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Saturday, 31 October 2009 13:05

Upgrading Ubuntu Linux made easy

There has been a significant amount of media coverage on upgrading to Windows 7. Reports are emerging of upgrades taking a long time, with typical times of 4-5 hours and some reports of up to 10 hours. Upgrading from a 32 bit version to a 64 bit version is not possible and requires a fresh install. In comparison, let's see how easy to is to upgrade to the latest version of Ubuntu Linux.

On Thursday 29 October 2009 Canonical released Ubuntu "Karmic Koala" 9.10. For existing users there are two main methods of upgrading to this latest release.

Firstly, hitting Alt+F2 which opens up the "Run application" box and typing in "sudo update-manager -d" and hitting Enter. This will check for and download the latest version. A version upgrade usually involves installing a new kernel, so a reboot is required and then you're off and going.

However, if you use this method you may miss out on some of the benefits of the latest version, such as formatting disks with the ext4 file system which improves performance. For a full list of features have a look at the new feature tour with screenshots.

Having been a computer technician for a decade, I have been burnt by many Microsoft Windows upgrades going wrong. I know that Linux is probably a great deal better at upgrading, but I still prefer a fresh install each time. This can get a little tedious, however Linux has a useful feature which makes this surprisingly easy.

To do a fresh install but retain all of your application settings, first take a copy of your existing "home" directory. This is where all of your customisations are stored.

If you attempt to do this with Windows, that is to copy C:\Users\ for Vista or C:\Documents and Settings\ for XP users, you will get a "file in use" message and the copy will fail. You will also not get all of your customisations, as some applications do not use this to store settings.

You will not get a file copy error when copying your "home" directory with Linux. Typically I copy my "home" directory to an external USB hard disk drive.

The key to this step is to know to copy the hidden directory files which start with a full stop (.). If you are using Ubuntu and Nautilus to copy your "home" directory, go to View and click on "Show hidden files".

You'll see lots of directories beginning with a full stop, such as .mozilla which contains your Firefox profile including your bookmarks. Commonly refered to as "dot directories", the other dotted directories contain all of the other customisations you have, with many of them stored in sub-directories in the .config directory.

Copy everything in your "home" directory to your backup media, be it an external USB drive, CD/DVD, USB key (if large enough) or network location.

Install the fresh copy of Linux, reinstall the applications you had previously and copy the contents of the "home" directory back across, overwriting the newly installed "home" directory. All of your applications will start the way that you had them set up before.

Using this method, I was able to upgrade my old laptop (Celeron M 420 @ 1.6 GHz with 2GB RAM) running Ubuntu Linux from 9.04 to 9.10 in approximately 1.5 hours. It took a few minutes to copy my "home" directory and installation of Ubuntu "Karmic Koala" 9.10 took a little over half an hour.

Then I installed the applications I like to use, such as Deluge (BitTorrent client), pyRenamer (for bulk and wildcard renaming of files, a very useful little utility!), Dropbox, Filezilla, Skype, gPodder (Podcast client), Grsync, Sound Converter and Ubuntu Tweak amongst others. Most of these are available in the standard Ubuntu repositories and some need to have their own repositories added which takes only a few seconds. The whole process of installing applications took about 30 minutes.

After copying back my "home" directory from my USB hard drive, I was off and working again with everything the way that I like it. If I had a faster laptop, the upgrade would have been quite a lot quicker and I could have accomplished the whole thing in under an hour.

When compared to upgrading Windows, upgrading or installing a fresh copy and retaining your customised settings in Linux is easier, faster and more reliable

For more information on upgrading, please look at "Upgrading to Ubuntu 9.10"


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.



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