Friday, September 23, 2005

We're Back (Part II)

Given what's happening on the Texas coast right now and what's still going on in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, it's kind of silly to gripe about a computer. So I'm just going to try to report how I got back on to the Linux box, and try not to be too snarky about it. In any case, it would have been more frustrating if I'd actually had live Internet connection. Since I didn't, I couldn't do much on this box anyway.

Our story begins last Sunday, when I found that the Linux box booted up to a nice, multi-colored screen with no information whatsoever. I reported that fact here (using a Mac), and then watched the greatest win in Redskins' history since the 1992 Super Bowl. (Hey, it's been a long, long, dry spell, folks, what do you want?) And then to bed.

Monday, you'll recall, was the day our Internet connection died. I couldn't do much with the computer until Comcast came on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, but I did observe that

  • The problem started right at the moment that XWindows started up for the first time during the boot process. Fedora, as well as most other distributors, do this to give you a Windows-like feel to your computer. Myself, I'd rather see all the text until we're ready to got to the graphical log-in screen. I like logging in directly to X, but if I'm going to watch an information dump it might as well be on the console screen. Looking at the information in /var/log/messages seemed to indicate the same thing.
  • Querying the X11 RPMs with rpm -qi xorg-x11 showed that the XWindows system had be upgraded on Saturday. I didn't reboot or restart X until Sunday, which is why I didn't notice the problem immediately.
  • The system booted without problem from a Knoppix Live CD.

On Tuesday I had my laptop in a building with an open wireless network. I went on a search through Fedora Core Bugzilla and eventually found Bug 168752, euphemistically described as "a regression in video hardware support, in particular on Intel i8xx/i9xx systems." OK, that's what I have. I downloaded a proposed patch. When I got home I uploaded it to the Linux box and rebooted.

Now I had a box that crashed with a black screen, rather than a multi-colored screen.

Watched developments on Bugzilla. A new, official, patch came along, and I installed it. It still didn't boot properly, but I discovered that by changing /etc/inittab to boot with runlevel 3 (text mode), I could then run startx and get X11 working. Then, this morning, once the Internet connection was re-established, I was able to run yum update which among other things included a kernel upgrade. When I then reset /etc/inittab to boot to level 5 (directly to X) everything worked again.

So it took a week to get restarted. Reading the Bugzilla log shows that the official fix wasn't in the system until Thursday, so for 5 days many of us didn't have a working XWindows system. I'm guessing that wouldn't have happened in a commercial Linux system, where they have the budget to check a wider variety of systems before a patch is released. That's one reason why I don't recommend Fedora Core for the beginning Linux user. And, truth be known, I'm thinking about trying Ubuntu Linux before I upgrade to Fedora Core 5, whenever that comes out.

One recommendation for both Windows and Linux users: Always have a Knoppix Live CD on hand for emergency use. The first thing I did when the Internet was restored was to download version 3.9, the last CD-only version, and burn the image to a CD. If you don't have a Knoppix Live CD on your desk, get one now. It's free, if you're willing to wait for the download.

So a frustrating week was had by all in the Linux & Things household, but it's fixed. I wish we could say the same thing about the Gulf Coast, but that's in the hands of neither Comcast nor Fedora Core.