Upgrade from Ubuntu 11.04 to 11.10, and a pleasant user interface greets you. Does the good news end there?

UPDATE (18th Nov, 2011): I carried out a clean installation from a USB drive, and no longer have the purple/blank screen problem while loading the 3.0.0-12-generic kernel. I can conclude that a problematic web upgrade process prevented the newer kernel from loading. Possible fixes are being discussed on various forums, but none of them have worked for me.

I’ve been running Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) for several months and have been satisfied with the experience. In October 2011, the newest stable Ubuntu 11.10 version (Oneiric Ocelot) was announced.

The upgrade to the new distro can be carried out by running the command:

sudo do-release-upgrade

You could also enable automatic updates, like I did, and have Natty Narwhal prompt you to upgrade. Simply go to System -> Administration -> Update Manager, click on the ‘Settings…’ button, and in the ‘Updates’ tab, turn on the checkbox for automatic updates. Also ensure that the release upgrade option is set to “Normal releases”.

To me, it was a surprise that I didn’t have to go to fetch Ubuntu 11.10 or run a command to get it – it came straight to me!

Welcome to Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot

Fast and easy install? Well, the upgrade certainly did not go on unattended and repeatedly questioned me about replacing some old configuration files.

My machine, incidentally, isn’t so dated – it runs an AMD Athlon X2 2.5 GHz processor with 2 GB RAM and an Nvidia GeForce7050PV graphics card.

After a lengthy download of over 850 MB – the size may vary for you, depending on the number of packages needed – and an install process which wasn’t without hiccups, I had to restart, only to find a blank purple screen and no hard disk activity.

Enough to cause my heart to sink.

Doing a hard reboot took me to a menu with a list of options to choose from:

  1. Ubuntu, with Linux 3.0.0-12-generic
  2. Ubuntu, with Linux 3.0.0-12-generic (recovery mode)
  3. Previous Linux versions
  4. Memory test (memtest86+)
  5. Memory test (memtest86+, serial console 115200)

If I’d choose the first option, I’d be back to square one. Choosing the second option would result in a kernel panic.

I went to “Previous Linux versions” and found these options:

  1. Ubuntu, with Linux 2.6.38-8-generic
  2. Ubuntu, with Linux 2.6.38-8-generic (recovery mode)

I chose the first one and was greeted by a glossy LightDM login screen, followed by a beautiful new Ubuntu desktop.

An Exciting New Linux – But not everything’s Smooth Sailing

It turned out that Ubuntu 11.10 was failing to load the new Linux 3.0.0-12-generic kernel. I decided to install the startup manager from the synaptic package manager, and set the default operating system to the older Linux 2.6.38-8-generic to allow my system to function.

Startup Manager

A big thank you to the posters discussing this issue on the thread that helped me!

As for the user interface, much of it is revamped. The action of dragging and docking folders is nicely animated. My Atheros chip based Wi-Fi adapter now connects me to the Internet almost instantly, unlike the case with Natty Narwhal, where I had to wait for several tens of seconds before connectivity would be established. The processes of both starting up and shutting down the computer take only slightly longer.

There’s a prominent launcher that appears when hovering the cursor on the left side of the screen, to help you open your favorite application almost instantly.

Clicking the dash on the top-left corner reveals a translucent box to help navigate to various parts of your machine fairly fast. There’s a Mac OSX-style spotlight for instant searches. However, critics are furious that Ubuntu is trying a lame copy of Mac’s stunning user interface and falling short.

Accessing the most frequently used and other installed applications through the dash was never easier, not least due to the Filters feature that is clearly a leap over the basic offerings of Ubuntu 11.04.

Ubuntu 11.10 Desktop

What worries me is that the dash once became unstable and disappeared.

Switching applications is facilitated by pressing either the Alt+Tab or Alt+Grave buttons and choosing a running program from a frosted-glass box. However, this seems to cause my computer to hang after using it for several seconds, calling for a hard reboot.

I haven’t really tried many of the applications that came pre-bundled with Ubuntu 11.04 or were available for download, since I spend most of my time on the Internet. The few I did try from the math, engineering and graphic designing sections failed to impress me, and I won’t be surprised if Ubuntu 11.10 is not very different on this front.

The Conclusion?

Well, there still seem to be issues that Canonical has to address. Ubuntu 11.10 with its default Unity interface surely has an unprecedented, elegant look and feel. But there’s got to be more than skin-deep beauty – Canonical should definitely have done better testing on the upgrade process and its end result.

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