Learn from your mistakes (and backup /home)

I’ve been running Ubuntu since this summer, and have been very pleased. I hadn’t used Ubuntu as my primary desktop environment before, although I was familiar with it in a server and HTPC environment. It’s very intuitive, and has a great support community. I haven’t felt like I’ve been lacking anything. Even the free photo-editing software has been surprisingly good. That said, there were a few issues that had been plaguing me since my initial install. So over the weekend I formatted and re-installed – and didn’t lose any data. I’m incredibly happy with how easy it was to start over, and am glad I did.

My primary complaint is that the 64bit version of Ubuntu isn’t as well supported as it’s i386, or 32bit, counterpart. I had quite a difficult time getting everything to work correctly in the 64bit environment. The base system was fine, as were most major applications. The biggest sticking point was the flash plugin in Firefox, which I could never get to fully work. For example, I could watch YouTube videos, but couldn’t pause, change volume, skip around the playback, or use any other controls. Problems like this weren’t limited to YouTube or video playback. Google Analytics and any other flash based web apps were equally effected.

It actually wasn’t a huge deal. In every situation I could manage, it was simply annoying. However, the final straw was that the update from Ubuntu 9.04 to 9.10 started causing me huge DNS resolution delays. The update also installed incorrect drivers for my network cards, and Network Manager stop working entirely. I was able to resolve the driver issue, but the DNS delays never ceased, and Network Manager remained useless.

Thankfully all of the account and application settings are stored in the ‘/home’ directory. With a good backup of ‘/home/username’ you can format and reinstall an entire system and immediately be back to where you were before the install, simply by restoring your backup of ‘/home.’

My ‘/home’ folder was about 150 GB due to my large photography collection, so to speed things up with the restore I first moved my image files to the MythTV box, which also acts as a NAS. After slimming the directory down to about 30 GB, I made my backup to an external drive and booted off the alternative Ubuntu install disk – this time installing the 32bit version.

Like before, I was going to setup the system with a RAID1, for the data redundancy. However, this time I decided to make three partitions rather than two – root (‘/’), ‘/home,’ and swap space. This way, if I ever need to reinstall again, I can simply format the root partition and keep my home directory intact.

The install was smooth, and after logging in for the first time I copied over my directory, then rebooted. I ran the updates and installed missing software. The entire process took about 2 hours, including the data transfers. The best part, of course, was that all the settings for the Gnome desktop, Firefox (with plugins), and all my other applications were ready to go. There was literally one other configuration necessary after install, and that was adding two network drives to fstab for automatic mounting. It is as if nothing changed. Well, except now everything is working as it should be.