Linux Mint: Don't press the upgrade button!

by Rick Jelliffe

I was enjoying my new Linux Mint desktop, mentioned in a previous blog. I had upgraded all the packages to the latest versions (for the Bianca distro, at least, which is a few months behind the current major release) using the mint tool and everything was swinging the way it was supposed to. Today, disaster.

yesterday I clicked on a button (I think called "Upgrade") in the main menu, and up comes a box asking if I want to upgrade to Ubuntu 7.0.4, which I checked to find is the latest. That sounds good, I think to myself and press the fateful button. After 24 hours of downloading, it had become obvious that this was in a major operation that did not belong in a casual button. First, it required dozens of clicks on command prompts for packages that already existed. Then it suddenly exited. Was it finished? Hard to know. No processes running for it.

So I reboot, and it all fails. I t*suspect* the problem is that it has taken the file system configuration from my old Mandrake files on the bootloader, not from the Mint distro. So Ubuntu complains it cannot load the root partition; presumably it cannot find it on partition hd6 or whereever because it no longer exists. So now I don't have a bootable system; or at least, it boots into a strange RAM-based shell and I suppose I have to use the command-line tools to fix something. I got tired of doing this kind of thing in UNIX 20 years ago, why on earth are we still there? I am lost tonight, grrr.

Anyway, the moral is, don't push the button to Upgrade to Ubuntu 7.0.4! I know I should have downloaded the image and written it to ISO discs for booting, but the button was so tempting and seemed to be working well. Sigh. This is not a good experience.

I have been looking around for a non-Unix, non-Mac, non-Windows environment. One option that appeals to me is to have a LISP machine, because I used to work at TI supporting their Explorer AI systems at one stage: I see that some enthusiasts have actually made an emulator for the Explorer I, which might do me, though it is not clear how much of the Explorer system is intact with the distro. Another interesting option would be to build a system that only provided Java applications.

Looking around at the various virtual machine implementations and other technical option, it struck me that probably the easiest course currently is merely to have a stripped-down UNIX+X+DesktopManager with no applications that can be used as a fat host for the actual applications. Maybe I should try out BSD, for the base. It seems that most of the different environments that might be interesting are actually hosted under Linux/BSD anyway.

Suggestions for an interesting alternative to the hackneyed operating systems welcome. And ideas on how to get Ubuntu to look for the right disk partition when it loads doubly welcome!

13 Comments

John J.
2007-08-03 07:54:43
Yeah, a lot of people have had that problem. I was running Bianca myself a couple months back and almost made that mistake. The problem is that most of the synaptic repositories are strait Ubuntu repos. I don't think the Mint devs have modified synaptic so that it ignores Ubuntu update releases yet either, so when the next version comes out we will have to ignore the big shinny upgrade button again...


Other than that though, I have had no issues (except ATI driver issues that all Linux users wind up facing) with Cassandra or Bianca.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-08-03 08:22:53
John: Any links to how to recover from it?
Rick Jelliffe
2007-08-03 08:57:28
So it seems I have to reinstall mint. And that makes my decision to try the "modern" way of one big partition exactly the wrong choice to have made. Linux Mint does not come with repair or rollback options, and it overwrites the root partition / So bye bye config info, user data, and /usr/local, all because of one button.


This really is so poor it is beyond belief. Apart from this, Mint is really nice, but it "upgrade" is not a suitable euphemism for "completely destroy your system and force a disk reformat and reinstall". I could not recommend it with this flaw: I don't know whether it has been fixed in Cassandra, but it is not just easy for someone to do, the operation is placed so that an innocent person is quite likely to do it.

Chris Tyler
2007-08-03 10:26:55
To fix a Grub stage 1.5/2 bootloader location issue:


- Boot into grub (use a Grub ISO image to burn a disc, or boot into a 'rescue mode' from the install media of most distributions and run the 'grub' command)


- Search for a file that you know will be in your /boot filesystem. Try 'find /grub/menu.lst' and if that shows no output try 'find /boot/grub/menu.lst' -- You should get a partition ID, something like '(hd0,2)' (if you get two or more partition IDs, then you have two boot partitions on your disk, which is possible if you've been playing with multiple distros).


- Type 'root (hd0,2)' where (hd0,2) is from the preceding step. This configures GRUB to use that partition as the source of the installation files.


- Type 'setup (hd0)' where (hd0) is from the preceding step (leave the second argument out)


- Reboot and you should be off to the races.


On the other hand, if the problem is with your GRUB configuration file (menu.lst or grub.conf), then you'll need to boot into rescue mode, find that file, and fix it (or figure out the arguments you need and directly enter those into GRUB using the GRUB command line during the boot process).

Matthew Sporleder
2007-08-03 11:10:56
NetBSD/xen for an ideal virtual machine host.
Caitlyn Martin
2007-08-03 12:12:52
For the benefit of those not experienced with Linux, this isn't a generic Linux problem but rather a Linux Mint problem. My impression of Mint was that it isn't ready for prime time and you've confirmed that. Straight forward Ubuntu is a better choice. Why does anyone need a faster release schedule than Ubuntu's once in six months anyway? I don't get it.


