Xfce

Trust the Sidux.com Home Page

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If I detailed all of the hurt I caused myself (entirely my fault) in this one post, I’d be typing for hours. I’ll spare myself (and you) all of the gory details, and summarize.

If you follow my techie posts (way fewer than my music posts), then you know that I’m a big fan of Sidux. Most recently, I had settled on the Xfce flavor (for speed and simplicity), and I run it all under VirtualBox on my Windows Vista Ultimate x64 laptop.

I built the original installation on a dynamically-sized virtual disk, maximum size 4GB. That seemed like plenty of space, since Linux is not my primary OS, just a place to play around in, and to be safer when appropriate.

For yucks, and mostly because there’s nothing production about my installation, I got into the habit of keeping up-to-date on the bleeding edge. That meant regularly typing:

apt-get update

apt-get upgrade

apt-get dist-upgrade

I think the middle step is unnecessary, but I do it more often than not anyway. Up until recently, I never had a problem with that.

Back to the disk space situation. I had over 1GB free, for a long time, which seemed like plenty of headroom, given that I don’t really create new content on Linux. Then I decided to experiment with a few apps on Linux (some of which are only available on Linux), for HTML editing and other web creation tools.

Once I installed a bunch of them, and continued my dance of dist-upgrading regularly, my disk space got closer to the 4GB max, without me paying any attention to it. Then, during one dist-upgrade, I temporarily ran out of space (during the actual upgrade, while extra space is necessary to unpack things, run scripts, etc.). One or two steps in the upgrade failed to install (due to disk full errors), but most of the upgrade went fine. In fact, I had 86MB free after the ugprade, and things appeared to be OK.

That’s all background to my comedy of compounding errors that ensued. It began with a bit of hubris (too much cleverness on my part). Knowing that I just dist-upgraded myself into a full disk, and knowing that to correct it, at a minimum, I’d need to run a normal upgrade, I decided to shutdown Sidux, rather than reboot it, thinking I would avoid any booting problems with the just-failed dist-upgrade.

I then searched for how-tos on growing a VirtualBox disk (having some instincts as to what I could do even if I didn’t find an answer). I found some multi-page forum posts that confirmed my instinct.

I created a new fixed-size 8GB virtual drive. I then attached the old one and the new one to an instance of CloneZilla (under VirtualBox, obviously). I let it do a disk-to-disk copy. Unfortunately, I also told it to grow the partition on the target drive to fill all of the space. I say unfortunately, because the target disk ended up being full at 8GB, so something went wrong on that end.

This is one of the points where I’ll spare you tons of gory details. Suffice it to say that I eventually got the target disk to be a perfect clone of the original disk, with the additional 4GB of free space now correctly recognized.

I finally was ready to attach the new drive to the Sidux VM, and boot it up, expecting to do an upgrade afterwards, and be back to normal. Wrong…

When I booted, I saw a different Xfce splash screen. The dist-upgrade had given me the new Xfce 4.6, and (unbeknownst to me) also the Xorg 1.6 upgrade. I ended up with a working X installation, but a non-working Xfce one. In other words, the graphical environment was up, but I had no menu system (at all), with no ability to right-click on the background to bring one up. The only working icons in the dock were the web browser, and the log off one.

Here’s where I ended up wasting a stupid amount of time. Basically, I assumed that my clone of the hard drive failed, so I went down a few wrong paths trying to correct that. I even went so far as to install from the Sidux CD over again, onto the new (reformatted) 8GB drive. But, like a complete ass, I immediately dist-upgraded after the install.

Guess what? My system was hosed exactly the way it was before! That made me boot off my old, full 4GB drive, and sure enough, same menu problem. So, the clone of the disk went fine, it was the dist-upgrade that had screwed me.

But, I was still too thick to realize that. I thought (at this point completely foolishly!) that it was the fact that the disk filled up during the dist-upgrade that caused my problem (a now ridiculous assumption, since the same problem occured on a fresh install into a large disk). So, I wasted a little more time trying to remove and reinstall certain packages, all to no avail.

Then, I finally followed the advice I give in the title of this post: Trust the Sidux.com Home Page!

Right there on the home page, they tell you exactly when it is not safe to do a dist-upgrade, and why. Of course, just my luck that I happened to do a dist-upgrade at the wrong time, and, at the same time, happened to run out of disk space, causing me to misdiagnose my problem!

Is there a happy ending to this story? Yes, but I’ll skip a lot more pain and cut to the chase.

I never did get Xfce 4.6 running correctly, even long after the Sidux.com home page said it was OK to do a dist-upgrade again. Instead, I decided to take advantage of another announcement on the home page, claiming that KDE4.2 was now available (for a while, it too was the cause of a no dist-upgrade warning). I have always liked KDE and only avoided it to avoid bloat. Given that I couldn’t easily get Xfce working again, I decided to give the new KDE a try.

While I have some complaints about the menu layout, I basically liked the look of KDE4, and I liked the quick launcher, which made the menu  layout less important to me. That worked fine for a couple of days, and then I did another dist-upgrade (no warnings against it on the home page!), and I lost X completely. I could only log in on the command line.

After a little poking around, somehow, during the upgrade, all of my display managers had disappeared from /usr/bin. In this case, specifically, there was no /usr/bin/kdm. No idea how that happened, but doing an apt-get install kdm solved the problem, and I’m now back in business. I can even do a dist-upgrade and everything continues to work, so I appear to be beyond the previous problem.

It’s quite possible that all I would have needed to do is to install xdm (like I had to install kdm) to get Xfce running again. I might try that in the next few days if I get some time.

Anyway, even though I had a ton of frustration over the past 10 days, none of it was the fault of Sidux. In fact, they tried to save me from myself, something that others have failed to do many times in the past as well.

Another learning experience is in the tank now, and another happy ending, since I don’t mind having experienced the new KDE either. 🙂