I updating one of my desktop computers from Ubuntu 10.10 desktop to Ubuntu 11.4 beta 2 desktop. (Update April 29: Ubuntu 11.4 is now out and my 11.4 beta 2 machine is updated.)
Update April 29: Ubuntu 11.4 is now out and my 11.4 beta 2 machine is updated to 11.4. My 10.10 desktop also updated cleanly to 11.4.
To upgrade from Ubuntu 10.10 on a desktop system, press Alt+F2, type in "update-manager -d" (without the quotes), and press Enter. Update Manager will open up and display the message, "New distribution release '11.04' is available."1
You select Upgrade then an upgrade tool starts. The upgrade tool goes through the following steps.
- Preparing to upgrade
- Setting new software channels
- Getting new packages
- Installing the upgrades
- Cleaning up
- Restarting the computer
Setting new software channels
This step issues a warning about third party sources disabled. You have to switch them back on after the upgrade then update whatever software is from those sources.One of my third part sources was for Firefox 4 and Firefox 4 is included in the update, giving me the chance to delete that third party source.
You are then told the download is 659 MegaBytes. Are you on reliable broadband? Is your netbook or notebook on mains power?
OpenOffice is removed and replaced by LibreOffice. Unity is installed to replace Gnome but Gnome is left in place as an alternative. Firefox 3 is replaced by Firefox 4.
Select Start upgrade.
Getting new packages
This step tells me the download will be 44 minutes on my connection running at about 200 kiloBytes per second. After the initial rush, the Ubuntu server slowed down to 170 kBps and the time prediction expanded to 53 minutes.
There are 1389 files downloading where each file is a package. About 140 are new including 14 for LibreOffice. The rest are replacements.
Installing the upgrades
The installation step takes over an hour on a computer with a moderate speed hard disk. The CPU usage on a slow multicore processor is 25%. The memory usage is less than 400 MB. There is not much activity anywhere. I expect the system reads a file then decompresses the file into many little files then copies the decompressed files to other parts of the disk then edits all the settings files with little overlap of processing with disk IO.
There are long periods when one processor is 100% busy and there is no disk activity. There are also long periods when all four processors are 25% busy and there is no disk IO because the processing is stuck in the one thing at a time mode. The installation process is designed to use only one processor and needs a redesign for modern computers.
If the installation used modern methods, there would be one process decompressing into memory and a separate process editing the files and a separate process writing the files direct to their end points. Most of the installation scripts are written by volunteers thinking about single package updates on tiny old computers with almost no memory. I doubt there is any attempt to overlap operations to help a once per year upgrade. Some of the people in the Linux and Unix world appear to be still stuck in the 1970s when Unix tried to emulate the computers of the 1950s.
The NTP, Network Time Protocol, update replaces the configuration file and you lose your local time server settings. You have to reapply them after the upgrade. Typically you are adding NTP pool servers2. In Australia, you add 0.au.pool.ntp.org, 1.au.pool.ntp.org, 2.au.pool.ntp.org, and 3.au.pool.ntp.org.
The installation process asks you if you want to keep your current modified php.ini file or replace it. The PHP update is only minor so keep the current file.
Cleaning up the computer is mostly deleting obsolete packages and takes only a couple of minutes to produce one message where you have to select the
Remove button. You then wait a few more minutes then
After the restart, you login and see Unity. Unity was tried out on the 10.10 Netbook edition of Ubuntu. For 11.4, they merged the netbook edition into the desktop edition. Unity is slower than the Gnome interface. The Gnome interface is still available and can be set as your default. Within the Gnome interface, you can make the interface faster by switching off the 3D effects.
The Unity interface moves some icons from the top menu bar to the left hand column to make better use of the new screens that are too short and too wide. You are supposed to gain more usable vertical reading space. On my 10" netbook screen the giant icons waste a lot of space and there is very little gain in vertical space. Unity would be better if there was an option to move everything from the top menu bar to the sidebar.
Unity creates more pain by mixing the application menu bar with the operating system menu bar. The worst example is selecting a bookmark in Firefox. you have to mouse over the top bar and wait for the Firefox menu entries to replace the Unity rubbish then try to find the Firefox menu entry without the bar reverting to the Unity entry and then you have to select the bookmark. Life would be easier and quicker if the mouseover had a user settable latency so the menu entries would hang around longer if you miss your selection with the mouse.
Life would also be easier if the bookmark list would automatically drop down and again with latency. The strange thing is the Unity sidebar works with some nice latency. Why do they make each part of the screen work a different way?
The Unity interface failed miserably in the Ubuntu 10.10 netbook edition. The 11.4 version no longer fails. It is still slow and difficult. Remember the fashion for overlays that hit the web a few years ago and is now the equivalent of ripped denim pants, obsolete and out of fashion but it will not go away? Unity uses an overlay.
If the overlay was not bad enough, Unity is missing the stepping arrows at the end of scroll bars. It looks and works like a beginner application on a Mac. It might work for scrolling small distances on touch screens, assuming the scroll bars were big enough to select by hand, but it is a real killer on long scrolls because precision is impossible.
Unity looks like it is designed by a committee with some members of the committee working on good user interface design while others just blindly clone things from Apple software without ever asking if a feature works or is useful. On both my 10" non touch netbook screen and my 30" desktop screen, with mouse and graphics pad, the difficult parts of the Unity user interface slow down many common activities.
I will wait for the final release of Unity after Ubuntu 11.4 leaves beta then look for ways to customise Unity. If Unity cannot be switched to non overlay mode or cannot fix the scroll bars, I will revert to Gnome. I may also revert if Unity does not provide a way to display icons at an efficient size.
If you encrypted your home drive, recommended for portable devices, you can display the encryption passphrase in case you have to recover the data. I backup everything from my netbook to my desktop or server so I do not have to recover from the netbook.
LibreOffice replaces OpenOffice and looks similar. The LibreOffice Writer does not use the unit approach under Unity and keeps a separate menu bar. When you enter other parts of LibreOffice, the credits page is an example, both the menu and the window control icons disappear leaving you stranded.
I deleted Mozilla Firefox as a source in the Ubuntu software centre.
Where are all the system tools hiding?
Searching through the Unity interface for common system tools is a pain. Select the on/off switch icon in the top right hand corner. Select the Systems Settings option at the bottom. This opens a
Control Center. Note the American spelling. The Ubuntu Software Centre retains the English spelling. On the left you have several categories and on the right you have all the programs from the old system menu. Perhaps Unity will be less bad than what it looks like when you first try to navigate through the icon bar.
An hour after installing Ubuntu 11.4 beta 2, I ran the system update and it installed 1 MB. A few hours later, I ran the system update again and it installed 98 MB including a new LibreOffice. 16 MB of updates failed to install including a major component of Linux. The failure will have to be fixed then Ubuntu 11.4 will have to go through a beta 3 to test all the changes.