Geertjan's Blog

  • August 4, 2010

Recent Experiences with Ubuntu

Geertjan Wielenga
Product Manager
I have been an avid user of Ubuntu for a few years now, (here's a list of blogs I wrote about my experiences with Ubuntu). Over the last few weeks, I managed to experience both the very best and the very worst of what it means to be an Ubuntu user.

It all started when my Hardy Heron (8.04) installation became increasingly sluggish. But then, you never know what the reason is for sluggishness, i.e., especially browser usage, typing something in the browser window and then needing to wait for the letters to be rendered. So I upgraded to what I thought was the next release, Jaunty Jackalope (9.04). The first massive problem was that I simply could not get Internet to work. That was a frustrating time, covering several hours, into the night as well, desperately trying to figure things out. Eventually everything worked OK, i.e., I managed to connect to wireless, etc, which had not been possible before that. No idea why it didn't work and no idea why it ended up working, since I tried dozens of different (occasionally conflicting) solutions found on-line. In the end, I followed some instruction telling me to remove the Network Manager and configure everything from the command line, which is what made it all work, I think.

Then... suddenly, a week or so later, I experienced a massive hard disk crash. Couldn't even restart the system, file system checking began at some point, then stopped at 65% (which took about 20 minutes to get to each time, sigh), then switched to the command line, which basically is the Ubuntu way of saying: "Good luck, buddy." Desperation ensued. Was all my data destroyed for all eternity? (Interestingly, the only thing I cared enough about to save was the IntelliJ plugin I've been working on, since everything else is backed up on one or more of several servers.) Still, big inconvenience.

The worst of it was, I couldn't start up the system at all. And my knowledge of the innards of Linux is not very large, so I feared making things even worse than they were. Plus, I had sessions and trainings to deliver which, without a laptop, would mean... puppets and mime as the cornerstone of my presentations, maybe. Well, something had to be done.

Then I discovered something called "Ubuntu Steunpunt" in Holland/Belgium. "Steunpunt" means "support". Ubuntu Steunpunt are a group of volunteers who are spread all over the Dutch/Belgian map, so you can find the closest ones and contact them. I did that, to three local addresses I found, all of them responded, over the next few days. The first of the three phoned me up in a matter of hours and told me I should simply reinstall Ubuntu. Probably I'd then be able to save my data. But I had no installation disk! But the volunteer support guy did, so I caught the bus to his (remember, random stranger) place, he gave me the disk, plus we rode into town to buy an external hard disk so I could back up all my data (which I did, successfully), after which he stepped me through the installation process and everything else related to it. I took up about half his Saturday, while the other two (remember, volunteers) also offered to provide me with an installation disk if I stopped by to pick it up.

So, that's the worst and the best of Ubuntu—when things go really wrong, Ubuntu really isn't a consumer product. It's then, suddenly, a very technical product that you need deep knowledge to fix. Reinstallation isn't automatically the first thing one thinks (or even should think) of, at which point anything you do potentially worsens the problem. That's the worst of it. The best of it is the volunteer support groups out there, who exist in real life beyond the mailing lists. Plus, there's someone out there I met who I now owe a beer for all the great help he provided! And now I am using the latest version of Ubuntu, 10.04, Lucid Lynx, which is going very well indeed, so far...

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Comments ( 7 )
  • guest Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    "when things go really wrong, Ubuntu really isn't a consumer product..."

    Well, what operating system is a friendly consumer product which is easy for the average person to fix when things go really wrong? I'll be sure to recommend it to friends and family next time their computers give them trouble and they call me for Windows or Mac support :-)

  • Paulo Pinheiro Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    I had some issues with Ubuntu also. Once I made an upgrade and after that suddenly my hard disk would not work properly with the kernel any more. Took some time to get that the problem was with the IDE cable. But the explanation was not so obvious: the previous version probably didn't miss some of the broken channels on the flat cable. The new one did.

    In other occasions I saw the command line too. But let's be fair: it is very better than seeing the beautiful BSD (Blue Screen of Death). At least you may have a friend or volunteer to tell you what to do (if you don't know already). Always better than having nothing you could do than pray.

    Perhaps the only Windows advantage about fixing a problem is with restoring your system. But does it always work for you? I work with IT and only few times that was enough.

    Paulo Pinheiro - Brasil

  • Pierre Sugar Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    I luckily never had problems that bad. I switched to Suse Linux about 10 years ago. Than I discovered Ubuntu about 3 years ago. I only once had a crash of my file system but could fix via console and the help of internet blogs (viewing on the laptop of my wife). Nevertheless I am still thrilled about Ubuntu because of the system itself the applications available and the Ubuntu community that is as you experienced very co-operative and helped me solve any small and bigger problems. And finally Netbeans works like a charm on Ubuntu.

  • Antonio Thursday, August 5, 2010

    If you travel a lot with your laptop you may want to purchase an SSD disk, as it supports shocks and movement. Otherwise the surface of your hard disk may get scratched and stop working.

    I bought a Kingston SSDNow 128Gb a few months ago and I'm quite happy with it.



  • NicolasDumoulin Thursday, August 5, 2010

    I guess you had installed your ubuntu on only one partition. A better method is to create an separated partition for /home during the installation. With this partitioned disk, you can safely reinstall your system in case of crash (I've always a usb stick ready to boot with my current kubuntu version).

    My second preferred tip is to have two installations at the same time on my computer. I install the new version on the second system partition. For concluding, my partition table looks like:

    /dev/sda1 kubuntu current

    /dev/sda2 kubuntu new/test

    /dev/sda3 swap

    /dev/sad4 home

    Windows users use the same method in case of problem, they reinstall their system. But, as the system is not well designed, their configuration is lost. The real home directory of Gnu/Linux system on a separated partition can save you a lot of time.

  • Dominique De Vito Thursday, August 5, 2010

    While reading your post, I have seen the Ubuntu support organized like a kind of geolocalized social network ;-) !

    imho, beyond Ubuntu, a geolocalized social network, mentionning the different kinds of open source support around the requester, could be a great plus for open source adoption. Then, the adoption would be even more viral...

  • SWPalmer Thursday, August 5, 2010

    Of course with Linux things go \*really\* wrong about 50% of the time I need to install some software from source code - because the repository for the distro is so out of date (e.g. subversion seems to be always a year old or something)...

    If you ever find yourself typing "configure" on the command line then get ready for hell :-)

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