Ubuntu stability. I’m still not seeing it.

Here’s some more red meat for all you Linux fans to chew me up over. My Lenovo T60p laptop here at work continues to be annoyingly unstable and I can’t seem to figure out what the cause is. I’ve gone as far as to completely re-install Ubuntu adding in only the bare minimum of extra stuff to get it operational and yet it’s crashing to a black screen, which requires me to power off the machine to get it running again, upwards of 5 to 8 times in a day. In the two hours I’ve been here this morning I’ve had to reboot it four times and that’s just unreasonable. These crashes occur in one of two ways: 1) simply browsing the web and 2) logging out at the end of the day. And, before you ask, I have Desktop Effects totally disabled. The two things beyond the basic install that I put on were 1) ATI’s graphic drivers with the Catalyst Control Center and 2) Adobe’s Flash player. That is it.

I installed the ATI drivers because it’s the only way to get Ubuntu to work properly with the 22” HP monitor I have hooked to the docking station. The built-in screen resolution utility with the default drivers absolutely will not detect that I have two displays (laptop and external monitor) attached, though it will kind of clone the display to the second monitor. Nor will it let me set the external monitor to a resolution higher than what the laptop screen will handle. And I installed the Adobe Flash software because the other two options are not fully compatible and everything I’ve read says that version 9, which I’m using, should work just fine with Ubuntu. My guess is that there’s something wonky with the ATI drivers, but there’s nothing in the way of alternative drivers that works properly with the setup I have here.  Again I freely admit that my lack of Linux knowledge is a contributing factor to my troubles, but it really shouldn’t be this hard to get a stable system that actually does what it’s supposed to do with so little extra crap added to the box. Every now and then I’ll get lucky and Firefox will just quit for no apparent reason—no error messages, no “this application has to be shut down” dialogs, just gone—and I won’t be able to launch it again until I figure out how to kill the process or reboot the system, but those are rare compared to the black-screen-of-death crashes I’ve been getting.

I read an article recently that said Microsoft should be worried about Ubuntu because it “out Vista’s Vista” and I had to laugh. Here’s the relevant snippet:

Well Steve you forgot your biggest threat so far, forget Apple for the moment, they have a few problems of their own to worry about before they are any real threat, Google is so far in front of you at the moment that they possibly dont even consider you a threat yet and Yahoo, well the further you distance yourself from that, the better, you really need to worry about Linux, and Ubuntu in particular as the current version called Hardy Heron out Vista’s Vista. It out performs Vista on the same hardware and it works right out of the box without a drama, the inclusion of Wubi, thus giving it the ability to install within a folder on a Windows machine, yet run as a complete OS without having to fiddle with boot loaders and such will give a lot of die hard Windows users a look at just what Vista should have been, and maybe turn them towards open source.

Not from my experiences it doesn’t. I’ve been running 32 bit Vista Business Edition for quite some time now and it has been rock solid stable. Certainly much more stable than Windows XP was and a helluva lot more stable than even a minimal install of Ubuntu has been. Useless as it is I can enable full desktop effects on Vista without worrying if it’s going to crash my system, not true on Ubuntu 8.04. I can install the proper video drivers for my video card and access all the features without having to worry if it’ll make my system unstable. I can install Adobe’s Flash player and not have to wonder if it’ll make my system unstable. “Works right out of the box without drama”? From what I’ve seen it is to laugh. This became even more glaring to me when I consider the fact that literally all I do on my work machine 99% of the time is run Firefox. Compare that to my Vista box which I not only browse the web with, but edit videos, play system taxing 3D games, playback music, and a whole host of other much more intensive applications.

