Ubuntulite: Problems Running Feisty on Old Hardware

While I was moderately happy with Fluxbuntu, I decided to give Ubuntulite a shot. It sounded like a great idea – the most basic of basic systems, with minimal Openbox setup on top of it. Fluxbuntu still seemed to exhibit some strange bloat here and there, and a very stripped down system seemed exactly what my old junky Presario 1240 needed.

Ubuntulite Logo

So I followed the Ubuntulite instructions to the iota and got the system on my machine. It’s very spartan, and rough around the edges, but hey – that’s what I wanted, wasn’t it?

But I run into a heap of issues with this installation. And I’m not really blaming Ubuntulite team for this. I think this is sum of unfortunate software choices, and inherit Feisty issues. My biggest issue was the strange shit that was happening on boot time. Every time I would power up this machine, I would get the following lovely message:

[ 0.000000] ACPI: Unable to locate RSDP
Loading, please wait...
kinit: name_to_dev_t(dev/disk/by/uuid/the-long-uuid-goes-here) = hda5(3,5)
kinit: trying to resume from /dev/disk/by/the-long-uuid-goes-here
kinit: No resume image, doing normal boot...

The machine would actually hang and wait about a minute on the Loading prompt before displaying the kinit messages and resuming boot sequence. Apparently, this issue has not one but at least two bug reports on launchpad already #103148 and #105316 and neither one has been resolved. There is also this thread in the Ubuntu forums about it. I followed all the proposed fixes and nothing worked. This was not a show stopper, but an annoyance.

I finally resolved it by following the instructions here, but instead of using the UUID’s I actually modified my fstab to use standard notation like /dev/hda5. If you are to lazy to follow the link and try to figure it out on your own, here is what you do. In your /etc/fstab you will see the following line for swap:

#/dev/hda5
UUID=the-swap-partition-uuid-number-here	swap	sw	0	0

Delete the UUID bullshit and change it to:

/dev/hda5	swap	sw	0	0

Now open your /etc/initramfs-tools/conf.d/resume. It will have a long UUID listed there. Get rid of it, and replace it by simple:

RESUME=/dev/hda5

Once that is done, do:

sudo update-initramfs -u

Note that this will take around 17 million hours when you are on slow hardware, so just be patient. Once it is done, sudo reboot now. Problem solved – at least for me. Your millage may vary.

To get rid of the ACPI error I just modified my GRUB entry to add acpi=off noacpi at the end of the kernel string. Go to your /boot/grub/menu.list and find the part where it lists all the bootable entries. Find the line that specifies the kernel – it will look something like this:

kernel	/boot/vmlinuz-version.number root=/dev/hda2 ro quiet splash elevator=cfq

Slap the aforementioned string at the end like so:

kernel	/boot/vmlinuz-version.number root=/dev/hda2 ro quiet splash elevator=cfq acpi=off noacpi

This is an old POS laptop, and none of the distros I tried could figure out the ACPI stuff for it. I kinda gave up on that stuff. I mean, there is no point in loading it if it won’t work on this machine anyway, no?

The rest of the boot was working ok, but I noticed bunch of things there that I can probably shave off to save time – like fetchmail, CUPS and etc.

Openbox configured itself pretty well, but with two odd quirks. First one would only show up when you switched to a TTY using the Alt+Function Key shortcut and then go back to X. The display would become inexplicably dim and dark. Almost as if someone turned down the brightness on your monitor down to the lowest setting – but only when displaying X. All the other terminal screens looked fine. Killing X and restarting it solves the problem. I’m suspecting this is some oddball vesa quirk. Fluxbuntu did not seem to have this issue. :(

Any idea why this happens and how to fix it? Once again, this is not a show stopper – just annoying as hell.

The most bizzare quirk however was the odd Openbox numlock behavior. The Presario 1240 is a laptop, and as many mobile machines it as one of those Fn keys and no numeric keypad. In a half assed attempt to provide customers with one, Compaq decided to use combos like Fn+J through L to mean 1-3 thereby re-using the whole right side of the keyboard as the numpad.

When logged into Openbox, it forces NumLock to the on state and so my keyboard would actually use these alternate values for all the “fake-numpad” keys. So pressing K would actually type 2, pressing P would trigger a minus sign and etc. I could still get the “normal” letters by holding down the Fn key as I press them but that was just plain stupid. External keyboard would work normally, and pressing NumLock on it would “fix” this issue on the built in keyboard as well.

Quickly swiching to a TTY and back would do the same. But then I’d have to deal with that dark-vision effect so that was not a good solution either. Why wouldn’t I just hit NumLock on the laptop keyboard? Oh, probably because I fucking couldn’t. You see – NumLock on that keyboard is one of these special keys that can only be accessed while holding Fn key. And for some reason, it would just not work. Whooptie do!

Fortunately, it seems that I’m not the only person experiencing this issue, and there is a quick software fix for this behavior called numlockx:

numlockx off

The downside of this is that you have to run this command every time you boot into X. I’ll have to figure how to plug this command into the openbox boot sequence, along with commands to start the fbpanel and xsetroot into something not ugly. Care to point me in the right direction? I still haven’t gotten around to customizing my environment this way.

Its strange, but none of the other distros I used really touched NumLock. Go figure.

