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Making the Evolutionary Leap from Meerkat to Narwhal

If you're using Maverick Meerkat (Ubuntu 10.10) or an older distribution, Natty Narwhat is a whole new animal.

I’m very happy with Ubuntu as a desktop operating system. I’ve used it for years with no significant issues. In fact, Ubuntu excels where other disributions fail. Even Linux arch rival Windows, is often left in the last century compared to the innovations perpetrated by the Canonical group. But what about Natty Narwhal? Is the hype worth the effort? I’d have to say, “Yes.” Although, I’m not 100 percent sold on Unity, I’m impressed with its boot speed, shutdown speed, and snappy performance. Oh, and there’s that little matter of The Launcher.

This article describes my personal experiences with upgrading Ubuntu 10.10 to Ubuntu 11.04 via the Ubuntu automatic notification and online update method.

The Upgrade Process

Last week, upon logging into my faithful workstation, I found what I thought was the standard applications upgrade screen. Thanks to this column, I have dozens more applications on my workstation than the normal Linux geek and therefore see, on what seems like a daily basis, notifications that one or more applications need an upgrade. And, of course, I comply with no complaint*.

But, this day was different. This time the prompt read, “Welcome to Ubuntu 11.04 ‘Natty Narwhal.’ See Figure 1. I have never seen this type of notification before that notified me of a possible version upgrade**.

Figure 1: The Natty Narwhal Upgrade Announcement
Figure 1: The Natty Narwhal Upgrade Announcement

I cheerfully clicked, Yes, Upgrade Now***. What have I got to lose for such an upgrade? A full-time job, a book project, several regular writing gigs–sure, I have plenty of time to reinstall Ubuntu 10.10, all my applications, restore my data, and catch up on everything, including sleep. I digress.

Figure 2 shows the next screen in the upgrade process. It’s tempting to click Install Updates, since it’s highlighted by default, but don’t. Instead, click the Upgrade button above to continue.

Figure 2: The Natty Narwhal Upgrade Screen
Figure 2: The Natty Narwhal Upgrade Screen

In very Windoows-like fashion, yet another screen prompts you to confirm that you want to upgrade to 11.04. If you’re paranoid, like me, you’re getting a little nervous and maybe a little annoyed at this point. Click Upgrade to continue as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Informative Details about the Natty Narwhal Upgrade.
Figure 3: Informative Details about the Natty Narwhal Upgrade.

Figure 4 displays a screen that you’ll see for some time during the upgrade process. Note the message that the upgrade process is “Calculating the changes” to your system. This part of the process compares your currently installed packages to versions available in Ubuntu 11.04 and calculates the number and sizes of packages needed to complete the upgrade.

Figure 4: Ubuntu 11.04 Upgrade Preparation.
Figure 4: Ubuntu 11.04 Upgrade Preparation.

Once the calculation phase completes, you’re presented with the screen shown in Figure 5. Depending on your currrent Ubuntu version, number of installed packages, and Internet connection speed, your messages may vary. When you’re satisfied with what’s going to happen, confirm again that you want to continue the upgrade process by clicking Start Upgrade. Note the message that “Fetching and installing the upgrade can take several hours.” It will.

Figure 5: Last Chance to Abort the Natty Narwhal Upgrade.
Figure 5: Last Chance to Abort the Natty Narwhal Upgrade.

Figure 6 is the long stretch in the upgrade process. Ignore the estimates that you see in the progress bar; it changes every few minutes. Walk away and check the upgrade progress on your system every 30 minutes or so.

Figure 6: Natty Narwhal Upgrade is Underway.
Figure 6: Natty Narwhal Upgrade is Underway.

The installation process takes a very long time to complete and it varies widely based on your connection speed, amount of traffic to upgrade sites, and your local system’s speed. Mine took a very long time (About six hours) because I was upgrading over a wireless connection.

Figure 7 shows the next screen in the process: 11.04 Package Installation.

Figure 7: Watching the Package Installation.
Figure 7: Watching the Package Installation.

Stay close to your system during this part of the upgrade process, because you’ll see several prompts, as shown in Figure 8, asking you to make a decision about replacing or keeping your current package configuration files.

