Sunday, November 26, 2006

peeve no. 244 is breaking upgrades

Preface: I'm a little hesitant of embarking on this rant, because I'm fully aware that I may come out looking like an imbecile, n00b, or [insert preferred term of mockery here]. But then I remember that a written rant is the thinking's man version of a gorilla tantrum, so any ranting doesn't flatter me anyway.

Until a few days ago, I was running Debian testing ("etch"--kudos on trying to get the next release out sooner). Well...more or less. My installation started out quite a while ago as Mepis, but over time I replaced almost everything with plain Debian. I used some packages from Debian unstable (Sid) here and there. Then I read that many users run the unstable distribution, it doesn't break as much as you might think, it always has the latest and greatest, it's not quite as frozen as testing close to a release...so I pointed my apt to pure unstable (can you guess where this is going?).

I upgraded a few of the packages I care about most and enjoyed the new features. Then I saw an upgrade that required udev...one of those "program A depends on framework B depends on infrastructure C" cases that make me glad for automatic dependency handling. I was running hotplug, because that was part of the initial install (the kernel was a distro-patched version 2.6.12, I believe). I waited until I had a lengthy, contiguous block of time, and let the upgrade happen. Oooops. The udev package made it very clear that it wanted to run on a later kernel. This might faze some folks, but kernel shlepping is not new to me considering I ran Gentoo back before it offered any precompiled kernel at all, so I installed the Debian meta-package that depends on the latest kernel, made sure the necessary bits were in my grub config, and rebooted.

This wouldn't be a rant if it had worked. The kernel ran through the boot process, appeared to load the modules it should, and started executing items in the initrd. End result: something similar to "can't mount /dev/hdb3 on /". The filesystem on that partition is ext3! I started to feel the primal rage that comes on whenever, from my perspective, software refuses to do as it's told. I rebooted back into the other kernel. I searched the Web for similar troubles. I'm inclined to blame udev for not doing its job, or maybe the initrd creation tool. I fell into a cycle of fiddling with the packager or rerunning a tool, rebooting, calling out dirty names, and repeating the process. After I had enough, I decided to admit I had no clue what the cause was. Some unknown magic smoke on my system wasn't magically smoking like it should. I was desperate. My new kernel couldn't even get me to a real shell. I humbled myself before apt, and upgraded the world.

Afterwards, the new kernel still wouldn't boot, the old kernel booted and initialized fine, and pretty much everything in userland was down for the count. No X, no network access...now a broken guy with a broken system, I copied the important stuff on my / partition to my home partition, tossed in one of my LiveCDs long enough to download and burn an iso, and then installed Ubuntu. I have vowed to confine my repository list to the basics, because breaking updates suck huge donkey balls. Apologies for any unpleasant mental images.

Bonus rants: It's been an interesting change going from Konquerer to Nautilus (is it still called Nautilus?), amaroK to rhythmbox, kwm to Metacity. Here are my complaints:
  • The volume/mixer applet for the KDE panel showed levels for several outputs, and I could adjust one of the levels just by clicking or dragging the level bar in the panel. The Gnome applet appears to require clicking on the icon, waiting until a slider pops up, then moving it. And if you want to change something other than Master, double-click it to get a complete set of sliders.
  • amaroK's panel icon dynamically changed as the current track progressed. So a quick glance at the icon was sufficient to tell how far in the track was. You don't miss this feature until you've had it and then been without it. It would also be nice if rhythmbox had the "stop after playing the current track" command that amaroK has.
  • In KDE, I could assign a permanent keyboard shortcut to a window. For instance, I could assign a shortcut to my browser window on desktop three, a different shortcut to amaroK on desktop one, and switch from one to the other with a single multi-key combination. (I like to use the "Win" keys for this purpose). Gnome has a window-selector panel applet that pops up a list of all open windows (Alt-Tab merely cycles between windows on the current desktop) on click, but that requires mousing over and clicking on the applet, scanning the window list, and clicking on the desired window. When I was going through my minimalist phase (on Gentoo), I could use and assign keyboard shortcuts for what seemed like everything in IceWM (don't mention Fluxbox, I'll slug you). Surely Metacity can do the same?

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