Let me reiterate that this may be entirely the fault of my own personal ineptitude at using Linux, but it seems like it’s a lot harder than it should be. Perhaps it’s the laptop I’m trying to run it on. I’m told that some Lenovos don’t play well with Ubuntu, but I don’t have a choice in the matter as it’s a work machine. The odd part to me is that I have two Lenovos sitting here – the aforementioned T60p and an older T43p – and Ubuntu works just fine on the older laptop, but then I hardly touch the older laptop during the day so it spends most of its time idling. I also haven’t installed anything extra on the older machine as compared to the two things I installed on the T60p. Is the message I’m supposed to take away from this that Ubuntu is great so long as you can live with the default install and hardly ever use the damn thing? That wouldn’t work for me because I’m an unabashed tinkerer. I’m always trying out new software and new things on my hardware. Am I foolish to expect that the OS should know how to handle dual monitors without barfing all over the place? Is it really too much to ask for a simple hardware interface that doesn’t require poring through obscure text files to change system settings in hopes it’ll solve the problem? Google searches turn up no end of suggestions all of them providing differing changes to be made to various system files and none of which seem to solve the problem. The point I’m trying to make, again, is the fact that I’m considered a “Computer Professional” and I’m having a hard time. Do you really think Linux in general and Ubuntu in particular can really steal Microsoft’s crown with the average computer user if I’m having this much trouble?

Let the gnashing of teeth begin.

14 thoughts on “Ubuntu stability. I’m still not seeing it.

  1. im going to have to agree with you here. i switched to ubuntu a couple months back and while i like it for the most part and the learning curve was tolerable there is a lot to be desired in the graphics department. almost any time i have multiple graphics sources up one or the other is going to slow to a crawl. ive only found one video player that will actually play when i have firefox open (dragon player) and multiple tabs in firefox? not if any of them have anything to do with flash. i cant even open two tabs of myspace for the love of pete. not that its all bad, ive managed to find a sweet spot running wine and my steam games (dod, tf2) and actually get better frames than windows if im using the blackbox window manager. acceptable frames in WOW but have to run in windowed mode if i need to be able to tab out for any reason. ill admit as well that if my proficiency were greater i might not be having some or all of these issues but the ‘out of the box’ comment is laughable.

  2. I’ve been using whatever comes standard on Ubuntu 8.04. In all honesty I wouldn’t know how to change the kernel.

  3. I’ve been running Ubuntu on a POS server for about a year now. Although I’d be cautious to blame Ubuntu, when the cheap hardware could be at fault, crash recovery is a major failure for me. If operating system files are corrupted, I have no easy choice but to format and reinstall. The live CD should come with some kind of repair tool, which would replace damaged files.

  4. The only thing that comes to mind is the display driver for your crashing problem. Try running this command and pick the items needed from the wizard. Make sure you choose ATI when it comes up. If you still have crashing you can try choosing one of the defaults.

    sudo -dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg

    If that doesn’t stop your crashing problem I am not sure what will. You could also try an older version of Ubuntu. Sometimes for whatever reason a different version using a different kernel will work better with certain hardware.

    I think the author of that article above is off when saying Ubuntu will beat out Vista, in the sense of “Watch out MS!!” But the author is correct, Ubuntu will outperform Vista on any hardware platform. I don’t think I’ve seen Aero Glass run efficiently on anything older than a P4.

    I will also agree with the author that I would be worried if I were MS. As an Ubuntu user since the early 6.x days I can tell you they have made HUGE strides. The fact you can do almost everything from a GUI shows progress. In fact I would argue in the last 4 years the progress of Linux in general has been much greater than MS. The growth of not only the user base, but of developers too has been huge. So naturally Linux is only going to get better. And before I forget, it’s free. Again I would be worried if I were MS.

    I’m not going to sit here and tell you you’re crazy and off you’re rocker for having issues with Linux. It happens, and if you don’t like it that’s okay. I give you much credit for giving it a shot. I hope you figure out your issue and I’ll let you know if I think of anything else.

  5. I feel your pain Les.

    I had 7.10 on an old (5 years or more now) laptop I had. After the learning curve I was able to get it to work to satisfaction. I was estatic, finally a Linux Distro in which my wireless would work without a butt ton of work!

    then I upgraded to 8.04… Wireless card quit working and usb IR mouse quit working.. seems like there was something else also but I forget now.

    Spent a few days trying to figure out the wireless card. Finally reinstalled Windows XP!!

    My thoughts now, Linux is good if you have nothing better to do but spend hours on end trying to figure out how to configure something/install something. But if you just want to get the job done, Windows isn’t that bad after all!!

    Good Luck buddy!

  6. Linux is good if you have nothing better to do but spend hours on end trying to figure out how to configure something/install something. But if you just want to get the job done, Windows isn’t that bad after all!!