Figure 8: Modfy or Not to Modify the Configuration File.
Figure 8: Modfy or Not to Modify the Configuration File.

During the cleanup phase, Figure 9 appears prompting you to remove obsolete packages from your system. I chose to remove them and continue the upgrade process.

Figure 9: Ubuntu 11.04 Cleanup Phase.
Figure 9: Ubuntu 11.04 Cleanup Phase.

At the end of the upgrade process, you might see the message shown in Figure 10. This message means that something has gone wrong in the upgrade process that prevents you from using the new Unity desktop.

Figure 10: Do You Have Unity or Don't You Have Unity?
Figure 10: Do You Have Unity or Don’t You Have Unity?

However, as it was in my case, the message was incorrect. After a reboot, the Unity desktop is ready to use. See Figure 11.

Figure 11: Ubuntu 11.04 Unity Achieved.
Figure 11: Ubuntu 11.04 Unity Achieved.

Initial Reaction

My initial reaction to Natty is ‘cool’ but on closer inspection, it can be a little difficult to navigate until you get used to the new Launcher. And, I’m not totally convinced (yet) that this Launcher makes accessing my programs more efficient. Sure, you have icons in the Launcher for Firefox, your Home folder, Office apps, Terminal, etc., but I can do that with icons. The Launcher groups all applications into a single Applications icon, which makes locating an icon a but cumbersome for me. See Figure 12.

Figure 12: Inside Unity's Application Launcher.
Figure 12: Inside Unity’s Application Launcher.

That said, I love the speed of Natty. My system boots in seconds after the initial POST. It’s so fast that I actually thought something was wrong or that I’d had a time lapse while looking at the screen. I rebooted several more times just to be sure. Additionally, shutdown is fast too.

Resulting collateral damage from the upgrade to Natty is minimal. Other than visual effects, and Launcher angst, I’ve found no major problems or complaints with Natty. Frankly, I’d rather have Natty than any other system although I realize that it has its flaws and limitations but I expect Canonical will solve these very soon. All said, Natty Narwhal is a must-have upgrade for Ubuntu users. And, if you’ve held off of switching to Ubuntu from Windows or some other Linux distribution, give Natty a try, it’s a whale of a good time.

* If you know me, you know that I complain about it.

** I’m not saying that such notifications never existed but I update long before I see such a notification.

*** “Cheerfully” might be overstating my actual reaction.

Comments on "Making the Evolutionary Leap from Meerkat to Narwhal"

avivmera

Even if you have upgraded to to the unity GUI, you can always return to the classic environment by changing the login settings to be ubuntu classics.

Aviv
http://www.linucity.com

linucity.com

Reply
indian-art

Great article with pictures.

Is there any way one can have the bottom panel (taskbar) in Natty with Unity (not Classic)? The bottom panel is very useful in multitasking and this is keeping me from upgrading to the latest version.

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    akbozo

    yes you can. get zorin 5.0. it uses gnome2 which utilizes panel choices that you are familiar with. in my experience, it is the only distro where everything worked the first time and everything was loaded from the disk. didn’t have to download extras, or flash etc. try it it’s better

    Reply
goniomdq

In my experience, after upgrading from 10.10 the boot speed decreased considerably. Not sure about the cause. I will have to perform a clean install, which is not major as I have a separate partition for my /home.
Also, I’ve been using natty now for about a month and although I like it, I’m still not sure about Unity. I don’t find it’s very easy to find applications and do some task I perform often (connect to a samba share for example).
I believe it all depends on getting used to it, so I will keep using it for a bit more and then decide if I want to go back to the usual gnome WM or stick to Unity.
All I can say is give it a try. _YOU_ can only decide if _you_ like it or not.

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dylanthomasfan

My performance after moving from Meerkat to Narwhal was very bad. I am certain about Unity–I don’t like it. It is slow and buggy. And, I do know from my Ubuntu forums experience (while I was trying to figure out the Natty problem) that many others had a similar experience.

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kennym

After upgrade my wireless card was nowhere to be found,i shut down and removed the card and rebooted,then shutdown and put the card back in it worked,unity i can do without,went back to meerkat!

