan.conf file provides options for the SSID for the specific interface (wlan0 in my case). The wlancfg-<ssid> file needs to be copied from the wlancfg-DEFAULT file. I'm just providing this as information - nothing really needs to be changed right now.
  13. As with any driver install and major update, it's best to reboot the system. After reboot, the wireless interface shows up in the System->Administration->Networking applet.
  14. The default configuration for the interface appears to be to put it in Ad-Hoc mode. The Networking applet does not appear to allow changing the interface type If the DHCP address is not retrieved, check what iwconfig returns, and make sure the interface is in Managed (and not Ad-Hoc) mode. The configuration file is /etc/wlan/* or /etc/network/interfaces.

Ok, by this time I've spent half my day. It's a pain in the ass, and totally unweildy for a newbie (even though I have a fair amount of comfort with the kernel, rebuilding modules, etc., etc.,). Ubuntu is beautiful, but I wonder if this much pain is warranted (why is it that OSX is not the model that we strive for, and instead Windoze is the bar?!).

Ok, regardless of all this ranting it's still the most rewarding thing to get the Ubuntu box running smoothly. Comparing it to my WinXP install, it's a hell of a lot more work and time. But at the end of it I have a LOT more useful stuff on my machine than WinXP with the same effort (and probably more money).

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