Friday, February 06, 2009

Ubuntu 8.04

Last summer, when my second HP ZD-series laptop died from an over-heated graphics card, I decided to return to desktop computers, build a system of my own, and even try to abandon Windows at the same time. My homebrew system is fairly standard, with an Intel quad-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, an Nvidia GTX-8600 graphics card, and assorted other hardware. Over the years, I've experimented with several distributions of Linux, and for this machine, I chose to install Ubuntu 8.04 -- largely because I expected to have a lot of desktop-support issues and Ubuntu's popularity would make it easier to find solutions to problems quickly. Just to add a little challenge, though, I decided to go with the 64-bit version, since I wanted to take as much advantage of my hardware as I could for 3D rendering and video applications.

I've largely succeeded, although I've needed to make some concessions. One of which revolves solely around Microsoft Access.

Microsoft's Access database application is a useful tool for small office applications. It's also fairly ubiquitous, as it's included in Microsoft's Office Professional products. I'm not the only one to use it routinely. And it's important to me to be able to work with Access databases from a variety of sources.

There are no open source solutions to working with an Access database. WINE apparently works with only one specific version of Access, and after tinkering with the problem for a week, I was faced with only two realistic solutions to working with Access: dual-boot Windows XP Pro, or install Windows as a guest in a virtual machine.

The latter choice seemed the most realistic for my needs. After looking at the alternatives, Sun's VirtualBox had the benefits of being free and immediately available. Coincidentally, Sun released a version for 64-bit operating systems the very day I was looking into installing VM software.

Installation was quick and easy. I've had no real difficulties, although Seamless mode and Compiz-Fusion do not cooperate. Since I'm happy with keeping Windows in a box, I've chosen to forsake Seamless mode in favor of Compiz.

However, I do have one problem that comes up sometimes when I'm upgrading. After downloading the latest 35 MB update, Synaptic Package Manager tries to install, but reports something like:
trying to overwrite `/lib/modules/2.6.24-18-generic/misc/vboxdrv.ko', which is also in package virtualbox-ose-modules-2.6.24-18-generic
VirtualBox remains functional, but now it helpfully reports that there's a new version every time I launch it.

There are several solutions to this problem, and while I don't claim to know the best yet, there are simple workarounds. From within Synaptic Package Manager, search for all installed VirtualBox components. From the resulting list, mark any "virtualbox-ose-modules" to be removed and apply the changes. Synaptic will remove the modules and you'll be able to install the update without error.

You can also remove the modules from the command line with:
sudo apt-get remove virtualbox-ose-modules-*
I have no idea why this happens. I've had it happen twice in about six months, but this straightens things out enough for me to complete the upgrade.

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