Archive for February 23rd, 2010

Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic: FAIL FAIL FAIL

Soooo, for the last several days my main desktop system, recently installed with Xubuntu 9.10, has come up without networking services. The eth0 network interface is there, the (static!) IP is correct, Web browsing works… but NFS shares aren’t mounted and, upon poking around, other vital system services weren’t started.

Worse, networking can’t be manually started, either, and there are no diagnostic log messages.

Sometimes rebooting helps, sometimes it doesn’t. The problem is definitely timing-related, so sometimes pausing before signing in makes it work. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Come to find out that Karmic has revised how system services get started during boot. The intricacies are lost on me, but the old Unix-style /etc/init.d/ model is now obsolete. Documentation on upstart, the replacement, is sketchy at best.

We’re to type sudo service mumble start|stop|restart when we want to do things manually. Oh, maybe only start and stop have been implemented; everything else is defunct, but you can’t use the old method, either.

Except that something in upstart 0.6.3-11 is broken / different, to the extent that system services no longer start up properly. Evidently that upgrade happened here in the very recent past, part of the usual system update routine. I do this manually, but there wasn’t any heads-up notice mentioning “Oh, by the way, this update will kill your system”, so I just installed it.

Downgrading to -10 resolves the problem for many people, not including me, but that is not regarded as an actual fix. The older version has similar problems and downgrading just pushes the symptoms somewhere else. Part of the problem is that logging doesn’t (seem to) happen from upstart for any of the affected services.

Now, Linux distributions started as a way to bottle up various combinations of upstream programs in known-good configurations, so that we end-user types didn’t have to go through the Linux From Scratch effort. That model seems largely dead; each major distro now applies so much floobydust to their combination that any resemblance to the upstream programs is purely coincidental.

Like, for example, did you know that you’re probably not running OpenOffice, but Go-OO? Never heard of it? Me, either. Do the obvious search and see what you’ve not been told. Hint: Mono is still optional.

Long ago, in a universe far away, I actually enjoyed beta testing software. These days, I just want it to work; I have other things to do. It’s painfully obvious that Windows isn’t the answer, but it’s becoming evident that (at least) Ubuntu has lost sight of the “it just works” goal.

When vital parts of the system (like, for example, networking and system service startup) Just Don’t Work, something has gone badly wrong in the distro’s QA process. Yes, some problems remain hard to find, but when they’re reported (by other folks; I’m not first in line by any means) something should happen muy pronto.

When a desktop environment (like, for example) KDE can’t handle two independent monitors, but has all manner of glitzy 3D effects, the development effort has wandered off into the bushes of irrelevancy. The fact that KDE can claim to have fixed 10,000 bugs in the 4.3 release is not, to my mind, much to brag about.

To quote the immortal Iphigenia Deme, “That’s obscene-gerund enough!

Right now, I have a column to finish and ship, with another right behind. With any luck, this system will hang together long enough to get those done, at which point I must devote some time to finding out which, if any, distros have a better recent track record.

Some early fiddling indicates Arch Linux, which is sort of like Linux From Scratch with bigger and sorta-kinda snap-together pieces, should do the trick. Most important: it’s agnostic with respect to which desktop environment you pick, unlike the GNOME-oriented Ubuntu chassis that sorta-kinda allows you to bolt on KDE or Xubuntu bodywork.

Quick summary of what’s needed: separate X sessions, right-hand session on a rotated-to-portrait monitor, Wacom tablet pinned to the left monitor, left- and right-handed trackballs. This configuration was fine in Kubuntu 8.04, got flaky in 8.10, and fell apart after that.

There may well be upstream problems with some of those pieces, which generally isn’t something a distro can fix. I contend they could better apply their resources to fixing such problems than screwing up something else.

More to follow…