I'm a bit impatient waiting for my order of CDs to arrive from Canonical (I still want them, if only because the packaging is good and I prefer original CDs), so I asked my cousin to download and burn Hoary preview for me. Yesterday, I got the CD and last night I installed it on my relatively-ancient PC1
I've installed four other distros before: Mandrake, Slackware, Redhat, and Debian (five, if you count Fedora as a separate distro). I can't give a comparison of all the distro installers as they are now though— the last time I installed Mandrake or Redhat was when I first started.
The first thing that impressed me was the boot help screens (accessible from pressing F1 through F10). Each screen had really useful information. For instance, there were two screens listing commonly known problematic hardware and the linux kernel options you had to pass to get them to work or be detected. There was a screen listing information about Ubuntu, as well as the four possible setups you could run (desktop or server installation, both either at the 'default' or 'expert' level). There was also a screen of minimum hardware requirements needed for Ubuntu.
I opted for a desktop installation, using the default level. Unique to my box, I had to append 'mem=64M' to the kernel due to some flaky RAM. I plan to get surplus EDO DIMMs sometime soon, if I have the time and the money. Anyway, I initially tried 'mem=32M' to see just how little RAM I could use to install. For some reason, the installer kept dying, and I checked console 4 which had syslog piped out— the binary was dying from lack of memory. Go figure. This might be fixed in the actual release though — mind you, I got the preview ISO, not release.
I didn't figure out how to set up swap on the fly during the install to make it install on a 32MiB box (too lazy). In any case, IMHO you should have more than 32MiB of RAM to install as painlessly as possible.
The bootup proceeded fine, detecting hardware necessary to begin. The first few prompts were similar to Debian Sarge's installer (same pedigree?). The prompts were for language and keyboard settings. (Interestingly enough, the installer does have a i18n setting for Tagalog — should try that one of these days). The cool thing about the keyboard setting prompt is that there was a menu option to detect
your keyboard. I don't know how it'd go about it for other keyboards, but on my system I was asked a series of prompts where I had to press the key to one of several characters displayed. If you have a Dvorak keyboard and you didn't know that it was a Dvorak keyboard (maybe you're a newbie? ;), this is useful.
One thing I noticed during the installation was that it loaded a whole ton of modules. For example, instead of detecting what IDE driver to use for my system, it installed all
IDE drivers. I don't have a USB bus on my box, but it installed all three USB host controller drivers (ohci, ehci, uhci).
Questions were asked about my timezone, etc. The installation proceeded quite similarly to Sarge, in terms of prompts and what not. What differed though is that the installer did not
prompt me for packages to install — good for the newbie, bad for the control freak power user (who should use 'expert' instead, ya know? ;).
When the base system was set up, the installer copied a truckload of packages from the CD to
, and proceeded to inform me that the system had to reboot3
. It took roughly less than an hour from start to first reboot.
At reboot, the installation proceeded by installing the packages copied to
, which took about two hours. So, I proceeded to make myself a cup of tea4
The installer finished the second part of the installation with some minor hitches5
, but that was due to my box's specs.
One thing that should surprise a lot of people: on Ubuntu, you are not asked to provide a root password. In fact, the root account doesn't have a password (
has '*' in there) and can't be used to login directly. However, the first account that the installer prompted and created for you is added to the 'adm' group (among other groups), and
allows 'adm' to run sudo as root for all commands. Which means you can simply 'sudo su -' to get a root shell. (I believe most of the GUI tools that need root are configured to launch gksudo instead of gksu). If you really want a root password, you can always 'sudo passwd' and type in a new password.
I decided that I wanted to grab some packages online — which presented me with a hitch. I have a really crappy winmodem6
, which means that I had to boot to a 2.4.x kernel I already configured with the binary (sucks). So, I rebooted to Slackware, fixed LILO (and did some fixing, unifying my Slackware and Ubuntu
directories to a single partition as well as copying
and adding a symlink in
, so I can LILO from both distros), and crossed my fingers. Thankfully, the system booted up, and I had my custom 2.4.x kernel booting my Ubuntu installation7
Dialing out using the out-of-the-box installation means you have to configure wvdial, the dialler included with the system. (Later, I was thinking of getting kppp so I could share my kppprc between the two— decided against it as I had to grab a lot over the dialup link. Not a feasible idea. KDE and related apps aren't included with the CD, but are available for apt-getting). Bumped into some snags — wvdialconf, the autoconfigurator, refused to acknowledge my
symlink to the SM56 device
, so I had to hand-hack
; the modem apparently was also fudging up on the CD (carrier detect) line and was confusing wvdial on dialup— had to switch carrier checking off.
When I went to edit
using vi, I was surprised to see several commented entries already there, pointing to the Ubuntu repositories. Double plus good for relative newbies — you can always tell them to simply uncomment those lines and do an update.
Anyway, I ran aptitude and grabbed several packages I needed — in particular, I grabbed Emacs (<evil grin>) and Ratpoison. I have been trying keyboard-heavy WMs recently; previously I tried IonWM, but found its management philosophy too complicated. Ratpoison is (unfortunately?) very very lightweight and very very simple to use8
A note on the Ubuntu package repositories: Ubuntu apparently has two repositories in general: the supported packages repository and the 'universe' repository. Unlike Debian, there isn't a 'main' or 'contrib' per se; 'main' roughly maps to the supported packages, and 'contrib' roughly maps to the 'universe' packages. AFAICT, there aren't any nonfree packages.
Anyway, I got ratpoison set up properly, and am now running a similar desktop configuration as with my Slackware installation.
I did give the GNOME desktop a more-than-cursory glance though. Hoary has GNOME 2.10, IIRC, and the chrome is purty. I'll probably try it out one of these days, just for comparison's sake— my Slackware installation only has GNOME 2.4, and a semi-ept install at that.
The choice of Debian as a base, I think, is a big win for Ubuntu. The package management is great — the configuration and setup was painless, mostly due to the package management.
Although the Ubuntu package repositories aren't as extensive as Debian's (and that's quite an understatement), the packages are pretty much what most users will be downloading.
I do have some qualms though about the installation. I'm a minimalist (and masochist) at heart, and so found it a little distateful that several packages were installed by default. (Then again, I should
have been playing around with the expert setup instead). For example, USB tools were installed even if I don't have USB; The Samba client was installed even if I don't have a network card. However, in all fairness, the packages that were installed are not enough bloat for me to really ditch the distro. <flame>Mandrake has it far worse, IMHO, and both it and RedHat are the worst bloat offenders.</flame>.
I heartily suggest you give it a try. Now if only the CDs would arrive soon... so I can critique the packaging. ;)
- Specs at http://www.myjavaserver.com/~butiki/linux/boxen.html#butiki. I didn't wipe out the Slackware installation, mind you. I still had about 10GB unpartitioned space free beforehand.
- If you have /var set up in a separate partition, make sure you have around 300-400MiB for it.
- Since I had Slackware already installed on the box and I was using XFS for my filesystems, the installer opted not to use GRUB and I opted not to install LILO on the MBR; however when I tried installing to the partition boot record it simply died. I fixed that later on.
- I bought a box of blackcurrant flavored black tea (Twinnings)— really good. I suggest you try it.
- The X.org config was borked; the setup script detected my onboard SiS 5597 (which was disabled at the BIOS) instead of my S3 Savage4. Manually ran xorgconfig to fix it.
- Motorola SM56, here for a kludged driver, or see here
- I had to recreate some nodes in /dev for my Ubuntu root though, as Ubuntu has udev doing the dirty work for /dev.
- Think of it as screen(1) for X11.