liv: Stylised sheep with blue, purple, pink horizontal stripes, and teacup brand, dreams of Dreamwidth (sheeeep)
[personal profile] liv posting in [community profile] livredor
I acquired an underpowered netbook struggling to run Windows 8. And I thought, there are lots of good reasons why I should nuke that and install a Free-as-in-speech operating system instead. Windows 8 is too bloated for it, and I'm only using it as a portable internet terminal and for some basic word processing, so I don't need it to be compatible with the Windows-using world. And I generally approve of getting away from proprietary software if I can.

I stalled on the project for a while because I kept on needing a working netbook to travel with and / or not having time to mess with it. So it was about a year after acquiring the machine that [personal profile] ceb's usefulness party gave me the impetus to try and switch over.

So I start out by going to the Ubuntu website. Which is a pain to navigate, because the stuff that's easy to find is marketing pitches for why Ubuntu is great, which was off-putting when I'd already decided that I wanted to install Ubuntu, and wanted to find out how. I ended up finding the forums, which are understandably enough full of detailed questions about specific set-ups and technical problems, whereas I wanted more general instructions. In the end I found what I was looking for by going to the download page and clicking around several links from there, which is not where I expect to find instructions, I would expect to find a repository of files.

This offers me two versions of the OS, called 14.04.3 LTS and 15.10. The first has a little label saying, Recommended for most users, so ok, I'm looking to do more or less the default thing, I think I'm probably covered by "most users", so let's give that a go. It also has a section called Easy ways to switch to Ubuntu From Windows and that sounds like the sort of thing I'm looking for. I choose How to create a bootable USB stick on the grounds that my netbook is a netbook, it doesn't have an optical drive.

It might have been a mistake to do this in the middle of a room full of geeks, because I ended up getting completely overwhelmed with not entirely well-pitched advice. In fact, some people did the absolutely stereotypical Linux geek thing of giving me advice in the format of telling me I didn't in fact want to do what I was attempting to do. Some people said, don't install Ubuntu, pick some other Linux instead, and I resolutely ignored them. Others told me not to use a bootable USB, because that would require me to download an unfeasibly huge image file. So I did a bit of poking around the Ubuntu site looking for alternative methods to install the OS, but they were hard to find and fenced about with many messages telling me that only experts or people with very unusual requirements should try that approach. And I didn't really understand how the file size could be any smaller because I had to get the whole OS onto my computer somehow, no matter what method I used. So I went back to plan A, making a bootable USB stick.

At which point the shouty geeks started contributing some actually helpful advice. I had brought a nice large USB stick, and erroneously assumed that because I had lots of spare space, I could use it for both backing up my files from the netbook (nothing irreplaceable, but I thought I might as well back up as not) and for creating the bootable stick. But it turns out this is not true, bootable sticks are incompatible with using the same physical stick for file storage. And somebody helpfully handed me a spare USB stick he had lying around, and saved me from messing that part up.

Also [personal profile] hilarita was amazingly helpful because she gave me both technical advice and emotional advice; she made me feel a lot less flustered by being surrounded by people who were all clamouring to give me advice I couldn't understand well enough to evaluate, and also gave some examples of things that were likely to go wrong, in a non-scary way. Specifically she talked about how some modern machines boot into Windows too fast to be able to deal with a bootable stick, and some modern versions of Windows are set up so that you have to bypass settings to be able to change the OS at all, but she didn't think either of these would apply to my somewhat clunky Win8 netbook. And she reckoned the most likely problem was that everything would install just fine but getting WiFi to work would take some fiddling.

The Ubuntu site directed me to Pendrivelinux.com. Which looks kind of dodgy in terms of the web design, and lots of its examples are rather out of date. But ok, the official Ubuntu site recommends it, so I am willing to trust, and I downloaded its program. In fact, the .iso file did end up taking too long to download during the time I was at the usefulness party, so I wasn't able to complete the exercise.

I had hoped that getting started would give me momentum, but in fact very soon after the party I somehow managed to crack my netbook screen. And then I tried to get it repaired because I want to be the kind of person who repairs electronics rather than buying new whenever there's a small fault. Anyway I paid more than I had paid for the whole computer, and then the screen cracked again in the same spot within hours of leaving the repair shop. So I couldn't figure out if the repair had been done incompetently, or if it was sheer bad luck, or what, but my most likely hypothesis was that the body of the computer had become damaged somehow in such a way that it was crunching screens. And then it took me a few weeks to find a replacement. I ended up taking the advice of [twitter.com profile] CountrySkills who had similar requirements for a netbook. We both wanted something small, robust and relatively cheap that would run Linux, and with the form factor of a laptop / netbook, and it seems that machines like that aren't really being sold any more; there are uber-fancy ultra-light and high-powered laptops, there are tablets at various pricepoints, and there are Chromebooks which try to run everything in the Cloud. So she and I both went for second hand on eBay, machines that are so old they have almost no market value. I found what would have been a mid-range business machine five years ago, this Samsung Core i3 for £75. It's very nice, I prefer it over the newer shinier Acer (and it has more RAM, even) but it's rather heavy compared to a modern machine.

