Saturday, August 4, 2012

My journey with Ubuntu Contd - On to Precise Pangolin

Linux via Ubuntu

I posted about my first Ubuntu machine earlier. Though I've used Unix for a long time and Linux for a bit for work related activities, this was the first time, I boldly went for Linux at home! Ubuntu made it possible with a great Windows like Desktop.

It was an experimental machine we built with Intel Atom PC (Atom 230 160GHz X2). It worked well with Ubuntu 10.x I installed earlier. In fact, for over a year I managed with10GB hard drive. Sure, it complained about running out of space constantly and I kept moving my files out to Windows PC (Remote Desktop from Ubuntu to Windows worked like a charm). With limited memory and resources, it worked so great, often times better than my newer, more powerful HP machine with Windows Vista.

It has been an amazing journey with Ubuntu. A lot of software I came to know on a Windows PC over the years, are now available on Linux, free and sometimes with better functionality. I installed, Firefox, Google Chrome (it is called Chromium), Libre Office (successor of Open Office, replacement for Microsoft office, I use this a lot on Windows as well) and even my mail client, Mozilla Thunderbird. I could do Remote Desktop to Windows, copy and share files, print to a HP printer almost automatically (on a Windows PC, each time I have to install drivers, here Linux almost finds its own). And of course, internet works right out of the box in Linux.

Moving on, Upgrade

Recently, I decided to continue using Linux and it was time to upgrade. It's still running on an Atom mother board, but I added a new 1TB hard drive. This time I wanted to try to different flavors of Linux. So, I tried installing Ubuntu 12.04, Fedora and Debian. Debian interface was not that great, but seems more powerful. Wiki page on Debian mentions about 3000 volunteer developers developing it over a time period (since 1993). Definitely a matured operating system. But, it's also overwhelming for a first time user.

Fedora 17 is looking nice too. It's community project sponsored by Red Hat. In version 17, it's installation is as easy as Ubuntu and desktop was as flashy too. I tried all 3. I first installed all the 3. But, some how I was drawn back to Ubuntu. Nothing against the other 2, except Ubuntu as ever was easier and better for Ubuntu beginners.

I've also looked at Open Suse and Oracle Linux. So far, I haven't tried them out yet.


Each Linux Dist. comes up with their own Partition Editor which was easy to use. Ubunbtu has GParted, a Partition Editor which is really user-friendly. I remember using Fdisk on DOS systems earlier. You have to exercise, so much caution, otherwise you could lose all partitions. GParted lets you "play" with partitions and it doesn't save anything until you confirm it. When you partition the drive using GParted, you specify which drive belongs to what location (File System and Mount Points). Ubuntu assigns File System names automatically and you can assign a mount point (like /, /home, /boot etc) to each partition. I researched on the Internet and came up with a simple partitioning scheme (I gave 300GM to Ubuntu):

Recommended Partitioning Scheme for a simple Ubuntu installation

Partition 1/boot10GB
Partition 2/50GB
Swap File5GMTwice the size of memory
Partition 3/home235GM

This was good, until I installed too many software and root "/" was running out of space. I booted with the Ubuntu Install CD and adjusted the partitions. It was so easy, as I had a lot of empty space to widen the partitions. (Getting to the partition Editor on installer CD was a bit tricky. I had to make the PC boot sequence to CD first. Then when CD booted, I had to pick "Try Ubuntu". Gparted is part of the installation disk).

Multiple Operating Systems

Since I got a bigger disk, I decided to go with all the 3.I tried Ubuntu, Fedora and Debian, side by side. I also tried Partition editor with multiple OS installed. Each OS will see the other OSs partitions in Partition Editor. I learned about sharing the Home directory with multiple OS and changed the mount point for /home to point to the same partition in each OS. Make sure to un-check the "Format" Checkbox, otherwise new install will overwrite any earlier home directory.

