Sunday, August 22, 2004

Turning back the clock

I like to use Linux with the mindset of a user. I am very wary when I realise that I am using my 10 odd years of using Linux on and off to solve problems that may be faced by a user. This is a line that I clearly mark.
I am saying this because as Linux goes mainstream, this has to become more important. I believe it is the responsibility of entities that are making money out of Linux to put in the effort to ensure that it can be used by the intended users without having to resort to constant professional help. This is even more so for Linux distribution companies like RedHat and Novell. When more users can use the final distribution, it creates more sales opportunity for them. Let's not put aside the fact that the ease of configuration in Windows is what made it most attractive to businesses. You can shoot yourself in the foot with it (misconfigure till you loose data) but at least you did it with ease and style.
Which brings me to my tale this time. Updating (and all it's ills) are handled with relative ease in Linux. With Mandrake, running Mandrake Update and several clicks later will update the system. Emphasis on backwards compatibility and ensuring inter-dependancy is always maintained usually makes regular updates painless. The most crucial part of regular updates is kernel updates. If you are a business user and you use an enterprise version of Linux chances are you're running with the dinosaurs, kernel-wise. For most of us using the Fedora or Mandrake, kernel updates are not that often but still regular. Most experienced users will point out that there is no race to use the latest kernel. Most of the time they are fixes and security updates, rather than additional functionality. You can skip an update releaste or two but stray not too far.
having a broadband connection is a blessing

Mandrake recently released an updated called kernel 2.6.3-15. I was using kernel 2.6.3-13. I've updated many times before without a hitch. I have an Nvidia card and it is tied to a specific kernel. So after a kernel update, I need to generate a new driver. This means I need the updated kernel sources, too. So after updating the kernel, I downloaded the kernel sources. Having a broadband connection is a blessing.
The Nvidia installer uses the kernel sources to generate a driver. However, the Nvidia installer complained that my sources were not clean. It suggested I do something with mproper. I followed the instructions without success. Since I was using the new kernel, I switched back to the old one to get to my graphical interface. This was easy because Mandrake keeps a link during boot-up (using lilo) to older versions of the kernel. Very thoughtful. After following suggestions from the web, the problem was not solved, I couldn't generate the Nvidia driver and I was still stuck using the older kernel. So I decided to make a permanent switch back to the older kernel. Now, this was not common but it was very easy and over in a few minutes.
Later I wanted to try VMware. This is a cop-out, I'll admit, but sites that use Windows Media Player tend to let me have the multimedia stuff much faster and I wanted to user Yahoo Launch. What these sites do is possible with linux-friendly players like Real Player but the developers tend to layer it with so many pages and Real Player 10 for Linux (based on helix) still balks regularly at sites that play ads before showing the good stuff. Yes, I have heard of Crossover and that is next on my list.
VMWare says during the installation process that it need to recompile something using the kernel sources. However, I had installed the kernel source for kernel 2.6.3-15 but I was using kernel 2.6.3.-13. As part of it's installation, the newer kernel source package removed files from the older kernel source. "So, I'll just remove this version of the kernel source and install the old one," I thought. But after an hour of searching the Internet, I could find only a single source for the kernel source package, a server in South Africa. Apparently, as the new kernel source is updated on mirrors worldwide, the old one is simple lost and never archived. And this site was horrendously slow. Fearing that some other program might need the sources, I hunkered down for a long download and waited. Two rpm commands later, one to remove the kernel source package and another to install the newly downloaded kernel source, I was back in business.
rolling back was not too hard

To be frank, the problen with the newest kernel-source could have been fixed fast enough if I was familiar with building a kernel and the associated processses. But then it probably would have taken more time and crossed the line between the Linux user and the Linux professional.
The good thing about Linux is that eveything is exact. How parts interacts with each other are very regulated by convention or by viture of creating packages or packaging against a specific distribution. Although it took some time, rolling back from a semi-faulty package was not too hard, even for something as complex as a kernel update.


  1. The mindset of a user??

    How many users do you know who would want to 'recompile the kernel'?

    I certainly wouldn't unless I absolutely had no choice and then I would be questioning the wisdom of selecting Linux as my operating system.

    I use it. I like it. But I'm not yet prepared to regen the kernel. I'm not even sure I know what it means!!

  2. What I did was only obtain the kernel sources. The Nvidia driver and VMWare needed the kernel sources to generate an executable. Generation, in this case, through compilation. In each case it was automatically done by the installer program. The troublesome bit was obtaining the older kernel sources. That decision was made after attempts to follow on screen suggestions by the Nvidia installer program (the whole mproper thing).
    Very sorry if I gave the impression that I recompiled the kernel to regenerate the kernel.


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