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Exploring Linux - Part 15

by Alan German

As I write this, Lucid Lynx, the next version of Ubuntu, is just a month away from being released. Since this will be a long term support (LTS) version, it is a candidate for updating the copy of Ubuntu that I use on my production machine. Some of you may recall that the “Toaster” just has to work. Plug it in, let it warm up, and its main job is to reliably provide E-mail and web surfing capabilities. The “Primary User” allows no surprises on this machine, so a stable operating system and core applications, with incremental updates over a two-year support period, are ideal. But, am I going to be allowed to update Ubuntu from Version 8.04 to 10.04 when the latter becomes available? To help answer this question, I thought I should check out the Beta 1 test version of Lucid Lynx that has just been released.

Obtaining the ISO file from the download mirror hosted by our friends at the University of Waterloo's Computer Science Club was simple using the Linux wget command. But, then I started thinking about the subsequent process. Sure, I could simply burn a CD with the beta version, but this would almost certainly be a waste of fifty cents, not to mention the creation of yet another coaster, sadly depleting the nation's supply of plastic. The chances were good that the beta version would be buggy, and it was certain that the beta version would eventually be abandoned in favour of the final release version. So, any CD version of the OS at this point would necessarily have a very short shelf life.

However, I knew that it was possible to create a bootable USB key as an option when running a live CD. So, could I bypass making the CD, and burn the ISO file, in a bootable form, directly to a USB drive? Ubuntu's Brasero CD burner utility definitely wouldn't do, since it insisted on seeing a CD or DVD in a drive. So, it was off to Mr. Google to find another candidate piece of software.

One program, that works just fine for the purpose is UNetbootin , the Universal Netboot Installer, that comes from SourceForge. As the program's author states: “UNetbootin allows you to create bootable Live USB drives for a variety of Linux distributions, from Windows or Linux, without requiring you to burn a CD.” Perfect!

UNetbootin is available from Ubuntu's repositories and so the software downloads and installs effortlessly. The only trick is to find out how to run the installed program, but even that isn't too difficult. It turns out that a menu item is added to Applications – System Tools. Running the program brings up a screen where you specify the distribution and version of the operating system (or certain other system utilities) that you wish to install, and the target USB drive that is to be made bootable.

The program will download the required software, or you can specify that you already have the installation file to be loaded. In my case, I simply checked the radio button for a Diskimage, left the default file type set as ISO, and browsed my hard drive to identify the Ubuntu distro image file that I had previously downloaded. UNetbootin automatically found the only USB drive present in my machine, a 2GB USB key (/dev/sdb1), and set that as the target. Clicking on OK started the installation and displayed a progress screen. Once the process completed, I was instructed to restart the machine in order to boot from the newly created bootable USB drive.




Many current computers are able to boot directly from a USB drive. This may require tweaking the BIOS to enable this capability, and it will almost certainly need a function key to be pressed (F12 in my case) to bring up a menu of bootable devices. Once I selected the USB Storage Device as the boot drive, the LED on the USB key flashed for a short time, and then Lucid Lynx came up on the screen in all its beta – and light purple – glory.

So, let's hear it for UNetbootin. A handy little utility for creating bootable USB drives, and the world's saviour in eliminating the creation of coasters through the burning of temporary CD-ROM's.

But, wait. What about Lucid Lynx (Version 10.04) I hear you say? Is it going to be a worthy successor to Hardy Heron (Version 8.04) as a long term support version. Well, the answer is - I don't really know. The beta version on the live USB doesn't support the video card in my test bed machine very well. The screen flickers for a little while, and eventually goes blank, so that I am unable to do any extensive testing.

It looks like I will have to install Lynx to my hard drive, and update the video driver to the proprietary version provided by the card's manufacturer, in order to be able to conduct a detailed review. But, this only reinforces my contention that UNetbootin is a very handy little program. I can always reuse my USB key – I saved fifty cents – and, I don't have a coaster to throw away!

But, I can provide a few quick observations on features of the new version. Firstly, it looks like GIMP is no longer included in the distro. No big deal since my favourite image editor can always be added from the software repositories. Secondly, because there's no GIMP, a new utility called Simple Scan has been added to provide support for scanning text documents and graphic images. This may be a welcome addition since the scanning process under GIMP was always somewhat cumbersome. The new program has very simplified controls, based on many fewer features, but should have sufficient power for the majority of users.
Finally, to my mind, there is a really weird development. All on-screen windows now have the minimize, maximize and close buttons in the top-left corner of the window rather than in the top-right corner that has been the norm until now. If this sticks for the final release version, it will take some getting used to. Every time I went to close a window, the mouse cursor was drifting up and to the right – until I remembered that the window header was now blank in this area!

This will be a major issue for the Primary User. I had hoped to load Lucid Lynx, but set the wallpaper back to the Hardy Heron version, so that the underlying change in the operating system would have essentially been transparent. But, with the major shift in window controls, this strategy may be quite literally out of the window! So, my question now is – can one run an old LTS version of Ubuntu forever?

Bottom Line:

UNetbootin (Open Source)
Geza Kovacs

Ubuntu Version 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) Beta 1 (Open Source)

Originally published: Septmber, 2010

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