One problem I had, having all 3 OS installed was a problem with Grub (Linux Boot Loader). Some how, it was hanging in one of the OSs. (I mixed 64-bit OS for Fedora and Debian, so it was not a fair comparison. Later I tried 64-bit Ubuntu, it crashed too! Intel Atom 230 is claimed to be 64-bit compatible, but 64-bit OS didn't perform well. Probably has to do with memory limitation too. I only have 2GB).

Ubuntu, again!

Having issues with multiple OS installations, I decided to go with one main OS. After reading a bit about comparisons on-line, I decided to go with the known devil (sorry to call it that), Ubuntu. But Ubuntu itself has changed much. Version 10.x was a great OS. The new version, Ubuntu 12.04 LTS is code-named Precise Pangolin ( Apparently Ubuntu 10.x was called Lucid Lynx). LTS means Long Term Support series (love the way they come up with these names!!), they already have plans for Ubuntu 14.04 through 2019 (See here), that's long-term for you and me!!

Precise Pangolin User Interface

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed with the latest version of Ubuntu initially. It still has a windowing desktop, but they have changed the software behind it. They have switched their Graphic interface to use what's called Unity Interface. Prior versions used Gnome interface. To me Gnome was a bit more user-friendly. I am still getting used to the new launcher bar that shows quick launch icons for applications. Every new Application installed already gets pinned to the launcher bar and you can unlock it.

[caption id="attachment_423" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Ubuntu 12.04 Pangolin Desktop[/caption]

The problem is the launcher bar also includes those that are running. Only thing that shows it is running is the small triangle on either side of the icons. (For e.g, see image on the left.   The white triangle on the left shows that the settings->Appearance is running.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="115"] An icon on the Launch Bar; Triangle on the left indicates running[/caption]

Apart from these, how you get to things is also different. The Gnome toolbar that had "Applications", "Places" etc disappeared. To get to the applications, you either go through Launch bar and if you don't have it there (Launch bar is menu of icons, so size is limited), then you go to Dash Home  by clicking on the icon on the Launch bar and then type the application you need. For e.g., to get Kompozer (HTML editor that's not in my Launch Bar, I have to pull up Dashboard and type some chars to get to the application.

Sort of going back in time, it seems. (Windows 7 changed their task bar too. It works something similar to launch bar here. Why do they keep changing something we are used to??).

Apparently, I am not the only one that's not happy with Unity Interface. This link goes one step further and talks about how to install and get back Gnome desktop on Pangolin.

Copy the old files

I wanted to copy the files I had on the old Linux drive. After a bit of fumbling, I put the old drive inside an external hard drive enclosure and connected to the machine as a USB drive. This worked like magic. The hard drive showed up as a mounted volume.  All I had to do was copy the home directory.

[caption id="attachment_411" align="aligncenter" width="535"] External Volumes are mounted and show up in Devices List[/caption]

Unfortunately, I had encrypted my home directory when I installed Ubuntu last time. So I tried the other way around. I went into BIOS menu (pressing F2 at boot time, on some computers you may have to use DEL key) and changed the boot sequence to boot from USB drive, saved and rebooted. It was a bit slow, but surely it booted from the external drive with the old version (v 10.x) of Ubuntu. And as usual, the new hard drive showed up as a mounted volume too. Then it was just a matter of copying the files over to my new home!!! On windows, some of these tasks could have turned into nightmare. It's so refreshing to use a OS that has less issues for a beginner.

Go Virtual

Then, I discovered about Virtual box. I un-installed all 3, wiped the disk and reinstalled Ubuntu and this I gave it full 600GB. My goal is to install Virtual Box and install multiple Guest OSs.While researching this, I found out about appliances! You can actually build minimal OS distributions with specific applications (like Web Server). Take a look at the Suse Linux page for creating such appliances.I also tried Oracle Developer Day Database appliance. With this I could try out Oracle 11g (we are still at Oracle 10g at work) finally.

[caption id="attachment_412" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Virtual Box Application main Screen[/caption]

I will post about Virtualization separately.