Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ubuntu 11.10 Experience on Dell D610

First off, I would like to congratulate Ubuntu team for releasing another milestone of a good Linux distribution. It is such a big project which requires great balance between schedule, functionality, level of polish and quality.

On the polish, I really like the new theme, it fits well to my taste.

Okay, the day it was released I got a little excited. I know/read a lot of horror stories about doing an upgrade. I haven't tried this in ages be it Windows or Linux. And so I tried...

The upgrade took longer than fresh install. I normally do vanilla install with minimal change to the configuration. So this is new to me. After the first reboot that's where the fun/pain begins.

My first impression with Unity/Dash on Ubuntu 11.10 was unpleasant. Tried to run gedit, nothing happens. Tried to run Firefox, nothing shows up :(. It is good that CTRL+ALT+T works. So I have terminal. Running gedit from terminal works!!! So it must be Unity/Dash that's not working well here.

I have been using Windows far too long to know that reboot does it magic. Tried that... tried to run Text Editor again... nothing. Tried it once more.... boom gedit shows up. What's going on here. It seems to me that this is basic functionality of Unity, to run applications :(.

So, I was thinking there must be issues here that probably have really hot, just baked patch, to make it all working. Viola... my wireless is not working :(. It was working prior to upgrading to Ubuntu 11.10.

Okay, back in 11.04, I have to manually install the driver too. Below is my wireless interface:

03:03.0 Network controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4318 [AirForce 54g] 802.11a/b/g PCI Express Transceiver (rev 02)
    Subsystem: Dell Wireless 1470 Dual Band WLAN Mini-PCI Card
    Flags: bus master, fast devsel, latency 64, IRQ 17
    Memory at dfcfe000 (32-bit, non-prefetchable) [size=8K]
    Kernel driver in use: b43-pci-bridge
    Kernel modules: ssb

It is a Broadcom BCM4318 wireless adapter. My impression is that they tried to improve the driver. The issue is that it is not compatible with how the driver that comes 11.04 was packaged/installed. Google to the rescue here, from the forums, I have to remove all the packages that I have installed to get BCM4318 working, then install again. That was not difficult. But low and behold, it is still not working as consistent prior to upgrade. I have far too many disconnects.

The painful truth? Upgrade is always messy. This is specially so if you are not using vanilla configuration. Thus say, if you have to change stuff manually, that's a red flag for upgrade.

So what am I to do here? Clean up my machine. Install from scratch. So I burned an ISO to a memory stick and fired up the install.

All went well, I supplied all the required data... yada yada. I am surprised that it did detect my wireless adapter. So I clicked on yes, use BCM4318 adapter to connect to the internet and do whatever it needs that connection for.

It was time for me to leave and have fun outside. I was back 4 hours or more later... installation was not complete!!!! :( Why!!! Maybe it was trying to connect to the internet and failed and just waited forever!!! I never bothered to investigate.

So, I restarted the installation without connection to the internet at all. It was a pleasant experience, installation completed in no time. That was a big plus!!! After reboot... no wireless connection... again :(.

I have to get the laptop using wired connection. Did sudo apt-get update && apt-get upgrade, things workout as expected. apt-cache search BCM4318 shows I need to install firmware-b43-installer. Did just that and yeah.... I am back. Works really great now.

It was a rough ride... but I still would like to thank Canonical for trying to push the boundary of Linux. Now this got me thinking, what should I do to be able to help, in my own small ways, the quality of the product? I should probably start testing alphas and betas and file issues away.



CB said...

Unity has issues with older video cards. I think it's mostly a video driver issue. They are still working on that aspect. If you load up classic mode from the login screen you can get a better idea if the program loading issue is video related. I would think it is as I have seen something similar on older Dell and HP boxes I tested 11.10 on. The box would act like that with unity on but as soon as I switched to classic it was operating like normal again.

The wireless driver issue is known and is caused by a lack of open source driver being available (bad hardware documentation from vendors). This has been present in the dell d600 series for a while. Open the additional drivers (aka jockey) screen whenever something is not working to see if there is a closed source driver available. In this case it might have been a new/beta open source driver to replace the closed source driver and was not functioning 100% yet. It will get there though.

Techno Scavenger said...

Hmmm... I will try loading classic and see how it behaves. On the other hand, I have seen the same behavior of Unity on VirtualBox guest or VMWare esxi 5.0 guest. So it might be that it has to do with the size/capability of video card. But I can experiment further.

I know about the wireless and hardware drivers in general. It is getting better but Linux is not there yet... what a sad story. This is kind of chicken and egg problem, not until Linux desktop reaches critical mass then we will see brighter future for Linux drivers.

Thanks for dropping by the way...