    The only change I would make is that, if you are used to Windows, Linux is good if you have nothing better to do but spend hours on end trying to figure out how to configure something/install something. But if you just want to get the job done, Windows isn’t that bad after all!!

    If you are not used to any OS or have very limited experience, what does it matter where you spend your time?

  7. f you are not used to any OS or have very limited experience, what does it matter where you spend your time?

    I see your point. Personally, I can find 98% of everything I want to do in Windows by clicking around for less than 10 minutes.

    In Linux I am spending a good 30-60 minutes searching the net just for the command to use! Then I have to send another 10 minutes to figure out what parameters to use! Then, in my experience, the parameters were not correct or the drivers were incorrect so the monitor goes blank and you get to reboot and try, try again.

    I do like the ext3 file system though!

  8. Disclainer: I like Linux a lot and I’ve used some flavor of Unix since the mid-80s. I’m not a fan of Ubuntu, though.

    Matt: If by POS you mean Piece of Shit and not Point of Sale, then an obvious solution suggests itself. I’ve never seen a Linux server corrupt OS files unless you work really hard at it by using substandard hardware, flaky disks, experimental filesystems, or bleeding-edge kernels. I manage a couple of fileservers with multi-TB filesystems at a site with frequent power issues. In the years since these servers are online, even the power cutting out didn’t screw up the servers. bad disks did, though.

    As long as the filesystems are not completely hosed, you can always recover without reinstalling. With the right kind of backups, it might be faster to reinstall, though.

    Webs and Kit: It’s pointless to compare the figuring-out times of something you know well and something you barely know.

    Les: I can’t help you with your problem, but give me text files any day over the piece of shit registry. For what it’s worth, I strongly dislike point-and-click admin GUIs.

  9. I have XP, Linux, and an iMac.  I teach XP and Mac to seniors at Seniornet UH Hilo.  Both Linux and the Mac are better than the XP in terms of stability and speed.  The Linux and XP run on MSI mother boards with AMD 64 processors and 1 GB RAM.  The video cards are MSI RX300.  I have Photoshop and DVD authoring Programs on the XP.  It has crashed so often that after a argument with a MS agent in India over activation, that I gave up and installed a crack.  Now after a major problem I just reformat and avoid the activation. The Linux PC inherits all my old HD’s I have Mephis on one,my favorite, Umbuntu, and lately Mandriva for testing.  Sometimes I also use Puppy Linux on a CD for surfing.  It’s very difficult to hack a PC with no HD just a cd and a memory stick if you want to save something.  I really like Linux although it is difficult to get some pieces of equipment working.  I have a Verizon USB Modem and I never did get it to work in Ubuntu even after several days of constant work on it.  But I found another solution for my wife’s Ubuntu note book. A cellular router, CTR-350 from Cradlepoint Gave me WIFI with the USB modem.

    OK Les in my experience, I think most of your problems are related to The video cards/drivers or the RAM on the Card and perhaps the RAM in the PC.  Be very careful to use matched sets and pay attention to the MB makers suggestions.  MSI the board I use has all sorts of RAM specifications. Oh good luck with your Mac purchase.  I love my iMac and use the iLife programs a lot,


  10. Thanks for the tips. The video card and RAM in the laptop are both stock from the manufacturer and I’ve tested the RAM so I’m becoming more convinced that it’s the ATI video card drivers.

    Which leaves me with a choice between two lesser evils: Do I switch to the Open Source drivers and lose the ability to us a separate external monitor or do I stick with the ATI drivers and put up with the random crashes? Neither option is favorable.

  11. Use the tool that works for you. As an aside, I’ve always had crash problems with Windows. Never have had a problem with Ubuntu from version 6.?? to 8.04. Not a command line wizard. No install problems. Runs nicely using the Gnome desktop.

    Go figure.

  12. I don’t have a choice. Work requires that I use Ubuntu so I’m slowly trying to figure it out. Figured I may as well comment on it along the way.

  13. …try another distro?  There are hundreds.  Ubuntu is overrated trash.  It’s a fad distro as far as I’m concerned.  Try mandrivia, or slackware. Anything other than that… that TOY.

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