Archive for November, 2008

Xubuntu upgrade: from Heron to Ibex

Usually I install Xubuntu afresh when a new release arrives. This time along, though, I felt like upgrading from Xubuntu 8.04 to Xubuntu 8.10.

The first thing to consider is that Xubuntu 8.04 is a “Long Term Support” release, meaning that it’ll receive security updates for a longer period of time than normal releases. Thus, people using this version won’t need to upgrade Xubuntu every six months when a new version is released. The consequence is that you will not be notified of a new normal release when it arrives.

In order to be able to start the upgrade process, you’ll need to start the Software Sources application from Applications->System. In that application, under the Updates tab, you can select which new distribution releases you want to be notified of at the bottom. By default, this is set to Long term support releases only, but to upgrade to Xubuntu 8.10 you’ll want to set this to Normal releases.

With that set, when you start the Update Manager (Applications->System), you will be notified that a new distribution release is available. To start the upgrade process, just click the Upgrade button on top.

This will then pop up a screen containing the release notes of the new release, which unfortunately are Ubuntu-specific.

After confirming that you want to upgrade, Xubuntu will download an upgrade tool. It will start preparing the upgrade and will update your software sources to make sure you will be downloading software for the newer version. No need to worry though: if you press Cancel, the original configuration will be restored and any other edits the tool might have made will be reverted.

When information has been gathered about the upgrade, a new confirmation window will appear providing an overview of what is going to be done and giving you another chance to back off if you got scared. It also advises you to close all open applications to prevent loss of data – wise words indeed.

Of course, it is always recommended to make a backup of important documents and settings before you upgrade.

Before the upgrade could continue, a window popped up informing me that the (proprietary) driver for my graphics card was no longer available in the new version, giving me another chance to abort the upgrade. I opted to continue and take the risk of losing my shiny desktop effects (due to needing to use the open source driver), but was relieved to find that they still worked after the upgrade – I did not even need to redo the steps to install Compiz in Xubuntu. That said, this does not mean I recommend you to ignore the warning – I have too little knowledge of graphics cards and their drivers to be giving sensible advise on that.

The upgrade tool will then start downloading the packages of the new version. This will take a while (essentially it’s downloading new versions of most of your applications in their entirety) – the final stage in which you will still have the option to cancel the upgrade. Isn’t that great? 🙂

With the packages downloaded, the tool will start installing them – from this point on there’s no going back!

During the installation of the new packages, you might get some questions about newer configuration files overwriting older ones (I got most of these at the end of this process, so you can make yourself some coffee while it’s installing the bulk of new packages 😉 ). In most cases, you’ll probably want the new one unless you recognise the file and know that you need the alterations you made to that file. Going with the default options is often sensible as well.

When the new versions are installed, the upgrade tool will try to remove as much cruft as it can find.

Finally, the upgrade process is almost complete – all it needs you to do to finish it off is to restart your computer and cross your fingers that the upgrade went smoothly and your system is still usable.

As said, I had been warned that the driver for my graphics card was no longer available, but luckily the Hardware Drivers application (Applications->System) pointed out that another proprietary driver was available that allowed me to enable Compiz again.

All in all, the upgrade was a generally a pleasing experience to me, and I hope and expect you will feel the same.

Ubuntu from your flash drive – easier than ever before

As you have probably noticed, new versions have arrived of Ubuntu, Xubuntu and other derivatives. One of the most exciting new features has received far less publicity than it deserves – the ability to “install” it onto your USB flash drive with just a few clicks.

The advantages are obvious: just plug your flash drive into a computer and run your favourite operating system. What’s more, everything you do — installing applications, saving documents, editing preferences — will be saved to your flash drive and will be available to you every time you run it!

The best news is that it’s astoundingly easy: all it takes is a few clicks.

Of course, there are a few requirements. First, you can only run it on computers that support booting from a USB flash drive – this is the case for most computers nowadays. Secondly, you must have a CD or a CD image. The latter can be downloaded free of charge – I, obviously, downloaded Xubuntu. Third, you’ll need to install usb-creator, the new application that is readily available in version 8.10 but which you can also download and install on version 8.04 (with Windows and Qt versions planned). And, last but not least, you’ll obviously need to have a USB flash drive.

Once installed, you can find it in your menu as Create a USB startup disk (on Xubuntu it is located under Applications->System, in Ubuntu this would be System->Administration, IIRC).

The first thing you’ll need to do is to insert the flash drive you’re planning to use. Usb-creator will then detect the drive – if multiple flash drives are inserted, you can pick from a list which one you want to use, and if the drive isn’t formatted yet usb-creator will give you the option to do so (note that this will destroy all files on it!).

The next step is inserting the appropriate CD into your CD drive, or loading the CD image you downloaded before by clicking Other….

Finally, you’ll need to configure whether you want all your documents, settings and applications to be discarded on shutdown (i.e. act as a regular LiveCD) or if you want to save them to your flash drive (this is called persistency, or persistent mode). If you pick the latter, you’ll also be able to select how much space you want to reserve for this.

Do note that usb-creator will not overwrite existing files on the drive – thus, if you want to use your entire drive, you’ll first have to delete all existing files.

Now, with everything configured, click Make Startup Disk, and sit back and relax while usb-creator prepares your flash drive.

You can do something entirely different now, like reading the rest of this blog, viewing all my screenshots of usb-creator, whatever you like. Once usb-creator is finished, it will notify you that it’s done. All that’s left now is to boot your computer from your flash drive and have fun 🙂


If persistency does not work, you might need to edit the file text.cfg in the syslinux folder on your flash drive. Just replace the line default livewith the following lines, adding a new Start Xubuntu option to the boot screen the next time you boot. Note that you might want to replace occurences of “Xubuntu” with the name of the distro you’re using. This has been tested with Xubuntu 8.10;

default persistent
label persistent
menu label ^Start Xubuntu
kernel /casper/vmlinuz
append file=/cdrom/preseed/xubuntu.seed boot=casper initrd=/casper/initrd.gz quiet splash persistent