The random ramblings of a French programmer living in Norway...
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  How to not upgrade an Ubuntu server
Mon 22nd March 2010   
In February last year I decided to extend by having a secondary server in my home. That's the reason why I originally bought the VIA Artigo A2000, I wanted something small and silent I could put in a corner and forget. After a bit more than one year of usage I can say I'm globally satisfy with the choice.

Ok, the machine is not that silent, as a desktop is quite slow1, but as a file/multimedia box/SVN server it's doing its job.
When I originally installed the server, Ubuntu 8.10 was already out, but for some reason the Live CD was failing soon after the Ubuntu loading bar reached its completion. Versions 7.10 and 8.04 LTS on the other hand worked fine, so it's the latest I installed on the machine.

Comes march 2010. Some update of the kernel apparently caused havoc, and the machine repetitively died in the middle of the night, which is kind of annoying when you are running a Subversion web-server. It's at this point I did a fatal (?) error...

If I had been smart - and did some research -, I would have found out that it's possible to upgrade from an LTS2 version to another LTS. In the particular case, the 10.43 LTS is just around the corner. So basically I should just have wait a few weeks and then only upgraded to a major release without much trouble. But it's not what I did.

Instead, I decided to give a shot at upgrading the version right now. When you do that, you can't just jump to any version you want, you have to update from version to version. In my case this means upgrading from 8.04 to 8.10, then to 9.04, etc... and that's where the problems started: As soon as the upgrade to 8.10 was done - painless I have to say, it just worked - the machine stopped to boot, with exactly the same symptoms I experienced last year with the live CD.

Fortunately, when this kind of stuff happens in the Linux world, you are not alone - but you have to be patient because the documentation is kind of obscure, and the self help is kind of cryptic -. After some search on the web I finally decided to give a try as the official Ubuntu IRC hotline4. Unfortunately on the English channel the number of people coming in and out is so large than having actually somebody see and answer your question is not guaranteed - specially if it's a hardcore question about some ultra-rare error happening on ultra-no-common hardware like the VIA C7 and the VX800 Chrome 9 HC3 chipset ;-) -.

After 10 minutes I decided to give a try on #ubuntu-fr, and that was the good choice. Way less people, more relaxed, was finally possible to get help on that. Took few hours, some false tracks, some Live CD boot attempts to access the logs and paste them online for diagnostic - nothing wrong really, it seems the machine just stop doing anything, there's no crash or weird error message -, but in the end I was able to see the end of the tunnel. A big thanks to people on the chan - in particular jpg, McPeter and Xion345 -.

So the end of the story is that, no, I was not able to make Ubuntu 8.10 work on my Via Artigo A2000.

Please people, don't try, it does not work. Live CD fail, upgrade fail, it just DOES NOT WORK, DO NOT TRY, IT'S A WASTE OF TIME.

Install 7.10, 8.04, 9.04, sure go ahead, but skip 8.10.
The solution ?
Oh yeah, well, that's simple:
  1. boot in failsafe mode
  2. in the repair menu, select the root shell option
  3. do-release-upgrade
That's it, just get a shell, and upgrade to 9.04 :)

Is that not awesome? Upgrading to a working version by using a non working version!

Anyway, the machine has now been running fine for a day, hopefully things will continue that way. Now the question is, should I tempt the devil and try to upgrade all the way up to 10.4 LTS when it gets out next month?

1. Mostly due to the fact that by default the native hardware drivers for Linux are not installed, and installing them from the VIA website seems impossible: the .tgz files on the driver site can't be uncompressed.
2. Long Term Support.
3. For people who don't know how Ubuntu version numbers are done: the first number is the year, the second is the month, so 10.4 is due April 2010
4. It's on, channel #ubuntu
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