If you want a distro with less cruft try something Slackware based that has user friendly GUI tools. I'm about to do a review of Wolvix 1.1 that is very positive. It's a live CD that can also be installed to a hard drive, either in a conventional way or as a "frugal" install, meaning it goes onto your disk as a compressed ISO and you still run it like a live CD, albeit with tools that can change what's in the ISO. In addition you can boot with the copy2ram option and the OS runs entirely from memory: very fast and nearly silent.


I'm also rather fond of Vector Linux and it is very easy to strip it down and run a minimal WM and the t

Caitlyn Martin
2007-08-03 12:25:17
For the benefit of those not experienced with Linux, this isn't a generic Linux problem but rather a Linux Mint problem. My impression of Mint was that it isn't ready for prime time and you've confirmed that. Straight forward Ubuntu is a better choice. Why does anyone need a faster release schedule than Ubuntu's once in six months anyway? I don't get it.


If you want a distro with less cruft try something Slackware based that has user friendly GUI tools. I'm about to do a review of Wolvix 1.1 that is very positive. It's a live CD that can also be installed to a hard drive, either in a conventional way or as a "frugal" install, meaning it goes onto your disk as a compressed ISO and you still run it like a live CD, albeit with tools that can change what's in the ISO. In addition you can boot with the copy2ram option and the OS runs entirely from memory: very fast and nearly silent.


I'm also rather fond of Vector Linux (also based on Slackware but with user friendly tools) and it is very easy to strip it down and run a minimal WM and the tools you want in that distro.

W^L+
2007-08-03 15:44:26
Lots of people have made that mistake, but it doesn't typically cause GRUB to lose their kernel. I almost made it, but decided to read the Mint page before I upgraded.


Since my install was less than a month old (and because I had spent some time tweaking it to my liking), I upgraded using the site's instructions (which have changed since I did it), winding up with a Cassandra-ized version of Bianca. I still like it immensely, although I have considered "upstreaming" to Ubuntu or even to Debian.


The two desktops running Kubuntu and Ubuntu were simple to move to Feisty Fawn, so it appears to be primarily an issue of not filtering the Ubuntu repositories through their own system.


Still, your problem sounds like you had remnants of previous OS installations still around, so when your current config changed, GRUB had no usable way to launch your system.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-08-03 18:12:58
Thanks for those hints. At the end of the day, a GUI shouldn't have a simple button or meaningful warnings if it requires other user actions (clean up old Grub items?) in order to be safe.


Perhaps upgrading to a version of Ubuntu with approximately the same version of the kernel is safe, so Cassandra to 7.04 for example, but not Bianca to 7.04?


I did in fact get as far as figuring out how to get into the GRUB shell (type e etc from the boot selection list) and finding the root partition (hd,5) and trying to use the ROOT commend, but without success, . The HELP ROOT on GRUB does not provide an example, which may have been useful. But I was not near another internet connection at the time.


Anyway, I am starting from scratch, this time with partitions for /, /home, and /usr/local as a compromise. (In the old days, we would always have separate partitions for /var and /usr too.)


One reason I left Mandrake was because updating the distro was not convenient. It seems that Mint has the same problem. It is sooo easy to update packages for a particular version of the kernel, and soo easy to do full installs, but the middle ground, just upgrading an existing install to a more recent version of the kernel and then updating the dependent packages, seems way out of range for someone who just wants easy point-and-grunt interaction. Is this where Linux has gone?

Clem
2007-08-04 12:07:39
This is a problem in Bianca (and probably also in Cassandra when Gutsy comes out). We're fixing it in Celena so that this notification doesn't pop up anymore.


After you've "upgraded" to Feisty, you can complete the upgrade to get a working Cassandra installation. The tutorial for this is here: http://www.linuxmint.com/wiki/index.php/How_to_upgrade_to_Cassandra


Rick Jelliffe
2007-08-08 09:12:46
Clem: It sounds like I should wait for Celena then. It is a *really* bad thing. I cannot recommend Mint because of it.
Jack Waldron
2008-06-19 08:20:50
Rick,


I too, almost fell for this trap in LinuxMint, but I think it has more to do with Ubuntu being the base upon which Mint is built. I clicked the button and saw the list, and immediately aborted. This resulted in, of course, a broken package list. A few, ok a really lot, of edits to the deb control files later and I was back in black.


This is something that is still broken in Linux Mint. I've been manipulating my apt configuration files to get me to the upgrade point. So, I'm running a totally bizarre, but stable, non-existent version of Linux Mint (somewhere between Celena, Cassandra and Daryna). They still don't have an upgrade path. Still, I prefer Mint over any other distro, and I've been using Linux since '94.

nark
2008-07-10 02:32:30
well found this after i too did the upgrade button, i managed to use the nvidia driver to save myself from total disaster by reinstalling it. seemed to fix my kernels upgrade and i got a desktop back only to find all embeded flash and anything firefox based not working. Also i find mints file transfer speed very slow...hovering no faster than 30mbs from a 10000 rpm serial ata hd than in windows manages a staggering 130mbs. disapointing. i at this stage wonding wot to do...debian thou old at least works but the prospect of spending 2 weeks at the comand prompt again setting it up is not appealing.