Ubuntu 11.04; Quirky install but nice when done

I finally got around to new installs of Ubuntu’s 11.04 Linux distribution (distro). As I have run into every time I have done Linux installs on a few of my systems, some went smoothly and others not so much. As usual, I ran into some issues during and after installs.

Before I get into the details and solutions, let me say that most of the issues related to Linux installs on various hardware nearly always has something to do with hardware drivers. Microsoft does a pretty good job of pre-installing drivers for a wide variety of hardware. Money, a bit of prompting, and manufacturers recognizing the huge user base of Microsoft operating systems means a lot of people want to make sure their hardware works. Unfortunately, Linux distros have a harder time getting hardware manufacturers to get drivers out there that work for these less used operating systems. Perhaps there is always a chance this won’t continue to be the situation, but I have not seen much movement indicating anything significantly different coming our way.

So, I ran into hardware issues on two systems I decided to install onto. One, a Dell Mini-12 with a failing hard drive, I wanted to see if it would even run Ubuntu’s latest before I ever seriously considered finding a replacement drive. The other system is a Lenovo desktop with an aging ATI graphics card.

I went ahead and downloaded the Ubuntu .iso file directly from the Ubuntu site, opened it with a program (Roxio) I have used before to create .iso CD’s on a Windows machine, but made the first mistake in not saving the file. Later, as you will see, this meant downloading the file again. So, first point when you do this, save the file to your desktop or some other location so you can get to it again.

I know… that was just one of those “duh” moments.

The Dell Mini-12′s biggest problem is it does not have an internal CD/DVD drive. As a result, the corded USB drive did not seem to be recognized by Ubuntu’s installer, so I could not proceed any further without another cryptic error message saying the system could not read from the source.

A bit of Googling turned up others that had run into similar problems. Some were successful in simply using a different drive. Not having that option on this miniaturized laptop… perhaps I should say kneetop because it barely spans two legs… I opted to try using a USB thumbdrive. Unfortunately, I let Roxio open the previous downloaded file, made the .iso image file, then close without me ever taking advantage of the option to save the downloaded file. So, I downloaded it one more time and saved it to my desktop. The Ubuntu site does a fair job of explaining how to perform each install variation. The thumb drive method is best done by installing the recommended Universal USB Installer app and letting it set up and create the thumb drive .iso image. For those of you that might want to install a few different distros, keep the Universal USB Installer app saved somewhere convenient so you can use it again. It will work for other distros besides just Ubuntu, letting you easily select the downloaded distro, thumbdrive, then format and install the OS .iso so it is ready to be installed on the system of your choice.

Once that was done, I inserted it into an available USB port on the Dell mini me and rebooted. Within a few seconds, I was greeted by the familiar installer and everything else went smoothly. Really, the only other issue was it would not run Ubuntu’s new interface, Unity, and resorted to the familiar Gnome interface that has been around for awhile now. Personally, I had little problem with not using Unity, though it is at least a nice looking affair.

The Lenovo was a bit of another story. I ran into a few issues. First, I could not get the installer disk to run in that computer either. Okay, another driver issue, or is the disk bad? Well, I don’t care because I already have a thumb drive that worked. So, I installed that and rebooted the system. By the way, on both of these systems I had to choose the boot source. I was able to do this at boot time; Some of you might actually need to change your BIOS settings to get the device to boot first. Otherwise, you will just end up back into you old operating system.

I went ahead and tried out Ubuntu on this system and everything seemed to work just fine… except I did not have a functioning Internet connection. The Tiny Tim machine, well, that connected just fine using my wireless access point. One the other hand, the Lenovo desktop uses an Ethernet connection to a 16 port switch. I seemed to have no connection at all, though it connected just fine using the previous OS, Ubuntu 8.04 LTS.

