Not Happy with Hardy

Posted on May 06, 2008

I still use Ubuntu on my laptop. Over the years it has become a slight bit of a mess. Libraries, tools, and programs I’ve installed but no longer use are cluttering up my system, prompting me to run

apt-get autoremove

rather frequently. Tangles of dependencies all over the place. This has been a bit of a headache for me in the latest distribution update.

Distribution upgrades always tend to be a pain. Almost without fail there will be one or more libraries or packages that will require some out-of-date package to be installed. The missing package of course will have been removed or deprecated in the repositories. This leads to manual compiles or hack-ish work-arounds that may break at the next update. The casual user may never actually encounter such problems (hopefully); but for developers who may have hundreds of disparate libraries running amok on their system, distribution upgrades become something to dread.

My recent adventure was with Hardy Heron. I decided to wait out the rush and do the upgrade a couple weeks after launch. During the first week or so, Canonical’s servers and mirrors are hit pretty hard, making package downloads slow to a crawl. Distribution upgrades can be hundreds (if not thousands) of megabytes in size, so be prepared to wait a while if you try to update right away.

The upgrade this time wasn’t nearly as tragic as some have been in the past. When I upgraded to Dapper, I had nearly lost all of my files and had to reconfigure and reinstall the entire system from CD. Gutsy went a little smoother. Heron was even more smooth; but it is still not painless. While I didn’t have to reinstall the entire OS from the CD this time or restore my personal configurations from backups, I did have to deal with a lot more dependency issues (which may or may not have to do with the fact that Heron is an LTS release).

My biggest gripe was Firefox. They switched it out from under our feet for the latest beta build of Firefox 3. Almost none of my extensions and plugins worked right out of the box. I am horrendously addicted to my extensions and cannot fathom using Firefox without them — in my experience, my customized Firefox IS Firefox and nothing else will substitute.

The solution in the end was to backup my bookmarks and wipe out my profile. I then had to install Firefox 2 from the repositories, re-install all my extensions, restore my bookmarks, de-select Firefox 3, and update my toolbar shortcuts. Not a big deal, but a major pain in the ass.

Lastly, dependency issues. The distribution swapped out X11 for a newer version instead of keeping the older ones and allow users to upgrade. This cause some haskell graphics packages to whine and complain, prompting me to use a hack-ish workaround until the maintainers fix the package. A few other libraries were also affected by version replacements all around — which could be expected; but really shouldn’t have to be, even for developers. It’s easy enough to work around, but it’s still a pain.

Overall however, Heron seems to be a fairly decent upgrade. I like Tracker and its continued integration, better bluetooth apps, and am looking forward to see if any updates have been done to Network Manager (which has, in my opinion, been the worst Gnome application in existence). I recommend the upgrade, just be wary for the tricks and switches.