Adventures with Ubuntu Karmic Koala

*No I am not talking about a spiritual trip to Australia or about the animal; Karmic Koala is the latest version of the Linux distro Ubuntu :) *

So I decided to switch to Linux on my laptop; since I found it much better suited for programming than Windows 7. First thing I tried was to run Linux on a VirtualBox environment; though it did work quite beautifully; it still wasn’t ‘perfect’. Therefore I decided to do an actual install; and I chose Ubuntu as it is now more or less the de-facto Linux distro for a desktop (and also since I had a Ubuntu CD lying around). It was an adventure of sorts, so I decided to document all that I did; as a note for myself and also for any of you who wants to do this. But then if you don’t want to read the technical bla-bla; you can go right to the point here.

Pre-installation woes

The first problem was that somehow my hard disk was partitioned as a ‘Dynamic’ volume; which is Microsoft proprietary and I had trouble getting the Ubuntu installation to understand this. So my first task was to revert the ‘Dynamic’ disk to ‘Simple’. It wasn’t as simple as I thought. But thanks to the Google, I managed to find a way. It involved using a low level hex editor to directly edit the values in the partition table. Detailed instructions are here. Now came another problem; as soon as I rebooted to Windows 7, only my first partition was visible. I was a bit scared that all my data was lost, but then I found this wonderful tool called as TestDisk. It scanned my disks and fixed my partition table for me. What a relief! I did a reboot and my happiness was short-lived – Windows 7 won’t boot anymore! Now I have lost my OS too. But this wasn’t as tricky as I thought. To fix that all I had to do was to boot with a Windows 7 setup disk and do a repair (the option comes right after you select the language). So now I finally had a working system with ‘Basic’ disks. Ubuntu now installed as a breeze and all was well.. that’s what I thought.

Post-installation woes

Now once Ubuntu was up and running, my display wasn’t working optimally. But to fix that all I had to do was to install the non-open-source drivers from ATI (which is easy to do from Ubuntu, look under System->Admin->Hardware Drivers). A happy few hours went by and it was time to watch IPL on YouTube when I realized that my sound card was not working. This was a major pain, I spent another few hours trying to figure this one out. The Ubuntu forum said that the solution was to install the backport drivers for ALSA.

sudo apt-get install linux-backports-modules-alsa-karmic-generic

Reboot and lo I had sound! But wait… my display driver is gone now. And now it was not possible to activate it anymore. The problem (my best guess, I am no linux guru) was that the ALSA install also updated my linux kernel version, which wasn’t supported by the display drivers. After another reboot into the older linux kernel version, I finally nailed it. The trick was to install the proper backport version instead of the karmic-generic one. The command is now:

sudo apt-get install linux-backports-modules-alsa-2.6.31-14-generic

You’ll have to replace the ‘2.6.31-14’ part to your linux kernel release number; which you can find by typing ‘uname -r’ on the terminal. Now I had sound and light! Awesome; finally a full fledged linux installation.

Coming to the point…
If you want a real free (as in speech or as in beer) alternative to your Windows or Mac, then Ubuntu is your answer. It is an awesome OS and not just for programmers. The performance is really really impressive and it looks and works clean and secure. But then again is it really ready for the common user? Unfortunately I think not. I am a tech guy, and computers are my bread-and-butter, but even for me the installation was such a headache. For a normal user, this would be a roadblock preventing them from going any further. That’s just a pity. Ubuntu is a real alternative with a solid foundation, but if only it polished some of those rough edges…

My laptop is an HP Pavilion dv6 2020ax and the Ubuntu version I tried to install was Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala.

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