So this evening I thought I'd try to complete my plan to write over Win7 with Ubuntu. But when I tried to make a bootable USB stick using the Pendrivelinux UUI program, it threw a bunch of errors, notably that it couldn't run Syslinux and therefore wouldn't be bootable. (The errors kind of flashed past my eyes and I had no way to record them, but that's what I can remember.) Right at the end UUI told me something about a problem with formatting the stick. I made a few attempts to reformat it, using the utility that comes with Windows 7 on my main machine and trying various combinations of settings fairly blindly as I didn't really know what would work. And Windows kept getting partway through formattng and then saying it couldn't format the drive or the drive was unreachable or not connected to the computer. The borrowed USB stick got very physically hot while I was doing this. I think it's most likely that the random USB stick that someone at the party happened to have lying around is damaged in some way, or else that at some stage, either due to problems with the UUI program or because I tried to format it too many times, I have broken it. And I think the best plan is to try again with a brand new stick, rather than trying any further to rescue this one. I shall try to find information about the correct settings for formatting a drive to work with UUI, but neither the Pendrivelinux site nor the main Ubuntu site have anything obviously helpful on a preliminary skim.

Date: 2015-11-10 12:28 am (UTC)
kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kaberett
Is further Shouty Geek Input (or at least input-by-me) welcome, or would you rather have commiseration/witness/something else?

Date: 2015-11-10 12:29 pm (UTC)
kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kaberett
The utility I mostly use for bootable USB sticks is UNetbootin; dunno if you'll find that more helpful than Pendrivelinux, but I have found its FAQs and step-by-steps very helpful and reassuring in the past.

Date: 2015-11-10 09:50 am (UTC)
wychwood: chess queen against a runestone (Default)
From: [personal profile] wychwood
I love Linux, but sometimes you do just end up with these horrible sequences of things going wrong one after another after another (seriously, XKCD is only kind of funny, because of how often you end up in totally ridiculous situations). (Not that that's a Linux-only issue, but it's usually Linux I'm trying to do more complicated things with.)

If it would be of any use, I could potentially send you a bootable USB stick with Ubuntu on - I think I still have one from last time I had to reformat my netbook.

Date: 2015-11-10 02:14 pm (UTC)
cjwatson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cjwatson
I'm going to try to avoid exact specifics here since [personal profile] liv is clear she doesn't want people jumping in and doing it for her, but the Pendrivelinux failure rings some rather specific bells (it might not be quite the same thing, but it's certainly related), and a bit of context around this may help in general - I'm aiming for "technical backstory" rather than "how-to post", not that I know the specifics of actually doing this from Windows anyway. Please do let me know if I've pitched it wrongly.

It used to be that OSes came on CD/DVDs or images that you could write to that kind of media, but that those images required some special massaging before you could boot them off USB, and these kinds of tools mostly grew up in that environment. Then people worked out how to make a "hybrid" image file that could be treated directly as either a CD/DVD image or a USB image, and would work equally well on either (it's a minor miracle that this is possible, really - it's a bit like one of those tricks where you write a single piece of source code that works in multiple programming languages). But the tools that deal with putting OS images on USB sticks either didn't catch up with the fact that they now need to do a lot less work, or they had other reasons for continuing to do that work (for example, you can usefully fiddle with an image to add persistent storage to it so that you can just always boot it from USB and never install it to your hard disk, but still keep your data around). This would be fine if the processes involved were completely reliable, but boot loaders are notoriously finicky, and in particular the syslinux boot loader has changed some of its interfaces a few times so that running the userspace installation tools from one version with the actual boot files from another version (which it's probably reading off the Ubuntu image) doesn't necessarily work.

But! Because Ubuntu images have taken this kind of hybrid approach for quite a while now, they shouldn't actually need any fancy massaging if all you want is to boot them and then immediately install to a hard disk. So one approach that's worth looking at, and certainly my default approach, is to see if you can just put the image directly on the disk without the disk creation tool trying to fiddle with the image's boot loader arrangements on your behalf. This may be a matter of turning off options in the disk creation UI, or there might be a more basic tool somewhere that does the job.

It would probably also be worth seeing if Pendrivelinux writes any log files anywhere that might be helpful for the purposes of debugging the failing case.

Date: 2015-11-10 07:59 pm (UTC)
lovingboth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lovingboth
bootable sticks are incompatible with using the same physical stick for file storage

Erm, says who? I manage ok with them.

Ouch for some of the rest. Amongst the issues may be that 15.10's install image seems to have a different way of being put on a memory stick from previous issues.

Before actually installing Ubuntu on the machine, I'd have a play with the 'live' system first - when you get it starting, you'll be offered a choice between installing or being able to use it and installing it later. You may or may not like Unity, its desktop. If you don't, try Lubuntu or Ubuntu MATE whose desktops are much more like Windows 7 and earlier.

Date: 2015-11-11 09:56 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
FWIW, it sounds most likely to be a USB stick problem, but it's also starting to sound like a USB-stick install isn't as well supported as it should be. If I were doing it, I would probably try a net install instead.

Date: 2015-11-13 05:51 pm (UTC)
cjwatson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cjwatson
USB sticks are probably the main way our testers test at the moment. USB sticks written from this particular Windows application, though, perhaps not so much so.

Date: 2015-11-12 09:48 pm (UTC)
silveradept: A kodama with a trombone. The trombone is playing music, even though it is held in a rest position (Default)
From: [personal profile] silveradept
I am following this with interest. I don't have Super Shouty Geek powers, I hope, but if you would like input, I will try to provide some.

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