John Smith's Blog

Ramblings (mostly) about technical stuff

The saga of getting Fedora 14 running on a Dell Mini 10 netbook - part 3 of several

Posted by John Smith on

I pretty much stick to Fedora/Red Hat/CentOS for my primary Linux machines, and just use VMs when experimenting with other distros. This isn't due to any intrinsic brilliance in the Red Hat way of doing things; it's more a case that I'm familiar with how those distros are organized, and can quickly get them configured in a way that I want.

However, whilst the puritanical approach of not including binary/non-free drivers is to be admired, it's not necessarily ideal when it comes to getting a working OS on a machine which might have some 'unusual' chipsets, and many laptops and netbooks fall into this category. As such, I thought it worth installing Ubuntu, due to its more 'pragmatic' approach - I'd previously installed Ubuntu on an Asus EeePC and had encountered no problems.

Trial-running with Ubuntu running from the USB drive was basically fine, so I took the plunge and installed it on the netbook's hard drive, repartitioning the existing Windows XP installation. N.B. at this point in time, I didn't realize that Dell had things up with separate boot and backup partitions, as documented in the previous post.

The hard drive install was fine, other than the expected caveats of not running in the native resolution, and not having fully functional networking - if memory serves, wired Ethernet worked, but not wifi. However Ubuntu popped up an alert asking if I wanted to download the binary drivers for these, and soon all was running happily.

That release of Ubuntu though was around 5 months old, and so it seemed prudent to upgrade the installed packages to their latest versions - big mistake. On reboot, the login prompt (gdm I guess) wouldn't respond to keyboard or mouse. Attaching an external USB keyboard did get it to respond a bit more, but I was unable to get it allow me to enter a username or password. Trying the Ctrl-Alt-function keys to get a non-X11 prompt wasn't any use either.

Ubuntu had created some 'safe-mode' style booting options in the GRUB menu, but these were no good either - booting would halt with some error message I've forgotten, long before getting anywhere near a loging prompt. After faffing around for a while, and failing to find anything useful on Google, I decided to reinstall. However, the Ubuntu installer seemed to be a bit confused, and only offered me the choice of repartitioning the already-repartitioned WinXP disc, not to overwrite the borked Ubuntu install.

At this point I decided to give up on Ubuntu, and try Fedora instead. Before doing this though, I had the forethought to check beforehand how exactly the disk was partitioned. (If I'd done this before starting on this whole process, it would have probably saved a lot of time and stress...)

The hard drive was split up as follows (this was the first time I'd realized there had been more than just a single Windows filesystem originally):

  1. The tiny Dell boot partition
  2. The main Windows XP partition
  3. The Ubuntu partition I wanted to get rid of
  4. The Dell restore partition
What I'd like to have done prior to attempting to install Fedora, was to restore the machine back to its factory state, but this wasn't possible - the Ubuntu installer had rewritten the MBR, circumventing the Dell boot partition that would have given me this option. In retrospect, I should have backed up the MBR with dd before installing Ubuntu, which would have now allowed me to restore it via a live distro running from a USB drive.

Worse, Ubuntu's installer not creating a separate /boot filesystem meant that the whole boot process - even for Windows XP - was dependent on this Ubuntu filesystem I wanted to get rid of. (Fedora does create a separate /boot by default, so it's easy to get rid of the main Fedora installation with no impact on the prior OSes.) Possibly I could have restored an MBR from a different machine, but given the non-vanilla Dell configuration, I had doubts that this would be problem-free.

In the end, I decided that the only real option was to go ahead with installing Fedora, and hope that it wouldn't make any more of a mess than was there already...

Ubuntu's homepage doesn't mention Linux anywhere

Posted by John Smith on

I primarily use Red Hat/Fedora distributions of Linux; more than anything this is for historical/comfort reasons. Whilst omissions like AVI and MP3 playback are annoying - but perfectly understandable to my mind - at least I "know where the bodies are buried", and can get a new system quickly set up the way I want.

However, to avoid missing out, I usually have one of my spare machines running one of the other current major distros. In years gone by, that would have been Mandrake/Mandriva or SuSE, but these days, of course, it's Ubuntu that has the hype and the mindshare.

Looking to install Ubuntu's new 10.10 release onto a netbook, I searched for some online docs about burning the .iso onto a USB drive, as Fedora's livecd-iso-to-disk didn't seem to want to play with an Ubuntu .iso. However, it turned out that Ubuntu's docs don't acknowledge the existence of anything other than Windows, Mac, and Ubuntu. I guess I now know how the BSD people feel...

Screen grab from Ubuntu website only showing Windows, Mac and Ubuntu as operating systems to choose from

Anyway, this got me thinking: is Ubuntu trying to cover up the fact that it's based on Linux? I grabbed the list of the current top 10 Linux distributions from DistroWatch, added on a couple of the more corporate/enterprisey ones (Red Hat, CentOS and Novell/SuSE), and ran a very simple script to pull down their homepages and count how many times they mention "Linux". Here are results: : 0 : 1 : 131 : 4 : 6 : 148 : 21 : 27 : 54 : 2 : 4 : 6 : 96

The numbers are distorted of course, especially for those that include "Linux" in their brand-name. Fedora and OpenSuSE don't score well, but at least they do both mention it prominently near the top of the page.

However, I finding it galling that in 30-odd kilobytes of HTML, Ubuntu can't find anywhere to mention the (literal) kernel that underlies their product. It's not mentioned on their "How can it be free?" page either - there's just a mention of open source in general (which also implies it's down to the efforts of corporations, and not individuals). It should also be noted that the two mentions of Linux on Lubuntu's home page are just feed links from external sites/blogs.

Maybe we should follow RMS's example and insist on referring to it as GNU/Linux/Ubuntu?

About this blog

This blog (mostly) covers technology and software development.

Note: I've recently ported the content from my old blog hosted on Google App Engine using some custom code I wrote, to a static site built using Pelican. I've put in place various URL manipulation rules in the webserver config to try to support the old URLs, but it's likely that I've missed some (probably meta ones related to pagination or tagging), so apologies for any 404 errors that you get served.

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About the author

I'm a software developer who's worked with a variety of platforms and technologies over the past couple of decades, but for the past 7 or so years I've focussed on web development. Whilst I've always nominally been a "full-stack" developer, I feel more attachment to the back-end side of things.

I'm a web developer for a London-based equities exchange. I've worked at organizations such as News Corporation and Google and BATS Global Markets. Projects I've been involved in have been covered in outlets such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, the Financial Times, The Register and TechCrunch.

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