Thursday, May 13, 2010

Installing Ubuntu Netbook Remix 10.04 on a Dell 700m

At home, I have an older Dell 700m laptop which has had linux installed on it in one form or another for a few years. I have a soft spot for this laptop due to its small size and decent performance, even though a newer Toshiba I bought recently has more power. So, I thought that with Ubuntu 10.04 now out, I'd give the netbook remix a try.

For those of you not familiar with the netbook remix distribution of Ubuntu, it "is optimised to run on a new category of affordable Internet-centric devices called netbooks. It includes a new consumer-friendly interface that allows users to quickly and easily get on-line and use their favourite applications." Specifically, it has been designed to start up quickly and sports a user interface suitable for smaller sized screens, like the one that the Dell 700m sports.

So I downloaded the Ubuntu Netbook Remix ISO and burned it to a CD. Newer laptops and netbooks support booting froma USB device, but I wasn't sure if the 700m supported this, and so went with the sure thing. Sliding the CD into the CD-ROM tray, I reboot the computer and wait.

Hrm. After a minute or two, the computer has stopped accessing the CD, but the screen is black. Hrm. I try a few kernel boot options from the grub menu (like noacpi, and a few others), and continue to receive the black screen devoid of all things linuxy. You know what? After banging my head on the 10.04 server install, I am now getting a bit irate. I'm at home, spending what little free time I have trying to get this SOB working, and it just isn't giving me the time of day - time to shut it down for the evening before I go supernova.

Fast forward to the next day. Doing a bit of research on the Ubuntu Forums (a good support site, although a bit overwhelmed right now due to the release), I find that I am not alone. It turns out that laptops sporting the Intel 855GM video chipset (and others in that family) were having severe problems with the kernel. I find this especially ironic, since according to the netbook remix site, "Canonical has collaborated with Intel...". *snort*

There is a workaround (or two, or three, or four) for this problem, and I appended the "i915.modeset=1" kernel boot parameter to the grub configuration, and I was then able to get video (which is always helpful for those of us with eyes). So the install finally went through to completion, and I had a netbook install on my Dell 700m.

Unfortunately, the 3D portion of the Intel drivers must not be enabled, because performance of the 3D enabled netbook launcher is atrocious. We are talking about several second delays when switching categories, slow/nonexistent feedback when launching an application. Once you get a normal application launched, then it performs fine (like chrome or the gnome terminal app).

So, that is where it stands so far. I am expecting a kernel update in the very near future to sort out the Intel video bug, and then everything will be fine. However, I pity the fool who tries to install the netbook remix with a similar video chipset, and isn't very familiar with linux.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ubuntu Installed on New Server

When we last left our hero, I was struggling to get Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) up and running on a new server box with software RAID 1. Since that time, I have scoured the Ubuntu forums and searched the bug report databases, and found that I was not alone in my frustration. While misery does love company, this did nothing to help me resolve the situation at hand.

In the meantime, the flaky VMware server box continued to act flaky. I had had enough, and decided to try installing the previous release of Ubuntu, 9.10 (Karmic Koala). Unlike my previous attempts with 10.04, 9.10 installed perfectly the first time and I was in business! To quote John McClane in Die Hard, "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker."

The next step I took in my journey to server nirvana was to read up on Ubuntu's Uncomplicated Firewall, ufw for short. As the name implies, it is trivial to set up and use if you have a modicum of networking knowledge (quick test: on which port does an HTTP server usually listen?). Using ufw, I locked down the server nice and tight, allowing connections from our local network and my home IP address (for remote administration).

Next came the virtualization software installation. I have become convinced that VMware Server is not the virtualization software for me. The web based administration software was nice, when it worked. However, I found that when I most needed it to work, it oftentimes did not. In that, it is remarkably like an automobile not starting up in a bad horror movie.

I've worked with VirtualBox as a desktop virtualization solution, and knew that it could also operate in a "headless" (think no GUI) mode. So, I took the plunge and install VirtualBox 3.1 on the new server. If you want to look into installing VirtualBox for a similar purpose, I can't recommend this site enough - it helped me out enormously and walked me through the process in an almost pain-free manner.

Thankfully, VirtualBox can use VMware server's virtual disk drive files (vmdk), so I moved our web server virtual machine over from the old VMware install to the new VirtualBox ... ummm... box. My heart stopped a bit when I first tried to start up the new virtual machine, as it would not boot. However, after checking the "Enable IO APIC support" in the virtual machine settings, I was off and running.

I am going to hold off on moving any other virtual machines from the old to the new until I am confident in the new system. Or the other one blows up - whichever comes first.