Here’s another lesson… I wasted a whole bunch of time researching, after a successful installation, how to get the wired Ethernet operational. There was nothing wrong with Ubuntu 11.04′s Network Manager or anything else. All I really needed to do was shut down everything else (yes, switch, router, Windows machine using ICS for the wireless, the wireless access point, and the Lenova box) and bring them back up. The critical order is to bring up the router providing my Internet connection, then the switch, then the Lenovo box with the spanking-new Linux install on it. The switch then automatically assigned resources to the new device (the Lenovo box) and the Ubuntu Network Manager could then see there was an available Internet connection using the wired Ethernet network.

But, oops… All was still not well in Ethernet land. Looking back at my Windows machine, I found out that it no longer had a connection to the Internet. Ultimately, I discovered the problem was not really with Ubuntu, or any other Linux distro, for that matter. It also was not a conflict in actual IP addresses, etc. (at least any that I can actually setup) The connection problem appears to be related to the Wild Blue satellite router that does not seem capable of divvying up bandwidth to more than three devices (It only has one Ethernet port, so a 16-port switch is one option I chose to expand its capabilities). I currently have a Windows machine, a Fedora Linux machine, and a wireless access point all connected successfully to that Ethernet switch. Trying to add another device to the Ethernet connection is a no-go. Yet, I can add anything I want using the wireless access point with little more configuration other than letting the new device know the WAP’s security credentials to logon.

Another issue I was having was setting up dual monitors with a spanned desktop. What I mean by this is a desktop that is continuous from one screen to the next. I can move my mouse from one screen to the next, move open windows from one screen to the next, and choose to have a desktop background span across both monitors. I love this setup because it makes my Web development and programming so much easier when I can work with two screens rather than being confined to one. If you are considering doing this… don’t. Because, once you do, you will never want to go back to the old way!

There are all sorts of ways to set up a dual monitor configuration in Linux. In my first Linux install many years ago, I went into the etc/X11/xorg.conf file and did some editing to get the multiple monitor support I was looking for. My second go around with this, I had to simply download fglrx (I have been using ATI vid cards) from the Ubuntu repositories, then just do a quick tweak in the Screen Resolution app found in the Preferences area, reboot, and I was done. This time, there was no Screen Resolution, and some things have changed within available apps in Synaptic Package Manager. When trying to uncheck the “Mirror Monitors” option in the Monitors app, I would get a garbled screen on one monitor.

The solution (I thought) was to install i3-wm from Synaptic Package Manager. If you do this, you won’t need to look all over the place trying to find the GUI app. It doesn’t exist. What I did was go back into the Monitors app, uncheck the “Mirror Monitors” option, then drag the monitors to the correct desktop position, and I was done! Except that I still do not have a single image that both zooms and spans both desktops. Still, I will live with this for now.

Now, here is a bit of an update on this after working with this install and dual monitors for a bit. Unfortunately, upon a later reboot, the dual monitor issue with cloned screens came back. So, I installed Compiz Fusion and went into the settings. I unchecked the Clone Output option, then made sure there was a reference to “One Big Wall” under the “Expo” option was entered (You can find that on the Appearance tab by clicking on the “Expo” option rather than the actual check box). To clarify, when you open CompizConfig Settings Manager, look under the Desktop category and see what is checked. I will admit that I am not a wizard at understanding all of the settings yet within Compiz, but what I have checked is Expo, Desktop Wall, and Viewport Switcher.

And, here is yet one more new update. I also just installed Ubuntu 11.04 on an old Toshiba Satellite A134 laptop right alongside Windows 7 Professional. In this case, the install went absolutely perfectly. My son now has a dual boot system that allows him to choose either Ubuntu 11.04 or Windows 7 at startup! Not only does he still get to play his favorite Windows games, but he also has jumped right into Ubuntu. He’s only 7…. so don’t tell me you can’t do this too.  ;-)

So, once again, a bunch of time-consuming quirkiness on at least some of my latest Linux installations. Yet, the result is definitely worth the effort! Linux, especially Ubuntu, provides plenty of options for the average user that can make computing a rewarding enough experience. Except for some Windows-only games and other software, many may find Linux offers everything they need in a computing environment.

Leave a Reply