tiistai 13. heinäkuuta 2010

Ubuntu Netbook Edition

It all started when I wanted to know what www-address does my new blu-ray player contact to at start up. That should've been easy enough: just install Wireshark and listen to the traffic in the air. After all, it's my WLAN so I'm free to tap it and can even turn the encryption off temporarily. Unfortunately it turns out that virtually no Windows Wi-Fi card driver supports the so-called promiscuous mode which means listening to traffic not addressed to the listening host. Luckily almost all Linux drivers do support it.

So, I figured I'd install some live distribution of Linux into a memory card, boot the computer from that, install Wireshark and get the job done. Fair enough, that was rather easy. I followed the instructions at the Ubuntu Netbook Edition download page, edited the BIOS settings so that booting from an USB device is allowed and so that something called the "quick boot" is disabled. Then I only had to figure out that to actually boot from an USB device (or the card reader) you'd have to hit ESC when the BIOS was starting up.

Now, the Ubuntu started fine, "apt-get install wireshark" worked perfectly and I managed to capture all sorts of traffic caused by the blu-ray player. Job well done, end of story, let's go home? Not quite. As we say in Finland, appetite comes with eating. I had had a small bite of Linux and now I wanted more. I figured I'd start with the screen resolution: it was set to 1024x768, which meant it was badly distorted because the native resolution of the screen is 1366x768. So I looked for some instructions for installing new drivers for the video chip, Intel GMA500, and found this one.

After doing the "sudo add-apt-repository" and "sudo apt-get" commands I restarted the computer, booted to Ubuntu again -- and was greeted with a white screen and an error message. Obviously the drivers didn't work that well. The Ubuntu crash reporting application refused to send an error report as there was a few hundred megabytes of outdated packages installed. So I tried updating everything using the Synaptic package manager, but the system brought it to my attention that there wasn't enough space for these updates in the memory card where I had installed Ubuntu.

At this point I should've stopped, booted back to Windows and erased Ubuntu from the memory card, but instead I got a better idea: I'd install Ubuntu to a free partition on the hard disk. After all, what could possibly go wrong? 

Well, a lot of things. For one, the Ubuntu Netbook Edition installer apparently overwrote the master boot record of the hard drive, rendering Windows unusable -- trying to boot to Windows would only bring up an error message and a recommendation to re-install the entire system. Right. Luckily ASUS had added a hidden 10 GB partition into the hard drive with an image of a working system. Also, it's just a netbook so I didn't have much stuff in it that I couldn't reinstall back later. A few photos maybe, but I wouldn't miss those.

So, the system restore can be launched at the boot up time and I did that. Surprisingly, it did absolutely nothing, besides probably erasing all my data. Ubuntu cannot read the mangled Windows partition either, otherwise I would've rescued all my data beforehand, of course. OK, so, now I had no Windows but an Ubuntu with a terrible resolution. Surely the video chip drivers would work once I updated all the outdated packages? Nope. I was greeted with the same white screen, and this time I didn't even get an error message. I could use it by launching a terminal and other programs from that but it isn't that much fun.

So now I've got a crippled netbook with a Linux system running from a memory card and no Windows and none of the data I previously had on my Windows installation. Luckily the Ubuntu on the memory card works fine, except for the bad resolution... Moral of the story? Don't install Ubuntu Netbook Edition on your Asus EeePC 1101HA if you plan to keep your Windows too. Also don't go messing around with the video chip drivers. Just use Ubuntu from a memory card or an USB disk if you must, but don't go beyond that.

2 kommenttia:

  1. Support for the GMA500 is terrible. A Linux distribution with quite OK support is Jolicloud. http://www.jolicloud.com/.

  2. Thanks for the hint, Rune! If only I had known about Jolicloud before... I'll be sure to try it out some day. :)