Jun 012008

I didn’t expect to be writing an article criticizing ubuntu. Ubuntu can be a great alternative to Windows.

I installed Ubuntu 7.1 on a desktop (core 2 duo) using a CD and upgraded it to 8.04 (Hardy) using the update manager. Worked great. The 2d and 3d visual effects provided by compiz are very nice. I could even run windows version of x-plane flight sim on it using WINE: I was pleasantly surprised as I didn’t expect such a complex piece of software to run flawlessly via WINE when Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox all crashed. In case you are wondering why I want to run windows version of Firefox on Linux, it is because the piclens plugin is not available for the linux version.

Everything was working fine until an icon showed up saying that there were 60 updates ready to be installed. I started the update and when I came back couple of hours later, the system had rebooted. Everything looked fine until I tried to play some audio and got the message that there is no audio card. I ran the system monitor and was alarmed to see that it showed only 1 CPU; in addition uname -a command didn’t display SMP. dmesg reported:

WARNING: NR_CPUS limit of 1 reached. Processor ignored.

I did a google search and found that many others had the same problem. I didn’t see any solution. I rebooted the machine, checked the BIOS to see if multi-processor was enabled and then chose an older version of the kernel (2.6.22-16) from the GRUB menu. It didn’t solve the problem. I then rebooted the machine and chose 2.6.22-14 version of the kernel. This time it worked: sound was back and so did the second CPU. When software is upgraded, the golden principle should be DO NO HARM. When installing recommended patches for Windows I am careful as I think/worry that something may go wrong. On Linux, until now, I have been updating software without even worrying if the software update may break things. Not anymore. I was able to rectify the problem because I have some knowledge of Linux. Linux is not for hackers anymore. It is now in the mainstream. Dell ships PC’s with Ubuntu pre-installed. If a non-technical user sees a notification (from the ubuntu panel on his desktop) that several updates are available and chooses to update, his soundcard may become inaccessible. In addition, he may not realize that he is not getting the benefit of the second CPU.

Critical updates (like the recent one regarding not-so-random SSL keys) need to be provided right away but for non-critical updates, it is better to do lots of testing and make the updates available to the general public only after it has been used for couple of weeks (or longer) by experts.

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