Btw, I’m not saying Ubuntulite is bad I actually I kinda like it. Being rough around the edges is kinda their aim, so I can’t complain about that. And the fact it doesn’t pus any given setup GUI setup on you let’s me experiment with different lightweight components and create an environment I’m happy with. Most of my problems seem to be Feisty related – rather than Ubuntulite specific. Dapper was rock solid on this machine. Feisty is a tad flaky as you can see from the issues above. I will play around some more with this system. I think I solved most of the jarring issues, and the rest will probably just fall into places soon. If it continues being flaky, and pisses me off I will probably scrap this installation and try Vector or Wolvix at some point. We’ll see.

Update 09/23/2007 11:44:03 AM

Just to clarify – Ubuntulite is still in a very early beta stage. It’s in no way a finished product. I’m not really bashing the distro – just pointing out minor issues I encountered with the early version. If you download it now, it will be more polished and usable than when I got it because they just released a new version. :) I think this will be a really good distro for old hardware once it matures a bit and reaches a stable state.

[tags]ubuntu, ubuntulite, compaq, presario 1240, ubuntulite on presario 1240, compaq presario, lptop[/tags]

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12 Responses to Ubuntulite: Problems Running Feisty on Old Hardware

  1. jambarama UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Sucky! Once it was on, except for the quirks, what was the performance like as opposed to your other tries? I’m curious which distro actually is the lightest.

    Other question – if these are feisty, not ubuntu, issues, why not go with dapper ubuntulite? It was LTS I believe, so it should still be available.

    Reply  |  Quote
  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Well, the new Ubuntulite release is build on top of Feisty so I suspect using dapper would cause simillar headaches because of repository mismatches and etc..

    Ubuntulite is very light. It’s essentially just the netinstall of feisty, plus rudimentary X with openbox. It’s really not something that one would expect to run “out of the box” – at least not yet. But I’m not holding that against them. I kinda like the rough spartan feel. :) It let’s me tinker.

    I actually fixed all the issues already except that weird glitch where X dimms upon switching back from TTY. No clue what is causing that.

    DSL was probably faster, but it had major X issues on this hardware.

    Slax had faster boot times, but you can’t really install it on HD as a usable distro.

    Fluxbuntu was actually bit heavier, and shipped with more stuff installed by default, but provided much better user experience (ie worked out of the box, shipped as a live distro and etc..).

    Ubuntulite aims to be even leaner than Fluxbuntu, and ships with almost nothing.

    Reply  |  Quote
  3. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    So… why are the people in the ubuntulite logo sporting quiffs? What’s common between psychobillies and low-spec hardware?

    Although I suppose it explains why it might be a bit rough around the edges but fun to use.

    In other news… am I blind, or is there nowhere to create an account on your site, Luke? I feel so lonely and unloved seeing my name in black instead of the serene blue of your regulars…

    Reply  |  Quote
  4. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Ah, I see, it’s not what I thought it was.

    Reply  |  Quote
  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I quietly removed the registration link some time ago, because I noticed that:

    a. few real people actually post from registered accounts
    b. bots love to register 20-30 accounts per day.

    So I killed it. Maybe I’ll bring it back with a CAPTCHA one day. As I suspected, hardly anyone noticed it was gone.

    But yeah – if you want the name in blue, you just have to put some sort of URL in the URL field. ;)

    Oh, and if you want the avatar icon, go to http://gravatar.com, sign up with the email you use here, and upload a picture. Side bonus – it will work on every blog that supports gravatars, not just mine. :)

    And, holly crap! Now that you mention it, the Ubunulite logo looks like it’s made out of Candlejacks! But I better not say his name or he will come and kidna-

    Reply  |  Quote
  6. Shae Smittle UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux says:

    I will be adding support for dapper hopefully this weekend.

    Reply  |  Quote
  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Thanks. Seems like a good move, because since Dapper is LTS tons of people will keep using it at least until Hardy comes along.

    Reply  |  Quote
  8. Shae Smittle UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux says:

    If you would like to give it a try, you can. Technically it should work right now, but I will be updating the how-to soon. The install script is a ‘unified installer’ in that you use the same install script for both feisty and dapper (As of version ubuntulite-install-1.sh).

    Reply  |  Quote
  9. I hope everyone keeps in mind that ubuntulite is being beta tested now. It is not a final version. We haven’t selected the final packages we intend to install, and we haven’t got the kinks worked out yet. The thing is we need to spread the word in order to get a testing base. It’s warty warthog level right now, but Shae is working very hard on it.

    If you would like to help out come to the list or the website. We need developers, graphic artists, testers and boosters.

    Reply  |  Quote
  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I think I did mention that, but I edited the post to make it even clearer. For the most part everything is working without a hitch even in my very early beta version.

    Great job guys!

    Reply  |  Quote
  11. Shae Smittle UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux says:

    Right now feisty should be relatively stable, but dapper is a little shaky in terms of installing. However, at this point of the project, updates to the meta-package might break some things so that is why I have the warning on the instructions. I am hoping to freeze packages at 0.8 on the way to out stable release 1.0

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  12. Pingback: Terminally Incoherent » Blog Archive » Setting Up a Private Nethack Server on Ubuntu Lite UNITED STATES WordPress

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