Well, as much as we hate to take down a production system, maintenance has to be done. Earlier this week, it became obvious that some of our applications, like OpenOffice and others, could stand a bit of upgrading to get new features, so we undertook the always scary and sometimes painful steps to upgrade our Ubuntu workstations from 8.10 to 9.10. Of course, this involves two upgrades for each machine, first to 9.04 and then to 9.10.
The first phase is complete, and both machines are now at 9.04, with few consequences: My development machine needed to have the Apache configuration file tweaked, as I keep the webs in a slightly different place. And, Judy’s machine somehow announced it wasn’t going to start the HP printer management tool for her new multi-function printer. But, it still prints and faxes and scans, so I’m not sure if it is all that important, but I suppose we’ll have to find it and reconfigure after the whole upgrade is done. The only scary part was a brief glitch in the power while the desktop machine was downloading packages, but the UPS held… Good idea to test those before a major upgrade, as dumping power in the middle of an upgrade can ruin your whole day. Yes, we do keep backups. I do the laptop manually, since it isn’t always connected, but the desktop machine does hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly snapshots to the external drive we use for backups.
Update: OK, spent all day Friday downloading the 9.10 update on my Compaq C714NR laptop, finally rebooted at 8:00pm and, of course, the wireless is broken again, which happens about every other Ubuntu update with the built-in Broadcom 4318 chip. Part of the problem seems to be the crutches applied last time, but always something new.
Not only does the wireless not work, but the machine emits a loud clicking noise every few seconds. I did get that to go away after I switched to wired connection, but after fiddling with the ndiswrapper and drivers for the wireless, it is back. Now, I am a great fan of Linux, and have used it for 14 years, but some days it is a bit too on the edge. Oh, the distros are plenty stable enough, but there are still problems with certain hardware peripherals that are not well supported. Broadcom products fall into this category. I’m not faulting HP/Compaq or Linux on this one–I’ve been a professional sysadmin for those 14 years, managing Solaris, Tru64, and other commercial Unices as well as Linux. A few years ago, I had an IBM x-series server with a Broadcom Ethernet card in it that I had to build the driver from source for RedHat, and then it broke on a kernel upgrade and wouldn’t recompile. I had to upgrade the entire system from RHEL3 to RHEL4 and port the 3rd-party application running on the server to get the system back up. The market is full of otherwise good hardware with brittle firmware and drivers written by folks who don’t really understand how Unix works and couple their code tightly to specific library versions rather than the basic interfaces and system calls.
So, here we are, Saturday morning, trying to get wireless back up on our main development and road machine, for a road trip coming up the middle of next week. The Ubuntu forums are great, but always just one person’s experience, which doesn’t always work for the next guy, depending on exact hardware, whether the system is a fresh install or upgrade, etc. In my case, some of the problem appears to be left-over hacks from an earlier upgrade.