3 problems upgrading to Ubuntu 18.04 LTS “Bionic Beaver” on an old Mac mini (2007 model)

The upgrade from 14.04 LTS to 16.04 LTS a few years ago was unproblematic, as I recall. So I was hoping this latest upgrade would go smoothly. It did not.

TL;DR: 3 big problems came up, but were fixable, thanks to solutions and ideas published by earlier adopters.

First I did the upgrade on my Kubuntu computer, a full-tower desktop machine which is also getting long in the tooth. That upgrade was slow, but mostly due to the WiFi situation upstairs in the home office. The throughput is not great, but good enough for work. After the slowness of that upgrade, everything else seemed to run pretty smoothly — just a few config file questions for me answer and it did everything else by itself.

So I set about upgrading my 2007 Mac mini from Ubuntu 16.04 to 18.04, and was quite pleased with the download speeds (duh…it’s connected directly the cable modem via ethernet). After the downloads completed in a third of the time or less, a quick reboot and I’d be in business. Or so I thought. I encountered one problem after another. Fortunately, others found these problems before me and published them. I am paying it forward for you here.

Wayland

It would hang on the startup screen and never let me log in. I mostly run this box headless, but every now and again I like a GUI for it. So I googled.

https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/gdm3/+bug/1767606

There’s some incompatibility between Wayland and the GNOME desktop manager and the integrated graphics card on my Mac mini’s motherboard. Solution: fall back to Xorg instead of Wayland. Edit the /etc/gdm3/custom.conf file and uncomment the line WaylandEnable=false.

DNS

After I got the display manager working, I quickly saw that no internet stuff dependent on domain names was working. Hard-coded addresses, like for the machines on my LAN, seemed to work fine. More googling led me to comment out the line:

dns=dnsmasq

… in the file /etc/NetworkManger/NetworkManager.conf so as to not use the systemd DNS-stub thing from systemd pointing to 127.0.0.53 or whatever. After a reboot, domain name resolution starting working again.

apt and $LANGUAGE in my locale

OK, DNS resolution was working again. I wanted to get the freshest versions of the packages (maybe fixing the previous problems). Reading the package lists with sudo apt update was running extremely slowly — several minutes just to advance from 1% to 2%, whereas this part of the task is over and done with normally quite quickly. I googled some more and found something to try here:

https://askubuntu.com/questions/251781/reading-package-list-takes-forever/327444 (kinda far down on the page)

Apparently the $LANGUAGE variable needs to be in the form of a two-character lower-case ISO code, like “en”. Mine had been set to something like “en_US.UTF-8” and it had never caused problems for me before. But I used localectl set-locale LANGUAGE=en to update it, and after a new login, things were working normally again.

Conclusion

I wonder when that old mid-2007 Mac mini will no longer be supported by the likes of Debian and Ubuntu. 11 years later though — it’s still chugging along with maxed-out RAM and an SSD HD upgrade along the way.

Fall’s about to fall



We walked around a bit today taking in probably one of the last “nice weather” days of the season. There were some nice leaf scenes over the past few weeks, but I always managed to miss the sunlight, being trapped in the office, or not happen to have my camera with me when the sun was actually out. You can click any of these to embiggen ’em if you like.

In geeky news, I finally got fed up with the crummy Xandros Linux OS and ongoing lack of updates to the software repository on our Asus Eee PC 701 (the 4GB SSD model), so I downloaded the Jaunty Jackalope version of Ubuntu, remixed for netbooks. I was impressed that it was so easy to install using a USB flash drive (or USB-attached HDD, or an SD card, which is what I did). Perhaps the days of burning ISO images to CD (or DVD) are over for anyone with a 1GB or more flash memory device (or external HDD). Stuff seems to work pretty well, right after the install (including improved WLAN connectivity to hotspots and stuff — so far, so good), but here’s one thing that (surprisingly) didn’t: Skype.

