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Building an HTPC. Part 6: Installing Ubuntu

September 11, 2007

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

Sorry for the pause in posting, but trouble with the multimedia software (meaning I wasn’t sure I was going to stick with the open-source plan), lack of time to fix the problems, and then vacation, prevented me from posting this. But now things are back on track again!

I use Ubuntu as my main operating system when working, and find it a reasonably pleasant operating system. In fact, Linux in general is getting more and more user-friendly, while I find Windows rather getting less and less so. So, I want to use Ubuntu as the operating system for this HTPC/Mediacenter.

Installing Ubuntu was not as straightformwad as I had hoped, Mainly, I had four hurdles. Here are my hints:

Do not use a D-Link wifi card.

It seems that almost everyone that tries to use them have big problems with drivers, and everyone needs different solutions. The fact that D-Link also can happily have two completely different cards, with different chip sets and totally different drivers, and differentiating between this cards only with a revision number of the product (Rev B vs Rev C in this case) makes it next to impossible to figure out if a solution even applies to your card or not, as few people who write out solutions tell you which hardware revision they used. The annoying thing here is of course that I had bought this card because there were reports of them working well, and because they used a chip set that is supported out of the box by Ubuntu. But that isn’t enough, evidently. It is possible that my card actually was broken. Because I spent at least a day on getting it to work, and tried everything I could find. But the fact that I after one day still do not know for sure if it’s broken or not, shows that D-Link should be avoided at all cost.

In summary: If you have problems getting your D-Link card installed, the solution is to take it out and buy another one. D-Link cards are evidently as near to junk you can come without actually getting there.

After spending two half-days, I went to a store, bought a Netgear WPN311, popped it in the box and restarted. It worked. Yay for Netgear WPN311.

Don’t install 64-bit Ubuntu

Yes, I know, AMD64 users are no longer second-class citizens in the Ubuntu-world. All (or at least almost all) packages exist in 64-bit versions. However, 64-bit users are still seconds-class citizens *outside* the Ubuntu-world. The result? To get Flash to work, you have to do some serious trickery and actually install the 32-bit version of Firefox! And there is also no 64-bit version of Skype, and the 32-bit doesn’t seem to work. No, stick to the 32-bit version. Much better.

Do use separate root and home partitions. And use GParted to do it.

Ubuntu by default installs everything on one partition. I once back in the stone-age (2002) learned from the BSD installation FAQ, that this is a bad idea, because you may want to reinstall the operating system, and when you do, unices typically want to reformat the partition you install on. This goes for Ubuntu too. So, you should really have three partitions. One for /home, where you keep all the data you want to save when an OS is installed, and one for the swap, and one for all the rest. I’m happy I did this for my laptop, as the upgrade to Feisty didn’t really work. So I could just reinstall it from scratch. And since /home was on a separate partition, it was saved. And since most configuration stuff is in /home/yourlogin, the reinstall of Ubuntu has worked just as nice as an upgrade should have worked. (The previous upgrades have worked, fine, I have to say).

However, there is a little caveat here: The default partition manager used by the Ubuntu-install completely refused to create a big partition of the rest of my disk, after having created / and /tmp. This is some sort of bug, evidently. However, GParted worked great. I also used GParted when I upgraded my laptop to Feisty, since I had originally had a much to small root partition. I remember taking the minimal disk-space requirements for Ubuntu and doubling it, thinking that should be enough. It wasn’t really. It would probably have been enough for the multimedia computer, only 4GB is used up there yet, but just to be safe 10GB is probably a good idea. With GParted I could shrink the rather useless NTFS partition with Windows I have, and put that space into the root partition instead. I took time, but it worked beatifully.

Don’t use the NetworkManager

In Feisty, the fantastic NetworkManager and associated applet is default. That’s great news, if you have a laptop. But if you don’t it’s actually a bit in the way. Unless of course you want to sneak some bandwidth of your neighbors unprotected wifi. ;-) Mostly it was the way it has a tendency to ask for passwords when I didn’t expect it to, and the way it sometimes try to log in to networks I didn’t expect that annoyed me. NetworkManager asks for a password when it first connects. I’ve never understood the logic of that. When I have logged in to my account, I should reasonably have access to the stored passwords in the keyring, right? I find it very weird that I don’t. There is a way to autologin to the NetworkManager. But that doens’t works if you also autologin to the user account. I do, of course. Remember, this is a HTPC. It’s not really a PC, it’s a DVD/Video/Stereo/TV. You don’t log in to your TV do you? :-)

So, use a manual configuration for your stationary.

That’s it. Except for these four glitches, only two of which is Ubuntu’s fault, Ubuntu has worked flawlessly. As usual.

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