I had a very old desktop computer (128Mb RAM/10Gb HD) running Windows 98. I had been hanging onto it because I also had an old Epson Filmscan 200 35mm slide film scanner for which there are no drivers above Windows 98. The upgrade away from that old desktop six years ago cost me an additional £500 for a super Minolta Dimage Scan Elite 5400 that would work above Windows 98. Processing digital images was my main purpose.
Since I have now forsaken celluloid for pixels, and since I’ve still got the Dimage Scan 5400 for my old slides, I suffered something of a seizure and decided to trash the ancient machine and try installing a Linux variant. I’ve always absolutely detested Unix. I could never forget one of our old Senior Vice Presidents of R&D describing Unix as being, “as user-friendly as a cornered rat”. Let’s face it, Linux is Unix but time has moved on and it has windows-like front ends, now. Besides, ‘t was just intended to be something technical to play with.
I’d heard of a Linux variant intriguingly called “Ubuntu” which seemed quite well liked so I picked that for my trial. Even more intriguingly, the release I spent 45 minutes downloading (9.10) rejoiced under the name of “Karmic Koala”. Personally I’d have gone with “Koka Koala” but their name at least sounds more engaging than “Windows XP”, I suppose.
I wiped out my archaic machine (doesn’t “format C:” give one a thrill), created an installation CD from my downloaded Karmic Koala iso image and began the install. After a few minutes a pretty orange backdrop hit my screen. “Looks promising”, I thought. Wrong! After 30 minutes the pretty backdrop was still there, all by itself, and I could detect no further activity on my biblically old machine. The installation had clearly stalled; Karmic Koala had fallen out of the tree.
I wondered if I had a bad installation image or if the machine simply was not up to the job. Having recently inherited an old laptop (Windows XP, 760Mb RAM, 40Gb HD), I thought I’d try it on that. I was particularly interested in the advertised facility to install Ubuntu Karmic Koala (just trips off the tongue, doesn’t it?) alongside Windows XP in a separate disk partition and that “UKK” (friends use abbreviations) would take care of it all for me. Great! In went my installation disk. This time installation proceeded very smoothly and after a few pretty simple questions Karmic Koala had partitioned my hard drive, installed itself and stuck in a boot manager to make my laptop dual-bootable between Ubuntu and Windows. [Ed: To be fair, had I read enough of the requirements, I’d have realized that my Old Testament m/c wasn’t going to be big enough.]
I began playing. First problem: no Internet connection. Hard wiring myself worked but not wireless. Does Karmic Koala understand my wireless card? Nothing for it – leap into some documentation. “It understands most wireless cards.” Hmmm. However, there was said to be a “package” to install something to allow me to use Windows drivers with my wireless card should the Linux drivers not work. I grappled with a whole bunch of new terms and inaccurate instructions (think they were written for an earlier release of Ubuntu, Jaunty Jackalope or Intrepid Ibex maybe), downloaded the package and tried installing. I didn’t have permission. More reading led me to find out where I could give myself permission to install packages. Looking down a list of boxes to check, I spot one, as yet unchecked, that says this user (me) “is able to use wireless connections”. Arghh! I checked it, defined a connection to my router and wireless worked. I could surf at last.
I was very impressed when I plugged in my digital camera (USB) ad a message box popped up suggesting I launch Fstop, a digital image application. OK, go for it. Fleetingly a window appeared and, before I had a chance to read a single word, disappeared again. I tried launching Fstop manually. Same thing. Second problem: Fstop wont run without crashing instantly. No message though, not even a blue screen of death; the window just disappeared without trace. Using my newly granted authority to install applications, I downloaded the package and re-installed Fstop. Same thing – disappearing windows.
Karmic Koala was rapidly looking more like Dead Donkey – I’d had enough. I decided to uninstall Ubuntu. How? Ahhhh! The installation path may be rich with options and well automated but … third problem: there is no documented uninstallation path that I could find. An Internet search indicated that others couldn’t find one either. Brilliant – NOT! I now had a partitioned hard drive with a messed up Master Boot Record (MBR) that I didn’t want. So, still “as user-friendly as a cornered rat”, then?
Further Internet searching produced a few bulletin board hits of the usual less-than-helpful-smartass comments to other souls attempting to wipe the memory of Ubuntu from their machines. One unusually helpful soul, who clearly hadn’t got the idea of bulletin boards, had the answer, though, and expressed it without playing around:
- Download the mbrfix utility (Master Boot Record Fix – comes as mbrfix.zip)
- Unzip and run mbrfix.exe (it’s command line stuff) to remove the Ubuntu-installed Boot Manager and get your MBR back.
- Boot Ubuntu from the Live CD (NOT from the partitioned hard drive).
- In Ubuntu: go to System>Administration>GParted (the disk partitioning software)
- Wipe out the Ubuntu partition and give the space back to Windows.
Actually, after restoring the MBR in #1 & #2 above, if you are just trying to get your single Windows system back, XP has it’s own partition management so you can avoid booting from the Ubuntu Live CD:
- Boot into Windows.
- Start>Settings>Control Panel>Administrative Tools>Computer Management>Storage>Disk Management …
- … shows you the partitions and allows you to re-jig them.
I had my machine back. Phew!
Lastly, one of of the most telling comments on the technical bulletin boards was a guy who, though trying to be helpful about uninstalling, eventually couldn’t resist expressing his incredulity that someone would not want Linux:
Persevere. On a rainy Sunday afternoon try it again, try it for a week or maybe a month . I think you’ll come to like it and find you can do most things that you could on Windows.