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frikat

Article expresses my feelings about 11.04. Pretty much same experience except that in my case the wireless didn’t work after the upgrade to 11.04 and still isn’t working…. Thus I am waiting for some Cannonical fixes

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Benzin

11.04 was the last straw to me. i have removed ubuntu from the last one of my PCs that had it, and switched to openSuse.

And it has nothing to do with unity (i absolutely do NOT like it, but you can still use classic gnome in 11.04).
Its because to me, Ubuntu has become too unstable for production use.
with 11.04 i experienced a severe performance decrease (again, on classic gnome, with unity it was way worse). I also experienced a constant stream of errors, bugs, and even lockups that only a hard reboot would fix.
And since i tried it on 3 diferent computers (1 PC, 2 netbooks), and all 3 of them work perfectly with opensuse and windows, i cant blame faulty hardware.

It seems to me, that every new version of ubuntu comes even more unstable and buggy that the previous one. And if you think about it, the reason is obvious. The developers must allways be “tied” to implementing the next version, and they dont have time to FIX the current (or even the so called “long term support” one). As proof of this, look at 10.04 lucid “LTS”. its been over a YEAR since it came out. And it still has most of its original bugs.

I use my computers to WORK. i need them to be reliable, and behave as i expect them to, i dont have time to constantly google and write “HEEELP” messages in forums to get arround an endless stream of bugs.

To me at least, using ubuntu now feels like im testing Alpha or Beta software.

I really liked ubuntu before, the ease of use, the nearly 100% ready “out of the box” experience, etc. And i can only hope that some day, Mr. Shuttlewort (or whatever his name is), will re-think its policies, and realize that even tho new features are “cool”, even the greatest feature is USELESS, if stability is compromised.
I wouldnt mind seeing a STABLE release of ubuntu every 1 or 2 years, instead of an un-usable, buggy and unstable beta-like version every 6 months.

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    OpenSuse – for sure. Its my go to Distro when I want it to work reliably. UBUNTU does have the LTS versions. But, I have disliked UNITY from the first time I tried it. And I also do not have a laptop that can handle the higher demands of the newer Gnome and Unity desktop. I only have a IBM T42. But truth be told – It loads and operates flawlessly on my old IBM> The IBM also doesn’t have “PAE” so that keeps my choices limited a little too.

    Reply
falcon7

My boss was foolish enough to agree to the 11.04 upgrade, and that system never worked again. So I just spent the better part of a day unwinding the damage. He’s happily back with 10.04. For me, I’ll stick with the real Debian. As others have said, the fancy toys are not worth the price of instability.

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    “real Debian”
    I’ve always used Debian and it is not Debian. What they mean by based on Debian is the package management. Likewise when they say based on Red Hat they mean package management.

    All all Linux and open source desktop software are the same programs… Just arranged in different orders.

    Reply
WindwoodTrader

I have been using Natty for two weeks now and those weeks were not without angst!

My first two installs were alongside a Windows Vista in place OS. No problem- Everything worked. I was sharing a 250 Gig HD w/Windows. I was presented with the Unity screen and was somewhat impressed. Almost immediately I was presented with a laundry list of security patches, upgrades- Whatever even though I checked off the install such while loading Natty. I said OK and waited for a while. The box went dark and the monitor went to sleep and almost immediately the splash screen came up.

OK so far, but where is the work bar across the top? Why doesn’t my mouse click give a response? Why do my keyboard inputs have no effect? The UNITY stuff down the left side was pretty but I couldn’t invoke anything. My screen showed no terminal icon.
A CTRL+ALT+F2 had no effect- This thing was hung!

I went to my MacBook and looked for help. Pretty sparse since the distro was so new I guess. I didn’t have a lot of investment yet so I did a re-install. I did NOT avail myself of the security upgrades though. I was in the midst of inserting my gazillion website bookmarks when the system just froze without warning. This is getting old fast.

The next install I did without on-the-fly security upgrades etc. I encountered a screen that said my system would have difficulty with UNITY- Would I like the “Classic Version?” instead?

OK I said and the rest was no problem. I have only done one post install addition a UBUNTU software install of Adobe Flashwhatever. Works fine. I’m not doing any mass security patches yet.

