Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ubuntu Unity Desktop Review: The disasterous aftermath

Yesterday, I blogged about the current shortcomings of the Unity desktop environment. What happened afterwards, however, is a horror story with a valuable lesson learned, and also something of a testament as to why the *nix command-line still rocks hard.

The problem started when I noticed that Totem and MPlayer started acting weird. When playing a video, the colors were screwed up. But it was kinda funny how people in videos looked as blue as the Smurfs(I now regret not taking a screenshot when I had the chance). So I thought "Maybe I'll check the repositories to see if there's any updates that could fix this".

So I fired up update-manager, and sure enough there were a lot of updates. I proceeded to install them all, thinking it would fix the movie problems and maybe pull in some improvements to Unity too. After the slightly lengthy download and install process, I was instructed to reboot the machine.

On reboot, instead of seeing the familiar GDM login screen, I get greeted with a black screen with only a "ubuntu login:" text prompt. Apparently the X server failed to start up properly. So I logged in and tried to start it manually with "startx". No dice, and it mentioned something about the Nvidia modules. It was then I knew what had happened: the kernel image and/or the nvidia modules didn't jive together. I then tried installing the nvidia-current package and then rebooted. Still didn't work. So I was left with one option: back up my data and re-install the stable Ubuntu release.

But I didn't have a CD/DVD with Ubuntu already on it. I had to first go to the Ubuntu website, download the ISO, and then burn it to disc all from the command-line.

Luckily, I still had access to the Web, could install packages via apt-get, and I knew my way around getting help in a gui-less situation. First, I installed elinks(a text-mode web browser) and rtorrent(a command-line bittorrent client). I launched elinks and navigated to the torrent download link. I saved the torrent file to my home directory, then launched rtorrent to quickly download the ISO.

The real tricky part for me was figuring out how to burn the ISO image via the command-line. After doing a little Googling, I found that the command "growisofs -dvd-compat -Z /dev/dvd=image.iso" fit the job perfectly. After the disc burn was complete, I rebooted and the live session started up without a hitch.

During the live session, I attempted to copy as much of my user data onto a pen drive as I could. Unfortunately, many of the files were somehow uncopiable(undoubtedly a permissions glitch). But whatever I couldn't backup wasn't anything irreplaceable, so it wasn't all too bad.

Then I launched the Ubuntu installer. The installer pretty much took me by surprise, as I recalled I never actually installed Maverick Meerkat fresh before(previously I had upgraded to it from the previous release, Lucid Lynx). The installer is now so polished I can confidently say it's idiot-proof.

Once the install was done, I rebooted and was greeted with an uber-fast bootup from manufacturer splash image to GDM in less than 15 seconds. I'm now still in the process of rebuilding all my lost user data, but I'm back in the game with a couple of golden nuggets of wisdom:
  1. Always regularly backup your stuff, because shit really does happen when you least expect it.
  2. When you're using early alpha software, shit happening is almost guaranteed. Be prepared for it.

However, this experience has compelled me to try a little experiment in the near future. I plan to dedicate at least 2 days of computer use solely within a command-line environment. No desktop environments, no window managers, and no GUI applications at all. Of course this means no SL or YouTube, but I'd like to see how far the command-line can be used to perform tasks usually reserved for a GUI environment. Look out for a future blog post on it.


Anonymous said...

For the terminal applications, I highly recommend:

AntoniusMisfit said...

Thanks for the link. Quite a few of the applications listed there were already on my shortlist, but I'm surprised to see mplayer as an app able to be used in a Xorg-less situation. Should make the experience that much more palatable if it works.