Friday, October 31, 2008

Ubuntu 8.10 Ibex Upgrade "Low Graphics Mode" Nvidia Driver Failure

So, I went against what I had said previously about upgrading right away, and let my home machine upgrade to Ubuntu 8.10 yesterday.

First a few thoughts. The upgrade process went pretty smoothly. But there were way too many prompts during the process. And I believe one of these prompts was the root cause of my main issue with this upgrade.

After the upgrade completed, I rebooted. Upon entering the graphical portion of the boot sequence I got an error indicating that the Nvidia driver had failed, and that I was going to be running in "Low Graphics Mode" - or some such thing.

I was then prompted with some options on how I wanted to deal with this issue. I ended up running in low graphics mode, just so I get a usable desktop.

Trying to use the hardware drivers manager to select the different nvidia options continued to fail. Using envyng to try to install the drivers gave me an error that the it could not load the driver given my kernel version, and could not fix the issue. (sorry I cannot recall the specific error).

You see, it turns out that I (must have) inadvertently kept my same menu.lst file - the file that gives you your OS boot options when you start your computer. So my machine did not have the option to boot into the current Linux kernel, only the 8.04 options. The Nvidia drivers could not work in this fashion.

So I was able to edit my menu.lst file to include the current versions at the top of the list:

title       Ubuntu 8.10, kernel 2.6.27-7-generic
root (hd0,1)
kernel /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.27-7-generic root=UUID=344347ab-37e0-4b42-9362-d11a047da5fe ro quiet splash
initrd /boot/initrd.img-2.6.27-7-generic

title Ubuntu 8.10, kernel 2.6.27-7-generic (recovery mode)
root (hd0,1)
kernel /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.27-7-generic root=UUID=344347ab-37e0-4b42-9362-d11a047da5fe ro single
initrd /boot/initrd.img-2.6.27-7-generic

You will need to make sure that the partitions (hd0,1) and root=UUID match your own. You should be able to dupe those settings from previous entries in the file. (Thanks to this thread for pointing me in the right direction on that part of this.)

Once I put those options in, and rebooted into the CORRECT version, I was able to load the nvidia drivers, and all was good again.

So, the real problem here is that I opted to keep a previous version of the menu.lst file. Why would I do this? I honestly don't recall that specific prompt, as I said there were a bunch of them. I thought I was taking the "safe" options when prompted during the setup. I did read them at the time, I was not just randomly clicking my way through them. I also think I took the defaults on every one, but I can't be sure on that.

So, this was my fault, because I told the system to do this, BUT shouldn't there have been more feedback as to what this choice would do? I would think that if you required your previous menu.lst file to be used, you would probably already know how to fix or save it yourself. A normal user would probably not need this option, and certainly should not have been given it without more instruction. I would say this prompt was probably not needed at all. I think most of the prompts probably fell into this category.

Even if the number of the prompts cannot be reduced, the timing of when they are given needs to be addressed. During the upgrade, I would be prompted for something, and then the system would start working. I would go away, only to come back a half hour later to find yet another prompt waiting. I estimate that the upgrade process took about one hour longer for me simply because I was not sitting there watching it the whole time. The powers-that-be ought to consider consolidating any prompts that will be required during the upgrade in to one series of questions that are posted before the actual processing occurs. Of course this is a "quality of user experience" issue, not a functionality one, so it is less critical.

Given the issues I had, I think the upgrade process needs work. There should be fewer prompts, or at least they should be consolidated, and when the upgrade does require input, they need to be clearer what the impact of these choices would be. I was able to sniff out the root issue here pretty quickly - although not as quickly as I should have - but for a rank and file regular user? No way.

Bottom line, upgrades on Ubuntu are getting better, but still not ready for prime time. I guess this is an area that the powers-that-be need to work on some more.


Bartosz said...

I had a similar problem. Your advice solved the problem.thanks!

James D. Bausch said...

Happy to be of service!

Anonymous said...

Had the exact same problem and your instructions worked great. Thank you for taking the time to share your solution!

Anonymous said...

Ssdd . rockafeller rules . peace out hommie