I came in this morning and my screen saver was frozen in place- Once again nothing worked. I did a reboot and all was fine. I’m waiting for a response on the forums for what took place and how to avoid a repeat. I suspect the Flash install, the fact that I probably had constant scripts running or maybe some other conflict.

Any thoughts?

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b.lo4443

If I wanted a Mac, I would have bought a Mac. If I wanted a MS-Windows machine, I would have bought a copy of the latest MS-Windows OS. Why, why, why is Canonical trying so hard to morph Ubuntu into a hybrid Mac-Microsoft system??? I hate Macs, and I left Microsoft for the very reason Ubuntu is now apparently trying so hard to become.

I’m now giving serious consideration to abandoning Ubuntu and heading to openSUSE or Fedora. So sad…

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    Try OPENSUSE 13. Or the Stable 12 versions. I think OPenSuse has better developers ….. It just works without much struggle. I too can’t stand Unity. Why do they call it Unity if everybody fights about it.

    Reply
danatcsm

I have been using Ubuntu for over two years now, and when Natty came along, I decided to “upgrade” to it from my trusty Lucid. What a mistake!!! Unity is dreadful, idiotic, and useless. It took me only a day to decide to kick Natty to the curb and go back to Lucid. What the hell were they thinking when they came out with Natty??

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Happy Wobblein

We persevered with Unity on two of our household machines despite the
cumbersome Launcher/Dash, but the reduction in productivity forced us to give it the flick. We have used Ubuntu since 7.04 and have enjoyed the quick and rational ‘Applications-Places-System’ menu access and the top panel functionality tailored to our needs. We found 11.04 prone to freezes in both Unity or ‘Classic’mode, despite being installed by on-line upgrade and clean install respectively. Re-installing 10.10 on both machines was stress relief therapy. We have since tried Fedora 15 and Linux Mint on a spare machine and like the latter. If Unity is the only choice for Ubuntu 11.10 then,sadly, we will switch.

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dimonic

I have used unity (only) on my netbook – and found its screen real estate-saving features very useful. 600 pixels does not show many dialog boxes in full, so re-using the panel as the application’s menu bar, and trimming window edges is extremely usful in this environment. I have refrained from using Unity on any other machine in my posession – 1 server, 1 desktop and 2 laptops, because I feel that

a) they are better served using gnome2, and

b) I often connect remotely and I need X-Window to do that.

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misstikler

Thanks for the very good review!!

I am still a big fan of Ubuntu, it has almost always worked out of the box for me on all machines. I am writing this on my very stable Lucid 10.04 LTS upgraded to Firefox 6.02.

PS give PC Linux OS a whirl if you want a stable rolling-release distro without regular upgrade surprises. PCLOS also has a very friendly forum.

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kgaipal

I will suggest Debian Squeeze to any one who is looking for rock solid stability. Debian win hearts on that any time. My work machine is living on that since 3 years and I am never surprised by sudden upgrades.

And yeah I agree Unity slows down productivity, I dont like design. IMHO Gnome 3 has a lot better productivity than Unity! Give it a try.

Reply

    A mi ja m’està bé que iovnni amb aquest tipus de millores, però crec que estaria millor que ho fes en coordinació amb els altres grups que també treballen pel PL. És a dir, estaria molt bé que Unity es fes com un projecte més de Gnome (encara que portat majoritàriament per Canonical), de manera que les millores que porta es puguin veure des de totes les distribucions (si ho creuen convenient). Fent Unity de forma separada (a l’igual que altres utilitats que ha fet), no crec que afavoreixi massa el creixement del PL en general, i dels sistemes GNU/Linux en concret. 2  0

    Reply

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Honestly – not interested in Ubuntu anymore because of it’s interface. Perhaps I’ve overgrown it or I don’t know. I find Xubuntu and Lubuntu way more convenient and work oriented.

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I also tried the New ubuntu Unity is not for me it was very hard to find my way around. also Gnome 3 is not my bag of tricks either. Why is everyone trying to make linux look like a MAC. I have used ubuntu for years and now will have to find another os. Unity, Gnome 3, not for me..

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Ubuntu 11.10 has released which has smootened the rough edges of Ubuntu 11.04.

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