The video didn’t work because the onboard webcam was disabled in the BIOS (bwah? But then how did it work under Xandros?). I read about that online somewhere. The secret is to press Esc during the boot sequence to go into the BIOS and turn on the onboard camera. The onboard microphone is not working at all — neither with the included Sound Recorder-esque app in Ubuntu, nor with Skype. So that may be a project to make it work. I have yet to try it with a headset or external mic, so maybe there’s still hope. Sort of annoying though, since it worked just fine under crappy the Xandros distribution. One suggestion I saw on a Skype discussion forum post was to buy an external (USB) sound card for a few Euros and make it work that way, which bodes ill for my theory of simply using an external mic instead of the onboard one. But I’m surprised there not some army of cheap geeks out there who reverse-engineered the drivers for that hardware from the Xandros distribution for use with Ubuntu.

If this proves a viable alternative to the Xandros stuff that came with it, then we might have prolonged the life of this netbook by quite a bit. It was getting kind of frustrating not being able to (easily) run Firefox ≥v.3.


Dell Inspiron Mini 9-inch Netbook with Ubuntu 8.04 – personal experiences wanted

Warning: pretty geeky stuff in this post.

Our aging-when-we-bought-it-new laptop teetered another step toward the abyss while at the airport in Mexico City between flights on our way to Puerto Vallarta. It was there that the flakiness Sarah and I’d seen revealed itself to be due, at least in part, to a failing hard drive.

“OK, I can work around that…when we get back to Germany…” I thought to myself. I picked out an SATA hard disk drive from Amazon.de — a Toshiba MK2552GSX (250GB, for about 50 €) and downloaded a fresh ISO image of Kubuntu 9.04 (and burnt the ISO image to a CD on our Mac mini), removed the old Fujitsu 40GB SATA drive and connected the fresh new Toshiba one. The installation appeared to be going OK, until we got to the point in the process where the drive needs to be partitioned.

No dice. The BIOS wouldn’t recognnize the new drive.

“Hmm, maybe Scott‘s right and I should reflash the BIOS.” So I burnt an ISO image of that file onto CD, flashed the BIOS to the latest update for our lappy, a Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Pro V2035, and tried the whole thing again, just to make sure.

Still no dice.

We’d previously tried out an Asus Eee PC purchased from amazon.de and were pretty satisfied with that little thing, except that the battery in it refused to hold a charge whatsoever. Reading up on that particular product online after-the-fact (uh…should have done that BEFORE-the-fact) I discovered that those Eee PC things are particularly prone to significant battery drain — even when the thing is completely off, even when the battery is completely disconnected from the machine. Which kinda works against the concept of keeping a netbook charged and ready to go with you out the door on your adventures. So we opted to send it back and ask for a refund rather than a replacement. Amazon.de was prompt about that, but it still annoyed me that they sent a defective product in the first place.

So now I’m looking at turning that Toshiba drive, which despite a BIOS flash is still unrecognizable to my old lappy, into an external hard drive for use with a different netbook. Looking around online, I noticed that Dell is offering 9″ netbooks with Ubuntu 8.04 installed and an SSD, upgradable RAM, and a few other upgradable or customizable features. Sounds great, right? Still maybe not optimal for what I want. Check out this little chat session I had with a CSR from them if you can read Dorktsch.

Specifically, I’m not sure how I feel about

  • installing Kubuntu voiding the warranty (I guess for Dell that counts as a different operating system, even though I strongly suspect no one else would consider “Kubuntu” a different operating system from “Ubuntu”).
  • having no recovery DVD supplied with purchase (even though Dell sales to/from other countries apparently got recovery DVDs with them).
  • having to call tech support if I want to reset my machine back to its factory configuration.

Those things make me a little nervous. Still we are talking about a purchase of “only” 269€ (the way I configured my Wunschmaschine). I suppose Ubuntu (i.e. GNOME) might be just fine for our intended purposes (read email, do some light surfing, move photos from my camera onto an external HDD while traveling). Any advice to offer me? I’m particularly anyone who has bought one of these Dells or installed a flavor of Linux on another brand of netbook.